Your Adventure Guide to Exploring Arches National Park
Tucked away in the far eastern side of the beautiful state of Utah — a state known for its red rock deserts and numerous national parks (there are 5 to be exact) sits the famous Arches National Park.
Arches National Park is home to stunning vistas, incredible red rock structures — including 2000 documented arches (the highest concentration in the world), and beautiful striped canyons. While the park does, in our opinion, fall more into the category of a driving park instead of a hiking park (there are very few long-distance trails available), there is still a whole lot of adventure to be had within its borders.
In this in-depth adventure travel guide to Arches National Park you will find everything you need to know about the park; including, the top adventures, camping information, the best time to visit and how to spend 1, 2 and 3 days exploring the park.
So with that, let’s get adventuring!
HISTORY OF ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
Humans have occupied the Arches National Park region since the last ice age (roughly 10,000 years ago). Slightly more recently, the Fremont people and Ancestral Puebloans lived in the area until about 700 years ago (the Ancestral Puebloans are the people who created the structures in nearby Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado).
While Spanish missionaries encountered Ute and Paiute tribes in the region in 1775, the first European-Americans to attempt settlement in the Arches area was the Mormon Elk Mountain Mission in 1855. Though they would soon abandon the area.
The Arches area was first brought to the attention of the National Park Service by Frank A. Wadleigh, a passenger traffic manager employed by the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. Wadleigh was invited to explore the area in 1923 by Alexander Ringhoffer, a Hungarian-born prospector living in the Salt Valley. Wadleigh was so impressed by the desert landscape that he suggested to then Park Service director Stephen T. Mather that the area be made into a national monument.
Designation of the area as a national monument was supported by the Park Service in 1926 but was resisted by members of President Calvin Coolidge’s cabinet. Eventually, in 1929 the new president Herbert Hoover signed a presidential proclamation creating Arches National Monument — though at the time it consisted of two relatively small and disconnected sections.
The name “Arches” was suggested by Frank Pinkely — then superintendent of the Park Service’s southwestern national monuments. He came up with the name after visiting the park’s Windows section in 1925. Almost 9 years later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a proclamation that enlarged Arches to protect even more scenic features and to also permit the development of facilities (roads, bathrooms, etc.) to promote tourism in the area.
In early 1969, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a proclamation that enlarged the monument even more, though two years later President Richard Nixon would significantly reduce the total area enclosed. But, Nixon would finally be the president to make it a national park and instead of a monument. Today, Arches National Park is one of the most visited sites in all of Utah and one of the most well-known national parks in the USA.
THE ULTIMATE ADVENTURE GUIDE TO ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
\\ Arches National Park | Fast Facts
In 1929 it became a National Monument and in 1971 it became a National Park.
76,679 acres / about 119 square miles
NUMBER OF VISITORS
In 2020, the park saw 1.2 million people visit.
COST TO ENTER
$30 for a car, $25 for a motorcycle and $15 for a person or bicycle; all valid for 7 days.
➳ If you are planning to visit multiple national parks in a year, then we highly recommend purchasing the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass. This annual pass gets you into ALL national parks and national monuments, as well as free entry to other protected areas run by the national park service (there are over 2,000 in total). The annual pass costs $80. It can be purchased in person at many of the national parks (including Arches) or online here.
HOURS OF OPERATION
The park itself is open 24 hours a day, but the visitor center is only open from 8 AM to 5 PM (7 days a week). The outdoor drinking water and bathrooms are always open.
Hiking, canyoneering and sightseeing
1 day if not planning to do any big hikes or canyons, 2 days if adding on a big adventure.
\\ The Best Time to Visit Arches National Park
The best time to visit Arches National Park is during the shoulder seasons, specifically during the months of April and May and also in September and October. This is when the weather is the nicest — think mid-60s (18° C) and lots of sunshine. But, this is also when the park is at its busiest.
