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Arches National Park was one of the stops on our honeymoon road trip to six national parks. It’s a unique and mystical place filled with rock formations and arches. In fact, it’s home to over 2,000 national sandstone arches. This makes it the highest density of natural arches in the world. In this video/post, we wanted to share our experience at the national park. We’ll review our top things to do at Arches National Park and share some tips if you’re planning a similar trip.
Where is Arches National Park?
Arches is located in eastern Utah next to the city of Moab, which is about 230 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. The park itself is about 120 square miles, which makes it a small to medium-sized park. You’ll want to spend at least 1-2 full days exploring the park since there is a lot to see.
When we first arrived at Arches National Park, I have to admit that it reminded me of Sedona, Arizona, especially with the rock formations and desert landscape. However, it is different. There are many more arches and the sandstone rocks are unique. While Sedona is known for its large surrounding rocks, Arches has more detailed formations.
Favorite hikes & landmarks
Below is our list of “must-see” landmarks and attractions in the park. There is obviously a lot to see when visiting the park. There are viewpoints all over that provide incredible views. However, these are the landmarks and hikes that we felt were more most memorable and interesting.
1. Devils Garden:
This is in the northern section of the national park. There are eight major arches in the area. The most notable being Landscape Arch and Double O Arch. The area offers multiple options for getting to these arches. You’ll see signs for the normal hiking trails along with the primitive trails. These are trails that are more difficult and require some scrambling. The main trails are mostly sand and gravel with slight inclines. Overall, I would rate the hike to Landscape Arch as easy, while the hikes to the Double O Arch was much more difficult.
TIP: To get to the Double O Arch, it’s about a 4.5-mile roundtrip hike. Though if you’re short on time, check out Landscape Arch which is only 1.6 miles roundtrip.
2. The Windows Section:
This is another section of the park with a concentration of arches. I recommend parking in the area and doing the short and easy 0.5-mile roundtrip hike to Double Arch, then doing the 1-mile loop through the North Window, South Window, and Turret Arch. The trails in this area are flat and easy to navigate. Also, the first 100 yards of the 1-mile loop is paved in case you are traveling with a wheelchair or stroller.
NOTE: You might recognize the Double Arch when you see it since it was featured in an Indiana Jones movie.
3. Fiery Furnace:
The Fiery Furnace is a maze of narrow sandstone canyons and a major attraction in the park. However, in order to explore the area, you either need to take a ranger-guided hike or get an individual day-use permit at the visitor center. The area is less than 0.5-miles in diameter, but it does require time to explore. In order to pass through certain areas, you’ll need to scramble up rocks and squeeze through narrow passageways. While I wouldn’t say that it’s strenuous, these obstacles make it a challenging hike. The trail is marked too, but you can easily get lost or disoriented while inside.
Since it’s requires pre-planning, you’ll want to book or apply several months in advance. We booked our ranger-led tour about six months ahead of time. It sounded like others on our tour did the same.
TIP: The parking lot for the fiery furnace is small, so I recommend getting there early.
4. Delicate Arch:
This was our favorite hike during our visit. The trailhead for this hike is in the western section of the park. To do the full 3-mile roundtrip hike, you’ll start at the Wolfe Ranch trailhead. The trail starts out flat but then gets more difficult as you scale the large rock face. This is where a lot of people turn back since it can be strenuous. Though if you persevere, you’ll continue onto a beautiful trail that takes you to the iconic arch.
I personally loved this arch since it’s not only a beautiful one, but the landscape around it is stunning. We did the hike in the late afternoon and the lighting was incredible. Since it does require a significant hike, you’ll find it a bit less crowded than some of the other landmarks in the park.
There is also a short detour on the trail to see petroglyphs. It’s worth checking out, especially on the way back toward the trailhead.
TIP: If you’re unable to hike it or looking for a more accessible view, there are two viewpoints available in the area. One is wheel-chair accessible, while the other is a 0.5-mile roundtrip hike.
You’ll need to drive to get to the landmarks and trailheads in the park. Some national parks have a shuttle or bus system. However, in Arches, you’ll need a vehicle to explore the area.
While there are off-road trails in the park, we found them to be fairly rough. To get to some of the more interesting trails, you need a 4X4 vehicle with a high-clearance. We did see some jeeps that were damaged from the trail, so I personally wouldn’t attempt these off-road trails unless you’re an experienced driver and have a specialized vehicle. Also, ATVs or UTVs are not allowed in the park.
TIP: You can save on your auto rental by using AutoSlash to monitor price drops on your current car reservation itinerary.
In terms of lodging, there are many choices in the city of Moab. Most of the major hotel chains have a presence in the area. Airbnb options are limited though since Moab passed legislation restricting its use in the city.
We opted to stay at the Hyatt Place in Moab. When we booked it, we were able to get 3.6 cents per point on our redemption, which was an awesome deal. We transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt to complete the booking. The hotel is close to the park entrance and has an outdoor pool, laundry facility, and offers free breakfast.
TIP: In order to qualify for the free breakfast at Hyatt Place Hotels, you have to book directly with Hyatt. You can’t use third-party sites or travel portals like Expedia or Hotels.com!
