Arches National Park: The Ultimate Guide

Last Updated on: 18th June 2024, 09:37 pm

Arches National Park, just outside of Moab, Utah, is home to over 2,000 natural arches. But while many of them are inaccessible, you can expect to see a few dozen of them while exploring the park’s scenic hiking trails. And given the park’s small size, you can reasonably expect to see everything in under two days. This Arches National Park guide will tell you how.

Be sure to check below for suggestions on what to see or skip if you only have one full day at the park. Also at the end of the article, you can learn more about Arches’ Timed Entry Tickets which are a must for those visiting the park during peak season.

The following Arches National Park guide covers all the hikes from north to south, which is also generally the best order in which to see things.

Arches is the second-smallest of Utah’s Mighty 5 but also the second-most crowded. As you can guess, things can get rather hectic. The crowds are just something you’re going to have to deal with, but you can enjoy a more hassle-free visit by timing things right.

Arches National Park Guide Devils Garden

Navigating the Trails

Most of Arches National Park lacks reception, so it’s vital to download trail maps in advance that you can later access offline. Apps like AllTrails and onX Backcountry are great options for this, and it costs just $30 per year for offline access.

Devil's Garden

Devil’s Garden is arguably Arches National Park’s most popular hike. As such, you’ll want to get here first thing in the morning. Devil’s Garden is also the northernmost trail at the park, and it’s no less than a thirty-minute drive from the entrance station.

In addition to beating the crowds, by starting here and then proceeding south, you’ll save a lot of driving time if you come back the next day to see what you’ve missed.

Arches National Park Guide Devils Garden
Arches National Park Guide Devils Garden

There are a few different ways to approach this hike. To see absolutely everything, you can do the full loop trail plus seven additional detours. That’s what I did. The full hike extends out to 7.8 miles (12.7 km) and it took me about four hours to complete.

Alternatively, you could do this as an out-and-back hike, returning the way you came after seeing the Double O Arch. That’s actually what I’d recommend most people do, especially those with just a day in the park.

A large majority of visitors to Devil’s Garden, meanwhile, simply turn around after the first major landmark, Landscape Arch.

Arches National Park Guide Devils Garden
Pine Tree Arch
Arches National Park Guide Devils Garden
Tunnel Arch

Devil’s Garden is often regarded as the Arches’ flagship hike, as it’s the best showcase of what the park is most famous for: arches. By doing the full loop and taking all the detours, you’ll be able to see no less than eight of them (though I counted a few more).

Quite early on in the hike, you’ll encounter a brief detour to your right that will take you to two arches: Pine Tree and Tunnel Arch. 

They’re well worth the detour, though if you’re doing the full loop in the morning, it’s best to see them on the way back when the lighting is better.

Moving on, it won’t be long before you encounter Landscape Arch, the widest arch in the entire park! Stretching out to 306 ft, it’s also remarkably thin. In fact, it grew a lot thinner in 1991 when a large slab of rock (180 tons!) fell from the arch’s underside.

As mentioned, some people turn back here, but I highly recommend you keep going if at all possible.

Landscape Arch
Arches National Park Guide Devils Garden

Past Landscape Arch, you’ll have to make a fairly steep uphill climb up some rocks. Be sure to wear good shoes for this hike.

Before long, you’ll have the option to take another detour. Well, actually two detours, as you’ll find two parallel trails leading to two separate arches: Navajo Arch and Partition Arch.

Partition Arch in particular offers incredible views of the surrounding landscape through the large holes in the rock.

Arches National Park Guide Devils Garden
Arches National Park Guide Devils Garden
Partition Arch

Continuing north, the next portion of the hike has you walking along a steep and narrow ridge. The views in all directions are outstanding, but you’ll want to take things slowly and carefully.

It was particularly windy on the day of my visit, and some people even turned back here because of that. But you won’t regret going at least a little bit further.

Arches National Park Guide Devils Garden
Arches National Park Guide Devils Garden

In addition to the multiple layers of sandstone fins, look closely and you’ll also be able to spot the Black Arch far off in the distance. As you’ll observe from early on in your visit, no two arches at Arches are quite alike.

Moving forward, you’ll eventually have to make your way down a fairly steep and slippery section of rock. You definitely don’t want to rush this descent.

Ultimately, the reward will be worth it, as the next landmark, Double O Arch, is arguably Devil’s Garden’s most impressive after Landscape Arch.

Arches National Park Guide Devils Garden

As the name suggests, Double O Arch does indeed resemble a pair of O’s stacked on top of one another. You can even get up close to appreciate it from different angles.

