Last updated on August 4th, 2022
With over 2,000 natural rock arches and desert scenery from another planet, it’s understandable why Arches NP is one of the Southwest’s most prized attractions. This compact and easy-to-explore national park is in top demand, but with good planning, you can pleasantly experience its top highlights in a single day. In this guide, we’ll explore the top things to do in Arches National Park.
Check out additional Arches NP travel resources and combine your visit with other members of Utah’s “Mighty Five” using in-depth Southern Utah travel guides.
Managing to shine amid stunning arches and impressive sandstone monoliths, the lonely Balanced Rock is one of the park’s most iconic sites. This 128-foot pinnacle is topped by a 3,600-ton “head” that seems to defy gravity. However, the body is currently attached to the head but not for long as the forces of erosion are still at work, and nothing can stop them.
Fiery Furnace gets its name from the red glow reflected by its cliffs in the late hours of the day. However, it can get hot if you lose your bearings when navigating its maze of canyons and gullies created by a dense cluster of rocky fins (narrow rock walls) and needles. This is why a special permit is required to hike in Fiery Furnace, though joining a ranger-led walk is probably wiser. But don’t be turned off by the last few lines. Head to Fiery Furnace Viewpoint to witness this spectacle from a safe distance.
Rising from the park’s entry gate in the Moab Fault, the Arches National Park Road is an 18-mile scenic drive that ends at Devils Garden. Along the way, a diverse scenery changes from giant monoliths to sandstone fins and finally to arches, turning the drive into an experience of its own. Additionally, dozens of scenic viewpoints and short hiking trails provide an excuse to get out of the car.
The La Sal Viewpoint offers the most expansive vista among the park’s network of scenic viewpoints. Climb to this flat sandstone bench and enjoy 360-degree views of the La Sal Mountain Range, the monoliths at Courthouse Towers and Park Avenue, and even Balanced Rock and the Windows Section far in the distance. This is a lovely spot to watch the sunrise at Arches National Park and for late afternoon colors.
Arches National Park is small and popular, so finding privacy in nature is quite a challenge. That is unless you head to the Klondike Cliffs, the most remote section of the national park. Reached via a 2WD-accessible dirt road (in dry months), the area’s highlight is the Tower Arch Trail. On the hike, you’ll also see the Marching Men, orange and white rocky needles seen in greater numbers in the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park.
On the way to the Windows Section, stop at the Garden of Eden Viewpoint and catch your first glimpse of the Parade of Elephants. This impressive series of sandstone pinnacles resemble something you’ve seen in a NASA mission to Mars. Once you’ve enjoyed the views from the high ground, get a closer look at the elephants en route to the North and South Windows.
The Windows Section of Arches National Park boasts a collection of robust arches collectively known as windows. Pick up the Windows Loop Trail and visit the North and South Windows. Extend the adventure by continuing the hike to nearby Turret Arch. You can already see the impressive next stop at Double Arch from the Windows. A short trail leads to the third largest arch in the park, with an opening of 144 feet (33m).
You won’t find a neat arrangement of plants or flowers in the Devils Garden but rather the park’s highest concentration of natural arches. The Devil’s Garden Trail is the longest hiking trail in Arches National Park, but you don’t have to hike its entire length to enjoy the unique landscape. First up is Landscape Arch, the biggest arch in the park, followed by the impressive Double O Arch and the many surprises on the return leg via the Primitive Trail.
Arches National Park is not only about arches but also features “classic” Southern Utah landscape popularized by Western films and Hollywood blockbusters, such as Thelma & Louise. At the Courthouse Towers Viewpoint, stop for a panoramic look at the area and pick up the Park Avenue Trail to walk between the giants via a dry riverbed. Though you couldn’t be further away from the madness of Manhattan, it’s easy to see how this place got its name.
Delicate Arch has reached such an iconic state that it currently serves as the background on Utah license plates. It is the largest free-standing arch in the national park and is best visited in the afternoon or even at sunset. If the short but challenging Delicate Arch Trail poses too great of a challenge, don’t worry. Simply head to the Delicate Arch Viewpoint, and climb to the upper viewing area with a small effort to see the park’s star attraction from a distance.
Now that you know the top things to see and do in Arches National Park, it’s time to plan your adventure to one of the Southwest’s top national parks. First, check out more Arches NP resources, including in-depth sample itineraries and essential planning advice. If you’re visiting additional parks in Utah, more travel guides are available.
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