Arches National Park is an enchanted wonderland of red rock formations near Moab, Utah. It boasts the world’s largest collection of natural arches creating grandeur you won’t find anywhere else other than the American Southwest.
Exploring this otherworldly landscape is a captivating experience to say the least and there are so many things to do in Arches National Park. The Arches Scenic Drive is 19 miles long and travels through the entirety of the spectacular Arches National Park from Highway 191 to the Devil Garden Trailhead.
It connects all the main stops, arches, and sights, making it the best, easiest, and most breathtaking way to enjoy all the marvels this national park has to offer. It’s best to take your time and make as many stops, small excursions, and hikes as you wish, the road is paved and open all year-round. Below are all the best things to do in Arches National Park as you make your way along this jaw dropping journey.
Where is Arches National Park?
Arches National Park is in the great state of Utah. It’s close to the popular desert town of Moab and contains the world’s largest concentraion of natural sandstone arches!
The park is over 76,000 acres and has over 2000 arches, howver don’t expect to see them all. There is a scenic road to take you around to some of the best stops and arches in Arches National Park. It’s one of the most popular national parks in the United States and for good reason. Besides being awe inspiring and impressive there are a wide varierty of trails and family friendly activities to enjoy!
- Moab to Arches National Park: 8 min (5.2 miles) via US-191 N
- Salt Lake City to Arches National Park: 4 hours (230 miles) via US-6 E
- Bryce Canyon to Arches National Park: 4 hours (244 miles) via I-70 E
- Cedar City to Arches National Park: 4 hours (283 miles) via I-70 E
Get a US Parks Pass to Visit Arches
To enter Arches National Park you are required to purchase a Parks Pass. Pass prices are as follows:
- 1-7 Day Vehicle Entrance: $30.00
- 1-7 Day Motorcycle Entrance: $25.00
- 1-7 Day Individual Entrance (foot or bicycle): $15.00
If you are visiting multiple US National Parks it’s best to purchase an America the Beautiful Pass for $80 for the year and grants you access to all registered parks. At just $80 for a year it’s quite a steal and you won’t have to worry about stopping at park gates to pay!
About Arches Scenic Drive
There is one road through Arches National Park – Arches Scenic Drive, making it impossible to get lost. It is 19 miles long from Highway 191 to the Devils Garden trailhead. If you drove it straight without stopping you would need 30-45 minutes. So if you are really short on time you could drive through Arches quickly, however, I highly recommend allocating at least 5 hours to the park.
A Road Trip Through Arches National Park
Arches Visitor Center
The very first stop, only a mile into the entrance of the park, will be the visitor center. Here there are all the resources needed about the history, geology, wildlife, and sights within the awe-inspiring area. There’s a gift shop and bookstore for all your souvenir needs as well.
Rangers are available to answer questions and offer advice, a great resource. The film Window in Time is a beautiful display about the serene and surreal terrain playing on a loop throughout the day. Fill up your water, grab a map, and get ready for an adventure of a lifetime.
The second stop four miles in will be Park Avenue. Though there aren’t any arches, this is a fabulous foray into the landscape of miraculous natural monuments. The trail is about a mile out and back for a fairly easy hike to begin your explorations. Here you can see the Three Gossips and Courthouse Tower formations up close and personal with staggering cliff walls surrounding you if you choose to do the hike. Though many will just stop at the viewpoint for some photographs and sightseeing.
The Three Gossips resemble humans sharing secrets, and the towers look like skyscrapers made from brilliant red rock. It starts with a steep descent of stairs and then a scenic flat walk along the canyon itself. It was named for its appearance, similar to the iconic boulevard in New York City, but instead of boutiques, there are hoodoos, mesas, and monoliths.
Courthouse Towers Viewpoint
This viewpoint is located at the very end of the Park Avenue Trail. Climb back up the canyon on the other side and look out over the fantastic forms you have just encountered up close. The Courthouse Towers are a long collection of tall stone columns stretching 4,800 feet up into the sky.