As mentioned above, most people – especially those short on time – could turn around here and start heading back, knowing they’ve seen the best that Devil’s Garden has to offer.

Hiking to Double O Arch from the trailhead took me about 90 minutes, and it should take less on the way back if you skip all the detours.

Arches National Park Guide Devils Garden
Double O Arch

In my case, wanting to see everything, I kept on going. Shortly after the Double O Arch is yet another detour which also happens to be the longest of the entire hike.

Sadly, the Dark Angel monolith at the end was a letdown, especially considering how much time it takes to reach. While it is a cool formation, you can see plenty of similar monoliths throughout the Southwest, and even elsewhere at Arches itself.

Dark Angel

Next, I proceeded with the main loop trail, heading northeast. On the way, I spotted another arch in the distance which doesn’t seem to be labeled on most maps. But there would be one more arch to admire from up close.

Arches National Park Guide Devils Garden
Arches National Park Guide Devils Garden
Private Arch

Another detour takes one to Private Arch. While indeed nice, it doesn’t particularly stand out compared with all the other arches mentioned above.

Arches National Park Guide Devils Garden

Returning to the main trail and then proceeding to the final portion of the loop – known as the Primitive Trail – was my biggest challenge of the entire hike. I needed to scramble down a very steep section of rock, but there was no clear way down.

Looking all over for a better option, I ultimately decided that I had no choice but to carefully slide down on my butt while grabbing onto a small tree for leverage.

Arches National Park Guide Devils Garden

While the Primitive Trail – essentially just a flat, sandy trail – makes up half of the entire loop, the views here pale in comparison with the first half of the hike. That’s why I’d recommend most people simply turn around after Double O Arch.

All in all, Devil’s Garden is indeed a great hike, but it can’t quite compare with the top hikes of other Utah parks, such as Capitol Reef’s Navajo Knobs, Bryce Canyon’s Peekaboo Loop, and Zion’s Angels Landing and The Narrows.

But as we’ll cover shortly, Arches National Park does indeed have a hike that’s on that level: Fiery Furnace.

Broken Arch Trail

In total, the Broken Arch Trail is 1.7 miles (2.7 km) and should take around 45 minutes in total.

The trailhead can be a little tricky to reach. The road there actually branches off from the Devil’s Garden parking lot rather than from the park’s main road. Finished with Devil’s Garden, you’ll want to loop around the massive parking lot again in a counterclockwise direction (it’s a one-way road).

Starting the loop over again, you’ll want to make a right onto Campground Rd before driving almost to the end. The trailhead is located near the public restrooms.

Arches National Park Guide Broken Arch
Arches National Park Guide Broken Arch

But before going any further, it’s worth noting that I found the Broken Arch Trail to be the most disappointing hike at Arches, and I wouldn’t recommend it to those who only have a day to spend at the park.

But why?

Arches National Park Guide Broken Arch

While the final arch is indeed impressive, the full hike is a lot of work for relatively little reward. Though not terribly strenuous, the trail was poorly marked and it often wasn’t clear which level you were supposed to walk on.

While AllTrails ranked it as easy, it certainly felt more like a ‘moderate’ hike. And as we’ll cover below, you can see impressive arches, like The Windows and Double Arch, for a lot less time and effort.

On a positive note, the Broken Arch Trail was the least crowded trail I experienced at Arches (and I did them all!).

Note that the Broken Arch Trail can be combined with the nearby Sand Dune Arch trail, though you would need someone to pick you up at the other end. Instead, I did them as separate hikes.

Arches National Park Guide Broken Arch

Skyline Arch

Back on the main road, it’s time to start heading south. The next major landmark is Skyline Arch which is also technically a hike (0.4 miles out-and-back). 

But considering how you can immediately see the full arch from the trailhead, I saw no need to go through with this hike and decided to save my energy for the other stops featured in this Arches National Park guide.

Arches National Park Guide Skyline Arch

Sand Dune Arch

For those beginning from the main road, the journey to Sand Dune Arch is more of a walk than a proper hike. It’s just 0.4 miles (0.6 km) roundtrip and is mostly flat.

Arches National Park Guide Sand Dune Arch

Given its accessibility, expect to see fairly large crowds here throughout the day. As many people like to relax in the shade beneath the arch, I wouldn’t count on getting any unobstructed shots unless you arrive first thing in the morning.

Arches National Park Guide Sand Dune Arch

Fiery Furnace

Continuing south along the main road, the next major landmark is the Fiery Furnace Viewpoint. The fantastic overlook is best viewed from midday, and if you’ve already hiked Devil’s Garden, the lighting will likely be perfect by the time you make it here.