During the winter season — between the months of December and February — you can expect cooler temperatures (especially at night) and even snow. While it can be quite chilly during this time of year, you are also much less likely to have to deal with crowds.
Finally, during the summer months — between June and August — the temperatures are pretty hot (mid-90s on average) and it can actually be quite miserable during the middle of the day. We do not recommend visiting during this time if you are looking to head out on any longer adventures.
💬 INSIDER TIP: we were told by a park ranger that one of the best-kept secrets of the park was that during the months of February and November the weather in Arches National Park is still very nice and there are practically no visitors. This is also one of the best times to get a permit for hiking in the Fiery Furnace area.
TIMED ENTRY PERMITS
Starting in 2022, the months between April 3 and October 3, all visitors to the national park will need to get a timed entry permit. This new permitting system is to help reduce overcrowding and congestion in the park during peak visiting times.
Starting on April 3rd, all visitors will need to bring three things with them to the national park: their timed entry ticket, a photo ID and a park pass or park entrance fee (it costs $30 to enter). You can purchase your timed entry permit here. The park does open up the permits a few months in advance so we recommend hopping on early to make sure you can get your timed entry permit for the days you are planning to visit.
\\ How to Get to Arches National Park
Arches National Park is located on the far eastern side of the state of Utah. The closest major town to the national park is Moab, which has all of the necessary services you will need; including, gas stations, hotels and motels, restaurants and cafes.
The closest major cities to Arches National Park are Salt Lake City, Utah which is 3.5 hours away; Denver, Colorado which is 5.5 hours away and Las Vegas, Nevada, which is 6.5 hours away. The main highway to the national park is Highway 191, which eventually meets up with the much busier Interstate 70 at Crescent Junction.
\\ The Top Adventures in Arches National Park
There are numerous adventures available in Arches National Park: from auto touring to backpacking, there is an adventure for every type of traveler. Below are a few of the best options.
While Arches National Park might not be known for its hiking trails — especially when compared to other national parks like Yosemite National Park in California and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado — it does indeed have a couple of awesome trails within its boundaries. Now, before we continue we should point out that many of the trails in the national park are quite short (most are less than 3 miles round-trip). So if you are looking for a long 10+ mile trail you will likely be disappointed. But with that being said, there are still many trails worth taking on.
DEVILS GARDEN TRAIL
This trail at the end of the main park road (really the only paved road in the national park) actually has a few route options available depending on how far you want to go and what kind of conditions you are looking to experience. To start with, you need to decide how far you want to go. Your options include a roughly 2-mile round-trip hike to Landscape Arch — the longest arch in the park, a 4-mile hike to Double O Arch, or a 7.8 loop hike on a rougher, primitive trail that takes you past a couple of other natural arches.
We recommend the loop hike for people looking to explore Arches a bit deeper and who also want to have a more rugged hiking experience. The primitive trail — as the name might suggest — is a bit rougher than most of the nicely paved trails within the park. Along the 7.8 mile loop you will get to climb up some sandstone ridges, cross a few potholes and head deeper into the park's crazy fins.
💬 INSIDER TIP: most of this trail has no shade cover so we recommend doing the hike during the cooler months (aka not July or August) and bringing plenty of water. Even though the trail is less than 8 miles round-trip, it will likely take a good 4 hours to complete.
The Fiery Furnace area of Arches National Park is an entanglement of narrow red sandstone canyons that requires a bit of skill to explore safely. In fact, this area is so rugged and maze-like that you actually need a permit to enter. There are two ways to get this permit: either on a ranger-led tour or with your own individual permit. Both options require getting a permit online in advance (see below).
Most of the hiking in the Fiery Furnace involves climbing and downclimbing, stemming, and even a few jumps from rock to rock. Just like many other adventures (especially in the desert) it is important to know your own abilities before heading out — this is even more important if you are planning to do the hike by yourself. Similarly, it is also important to have all of the necessary gear with you; including, having proper footwear (good grippy shoes are a must), plenty of water (especially if it is hot out), filling snacks and sun protection. If you want to explore the Fiery Furnace by yourself (no guide) then you will need to reserve a Self-Guided Fiery Furnace Exploration Permit in advance, Permits are reservable up to 7 days out and cost $10 per person.