Made up of many famous spires, see if you can spot the Three Gossips again, plus the Tower of Babel, Sheep Rock, and the Organ. Here are the best panoramas of non-arch sites in the entire park. Alternatively, you can always drive to the specific parking lot of the viewpoint area as well. Either way, always be sure to stay on the trail to preserve the precious living crust soil beneath your feet.
La Sal Mountains Viewpoint
The next stop soon after will be the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint, and the 360-degree panoramas here are picturesque. Again, there aren’t any arches yet but you’re sure to get your fill later down the drive. The La Sal Mountain Range is a distant backdrop for the Arches and offers a stunning surrounding landscape to the dreamy terrain.
It’s not so much a trail but a great stop to stretch your legs and soak up the sights without much effort at all. There’s sweeping vistas over all the landmarks in the front half of the park at an impressive elevation. It’s an amazing overview of the local Moab scenery, especially for sunrise or sunset.
Petrified Dunes Viewpoint
At this point, you will be approximately a third of the way through your road trip through Arches National Park. At the Petrified Dunes Viewpoint there is no trail per say, so it’s best to just wander out into the eccentric earth for about half a mile and then turn back. The vistas from here stretch out over a vast landscape that was once filled with fine grain sand dunes over 200 million years ago.
They were eventually covered over by other sediments, such as quartz and calcite, which compressed and cemented these desert drifts into what’s deemed as Navajo Sandstone. Winds have washed away layers to expose the original, now ancient, dune system, hence the name. It’s a unique terrain native to the Moab region. This is a great place to reflect on the immense power and beauty of nature over time.
Balanced Rock is a must see right along the main road. Pull over in the designated parking lot and it’s just a short stroll for an up-close gander at a truly majestic natural wonder. It’s a 128 feet boulder impressively and precariously perched on top of a thin column of red rock. This gives the impression it could topple off at any moment, though it’s certainty attached to its ever eroding pedestal.
At sunset it’s said to have a deep red-orange glow about it, but either way it photographs beautifully as it stands alone in the vast desert terrain without other large geological landmarks around it. You can even enjoy this site from afar in the comfort of your car if you wish, but it’s worth it to get our and stand right underneath it.
Note there are signs all over not to stack rocks, despite this we saw at least 100 unnecessary rock stacks at Balanced Rock. Please don’t change the natural landscape and stack rocks.
Garden of Eden
Next up will be a dazzling display of desert hoodoos and sandstone structures known as the Garden of Eden. This is a super chance to get out and walk amongst the formidable red rock formations, each more oddly shaped than the next. Some rock climbers try to tackle the stand-alone spires (which can be exciting just to watch), and others mosey mesmerized by the towering shapes around them.
With no designated trail here, it’s an open hike area for free form wanders. This attraction can be easy to miss, nestled between two such popular points, but it’s well worth a stop if you ask us. One of the coolest features of this section is getting to witness arches in the making. You can find many mini to medium arches beginning to form from all the natural elements around, it’s so cool to see them in progress.
The Windows and Turret Arch
This loop takes travelers to three different attractions, the North Window, the South Window, and the Turret Arch. It’s home to some of the largest arches in the entire park and is right across the street from the Double Arch. It’s a very popular spot to get out and hike for most visitors, so don’t be surprised if it’s a bit more crowded than some of the other areas due to it’s photogenic nature.
It’s a little under a mile round trip from either the Windows trailhead or the Double Arch trailhead which are connected parking lots. For a slightly longer hike you can walk behind the arches using the Windows Primate Trail and still end up back where you started. Both Windows a slightly different formation than arches) and the Turret Arch are spectacular feats that are sure to both delight and amaze.
Two arches for the price of one! This striking site is the tallest arch around at 122 feet. It’s also one of the few spots where visitors can climb on the rocks underneath the arch to get the full exciting experience. It’s very accessible from the trailhead, right next to the Windows.