Hiking Fiery Furnace Arches

But Fiery Furnace is more than just an overlook. It’s also a hike that, in my opinion, is the most thrilling hike at Arches by far. Rather than a hike full of breathtaking overlooks, think of it more as a complicated maze that requires both problem-solving and physical agility to solve.

Fiery Furnace requires a special permit that you can only book from seven days in advance. And you have the option of either taking a ranger-guided tour or going independently. See our detailed guide to hiking Fiery Furnace to learn everything you need to know.

Hiking Fiery Furnace Arches

While Fiery Furnace may not be for everybody, if you think you might be interested, don’t pass up on the opportunity. As long as you’re able to secure a permit, make this hike your top priority at Arches.

In my case, it took me 2.5 hours to complete, though completion times can vary greatly depending on how lost you get. Ideally, you’ll have more than one day at Arches, allowing you to start one day with Devil’s Garden and the next with Fiery Furnace. 

See below for more planning tips.

Delicate Arch

No visit to Arches National Park is complete without a trip to Delicate Arch. This arch is so iconic that it’s featured on the Utah license plate! But despite its popularity, getting to Delicate Arch does indeed require some effort.

The hike there is 3.2 miles (5.1 km) with an elevation gain of 538 ft (164 m). It’s a steep and tiring hike with no shade, so bringing plenty of water is a must.

In my case, it was already around 15:00 by the time I started the hike, and it was over 100°F out. While I wouldn’t recommend everyone copy what I did, as I’d soon learn, hiking in these conditions allowed me to avoid the crowds.

Arches National Park Guide Delicate Arch
Arches National Park Guide Delicate Arch

Early on in the hike, you’ll pass by the Wolfe Ranch cabin, built in 1906 near one of the region’s only water sources: Salt Creek. This cabin replaced an earlier, cruder version that had also been built by rancher John Wesley Wolfe.

As evidenced by the ancient petroglyphs just nearby, the Wolfes were hardly the first to settle near Salt Creek. These carvings, likely left by the Ute people, depict numerous bighorn sheep and even a man on horseback.

Arches National Park Guide Delicate Arch

Past the petroglyphs, get ready for a steep and strenuous climb up the hard rock. Just when you think it’s about over, you’ll encounter yet another long uphill portion.

Arches National Park Guide Delicate Arch
Arches National Park Guide Delicate Arch
Arches National Park Guide Delicate Arch

The uphill climb continues right up until the final destination. But near the end, you’ll find yourself walking along a narrow ridge without any type of guardrails. You’ll also be able to see various beautiful sandstone formations, including a few arches.

Finally reaching the end of the trail, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view of Delicate Arch on the other side of a natural basin. This huge free-standing arch, which stands at 46 ft high and 36 ft wide, is truly a sight to behold.

It took me about 45 minutes to reach the arch and I’d end up spending a lot more time here than planned.

Arches National Park Guide Delicate Arch

I fully expected Delicate Arch to be packed. It is, after, the most famous landmark in one of Utah’s busiest parks. But perhaps due to the heat at this time of day – plus a bit of luck – there were only a handful of other people there upon my arrival.

And after one group finished up their photoshoot, the rest of us seemed to have an unspoken agreement not to walk up the arch and spoil the view for everyone else.

Arches National Park Guide Delicate Arch

Nevertheless, some clouds blocked out the sun just after I arrived. And I had to wait a good twenty minutes before they finally moved and I could photograph the arch under optimal lighting.

Despite having expected chaos, it was a serene and magical moment in this otherwise hectic park.

In addition to the arch and surrounding sandstone formations, visitors can also enjoy views of the snowcapped La Sal mountains in the distance.

Arches National Park Guide Delicate Arch
Arches National Park Guide Delicate Arch

Eventually, it was time to make the return journey to the parking lot. And as one might expect, the descent was a whole lot easier.

But if you want to see Delicate Arch without doing the strenuous hike at all, there’s fortunately an alternative. If you drive all the way east down Delicate Arch Rd, you can see the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint.

A short hike, meanwhile, will take you to the Upper Delicate Arch viewpoint. But based on pictures I’ve seen of these viewpoints, neither can compare with the view you get by doing things the hard way.

Arches National Park Guide Delicate Arch

Along The Windows Road

About halfway down the park’s main road, you’ll find the turnoff for The Windows Road, along which you’ll find numerous significant arches and landmarks. And the various landmarks here only require light hiking.

Arches National Park Guide Viewpoints

One of the first landmarks you’ll encounter is a series of rock formations collectively referred to as The Garden of Eden. 