If you would like to explore the Fiery Furnace but don’t know if you have the navigational skills to do it by yourself, then your other option is to head out on a ranger-led tour. Just be aware that you will need a permit for the guided tours. These permits are available 6 months out and can be reserved online (though be aware that most sell out quickly). The ranger-led tours cost $16 per person.
OTHER GREAT HIKES IN ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
While there are very few long hiking trails in Arches National Park, the few short trails available are still 100% worth checking out. A few great ones include hiking out to the uber-famous Delicate Arch (this arch is so famous it is on the Utah state license plates), doing the 1-mile hike to The Windows — which includes the North and South Window and Turret Arch (we suggest taking the primitive trail back to the parking lot), hiking the 2-mile Park Avenue trail and finally, exploring Tower Arch, which is a 2.6-mile round trip hike.
BACKPACKING IN ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
While this may come as a bit of a surprise, there are in fact a few backpacking routes available in Arches National Park. The two areas open to backpacking (with a permit) include Courthouse Wash, which has 3 designated backcountry campsites, and the Fiery Furnace, which has 1 site available. If planning to backpack in Arches, it is suggested that you have strong navigational skills, bling plenty of water and make sure you check the weather ahead of time (flash flooding is possible).
You do need to get a permit before setting out into the park. These permits are available 7 days before your planned trip and cost $7 per person. The permits must be picked up at the Backcountry Permit Office (NOT the Arches Visitor Center). This office is located just south of Moab.
➳ Learn more about the rules and requirements of backpacking in Arches National Park here.
If you are looking for an even more exciting and adrenaline-filled adventure then consider grabbing a harness and canyoneering in the national park instead.
While the area around Arches National Park is a mecca for canyoneering, within the park there are a fair number of awesome routes available. This includes such canyons as U-Turn, Dragonfly Canyon, and Lost and Found Canyon. If you are someone looking to head deeper into the park’s canyons or just escape the crowds (which can become quite intense during the busy season) then canyoneering might be the right adventure for you.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: recently, Arches National Park has started requiring all canyoneering parties to have a canyoneering permit in their possession before hitting the canyons. You can get your permit online here or we believe you can also get it the day of in the park visitor center.
There are a number of biking routes available within Arches National Park, though all of them are on roads (both paved and dirt). This includes biking along the main park road — which measures 17.5 miles one-way, Salt Valley Road, which starts right past the Sand Dune Arch Trailhead, and Willow Springs Trail, which starts right across from the Balanced Rock Trailhead.
The last two routes — the Salt Valley Road and Willow Springs Trail — are both dirt and are much less traveled than the main park road. You can ride the Salt Valley Road all the way to Klondike Bluffs and Tower Arch Trailhead (a short hike) and then all the way out to Highway 191 (the main highway into Moab) — though this is quite a distance. The Willow Springs Trail is a bit rougher and can be even impassable in bad weather (especially if there is a lot of snow and rain). This trail heads out towards Eye of the Whale Arch and then on towards nearby BLM land outside of the park, specifically the Willow Springs Dinosaur Tracks and KlonZo mountain bike trailhead.
➳ You can find even more information on the other adventures within Arches National Park here.
\\ Where to Stay in Arches National Park
CAMPING INSIDE THE PARK
Devils Garden Campground is the only campground within Arches National Park. It is approximately 18 miles from the entrance station near Tapestry Arch and the Devil’s Garden Trailhead. You can reserve campsites for nights between March 1 and October 31 (between November and February, campsites are first-come, first-served).
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: during the busy season — April through May and September through October — the campground is usually full every night. If you are hoping to camp in the national park, it is suggested that you reserve your nights well in advance.
| COST: $25 per night
| NUMBER OF SITES: 51
| SERVICES: trash and recycling, firewood (for sale), drinking water (seasonal), tables and firepits.
