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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 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 evening. 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 in 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 list 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 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 are 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 accordingly. 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.
4. The Windows Section
The Windows Section of the park has a large concentration of arches and unique rock formations. Arches found in the area include North Window, Turret Arch, and Double Arch. The large and incredible formations of the Garden of Eden and Parade of Elephants are located nearby as well. The trails are short and relatively easy. However, they do get crowded. I recommend visiting early in the morning or toward the end of the day.
5. Park Avenue & Courthouse Towers
Park Avenue and Courthouse Towers is the first major park attraction that you’ll see after passing the visitor’s center. The series of rocks resembles that of a cityscape, hence the name Park Avenue. The giant monoliths are visible from the road but you can also park and walk among them. The trailhead is located near the viewpoint area and continues down into the canyon. The trail to Courthouse Towers is two miles (3.2 km) round trip.
6. Petrified Dunes
The Petrified Dunes can be found off the main road between the Courthouse Towers and the Windows Section. The area was formed about 200 million years ago when winds from the northwest carried tons of fine-grained sand into this area, creating a desert landscape.
Over time, the sand dunes were covered by layers of sediment and were compressed and cemented by quartz and calcite into Navajo sandstone. Erosion eventually washed these top layers away, leaving the petrified dunes we see today.
7. Balanced Rock
Balanced Rock is another well-known formation and one of the favorite things to see in Arches National Park. A large boulder appears to rest or balance upon the rocks below it; however, it is actually attached. This is the result of thousands of years of erosion. It can be seen from the main road but there is a small parking lot if you wish to walk around it and get a closer look.
8. Landscape Arch
Landscape Arch is the longest of the arches in the park and one of the longest in the world. The arch spans 306 feet (93.3 m) but has a delicate center that’s only about 11 feet (3.4 m) wide. In the 1990s parts of the arch came crashing down, signaling that it may not be around much longer. The hike to Landscape Arch is 1.6 miles (2.6 km) roundtrip and begins at the Devils Garden trailhead. The trail is fairly easy and mostly flat, making it a good trail for families.
9. Devils Garden
Devils Garden is an area located in the northern part of Arches National Park and is about a 45-minute drive from the visitor center. The area is a must-visit. It has camping, picnic tables, hiking, and is a great place to watch the stars. The Devils Garden hiking loop is a total of 7.2 mi (11.6 km) and leads to seven of the park’s arches, including Tunnel Arch, Double O, and the famous Landscape Arch.
Things to Know Before You Go
Devils Garden Campground is the only campground located inside Arches National Park. The campground has 51 sites. There are no electric hookups or showers; however, there are flush toilets. The campgrounds are open year-round.
During the months of March through September, the sites are available through a reservation system. This is the park’s busiest time of year and the chances of securing a spot without a reservation are slim. Reservations can be made six months in advance. The sites are available on a first-come, first-service basis from November through February.
Lodging & Dining
Arches National Park has no restaurants or lodges. You will either have to pack your meals for the day and take advantage of the parks’ several picnic areas or leave the park and drive into Moab to eat at one of the town’s restaurants. The Devils Garden area is a great spot for a picnic.
Park Hours & Entrance Fees
Arches National Park is open year-round, 24 hours a day. It’s best to enter the park before 8 am or after 3 pm to avoid traffic at the gate, especially during the high season.
The park entrance fee is $30 per vehicle or $15/person for those who enter without a car (bicyclists/pedestrians). If you plan on visiting other national parks throughout the year then I strongly suggest purchasing an America the Beautiful pass. The annual pass can be purchased for $80 and allows entrance to over 2,000 federal recreation sites across the United States.
What to Bring
- Lots of water
- Lunch/ Snacks
- Comfortable shoes
Where to Eat in Moab
Gloria’s Corner Cafe
Gloria’s Corner Cafe has a large menu and is a good choice for lunch. It’s one of the few places around town that has vegetarian/vegan options. I really enjoyed their veggie burger. Gloria’s also has a nice patio space.
Jailhouse Cafe is the perfect choice for breakfast. The egg Benedict is delicious and the cafe has a great patio area. It’s located where the former town jail once stood, hence its name. It can get pretty busy, especially on the weekends but is definitely worth the wait.
Where to Stay in Moab
La Quinta by Wyndham Moab
La Quinta by Wyndham has large, clean, rooms that have both a microwave and refrigerator. It’s a newer hotel with an outdoor pool, fitness center, and laundry facilities. The laundry room is great if you have been camping. It also offers a breakfast buffet which is convenient if you plan on getting an early start.
Best Western Plus Canyonlands Inn
Best Western Plus Canyonlands Inn is a step up from your traditional Best Western hotel. Rooms have a small fridge and the hotel has an outdoor pool, hot tub, and fitness center. The hotel is just two miles from the Colorado River if you wish to go rafting. As its name suggests, it’s closer to Arches than Canyonlands.
Hotel Moab Downtown
Hotel Moab Downtown is a basic hotel but its location is great. It’s very walkable with many great shops and restaurants nearby. It can also be very affordable if booked far enough in advance.
Have you been to Arches? What are your favorite things to see in Arches National Park? If you’ve enjoyed this post, please leave a comment or share using the social media buttons below. Interested in seeing more of beautiful Utah? Continue to my post, “Monument Valley Scenic Drive: The Ultimate Guide“.