As you’ll notice from early on in your Utah travels, early Mormon settlers liked to name various landmarks – not to mention entire towns – after Biblical stories or locations.

Arches National Park Guide The Windows
The Windows from afar

Reaching the end of the road, you’ll encounter a large looped parking area from which two separate trails branch out. I decided to start by visiting the one to the south, which takes visitors to The Windows and Turret Arch.

There are actually two loop trails in this one section, the longer of which is a mile long. While I’d originally planned to do it, one can see the main arches by doing a much shorter (0.4 miles) loop, so I saw no reason to continue further.

Arches National Park Guide The Windows
Arches National Park Guide The Windows
Turret Arch

Turret Arch and The Windows are all impressive arches that are easy to reach, though this area can also get incredibly crowded. Finished with the hike, I decided to continue to the other main arch in the area.

Arches National Park Guide The Windows
One of The Windows

Double Arch is easily one of Arches National Park’s most impressive landmarks. As the name suggests, you’ll get to see two arches simultaneously. It almost looks like an optical illusion.

Furthermore, these arches are huge and are probably among the biggest that one can easily access at the park. As one might expect, you’re going to find large crowds here throughout the day, so you’d probably have to arrive first thing in the morning to get an unobstructed shot.

In total, my visit to Turret Arch, The Windows and Double Arch took me about 45 minutes.

Arches National Park Guide Double Arch

Balanced Rock

Just off the main road is yet another viewpoint that’s well worth a quick stop. Balanced Rock is only one of many balancing rock formations throughout Utah, but the size of this one makes it particularly impressive.

Arches National Park Guide Viewpoints

Park Avenue

Park Avenue is arguably the most underrated hike featured in this guide to Arches National Park. It’s probably overlooked for a couple of reasons: It doesn’t feature any arches, while it’s more of a point-to-point hike. 

Either you will need to have someone pick you up at the other end, or you’ll have to do this as a longer out-and-back hike. But at 0.9 miles each way, it’s still not terribly long roundtrip, and you should be able to complete it in an hour.

If you don’t have time, at least be sure to stop at the overlook at the southern end of the trail which is easily accessible by car.

Arches National Park Guide Park Avenue
Courthouse Towers

In my case, I started from the Courthouse Towers to the north. As I proceeded with the trail, I turned around to see towering standalone formations in all directions. 

Arches National Park Guide Park Avenue

The trail itself is quite easy and flat. But things can be a little confusing in the middle of the hike, as it’s not always clear which level is most ideal to walk on.

Though I was walking on one of the upper levels of rock, I eventually decided to move down a level. But as it was a fairly large drop, I had to be careful not to slip.

Arches National Park Guide Park Avenue

In contrast to many of the nearby landmarks that were named after Biblical themes, Park Avenue was clearly inspired by New York.

And as you make your way further south, you’ll start to encounter huge walls of stone that slightly resemble blocks of skyscrapers in a modern city.

Reaching the end, you’ll climb a series of steps, after which you can enjoy a spectacular view of the formations and the trail below. Despite lacking arches, this is a hike you shouldn’t leave out of your Arches National Park itinerary.

Additional Info

As mentioned above, Arches National Park is home to thousands of arches. But even after completing all the hikes along the main road, you’ll have only seen a fraction of them.

The park actually has an extensive backcountry, and it’s possible to book a 4×4 tour like this one by Navtec to see it. While I didn’t experience this particular tour, I did go with Navtec on a 4×4 tour through Canyonlands and had a great experience.

On the other hand, if you mainly want to focus on the attractions featured in the above guide to Arches National Park, but would prefer the company of a guide, this tour has great reviews.

As mentioned above, the main portion of Arches National Park is quite small, and you can realistically expect to do every single hike within 1.5 days. That’s what I did, and I’ll recap my itinerary before suggesting how to explore the park with just one full day.

However long you spend at the park, note that there are no restaurants at Arches, so be sure to come prepared with plenty of snacks.

Day 1: I entered the park at around 8:00, though I’d recommend arriving around 7:00 if you can. I then continued along the main road until I reached the trailhead from Devil’s Garden about thirty minutes later.

After doing the full loop hike (about four hours), I then proceeded with the hikes in the same order as described in the Arches guide above. I did the Broken Arch Hike, saw Skyline Arch and Sand Dune Arch, and then went to the Fiery Furnace Viewpoint (I’d do the actual hike the next day).

I would then hike to Delicate Arch, and it was already late afternoon by the time I finished. Though exhausted, I managed to squeeze in the Park Avenue hike before returning to my hotel.

