Arches National Park is one of the top national parks in the U.S. and one of the best places you can visit in Utah. The park is filled with majestic rock formations that defy gravity and captivate the imagination. Here are the best things to do in Arches National Park.
There are more than 2,000 arches in the park and you can visit, photograph and stare in amazement at many of them. A symbol synonymous with the state of Utah (Delicate Arch is on the license plate), you will quickly understand why so many people are in love with this natural wonder. When it comes to the National Parks in Utah, Arches is the one that comes to mind first!
Growing up nearby in Colorado, I spent lots of time hiking and exploring Arches. Many of my adventures were inspired by author Edward Abbey, who was once a park ranger in Arches. His exploits fueled my spirit of adventure.
And it can inspire you too! Whether you are looking for hard-core adventure or just sightseeing, you can do it in Arches.
If you are visiting Moab, Arches is probably at the top of your to do list. Here’s how to fill your time:
Drive the Scenic Drive
One of the top things to do is drive the length of the Scenic Drive through the park. This is the park’s main road and stretches for a total of 19-miles from the park entrance at Highway 191 all the way out to the Devils Garden trailhead.
You can choose to do a self-driving tour that will help you see several of the major formations and sites to see without having to get out of your car (such as the Balanced Rock or the Skyline Arch), or you can take some time to get out and stretch your legs a bit.
If you stop at every highlight on the self-drive tour for about 10 minutes, the whole drive will take you 3-4 hours. This is a great way to start your trip and get your bearings. Of course, we recommend spending more time in the park and exploring. Read on for ideas!
For the fit and adventurous, you can explore Arches National Park by cycling. You cannot cycle on any of the trails, but you can ride on any of the paved or unpaved roads, including the Scenic Drive.
The least visited roads are the unpaved/dirt roads of Salt Valley and Willow Springs, making them perfect for mountain bikes. They have deep sands, washboards, and other obstacles that make the ride more fun.
Park Avenue is a short, easy hike and is located right at the beginning of the Scenic Drive. You won’t walk past any arches, but you will see the Courthouse Towers and the Three Gossips, both are iconic rock formations in the park. The name Park Avenue is from visitors comparing the towers to the massive skyscrapers in New York City. This section of the park also looks like Monument Valley in Arizona!
The full hike is an out-and-back two-mile hike (one mile each direction), which should take you about 30 to 45 minutes. If you want to stop at any point, you can just turn around. The hike starts from the Park Avenue Viewpoint and descends down a staircase into a valley of rock walls (ultimately terminating the Courthouse Towers Viewpoint). Even if you don’t want to do the hike, the view from the lookout is spectacular.
La Sal Mountains Viewpoint
La Sal Mountains Viewpoint is quite near the entrance to Arches National Park. You won’t be able to see any of the famous arches from this spot, but you can see a full panoramic view of the national park.
And as the name suggests, you will also be able to see the La Sal Mountains as well. It is one of the highest viewpoints in the area and is known for being better than the nearby Courthouse Towers Viewpoint (where the Park Avenue Trail comes out if you take it the whole way).
The La Sal Mountains Viewpoint is one of my favorite spots in the park at sunset as the sandstone cliffs are illuminated with deep, red colors.
Petrified Dunes Viewpoint
The Petrified Dunes Viewpoint overlooks the ancient sand dunes that were created more than 200 million years ago. They were formed as the sand hardened under the surface of the landscape. The top lawyer was eroded over time, leaving his dome-like structures.
The viewpoint offers a decent-enough view. Over the years, I’ve often skipped this area because it is less remarkable than the rest of park, which is full of a lot of remarkable views! If you are short on time, skip the Petrified Dunes (or you can always visit on your way out of the park).
One of the best things to do at Arches National Park is visit the Balanced Rock and hike the short trail around the world-famous rock formation. It is about a quarter-mile around the base, which takes about 15 minutes from start to finish—a great way to get the blood flowing before going on a longer hike.
There is a parking lot next to the Balanced Rock and it is partially wheelchair accessible with a paved sidewalk, making it a great spot if someone in your party uses a wheelchair or you have kids in strollers.
At night, the Balanced Rock is one of my favorite spots to go stargazing in the park. Not only is the night sky extremely clear, but you can take your own photo of the rock formation in the foreground creating a silhouette against the sky.
Garden of Eden
The Garden of Eden can be experienced in a short visit, but it is worth the stop. It’s located on the north side of the road leading down into The Windows section of the park. From Garden of Eden, you will be able to see an overlook featuring sandstone rocks and knobby rock formations that are taller than you could imagine.
It’s also one of the spots in the park where rock climbing is permitted. You’ll likely see climbers making their way up the sandstone formations or someone at the top belaying other climbers.
This is another spot that is perfect for stargazing at night once the sun is completely down.