You can reserve your campsite here.
CAMPING OUTSIDE THE PARK
There are many established campgrounds located close to the national park, including numerous camping areas off Road 128 (the scenic byway into Moab), Road 279/Potash Road and up in the Sand Flats area. Most of these sites will include a table, a fire pit, and bathrooms. While the prices depend on the campground and the location, most cost around $20 per night.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: while many of the campgrounds come with amenities like tables and fire pits, most do not have water available. The best place to stock up on water near the campgrounds is at Lions Park, which is located at the intersection of Highway 191 and Road 128 (on the bank of the Colorado River).
If you are someone who doesn’t need the amenities campgrounds provide or you just don’t feel like paying for a site, then your best bet is to head out and stay in one of the numerous BLM areas. Luckily, there are many near Moab, including some of our favorites the Willow Springs/Klonzo Trailhead area, the Gemini Bridges area and Dewey Bridge (this last one is quite far from Moab but absolutely beautiful).
All BLM camping areas are free to use. The only requirement is that you follow Leave No Trace Rules and camp only in areas that have already been camped in. You can find even more free camping areas on the app, iOverlander.
Thanks to the national park’s close proximity to the bustling and touristy town of Moab, you can find pretty much every type of lodging style — from affordable motels to boutique ranch-style cabins. Overall, the cost of lodging in Moab can be a bit higher than in other towns in Utah due to its close proximity to two national parks (Arches and Canyonlands National Parks) and its status as one of the premier locals for off-roading and mountain biking. In the high season (April through May and September through October) you can expect the price per room to increase significantly.
Some of the best places to stay in Moab and the surrounding area are:
| Holiday Inn and Suites Moab: this hotel is located along the main road into Moab (Highway 191) and approximately 3 miles from the national park. The hotel has a large pool, free breakfast, and free parking. Book your stay here.
| Moab Springs Ranch: this locally-owned resort is also located along Highway 191 about 3.5 miles from the national park and right on the edge of Moab (the town’s bike path runs right in front of the ranch). This boutique oasis offers private bungalows and townhomes, as well as a hot tub, heated pool, BBQs, free parking and a coffee shop. You can book your stay here.
| Moab Valley Inn: located in the heart of Moab, this motel offers large rooms, free breakfast and parking, a pool and a hot tub. While this motel is a bit farther from Arches National Park (around 6 miles) it is very close to downtown Moab and right across the street from the Moab Brewery and a grocery store. Book your stay here.
A few other options for lodging near Arches National Park include the Moab Rustic Inn, the Expedition Lodge, the SpringHill Suites (this is the closest hotel to the national park) and the Red Cliffs Lodge, which is located along the scenic byway into Moab and in a beautiful green valley.
💬 INSIDER TIP: if looking for a quick meal after exploring the park, we recommend stopping by Giliberto’s for delicious, fast (and cheap) Mexican food. The restaurant is located right across the street from the City Market in Moab.
\\ What to Pack for Arches National Park
Due to Arches National Park’s tough environment, it is important to come prepared with the proper gear. Below are a couple of outdoor items that all adventurers in the park should have with them.
You will want proper footwear if you are planning on doing any of the longer hikes in the park, especially the Fiery Furnace area. A good pair of boots should have a strong grip (perfect for climbing around on slickrock), and be comfortable and breathable. These Asolo hiking boots are breathable, lightweight and perfect for desert adventures.
While having proper footwear is super important, it is also quite important to have socks that keep you comfortable all day long on the trail. In Arches National Park (and other desert parks) you want socks that wick moisture and help keep your feet nice and dry. This pair of socks is by one of our favorite brands Smartwool.
BACKPACK + WATER BLADDER
One of the biggest dangers of hiking in the desert is dehydration. While you can easily carry a water bottle with you, we instead always lean more towards carrying a backpack with a water bladder inside. This makes it much easier to scramble over rocks and carry other items while on the trail (like a camera). This lightweight Osprey backpack holds a 2.5-liter water bladder, while also having plenty of other space for hiking gear.