The trek is only about half a mile, and it’s super easy to navigate. The sensational sculpture eroded over centuries will take your breath away, as the sky streams through the massive natural apertures. Be ready to be covered in red sand after this little excursion. It’s best to get here for sunrise or sunset to avoid the crowds. The Double Arch is easily one of the busiest stops in the park.
Panorama Point is a hidden gem in the heart of Arches National Park as it’s secretly one of the best places around for stargazing. Aptly named, it’s set at the top of a hill and provides wide open views of the entire landscape. During daylight you can see such fixtures of the terrain as the Fiery Furnace and Devils Garden with the La Sal Mountains sitting majestically behind.
There are some of the darkest skies in the entire country in the Moab, and this park has even been officially designated as an International Dark Sky Park, meaning they actively try to reduce any possible light pollution. There are an estimated 2,500 stars visible to the naked eye at this point, and it’s best to go during a new moon as well. They will often hold stargazing ranger programs from here and many photographers set up from this point to capture the magnificent Milky Way in quiet stillness.
The Delicate Arch is often deemed the main attraction of Arches National Park. This typically means big crowds and a busy hike in the desert, but don’t let that discourage you from witnessing this phenomenon. At 46 feet tall and 32 feet wide freestanding, it’s become the most famous natural arch anywhere. It’s an actual trek compared to some other trails, at over three miles out and back. You’ll traverse slick rock and red sand, and it stays at a slight incline most of the way, but it’s easy and suitable for all.
The overall elevation gain from the parking lot is almost 500 feet. The Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint offers a birds eye vista to take in this marvel. It’s a short and easy hike. The Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint is as well but not quite as worth it as the Delicate Arch appears even farther away and is harder to see. Along the way you will pass Wolfe Ranch and some Ute petroglyphs that are definitely worth a stop and a gander as well. It’s a great journey and certainly the most iconic view in Arches National Park.
This nifty non-arch attraction is named for the fiery red glow which it takes on around sunset. To appreciate its color and form, you can take a short hike from the parking lot to a stellar viewpoint looking out over the expanse it calls home. You can also take a guided two-mile strenuous hike to experience it up close.
This labyrinth of canyons meanders through narrow passages of sandstone walls, gaps, and drop offs. It’s both difficult and dangerous which is why you can only go alone with a pre-approved permit. Fiery Furnace is a perfect place for adventure enthusiasts and one of the most wild things to do in Arches National Park.
Sand Dune Arch
Sand Dune Arch is tucked away behind stone spires and is really a lovely surprise to happen upon. The round-trip trek is less than half a mile, and the sandy and shady trail is super easy to manage. From the parking lot you’ll be led through a series of narrow slot canyons to a secluded spot.
It’s connected to the loop for Broken Arch. At two miles this trail is a bit of a longer hike but still flat, and the arch is so skinny in the middle it actually appears to be split. Be prepared for a bit of wind here as it can whip quite easily through the tunnels of red rock.
Devil’s Garden is really rich with arches making it a great way to end your adventure. Here you will discover the dazzling Landscape Arch, as well as Pine Tree Arch, Tunnel Arch, Navajo Arch, Partition Arch, Double O Arch, and Private Arch both before and after. There’s an option to turn back after Landscape which is the longest arch in the park, but we recommend doing the entire loop if you have the time.
It’s a little over seven miles for the Primitive Loop Trail in total, by far the farthest in the park. It’s packed with massive spires of sandstone for a sweeping spectacle of sights. It can be a strenuous undertaking, as you’ll encounter a few scrambles and exposed ledges. As it’s far removed from the rest of the area, it’s a much less frequented route allowing for plenty of opportunities to connect with the enchanting surroundings.
How Long Does it Take to See Arches National Park?
