National Park Guide: Arches National Park in Utah

| | | | |

Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, one of the most popular National Parks in America with two million visitors each year, is home to over 2,000 cataloged arches formed by erosion and weathering over the past 65 million years. Learn more about how the arches were formed here. Today, the park covers over 76, 000 acres and, in addition to the arches, is home to almost 500 species of plants, almost 200 species of birds, 50 species of mammals, 21 species of reptiles, and 6 species of fish (yes- fish!)

We visited in June of 2021, during the still on going COVID pandemic, and there were some restrictions, mainly with the Visitor’s Center and programs. We highly recommend visiting early in the morning (being inside the park by 6am early), spending the morning hiking, and then leaving the park for lunch and a rest during peak afternoon sun. Later afternoon and evening will provide cooler temperatures and smaller crowds. Going early in the day will also avoid LONG lines (we heard rumors of over an hour) at the entrance gate. Be careful to stay away from cactus and yucca plants, both of which are prevalent throughout the park. Both plants have sharp tips that can poke and easily puncture skin.

Transportation and Parking Tips: There are parking lots at the Visitor Center and most of the major trail heads. Most popular trail heads, like Delicate Arch and Windows have lots for up to 100 cars, but fill quickly in the morning (well before 8am in peak summer season). It is a solid 20 minute drive from the park entrance to the start of trail heads (a few overlooks come sooner) and closer to 45 minutes to popular trailheads. More information on parking here.

Restrooms: Located in the Visitor Center and at some of the trail heads but all restrooms vault restrooms with no flushing nor running water, except for the Visitor Center.

Visitor Center: The Visitor Center was mostly closed during 2021 due to the pandemic, with only the gift shop open to the public. Rangers attend to outdoor exhibits and offered suggestions and advice. Make sure children grab a Junior Ranger booklet to earn a badge. Make sure to stamp your National Parks Passport book. There is a large gift shop located inside the Visitor Center. Traditionally, the public is welcome to view an overview film and explore an exhibit showcasing the geology and formation of the arches and watch the film. Check here for updates on ranger led programs. Note: the exhibit is closed for 2021.

Family Friendly Activities at Arches:

1. Hike to Delicate Arch, which spans 65 feet high and 32 feet wide. This is a serious hike and not for the faint of heart, but it is doable with preteens/teens (and I did see plenty of younger children on the trail, although I would keep a close eye on them!). It is a three mile hike round trip and very steep at multiple points. Although the beginning is a sandy path with a bridge over Salt Marsh, hikers must then climb up the side of a huge rock and then traverse multiple steep and narrow, rocky cliffs, with no railing or barriers protecting hikers from the canyons below. There is an elevation change of almost 500 feet. Right before the Delicate Arch opening is a steep incline to another opening, called Frame Arch or Twisted Donut Arch, which offers amazing views across the gorge to Delicate Arch. There is no shade on the trail, so the best time to go is early morning or at sunset (you’re also more likely to get a parking spot, as the lot often fills by 7am) and avoid the heat. Plan on two hours for the hike. The trailhead is about a 45 minute drive from the Visitor Center. There is a large parking lot (for maybe 150 cars) and there are vault restrooms (no running water).

·Alternatively to hiking to Delicate Arch, visitors can view it from a distance from two different viewpoints. The Lower Viewpoint is 100 yards round trip and the Upper Viewpoint is about a ½ mile walk round trip.

2. Check out Wolfe Ranch, built by John Wesley Wolfe in the early 1900s, and the petroglyph panels at the start of the Delicate Arch trailhead. Peek inside the one room house built and then walk the flat path to see several horse and rider carvings on the side of a rock, believed to have been carved sometime between 1650 and 1850.

3. Hike to Landscape Arch, the largest arch (306 feet long) on the planet! The hike is under two miles in and out and the path is mainly packed sand and easy to walk; there are a few small inclines. After part of the arch broke off in 1991, the park closed the path that led directly under the arch. Today, visitors must view it from afar. Most of the hike is in the shade, and it is fun to walk through the narrow passage between two large rocks. Park in the “Devil’s Garden” parking lots, which holds about 100 cars. The hike takes about 45 minutes, but hikers can continue on multiple trails to see up to a dozen more arches. The total for all trails is 7 miles.

