Arches National Park: The Best Sites!

Arches National Park

Arches National Park has been on my bucket list for quite some time. I’m not entirely sure why, because honestly, I didn’t know much about it. I’ve seen pictures of arches and of slot canyons in Utah. There’s specifically one famous arch I’ve seen, where people tied a rope swing to it and I’m pretty sure I attributed ALL those pictures to Arches. Turns out that I wasn’t entirely realistic in my idea of the Park, but I also wasn’t too far off. Noelle here, by the way.

The best seasons to visit Arches are late Spring and Fall, because it just gets so hot in the desert otherwise. We went mid-May and while I think that’s a great time for the weather, it was already getting late for crowds. I might actually aim for late April if we went again or maybe October. We enjoy exploring when the crowds are lighter, which generally means during the school year. This last year is different because of Covid. No one is really leaving the States and fewer children are confined by regular school times. So a lot more people are visiting national parks.

You can see Arches in one day, but it’s better in two. Or at least broken up into morning and evening. Go early, before 8am, straight to the big ticket items, like Delicate or Landscape Arches. Then pick off some smaller sites. Have a picnic at Park Avenue and then head out of the park till the evening. Come back around 2 or 3pm (check the park website first to make sure they’re letting cars in). It gets really busy again around 5-6pm as people want to hike to Delicate Arch for the sunset. A lot of people leave Arches in the early afternoon to head over to Canyonlands, so there’s that option.

We got to the Moab area without a real plan, so we picked a boondocking spot from the iOverlander app and off we went. That spot is about five miles before Arches and it’s awesome. We stayed on BLM land at Copper Ridge Trailhead, aka the Dino Tracks! Yep, tons of preserved dinosaur tracks. So crazy!

Devil’s Garden

We slept in a couple days and knew it was then too late to get into Arches, so we hiked around the dinosaur area. Then we finally got up at 6:00 to be in the Park at 6:30. It was just the right timing! The entrance booth is closed that early, so we didn’t get a map but we’d read another blog and had a good idea of where to head. We went straight to the end of the road to Devil’s Garden. Lots of other goodies grabbed our eyes, but we stayed the course and kept on going! Parking is plentiful that early, so we parked and headed to the trail head.

Landscape Arch

The first arch we got to is Landscape Arch. It’s an easy, hard packed trail of about 1.8 miles roundtrip. This is where most people go and then turn around. This hike takes about 45-60 minutes, allowing for plenty of time to look around. If you only have time to go to one arch, this is a good one.

Arches National Park
Shadow selfie at Landscape Arch

Navajo and Partition Arches

If you’ve got a little more time and are a tiny bit brave, then keep following the trail towards Double O Arch. You’ll have to scramble up a slickrock fin. It’s a little scary, but also exhilarating! Okay and truthfully, when we went up, so did a couple in their 70s. We’re in our 50s. So if the four of us can do it, you can too!

Arches National Park
Going down the slickrock fin

Once you’re up that ledge, it levels off for a bit so you can catch your breath. You’ll need to catch it too, because Partition Arch is gonna take it right back away! Like how I did that? Yep, I’m a big dork and I know it. Ha ha. Seriously though, you can see right through Partition to the hills and valleys below. It’s pretty amazing. A family was up there when we were, so they kindly asked if we wanted a couple picture. People started doing that again!

Asking if they can touch your phone to snap your photo. Last year, almost no one offered to take our picture and they didn’t want us touching their phones to take their picture either. So that offer alone helps me think things just might get back to normal. Yay! Anyway, here’s that picture. We’re kind of cute, but just look at that view through the arch. It’s a good one!

Steve and I at Partition Arch

Partition and Navajo Arches are just a little ways down a clearly marked side trail. Most people kept going straight ahead towards Double O Arch. So we had a little more elbow room at these two. Navajo doesn’t have the sweeping views that Partition does, but it’s worth the extra steps to see it too. It’s more of an arch along the way, like Landscape.

Navajo Arch

When we got back to the main trail, we decided not to turn left to continue on to Double O, Dark Angel and Private Arches. That path takes 2-3 hours in total and we wanted to get to a couple more places before the parking turned crazy, so we headed back down. Realistically though, we were less than a mile to Double O, so probably should have just kept going. I think for us, we’ve made peace that we aren’t going to see every single site at all the parks we go to and that’s okay. We get a good feel for each park and end up with favorites of the sites we do see.