There are a lot of cool restaurants and cafes in Moab. For lunch, we highly recommend the Sweet Cravings Bakery. They had a lot of interesting sandwich options and even offer a free sweet treat with every lunch purchase. For dinner, we recommend the La Sal House. We went there twice during our trip since we loved the food and ambiance! Plus, we were able to make a reservation on Yelp, which made it very easy to book a table.
TIP: When a restaurant is located inside a hotel, the charge may code as either a hotel or restaurant. If you want to maximize your credit card points, use a card that has both travel and dining as a bonus category (e.g., the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve card).
Additional tips and considerations
If you’re planning a trip to Arches National Park, here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Carry water and snacks:
You’ll want to pack a lot of water before visiting the park. Since the temperature in the desert is often very high, I recommend using insulated water bottles that can keep your water cold. There were a few water filling stations, but there weren’t any places outside of the visitor center where you could purchase water or snacks. We stopped at the City Market in Moab to pick up water and snacks before heading into the park. Prices were much more reasonable than at the tourist stores, so we stocked up on supplies. Our approach was to eat a large breakfast every morning at the hotel, snack throughout the day, and treat ourselves to a nice dinner in the evening.
2. Pack sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen:
With the exception of the Fiery Furnace, most of the trails and hikes in the park offer little to no shade. This means you’ll experience a lot of sun exposure. You’ll want to keep yourself protected and comfortable by wearing sunglasses and a hat, and using sunscreen.
Also, if you’re wearing sunglasses with brown lenses, you may find it a bit disorienting. Like in Sedona, the soil and rocks are often red. Since brown lenses add more contrast to your vision, it can make the environment glow red. If you have a pair of grey or more neutral colored lenses, I recommend using them instead.
3. Start early:
Many of the popular attractions get flooded by tourist buses during the day. This was especially true of the Windows section of the park. You can beat the crowds and enjoy the cooler temperatures by starting earlier in the day.
4. Book a Fiery Furnace tour or permit early:
As I mentioned earlier, the Fiery Furnance requires either a ranger-led tour or a day-use permit. Both of these must be booked far in advance. If you’re planning a trip to Arches, then you’ll want to book this as soon as they are released since they limit the number of visitors per day and sell out quickly.
5. Wear appropriate attire:
I saw several people in the park who were wearing flip flops on the trails. That’s a bad idea, especially when you’re trying to scramble up rocks. It’s easy to get scraped up or twist your ankle, so you’ll want to wear footwear that is grippy and supportive like hiking shoes or boots. Along with hiking shoes and a hat, we wore merino wool and sports fabrics. Merino wool clothing is especially useful with its natural moisture-wicking and odor-resistant qualities.
6. Consider nearby parks:
There are several other national parks in the area. If you have the time, consider exploring Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Park for easy day trips. We’ve visited both as well, so we’ll do reviews of each park in the future.
7. Consider an adventure tour:
One of the highlights of the trip didn’t involve the national park. We booked a canyoneering tour with a local company called Red River Adventures. It was an incredible experience exploring the sandstone canyons of Moab, and even rappelling down the canyon walls. We did the Rock of Ages Canyoneering tour and highly recommend it. Our 4-person tour consisted of a 4-mile hike and three rappels.
8. Consider flying to Moab airport:
The city of Moab does have a small airport north of the city. United Express does fly in and out of the airport, so it’s an option for those that don’t want to fly to Salt Lake City and drive down. Though you’re on a budget, then it’s usually less expensive to find a flight to Salt Lake City, rent a car, and drive three and a half hours down to Moab.
9. Be careful of where you step:
This is so important! Arches, as well as the other national parks in the area, has biological soil crusts. These areas are very noticeable as they are darker and textured. They sometimes have white spots among the texture too. The soil in this area is alive and is home to organisms like fungi, algae, and bacteria. The plants are dependent on this soil crust, and it takes generations for it to form. You don’t want to step into it. Make sure to stay on the trail and be aware of your surroundings.
Another thing to watch out for are ephemeral pools. These can seem like potholes in the rock and be either dry or filled with water. These pools are filled with organisms like shrimps. Even when dry, the organisms can become dormant until the next rainstorm. This means that you’ll want to avoid stepping in these areas and damaging the ecosystem.
10. Be aware of the weather:
While the area is a dry environment, you’ll want to be especially careful of lightning storms and rain. The desert is prone to flash flooding, especially along the canyons. Also, sandstone can be slippery when wet, making it especially important to wear hiking shoes with a good grip.
11. Leave no trace:
Sadly, you’ll see that many visitors have decided to leave their mark on the rocks through graffiti. The National Parks are a precious resource that should be preserved for future generations. This means not damaging or altering the environment, following safety precautions, avoid feeding wildlife, and disposing of any trash or waste. Also, a big pet peeve is seeing people hiking while playing loud music. It’s not only inconsiderate to other hikers, but the sounds can often echo through a canyon affecting the wildlife.
Lastly, don’t climb onto the arches. It’s not only dangerous but is also illegal!
12. Consider a National Park annual pass:
The admission fee for Arches is $30 per vehicle and lasts for seven days. Though if you plan to visit more national parks (especially the ones nearby) then you’ll want to consider an annual pass for $80. It lasts for an entire year and can be shared with another person. It’s also supporting a good cause, and can be used to access other federal recreational lands.
Have you been to Arches National Park? If so, do you have any other tips to share? And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.
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