The desert sun can be absolutely intense in Arches National Park. Plus, many of the hiking trails do not have much shade cover so having a comfortable sun hat is a must. This one is hardy enough to be crushed into a backpack but also stylish enough to wear on the trail and in town.
➳ You can find even more outdoor adventure gear at Backcountry.
\\ Must-See Spots Near Arches National Park
CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK
The town of Moab is spoiled in that it has two amazing national parks within a short drive. While Arches National Park is more of a driving park, Canyonlands National Park has a whole lot of hiking, biking and even floating adventures available, many of which are full day or even multi-day in length.
One of the most important things to know about Canyonlands is that it is actually split into different sections known as “districts.” The closest district to Arches National Park is Island in the Sky, which is located approximately 28 miles away. This area is home to numerous long hiking trails, stunning viewpoints (including the very well-known Mesa Arch sunset vista), and the famous White Rim Trail — a 100-mile long 4x4 road that is popular for bikepacking and jeeping.
Besides the Island in the Sky District, you can also visit The Needles District, which is located 79 miles (1.5 hours) away to the south, The Maze (one of the most rugged areas in all of Utah), which is roughly 158 miles away (but due to the road conditions it takes 6.5 hours to get there) and finally Horseshoe Canyon, which is a small area with stunning Native American petroglyphs. This district is 93 miles from Arches and takes about 2.5 hours to reach.
► You can explore our full Canyonlands National Park Guide here.
DEAD HORSE POINT STATE PARK
Another popular park for outdoor adventure is Dead Horse Point State Park, which is located just 30 miles from Arches National Park. This state park is known for its stunning views of the Colorado River and red rock canyon walls, as well as its numerous hiking and mountain biking trails, night skies (it is an International Dark Sky Park) and camping amenities, including a couple of yurts.
To reach the state park, head out on Highway 191 from Arches National Park until you reach Road 131 (at the intersection there is a dinosaur museum). Once on Road 131, keep going for another 22 miles until you reach the state park (there will be signs). It costs $20 to enter to park with a private vehicle and $10 if planning to hike or bike in.
💬 INSIDER TIP: if you are looking to camp near Dead Horse Point State Park but don’t feel like paying for a campsite, then your best bet is to camp in the nearby BLM land. Some of the best spots are off Long Canyon Road and Gemini Bridges Road. There is also the option to camp in Horsethief Campground, a BLM campground right off of Road 131. Though this campground costs $20 per night.
GOBLIN VALLEY STATE PARK
The final destination worth checking out near Arches National Park is Goblin Valley State Park. This state park is famous for its absolutely crazy landscape full of rock structures known as “goblins” or hoodoos and Mars-like feel. In fact, this park has such an otherworldly feel that it was actually the setting for the sci-fi movie Galaxy Quest.
Some of the best adventures in Goblin Valley State Park include hiking, canyoneering, night photography (it is another International Dark Sky Park) and disc golf. To get to this state park you first need to head out on Highway 191 towards Interstate 70 (Crescent Junction). Once on I-70, head west past the town of Green River until you see a sign for the state park and the exit for Highway 24. From the interstate, it is 36 miles to the state park (in total, it is about 98 miles from Arches National Park to Goblin Valley State Park).
It costs $20 per vehicle to enter the park and $10 for bicyclists, hikers and motorcycles. A night at the park’s campground costs $35, while the glamping yurts cost just over $100 per night.
\\ Arches National Park Travel Itineraries
If you only have one day, we highly suggest getting into the park nice and early to beat the crowds (anytime before 8 AM is great). Once inside head straight for the Devil’s Garden Trailhead at the end of the main park road. We recommend starting your day by hiking out to Landscape Arch, one of the world’s largest stone spans (it is 306 feet long). This hike is 2 miles round-trip and should take about an hour.
