38.7331° N, 109.5925° W
THIS ULTIMATE ARCHES NATIONAL PARK ADVENTURE GUIDE INCLUDES EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE STUNNING DESERT PARK, INCLUDING THE BEST TIME TO VISIT, CAMPING AND THE TOP ADVENTURES.
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
\\ 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 the Tower Arch, which is 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.