4. Hike the Windows area, which includes North, South, Turrey, and Double Arches. All three trails are under a mile round trip and are considered easy. The paths are clearly defined, mainly hard sand stone, and the parking area is a one way loop, with the “upper” lot providing closer access to North, South, and Turrey Arches, and the “lower” loop providing closer access to Double Arch. Guests can walk between the two lots and there are vault restrooms (no running water) in between the lots. Double Arch is the third longest and the highest arch in the park and visitors can walk up to and under Double Arch. It is an easy half mile trail on a hard path to the Double Arch, but there are sharp drops down and no railings or barriers under the arch, so watch little children.

5. Hike to Balanced Rock, a sandstone boulder that appears to be balanced on a narrow pedestal, standing a 128 feet tall. Although the hike is mainly unshaded, it is considered an easy hike, less than ½ mile round trip on a loop which should take less than 30 minutes to complete. There is a small parking lot for approximately 20 cars and no restroom facilities.

6. Drive through the park and take in the views from some of the popular overlooks like Courthouse Towers, Great Wall, and Petrified Dunes.

Other Things to Do:

  • Camping in Devil’s Garden (about 45 minutes from the Visitor Center), which has 52 camp sites and is open from March 1 through the end of October. Reservations go quickly, so book early.

  • Hike the Fiery Furnace. This is for serious hikers and requires advanced reservations and a ranger escort. More information on Fiery Furnace hikes here.

  • Stargazing at night. Many of the popular overlooks offer great views of the open sky and stars with little light pollution.

  • Four wheeling driving. There are a variety of four-wheel drive roads. Check with the Visitor Center for updates due to weather conditions.

Eating in the park and nearby: There are no dining options inside the park. The only place to get water is by the Visitor Center. Moab, the closest town, is about a 30 minute drive from the Island in the Sky entrance to the park, and has tons of dining options- check out this index. We enjoyed:

  • Moab Diner (plenty of delicious options; get a milkshake!)

  • Moab Brewery (with a microbrewery, tons of beers on taps, cans, and bottles, lots of great options including salads and burgers)

  • Giliberto’s Mexican Taco Shop (huge portions, especially the “kids” meals)

  • Antica Forma (great Italian dishes, pizzas, and homemade mozzarella)

  • The Cowboy Grill at Red Cliffs Lodge (a super special resort about a 25 minutes away from downtown Moab- mile maker 14 on Route 128, a scenic route that follows the Colorado River. The views are beautiful and the resort is home to the Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage. Make a reservation for dinner- great steaks and seafood options, and a children’s menu.) **Note: The resort is closed in January. 

Where to Stay: We stayed at the Fairfield Inn and Suites, which shares a resort area (pools, splash pads, fire pits, and lawn games with the adjacent Springhill Suites (both Marriott properties) which is the closest hotel to Arches National Park (5 minutes away). The Fairfield Inn opened in 2016 and the SpringHill Suites opened in 2018; both properties have approximately have 90 rooms. It is about a 35 minute drive from the entrance to Canyonland. We usually stay at Marriott properties when we travel (read more about why here) and enjoyed this hotel. Breakfast was included in our stay, the rooms are spacious, and it was relaxing to come back each afternoon and cool off in the pool; the kids loved all the water features.

Other related posts you might enjoy:

Follow along on our adventures on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Similar Posts

39 Comments

  1. This looks like a really great spot for an adventurous vacation – I’ll have to add this to my bucket list!

  2. This looks like a really great spot for an adventurous vacation – I’ll have to add this to my bucket list!

  3. Your pictures are beautiful. Arches is at the top of my national parks list and hoping to go soon for the first time!

  4. Your pictures are beautiful. Arches is at the top of my national parks list and hoping to go soon for the first time!

  5. Your pictures are beautiful. Arches is at the top of my national parks list and hoping to go soon for the first time!

  6. This is amazing Jennifer, as always!! I love how you give details about the trails and the intensity of them. We are not hikers but really want to go to all these awesome parks and your information really makes me feel like we will be able to handle them!! We will stick with easier hikes and auto roads (motorcycle riding!!) and your information is awesome, thanks for sharing!