You could do this entire drive in one day easily. Including plenty of hikes to sights like Delicate Arch and Double Arch. We only explored Arches for a half day, and although we were able to see a lot, I would have preferred to spend a bit more time in the park. I would suggest spending at least 7-9 hours in the park as there are so many amazing sights. However if you are up and at it early in the day, and don’t mind staying out late you could easily see all these sights in one full day.
If you are really short on time you can see most of the stops in Arches from the viewpoints without any hiking.
When is the Best Time of Year to Visit Arches National Park?
We visited Arches National Park in early April after skiing in SLC and it was honestly the best time to explore the desert. The temperatures were perfect and the crowds were manageable. The best time to visit Arches National Park is April, May, September, and October as these will see the mildest and fewer crowds. During the summer months, temperate can easily exceed 100 degrees, which will make you want to leave sooner and seek refuge under the nearest air conditioning unit.
What is the Best Way to See Arches National Park?
The best way to see Arches is either by car, campervan, or bike. Yes, you can cycle this road and we saw plenty of people doing it – it looked amazing! The park gets very busy from April to October, and. ifyou want to avoid crowds enter before 8am or after 6pm.
How Far is Moab from Arches?
Moab is just 5 miles away from the entrance of Arches National Park, along highway 191. Its proximity to the park mean you can visit in the morning, venture to Moab for lunch, and enjoy the evening hiking to Delicate Arch.
Where to Stay Near Arches National Park?
The best place to stay to access Arches National Park is in Moab. There are plenty of places to stay in Moab, but book them well in advance as these hotels get very busy and will sell out. A cheaper option is to stay in Green River along Highway 70, this is what we did as rates were getting out of hand when we visited and found cheaper accommodation in Green River here.
Here are some varying hotels near Arches National Park.
Can You Camp in Arches National Park?
Devils Garden Campground is 18 miles from the park entrance and the only place to camp in the park. Because of this, the site gets very busy. You can book campsites up to 6 months in advance from March 1-October 31st. The rest of the year the camping sites run on a first come first serve basis. The cost per campsite is $25.
If this campground is full there are other campgrounds around Moab to stay at.
Can You Visit Arches at Night?
Arches National Park is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. You can visit Arches at night if you wish. It’s a great place to stargaze, and if you are into astrophotography you can’t miss shooting in Arches National Park at night.
Where to Eat in Arches National PArk?
There are no restaurants in Arches National Park. It’s best to pack a lunch and snack from the grocery store in Moab so you don’t have to drive back to town when you get hungry.
Notable Arches National Park Hikes
There are some amazing hikes in Arches National Park. Our favorite was definitely the Delicate Arch hike, and every visitor to the park should venture out to see it up close!
- Balanced Rock (20 minutes)
- The Windows (30 minutes)
- Double Arch (20 minutes)
- Broken Arch Loop (50 minutes)
- Landscape Arch (60 minutes)
- Park Avenue (60 minutes)
- Delicate Arch (2-3 hours)
- Double O Arch (2.5 hours)
- Primitive Trail at Devils Garden (4 hours)
What to pack for Your Trip to Arches
- Water: You will want water while visiting Arches. We went out with our Stanley IceFlow bottles to keep us hydrated with extra cold water on the desert hikes. They keep drinks cold for hours even under intense heat.
- Sunscreen: Don’t venture out without sunscreen. The sun here in the desert is intense and there are few spots for shade.
- Trail runners: You’ll want shoes with fantastic traction for hiking in the desert. My favorites are the Salomon Speedcross Trail Runners for hiking in the desert.
- Shorts: Hiking shorts are ideal for hot days in Utah. (Men’s hiking shorts recommendations / women’s hiking shorts recs)
- Hiking Shirt: Moisture-wicking, quick-drying hiking shirts are perfect for hikes in the desert. My favorite hiking shirt is made by Outdoor Research!
- Hiking Hat: Protect your forehead and eyes from the harsh sun.
- Sunglasses: I don’t hike without sunglasses, good ones with polarization too to protect my eyeballs. I only have one set of them after all!
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