Arches National Park, near central Utah’s eastern border with Colorado, is a geological wonder enveloping you in a sea of orange. The park has more than 75k acres of rocks, canyons, petrified dunes, and, of course, sandstone as far as the eyes can see. It’s hard to understand how the forces of nature eroded away the rock and randomly formed more than 2000 arches. As you stand there gazing at the orange, arid landscape, it seems more likely the arches have been perfectly positioned with the intention of taking your breath away.
Unless you’re hoping to explore the backcountry, it’s entirely possible to see and do much of the park within a full day. Pack enough food and water for the day, as the park has just 2 places to refill your water supply and no available food. Set off early to catch the sunrise (or just after if you need a few extra ZZZs) and get a head start on the day’s many visitors.
I’ve laid out the park’s main attractions in a Choose Your Own Adventure-style based on the time hikes and must-sees will take. Mix and match what Arches has to offer however you’d like to enjoy the park. Whatever you choose, you can bet on a happy ending!
How to Plan 1 Awesome Day at Arches National Park
1 Hour- A Must-Do
1. A paved scenic drive stretches from the park’s Visitor Center to its northern end at Devils Garden. There are frequent pull-offs for scenic overlooks on both sides of the road. From the main scenic drive, a couple turnoffs direct you onto smaller roads to reach places like Delicate Arch and the Windows section of the park. As you travel along, you’ll be able to stop at all of the scenic overlooks for endless photo opportunities!
Don’t necessarily drive the road from start to finish. Instead, allow for this time in your day. As you head to the park’s sights, you should stop to enjoy the natural beauty surrounding you along the drive’s numerous scenic overlooks.
2-3 Hours Each- Choose 1-2 of the Hikes Below.
1. Delicate Arch is the famous arch seen on the Utah State license plate and is arguably the most popular arch in Arches National Park. The trail is 3 miles round trip and is listed as strenuous in the park’s guide. Compared to other similarly-listed hikes, like Angel’s Landing at Zion National Park, I thought the hike to Delicate Arch was more moderate in difficulty. Still, you’ll need to steadily climb upward and walk along a somewhat narrow ledge for the last bit before reaching Delicate Arch.
TIP: Delicate Arch is busiest in the late afternoon because of the angle of the light and the sunset views. We happily hiked it first thing in the morning, though, to avoid crowds. A Park Ranger and other travel bloggers warned us about not being able to get a photo of just the arch because so many people hike the trail in the afternoon. You choose. If you want fewer people, hike it first thing. If you want the best light, wait until later in the afternoon.
If this hike isn’t for you, stop at the Delicate Arch scenic overlook to catch a somewhat distant glimpse of the famous arch.
2. Fiery Furnace is the only hike in Arches National Park that requires a Park Ranger guide. The area is a closed-in series of maze-like sandstone canyons, which makes it very easy to get lost. It’s considered moderately strenuous because you’ll need to scramble and climb into tight places, as well as navigate along rocky ledges. The cost is $16 for adults and half as much for children (5+) and seniors. In order to make sure you can experience this hike, reserve your tickets several weeks to months in advance, especially during peak times!
If tickets are sold out or this hike isn’t for you, stop to admire Fiery Furnace from the scenic overlook point off the park’s main paved road.
3. Double O Arch is at the far north end of the park. The 4.2-mile round trip strenuous hike begins at Devils Garden. You’ll pass Landscape Arch along the way, which until that point, the trail is easy terrain. As you continue, you’ll have to climb and scramble up the sandstone, crossing rocky ledges, to reach Double O Arch. At sunrise and in the early morning hours, the sun’s light reflects off Double O Arch perfectly.
Visiting Arches National Park soon?
30-60 Minutes- Choose 2-3 of the Hikes Below.
1. The Windows section of Arches is a must-see. Walk the easy uphill trail to see North and South Windows and Turret Arch. The walk is just 1-mile round trip. The sunlight is best in the late afternoon hours, making the Windows a solid choice for sunset. This is one of the most popular areas in the park so holding off to visit later in the day also lets some of the crowds subside.