Day 2: I began the day with the Fiery Furnace hike, which took me 2.5 hours. But completion times can vary greatly depending on how lost you get. (Note: An advanced permit is required for this hike. See our dedicated guide for more).

When finished, I proceeded to check out a few different overlooks I’d missed the previous day, while I also went to see the various sites along The Windows Road.

With plenty of time left over, I spent the rest of the day visiting Dead Horse Point State Park. That park is much closer to the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park. But as I’d recommend a full day at Island in the Sky, it’s better to visit Dead Horse Point another time, such as after your second day at Arches.

If you only have one day:

If you only have one full day at Arches, you can still easily see the best the park has to offer. How you go about your visit will depend on whether or not you were able to secure a Fiery Furnace hiking permit.

If so, I’d start my day at Fiery Furnace, as it can be hard to predict how long the hike is going to take you.

Next, I’d head up to Devil’s Garden. I’d then hike to the Double O Arch and back again, doing it as an out-and-back hike.

Next, I’d do the Delicate Arch hike (if you’re really exhausted by this point, consider driving to the easily accessible but less impressive viewpoint).

I’d then finish the day with a visit to The Windows Road, along with a stop at the Park Avenue Overlook on my way out.

Without the Fiery Furnace hike, I’d start with Devil’s Garden as an out-and-back hike. I’d then do all the other hikes as outlined in the Arches National Park guide above with the exception of the Broken Arch Trail.

At the time of writing, in order to prevent overcrowding, Arches National Park is implementing a timed entry system for the spring and summer. That means that you’ll only be able to enter the park with a Timed Entry Ticket, and you’ll have to show a screenshot of your pass upon entry.

Timed Entry Permits are NOT the same thing as park passes, but more like advanced reservations. They only cost $2 per day, but the key is buying them before they sell out.

Currently, passes are going on sale three months in advance. For example, those visiting the park at any time in June will be able to purchase a Timed Entry Ticket for that month beginning in March.

You can learn more about the system here, while this is the link for purchasing the Timed Entry Tickets. Note that if you fail to obtain a ticket, you can still enter the park without one either before 7:00 in the morning or after 16:00. Additionally, you can enter the park at any time without a Timed Entry Ticket if you have a Fiery Furnace permit for that day.

Timed Entry Ticket aside, Arches National Park costs $30 per vehicle to enter (learn more here).

If you’re visiting from abroad, note that in contrast to many other countries, US parks typically charge per vehicle rather than per person. However, if you’re traveling by bicycle instead, they’ll charge you for an individual pass which costs $15, while those on motorcycles will be charged $25.

Considering how many National Parks and National Monuments there are to see in the Southwest alone, the best option for most will be to buy an ‘America the Beautiful’ Annual National Parks Pass.

These cost $80 for the year. In most cases, you’re already saving money by just visiting four National Parks/Monuments anywhere in the country within a full year.

What’s more, is that only one person in your vehicle needs to have the pass. Additionally, seniors can buy the pass for just $20. So if you have someone over 62 in your party, just have them get the annual pass and everyone else will be set.

As for where to get the pass, you can purchase it in person at most National Parks or Monuments. But you can also order it in advance online.

Considering how Moab serves as the base for two National Parks, one State Park and plenty of other nearby attractions, you’ll likely be spending at least several nights here.

Moab is one of the most touristy towns you’ll encounter in the Southwest, so there’s no shortage of accommodation options to choose from.

I stayed at a centrally-located motel called the The Virginian Inn Moab Downtown. Overall, I had a comfortable stay and consider it a good value.

The most peculiar thing about this motel is that the receptionists are located in the Philippines! There is someone on-call 24 hours, and you can start chatting with them via a video conferencing machine as soon as you enter the lobby. It felt rather strange at first, but the system actually worked out pretty well.

Other highly-rated accommodations for a similar price range include the Expedition Lodge, the Bowen Motel and the Rustic Inn.

Despite how popular it’s become, Moab remains relatively difficult to reach due to its geographical isolation.

The nearest major airport would be Salt Lake City, which is around four hours away. While Moab does have its own small airport, it apparently only has direct connections with Salt Lake City or Denver.

It’s also possible to take an Amtrak train from Salt Lake City to the nearby town of Green River, Utah. In any case, you’ll need to rent a car to get to Moab and explore the nearby parks.

For those doing a longer trip across Utah, Moab is about 2.5 hours from Capitol Reef National Park. If you’re coming from the Monument Valley area, Moab is about 2 hours and 15 minutes from the town of Mexican Hat.

Moab is also just about two hours from Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

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