  7. This is amazing Jennifer, as always!! I love how you give details about the trails and the intensity of them. We are not hikers but really want to go to all these awesome parks and your information really makes me feel like we will be able to handle them!! We will stick with easier hikes and auto roads (motorcycle riding!!) and your information is awesome, thanks for sharing!

  8. This is amazing Jennifer, as always!! I love how you give details about the trails and the intensity of them. We are not hikers but really want to go to all these awesome parks and your information really makes me feel like we will be able to handle them!! We will stick with easier hikes and auto roads (motorcycle riding!!) and your information is awesome, thanks for sharing!

  9. It looks absolutely beautiful, which is probably why it’s so popular. I love to beat crowds so would have to wake up early I guess. The hotel with the splash pools looks awesome too, and needed in that heat I bet!

  10. It looks absolutely beautiful, which is probably why it’s so popular. I love to beat crowds so would have to wake up early I guess. The hotel with the splash pools looks awesome too, and needed in that heat I bet!

  11. It looks absolutely beautiful, which is probably why it’s so popular. I love to beat crowds so would have to wake up early I guess. The hotel with the splash pools looks awesome too, and needed in that heat I bet!

  12. My husband has been to Moab,Utah but I haven’t. He said its really nice there. Would make a great trip for the 2 of us. Thank you for all the great info and the beautiful pics!

  13. My husband has been to Moab,Utah but I haven’t. He said its really nice there. Would make a great trip for the 2 of us. Thank you for all the great info and the beautiful pics!

  14. My husband has been to Moab,Utah but I haven’t. He said its really nice there. Would make a great trip for the 2 of us. Thank you for all the great info and the beautiful pics!

  15. I am a "big kid" and Arches was one of my favorite national parks to visit! It seemed like every time you turned around, there was an amazing new view in front of you. Thanks for letting me re-visit my trip with your fabulous pictures!

  16. I am a "big kid" and Arches was one of my favorite national parks to visit! It seemed like every time you turned around, there was an amazing new view in front of you. Thanks for letting me re-visit my trip with your fabulous pictures!

  17. I am a "big kid" and Arches was one of my favorite national parks to visit! It seemed like every time you turned around, there was an amazing new view in front of you. Thanks for letting me re-visit my trip with your fabulous pictures!

  18. This looks like an amazing place to visit! Definitely great information on making your visit worth while and exciting!

  19. This looks like an amazing place to visit! Definitely great information on making your visit worth while and exciting!

  20. This looks like an amazing place to visit! Definitely great information on making your visit worth while and exciting!

  21. I’ll definitely be planning a trip here (hopefully soon!) and this post will come in handy. It’s nice to know which trails are more shaded, how early to show up, and details like that. Thanks for all the excellent tips!

  22. I’ll definitely be planning a trip here (hopefully soon!) and this post will come in handy. It’s nice to know which trails are more shaded, how early to show up, and details like that. Thanks for all the excellent tips!

  23. I’ll definitely be planning a trip here (hopefully soon!) and this post will come in handy. It’s nice to know which trails are more shaded, how early to show up, and details like that. Thanks for all the excellent tips!

  24. I absolutely loved Arches! We just did the Mighty 5 over the summer and it was such an epic road trip! You hit all of my favorite spots 🙂 Also the hotel you guys stayed at looked awesome with the pool I will definitely be checking that one out next time!

  25. I absolutely loved Arches! We just did the Mighty 5 over the summer and it was such an epic road trip! You hit all of my favorite spots 🙂 Also the hotel you guys stayed at looked awesome with the pool I will definitely be checking that one out next time!

  26. I absolutely loved Arches! We just did the Mighty 5 over the summer and it was such an epic road trip! You hit all of my favorite spots 🙂 Also the hotel you guys stayed at looked awesome with the pool I will definitely be checking that one out next time!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.