2. Park Avenue trail heads into an absolutely stunning canyon with an impressive wall of towering sandstone rock formations on either side of you. The trail is a 1-mile out and back round trip. The best light is in the afternoon but don’t go too late or else the light begins to make funny looking shadows along the wall of sandstone.
3. Landscape Arch is a 1.6-mile round trip gentle hike. The path is mostly gravel until it becomes all sand closer to the arch. Begin the hike at Devils Garden at the north end of the park. If you choose to also hike Double O Arch from above, you’ll pass Landscape Arch along the way and see both arches in the 2-3 hours as stated above.
4. Broken Arch is a walk through a flat, open meadow with snow-capped mountains in the distance. There’s a longer round trip 2-mile loop, but the 1.3-mile out and back round trip will give perfect access to Broken Arch and a wide open vista for taking photos.
15-30 minutes- Choose 3-4 of the Sights Below.
1. Balanced Rock is exactly how it sounds. A large rock that’s precariously and improbably perched on a narrow spire. There’s a .3 mile round trip path leading to the rock, but it’s also visible from the road and a strategically positioned viewpoint. Balanced Rock is close to the Windows section of the park so plan a brief stop along the way.
TIP: In between Balanced Rock and the Windows section is Garden of Eden. Stop to take photos of the breath-taking orange sandstone formations.
2. Sand Dune Arch is perhaps overshadowed by the narrow and mysterious entryway to the arch. An easy walk from the parking area, Sand Dune Arch is aptly named as it sits in a sand-filled gap between larger rocks. Go for the ambiance! If you choose to walk to Broken Arch, pair these 2 arches together. The trailhead for both starts out the same before veering off to each arch.
TIP: If you’re traveling with young children, take a break at Sand Dune Arch. It’s a perfect sandbox made by nature!
3. Skyline Arch is a small pull-off from the main scenic road. The flat .4-mile round trip walk reveals a large arch formed in an instant when a giant piece fell out of the formation and created a perfect arch.
4. Double Arch is across from the Windows Arches and is just as it sounds, 2 arches connected at an end. It’s a popular climbing spot for visitors of all ages. Double Arch’s claim to fame is a starring role as the setting of a scene in an Indiana Jones movie!
Arches National Park FAQs
1. When is the best time to visit?
Arches National Park is in Utah’s high desert. Summer heat can be quite intense. The spring and fall are the best times to visit, with April, May, September, and October being the most comfortable months.
2. How should I prepare for hikes?
The desert sun is strong and unrelenting. There are no widespread areas to take shade. No matter the time of year, protect any exposed skin with sunblock and wear a hat to prevent your head from burning. The park recommends drinking 1 gallon of water a day even when temperatures are cooler. Aside from the visitor’s center when you first enter the park and at Devil’s Garden in the northernmost section of the park, there’s no available water. Pack the water and food you’ll need to sustain yourself for the day.
3. How much does it cost to enter?
A car (including its passengers) costs $25 per day. Pedestrians and cyclists are $10 each. If you plan to visit more than 1 National Park (in Utah or any U.S. State) within a calendar year, find out how to save money on entrance fees. The pass will pay for itself and oftentimes allow you access to a faster-moving entry lane at the most popular National Parks.
4. Is there map viewable online?
Yes. You can view the Arches National Park map online.
Where to Stay
Arches National Park has campgrounds, which require a reservation between March 1st and October 31st.
Moab, Utah is just a couple of miles away from Arches, providing direct and easy access to the park. Moab is a full-service town, with hotels, food, gas, and touring activities available. Search and book great hotels in Moab on TripAdvisor or Booking.com.
If you’d like to use miles and points to book your hotel, Marriot, IHG, Hilton, Best Western, Wyndham, and Choice all have properties in Moab. Use AwardMapper to research available loyalty program hotels. We had an excellent stay at IHG’s Holiday Inn Express.
Where to Eat
Moab has your food and beverage needs covered! Check out the Moab Menu Guide for a comprehensive listing of places to eat. We ate at 2 delicious Mexican restaurants on our visit, El Charro Loco Mexican Grill and Fiesta Mexicana Family Restaurant. Both were positive experiences. If you can go to only 1, choose El Charro Loco. It’s a tiny hole in the wall, but oh so authentic!
Are you ready for your Arches National Park adventure? How will you plan your day?
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