After taking in Landscape Arch and the desert scenery, start your slow drive back to the park entrance making sure to stop off at the numerous arches and viewpoints along the way, including Sand Dune Arch, Skyline Arch and the Salt Valley Overlook.
If you have the time, consider hiking out to the very famous Delicate Arch (3 miles round-trip) or simply stopping by either the lower or upper viewpoints. If you head to the viewpoints make sure to also check out Wolfe Ranch, an old homestead site nearby.
Finish the day by hiking out to Double Arch and The Windows, both of which can be reached via one parking lot. The Double Arch Trail is less than a mile long, while The Windows trail is just over a mile (a bit more if you do the primitive trail).
If you are lucky enough to have two days in the park, why not add a bit of spice and take on a bigger hike and/or strap on a harness and go canyoneering?
We suggest heading into the park early on day one and doing the whole Devil’s Garden Trail out to Double O Arch and then taking the primitive trail on the way back. The full hike should take up most of your morning (it is just under 8 miles total without the extra spur trails to other arches). After finishing up the hike, head to the nearby picnic area for a quick lunch.
Spend the rest of the day exploring the various other arches and viewpoints along the main road until you make it back to the visitor center.
On day 2 in Arches National Park we suggest going on a fun outing in one of the various canyons. If you have the know-how and the gear, then we recommend taking on either U-Turn Canyon (this should take 2 hours tops), Dragonfly (this one has potholes that are often full of water), or Lost and Found Canyon (this one has 3 rappels, one of which is 40 meters / 132 feet tall).
Depending on which canyon you choose, you might be too tired to want to do any more exploring. But if not, then we suggest doing one last hike in the national park. If you time it right, the Park Avenue trail (2 miles round-trip) is a great spot to visit during the final hours of the day. Or, if you want to get the most quintessential Arches National Park photo, consider heading to Delicate Arch during the dusk hours for some golden hour and nighttime photography.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: another option for day 2 is to head out into the Fiery Furnace, though remember you do need a permit — either with a guided ranger-led hike or by yourself. During the peak season, these permits can be tough to get so make sure to plan ahead if this adventure is on your must-do list.
While we believe Arches National Park has a lot to offer the adventure traveler, we don’t know if it has enough to fill three full days. So instead we recommend following the 2-day itinerary above and then on your final (third day) venturing out to explore other amazing destinations nearby.
A few great destinations near Arches National Park are:
| Grandstaff Canyon: this scenic trail follows a small river up a canyon before ending at a large arch. The trail is 5.7 miles round-trip. To reach the trailhead head out on Road 128 for roughly 3 miles. You will see the trailhead and parking lot on the righthand side.
💬 INSIDER TIP: this hike and canyon is also a popular spot to go canyoneering — though the canyoneering route is known as Medieval Chamber and not Grandstaff Canyon.
| Corona Arch: if you haven’t gotten your fill of arches yet, then head out on Potash Road (Road 279) to Corona Arch, a large rock structure on the side of a tall red rock wall. The trail, which is 2.4 miles round-trip, is mostly on sandstone. Along the way, you also have the chance to see Pinto Arch, a smaller arch on the same rock wall.
These two trails are great ways to explore the nearby desert landscape, especially the red rock canyons and famous slickrock sandstone formations. Along the road to these two hiking trails you can also stop and see petroglyphs and dinosaur tracks.
Arches National Park is full of stunning vistas, incredible red rock structures, and beautiful striped canyons. While the park is definitely more fit for travel via vehicle than it is by foot, it still holds a lot of adventure and places to explore.
Hopefully, this Arches National Park Adventure Travel Guide covers everything you need to know about the park; including, the top adventures, what to know about camping in (and outside) of the park, and how to spend 1, 2 and 3 days exploring the area.
If you have any questions about the national park please leave a comment below or reach out to us directly. And if you are looking for even more national park inspiration and adventure travel guides, then consider checking out www.backroadpackers.com.