The Windows and Turret Arch
If you are looking for a short hike that also has a couple of arches to look at and explore, go to the Windows and Turret Arch trail. Located in The Windows section of the park, there is the North and South Arches and the Turret Arch, all on one hiking trail. And these are three of the largest arches that you can see in the park.
One of the most photographed spots in the park is looking through the North Window with the Turret Arch in the background. The hike is about ¾ of a mile round trip, which should take you around 30 to 45 minutes.
One of the best arches in Arches National Park is the Double Arch. It is a very short hike—about a half-mile round trip that takes about 30 minutes—you can climb on the rocks here and up into the arch itself, unlike at other arch formations.
Double Arch is the tallest arch formation in Arches National Park as well. If there is one hike you need to prioritize, it is the trail up to the Double Arch. The best view is from underneath—get a picture of the double arches against the blue sky, an impressive sight and one that cannot be missed.
I also love visiting the Double Arch late at night and viewing the stars up through the Double Arch structure.
If you’re looking for a place to have a picnic and take a short break on your day exploring the park, head to Panorama Point. It is an open space where you can see the vast expanse of the park and the La Sal Mountains in the distance. But you can’t really see any of the arches here.
It is also a great spot for stargazing at night. There’s tons of parking, it’s a little off the Scenic Drive so you have fewer car headlights to contend with, it is one of the highest points in the park, and there’s no lights anywhere around. (Pro tip: It’s VERY dark here, so be careful and watch your step! I speak from experience on this.)
Delicate Arch Hike
Hiking up to the Delicate Arch is one of the most strenuous hikes you can do in Arches National Park. It is a three-mile round trip hike, so it is also on the longer side and you will experience an elevation change of about 500 feet, starting from the Wolfe Ranch parking lot.
But this is one of the best Arches National Park hikes for good reason: the view. At the top, you have an incredible view of the Delicate Arch towering above a sandstone bowl with the La Sal Mountains in the background.
If you visit the park in the summer, it is suggested that you start as early as you can, since the trail has no shade and it can get hot. And the parking lot will be packed by mid-morning. Plan on it taking a couple of hours, and enjoy a cool dip in the hotel pool later in the day.
Once you visit the Delicate Arch, you can see why it is one of the most iconic places in the Utah, and why the state put the arch on the license plate.
Wolfe Ranch and Petroglyphs
Arches hasn’t always been deserted. In 1898, Civil War veteran John Wesley Wolfe and his son moved to this area and operated the “Bar DX” ranch from here. Wolfe’s cabin still exists and you can see it at the Wolfe Ranch parking lot.
Close to the abandoned cabin, visitors to the park can also see the Native American petroglyphs. Here, you will find art depicting animal and human hunting scenes carved by the Paiute and Ute Indians in the 17th century. They are also accessible for those in a wheelchair or with a stroller.
If you’re wondering what to do at Arches National Park with kids, this should be at the top of the list. Kids love to see the petroglyphs and how the settlers lived on the land.
Delicate Arch Viewpoints
One of the easiest hikes in Arches National Park is to the Delicate Arch Viewpoints. This is one of the more popular hikes, so you’ll want to plan in advance to avoid the crowds.
To see the amazing views of the Delicate Arch from below, the upper viewpoint is well worth the steeper hike (and it can be quite steep in places!). It is three miles up and back, and rocks can be slick and have sandy portions. There’s also no shade anywhere on the trail, so it be quite hot in the summers.
If you don’t think you can muster up the steep hike, the lower viewpoint is handicap accessible and still offers a nice view (especially for those who can’t hike up to the arch itself).
Fiery Furnace Overlook
You can visit the Fiery Furnace area in three different ways: the most accessible is at the overlook looking down on it, or you can do a ranger guided hike, or you explore with a backcountry permit.
There aren’t any arches on the trails or from the viewpoints, but it is still well worth it to see the unique pointy sandstone structures and their fiery red color, particularly at sunset. If you just want to do the overlook, you can easily get there from the parking lot and walk a short distance.
However, doing a guided ranger hike is actually quite cool. I loved doing this years ago as a teenager. It is two miles of hard trails, but you will go through canyons of sandstone and feel like an explorer.
Sand Dune Arch
One of my absolute favorite sites in the park is the Sand Dune Arch. It’s also one of the most unique places anywhere in the state of Utah.
The Sand Dune Arch itself is hidden by sandstone rocks, making it special compared to the other arches in the national park. It is a 1.2-mile loop trail, taking about 30 to 45 minutes out and back. It is a sandy path and one that children love to visit. Given that the arch is hidden by the high walls of the sandstone around it, it is located in the shade, making it a much cooler hike in the summer months than the rest of the park.
This area does get crowded with people, so try to be here early or late in the day to avoid the crowds. We’ve also found that it if you just wait for a little while, there’s usually a break in the crowds to photograph the arch without people.
If you want to extend your trip, you can continue onto the Broken Arch, about a quarter-mile past the Sand Dune Arch.
