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Arches National Park was first designated a National Monument in 1929 and eventually a National Park in 1971. It’s located in eastern Utah and consists of 76,679 acres (119.811 sq mi) of massive, red-hued rocks. The area is home to over 2,000 sandstone arches, the highest density of natural arches in the world. Its most famous and arguably the most spectacular, Delicate Arch, has even earned a place on Utah’s license plate.
Millions of years of erosion have created the unique formations and landscape that we see today. There are impressive spires, buttes, and monoliths that give the feeling of being on another planet. Arches has both short walks and longer hiking trails and many of its incredible sights can be seen directly from the main road. A full day or two allows enough time to see most of the main sights. Continue reading to discover the top things to see in Arches National Park:
How to Visit Arches National Park
Arches National Park is located in southeastern Utah and is quite accessible for a national park. The closest city is Moab, which is only 5 miles (8 km) south of the park entrance. The park is located just 30 min from Canyonlands National Park and the two can be combined for a great weekend.
Many people visit Arches as part of a road trip from surrounding states. It’s an easy drive from Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, and even doable from California (where I’m from). However, if you are coming from farther away or don’t wish to drive, flying is an option as well. The closest international airport is Salt Lake City. The drive from the airport is 238 mi (383 km) and takes roughly four hours.
Best Time to Visit Arches National Park
The best time to visit Arches is spring or late fall. During this time, the weather is pleasant and crowds are fewer. The months from March through May are an ideal time to visit. Skies are generally sunny and most hiking trails should be open.
During the summer months of June through August, temperatures can soar to 100°F (38°C) and the park is at its most crowded. Visitors may have trouble parking at the top sights and any hikes should be planned for early morning or evening.
September and October can be great months to visit. They are not as crowded as the summer months but still see quite a few visitors. Temperatures are comfortable and can even be a little chilly in the morning and evenings. Winters are the least crowded but snow is likely and trails may be closed. Temperatures can drop below 0°F (-17 °C) at night.
Things to See at Arches National Park
1. Delicate Arch
You likely have seen photos of Delicate Arch before. Delicate Arch is the park’s most famous formation and my personal favorite. It tops the lists of things to see in Arches National Park. There are two ways to view Delicate Arch. There’s a short hike to a point that allows you to view it from a distance or a hike that allows you to get up close. If you’re going to do just one hike at Arches, make it this one. The hike to Delicate Arch is three miles round trip and takes about 2.5 hours. It is a somewhat challenging hike but definitely worth it.
The beginning has a well-defined trail with another short trail that veers off to the left. You’ll want to continue straight to go to Delicate Arch but make sure you check out the adjacent trail either on the way there or on your way back. The short detour leads to petroglyphs, or rock art, done by native peoples in the 1600s. The majority of the hike consists of a steep rocky hillside. There’s no shade, so plan accordingly if going during warmer months. This is the perfect hike for sunrise.
2. Scenic Drive
The scenic drive through Arches offers many easily accessible sights that can be seen directly from the road or with a quick stop. Seeing the park’s major sights in one day is totally doable. If just ten minutes is spent at each location, then the drive can be completed in about 4.5 hours. However, you’ll definitely want to spend a bit longer.
Parking spots at popular trailheads, such as Delicate Arch and Devils Garden fill up early in the morning, so plan your route according. I suggest starting or ending your day with the most popular stops. If you only have a couple of hours at Arches, I recommend visiting The Windows Section and the Delicate Arch viewpoint.
3. Sand Dune Arch
Sand Dune Arch is an easy stop that I really enjoyed. The arch is surrounded by beautiful reddish-orange sands and has a small slot canyon along the way. It was a fun location to photograph. Sand Dune Arch is just .3 miles (m) from the parking area and is a fairly quick walk; however, the deep sands will slow you down a bit.