Over 2,000 natural arches have been identified in Arches National Park — from thin slivers in the sandstone to massive stone structures ranking among the longest and widest in the world.
Carved by the erosive forces of wind, water, and gravity on a particularly unique layer of sandstone rock, Arches is home to the highest density of natural arches in the whole world, not to mention a whole array of balanced rocks, fins, pinnacles, and other interesting geological formations.
This wondrous national park has loads of short trails that are perfect for families, a handful of longer trails for experienced hikers, and a labyrinth of slot canyons to challenge adventure-seekers. You’ll also find plenty of easily accessible scenic viewpoints and several outstanding natural features visible right from your car.
Here are seven experiences you won’t want to miss during your trip to Arches National Park.
Drive the Arches Scenic Drive
The Arches Scenic Drive is the only paved road in the park. It’s 19 miles in length from Highway 191 outside of Moab to the road’s end at the Devils Garden Trailhead, which is at the northern end of the park. The drive passes by many of the park’s most beautiful natural features and provides access to several viewpoints and trailheads.
Compared to other national parks, Arches is very compact and you can easily enjoy much of the park’s most amazing scenery without having to leave your vehicle. But to quote Ed Abbey, late writer and former Arches seasonal ranger who wrote Desert Solitaire about his time working in the park, “You can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamn contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbrush and cactus.”
Stroll Among the Park Avenue Giants
The Park Avenue Trail offers some of the most spectacular scenery in Arches National Park, yet many visitors skip it because it doesn’t contain any actual arches. The trail follows the bottom of a canyon surrounded by enormous sandstone walls. Early travelers thought the gigantic monoliths and towering walls of this canyon looked like skyscrapers along New York’s famous street, so they called it Park Avenue and the name stuck.
Sure, you can see the Three Gossips, the Tower of Babel, the Organ, and Courthouse Towers from the road, but the views are not as impressive as walking amongst them. This short trail is often done as an out-and-back or you can arrange a pick-up at the northern trailhead. The trail can be hiked in either direction, but most hikers prefer the downhill direction from the southern trailhead. Afternoon is the best time for photographs.
Hike to Delicate Arch at Sunset
Delicate Arch is by far the most recognizable arch in Arches National Park. It’s one of the most iconic images in the state and is featured on the Utah license plate and almost every advertisement for “Utah’s Mighty 5” national parks. Standing at 46 feet high and 32 feet wide, Delicate Arch is the largest freestanding arch in the park and it’s known by several other names including my personal favorites, “Cowboys Chaps” or “Old Maid’s Bloomers.”
Sunset is a wonderful time to make the three-mile roundtrip hike to Delicate Arch. It’s the best time for photographs and you’ll avoid the midday heat. The hike, especially at sunset, is very popular, so expect to share the trail with many others. To avoid the crowds altogether, opt for a sunrise hike to Delicate Arch instead.
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Ranger-Guided Hike of the Fiery Furnace
The Fiery Furnace is a maze of narrow slot canyons, sandstone fins, and other strange rock formations in the center of Arches National Park. There are few trail markers and the only way you can explore the Fiery Furnace is on a ranger-led tour or by obtaining a special self-guided permit in advance.
Unless you’re an experienced desert route finder, the ranger-guided Fiery Furnace hike is the way to go. Tour reservations are in high demand and can be booked up to six months in advance. Before you purchase your ticket, know that a good deal of fitness and agility is required. Once you start the ranger-guided tour, there’s no turning back and you should be comfortable hiking along rocky and uneven terrain, squeezing through tight spaces in the rocks, and doing some light scrambling over rock obstacles.
Gaze at One of the World’s Longest Arches
Stretching a mind-blowing 306 feet across, Landscape Arch is one of the longest stone arches in the world. Landscape Arch is also amazingly thin and it won’t be around forever — a huge chunk of rock fell off from the bottom of the arch in 1991 and you can still see the resulting rockfall under the arch today.
It’s only 1.6 miles roundtrip to Landscape Arch from the Devils Garden Trailhead, and the trail is well-traveled and relatively easy with only a few ups and downs. Along the way, you’ll also see some spur trails to Tunnel and Pine Tree arches. From Landscape Arch, return the way you came or continue on to Double O Arch, two arches remarkably stacked on top of each other. Serious arch hunters can do the entire Devils Garden loop and see eight different arches.
Hike to the Seldom-Visited Tower Arch
Tower Arch is a huge secluded arch in the northwestern corner of Arches National Park. The trailhead is located off the unpaved Salt Valley Road, which intersects the Arches Scenic Drive, about 16 miles from the visitors center. The road is typically accessible to two-wheel-drive passenger cars in dry weather, but park staff recommends checking current road conditions before heading out on any of the park’s unpaved roads.
From the trailhead, it’s 2.6 miles round-trip to Tower Arch, a study arch with a 92-foot span and an interesting rock tower on the top of one side of the arch. Halfway between the trailhead and the arch is a notable rock formation called the Marching Men, a series of tall, narrow towers that resemble a line of soldiers marching along the ridge.
Take a 4×4 Tour of Remote Arches National Park Sights
Unless you’re planning on heading out for a multi-day backpacking trip, a high clearance 4×4 vehicle is necessary if you want to see any of Arches National Park’s more remote sights. If you don’t have your own off-road vehicle, you can rent one in numerous spots in Moab or go on a guided 4×4 tour.
Most 4×4 tours enter the park through the Willow Flats Road, the original entrance to the park. Along this road, you’ll pass by the Willow Springs Dinosaur Tracksite, one of the best-preserved dinosaur tracks in the area and Eye of the Whale Arch before meeting up with the main park road.