A short but steep hike, the Skyline Arch is less than a quarter-mile from a small parking lot off the Scenic Drive. It only takes about 15 minutes to do the hike. The slope levels off as you go towards the arch itself.
If you don’t want to do the hike up the stairs, you can have a very nice view of the arch from the parking lot and the road below.
Easily one of the most memorable things to do in Arches National Park is visiting the Devils Garden area. You will walk past a lot of the most famous arches in the park taking the trails that start here. The main trail also heads through narrow sandstone canyons that are reminiscent of Utah’s slot canyons.
One of the most famous arches in Devils Garden is the Landscape Arch. It is 1.6 miles round trip to get here. On the way, you’ll see the Tunnel Arch and the Pine Tree Arch. This is a normal turnaround point for most casual hikers. However, if you want to do a longer hike, you can hike to the Double O Arch, and walk past the Partition Arch and the Navajo Arch. This is a 4.2 mile out and back trail.
Devils Garden is also the location for the main campground in the park. It is also the turnaround point for Scenic Drive.
Did you know, Arches National Park is one of the few National Parks that allows off-roading within the park itself? There are a number of arches (such as Eye of the Whale Arch, Anniversary Arch and others) that are only accessible by 4×4.
If you are up for it, look into the West Valley Jeep Road or Salt Valley Road for a more unique experience. Note: ONLY attempt if you have a high clearance 4×4 AND are experienced driving off road. The road to Eye of the Whale is NOT for beginners.
Colorado River Cliffs and Route 128
Highway 128 hugs the Colorado River and the southwest boarder of the park. The road is not in the park, but it does offer incredible views of the red sandstone cliffs inside Arches as they plunge dramatically into the Colorado River below. This short-but-beautiful drive is a must-do.
Arches National Park is a certified International Dark Sky Park. This means that light pollution is at a minimum and that you can see a tremendous number of stars. Put simply, Arches is perfect for stargazing.
If you have a good camera, you can also partake in some astrophotography. Head out into the park late at night and point your camera to the sky. You’ll be able to photograph the Milky Way and lots of constellations. However, take note that light painting is no longer permitted within Arches itself (using artificial lights to illuminate things in the foreground).
A few extra thoughts and tips for visiting Arches National Park:
Visiting Tips: Visiting Arches NP requires some advanced planning. From April 3-October 3, Arches is on a mandatory timed reservation system from 6am to 5pm. Reservations for the month are released three months in advance on this website. For example, the April reservations are released on the first business day in January. An additional reservation fee is also charged on top of the park entrance fee.
Don’t worry if you don’t score a spot in the advanced system, there are a very small number of tickets available the night before. And if you strike out there, you are still OK as long as you are in the park by 6am (but other people will be doing the same thing, so be early!).
Admission Fee: The current cost for park admission is $30 per car. However, if you are trying to get into the park early or just want to have the added convenience of not waiting in line, consider pre-purchasing a National Parks Pass ($80). Best of all, you can use it all national parks for an entire year. This is an especially good value if you are visiting any of the other Mighty 5 parks.
Hiking: If you plan to do some hiking in the park, plan ahead. Prioritize the Delicate Arch before it gets hot (and the parking lot gets full). Then head to Devils Garden (which has a larger parking lot).
Photography: If you are a photographer, think about sun placement. The best time to photograph the Delicate Arch is late in the day (it is backlit in the mornings). Fiery Furnace is in shadow most of the morning. The Sand Dune Arch can be photographed any time. Balanced Rock is best at either sunrise or sunset (walk around based on sun placement). The Three Gossips is best at sunrise, while the Courthouse Towers are best at sunset (try visiting this area at both times of the day).
Safety Tips: This is a desert environment where summer temperatures are often over 100°F in the daytime for a good portion of the summer. Whether you visit in summer or winter, bring LOTS of water with you. The only spot to get water in the park is the Devils Garden trailhead. We recommend two water bottles per person, PLUS keeping a gallon bottle of water in the car for emergencies.
Also, the sun is very intense and there is almost no shade in the park. Sunscreen should be mandatory! Consider a very high SPF number (i.e., SPF 50) and reapply often.
Stay/Eat: The city of Moab makes a great base to stay when visiting Arches and Canyonlands. Springhill Suites by Marriott is the closest hotel to Arches. Otherwise, the Hotel Element, Hyatt Place Moab and the Hampton Inn Moab also make a great base.
There isn’t a restaurant in Arches National Park, so grab supplies at the City Market grocery store for a picnic in the park.
Lance Longwell is a travel writer and photographer who has published Travel Addicts since 2008, making it one of the oldest travel blogs. He is a life-long traveler, having visited all 50 of the United States by the time he graduated high school. Lance has continued his adventures by visiting 70 countries on 5 continents – all in search of the world’s perfect sausage. He’s a passionate foodie and enjoys hot springs and cultural oddities. When he’s not traveling (or writing about travel), you’ll find him photographing his hometown of Philadelphia.