By the time we got back to the parking lot, about 9:00 am, it was completely full with folks circling and rangers guiding traffic. We ate a quick bowl of cereal and then the ranger stopped traffic so we could back out. Some lucky soul was thankful to get stopped so they could get our spot!

Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock is a neat spot, that can be seen easily from the parking lot. For me, it looks like a giant penis. Many of the rock formations in Arches remind me of phalic symbols. Is that just me or do other people see it too? Everywhere you look! Anyway, balanced rock is a great site that you can wander around at or simply see from your car window. It’s nice, because there are not too many of them that you can just drive right up to.

Three Gossips and Sheep Rock

I actually pulled over in a turn out here, because I wanted to get a good picture of Cupcake inside Arches National Park. We used to take pictures of our kids and then our grandkids, then our dog, now our truck. Hmmm… anyway, I did get a good picture of the truck, but it just so happened that I pulled us over right at the Three Gossips. I think they’re called that because it looks like three people grouped together chatting, but I’m not entirely positive.

While I was focusing on Cupcake, Steve also got this great shot of Sheep Rock. See it, at the top? To me, it looks a bit more like a pig, but I guess before wind erosion it was more sheep-like. Either way, super cool.

Sheep Rock

And these yellow flowers. We saw them all over the park, right along the roadsides. I think they’re beautiful.

Yellow beauties

From here, we planned to go to Park Avenue, an area that reminds people of highrise buildings. But one loop through the lot showed zero availability for parking. Since we have the luxury of time, we opted to stop at the Visitor Center and then head into Moab for lunch.

Day Two in Arches National Park

We boondocked super close to the Park entrance (along with a couple hundred other cars, trucks, RVs, tents, you name it!). Then we got up at 5am to be at Delicate Arch at 5:30am. We chose to go to the viewpoints, rather than hike the three mile roundtrip for the upclose view. Even at 5:30, that parking lot was filled to about 2/3 full. We’d met another couple at the Visitor Center the day before and she said the rock fins were much steeper, with bigger drop offs than the ones going up to Partition Arch. Steve isn’t a lover of heights, so we chose the view point.

Delicate Arch at Wolfe Ranch

So if you take the hike, it’s three miles round trip and is listed as difficult in the Arches National Park Visitor Guide. It says that the trail climbs 480 feet, which doesn’t sound like much, but in the heat with no shade, that’s a lot. Yep, even in the morning it’s hot. Just before getting to the Arch is the narrow rock ledge. It’s about 200 yards long. A ranger told us the drop off on the left side is only about 30 feet, and I think I’m remembering correctly that he said the drop off on the right is about 200 feet. So yeah, we were good with the view point.

Delicate Arch View Point

Drive past the hiking parking lot and go to the next big (and virtually empty at 5:30am) lot. There are bathrooms and garbage cans, as a bonus. Park as close as you like and then take the flat accessible trail to the lower viewpoint. Or, like us, you can take the upper viewpoint. It’s moderately strenuous and climbs steeply for a half mile. Note that you can not get to Delicate Arch from here. You’re separated by a big canyon. This is strictly a view point, so if you’re wanting the Instagram photo that so many people come to Arches National Park for, you need to take the three mile round trip hike. We felt content with our choice to just go to the view point.

Arches National Park
Delicate Arch

Fiery Furnace

From Delicate Arch, we went back to the main road, turned right and headed to Fiery Furnace. If you want to hike in here, you’ll need to get a permit at the Visitor’s Center or join a ranger-guided hike. We opted for the view point, but I’m sure it’s pretty fascinating to explore inside here. It’s a labyrinth of narrow sandstone canyons, requiring some agility to explore. I guess you’ve got to do some rock scrambling up and through narrow cracks. Also more ledges with drop offs. So there’s that. Children under 5 are not permitted in Fiery Furnace. Permits cost $10-16 and sometimes fill up weeks in advance. So if you’re thinking you may like to explore this area, you’ll need to plan accordingly.

Sand Dune Arch

The next stop on this morning’s tour is Sand Dune Arch. It’s a quick quarter of a mile hike, but it goes through some deep sand. You pass through a short slot before coming into a large opening. The Sand Dune Arch is in here. It’s magical. Truly magical. I know that sounds lame, but it was absolutely my favorite place in Arches National Park. We got there about 7:15 am, so we’re still well ahead of crowds. Maybe only seven other people when we visited, which is about perfect. But it’s like a cool oasis inside this area. I truly did enjoy this short walk a lot! I think it’d be a good spot when the day is hotter, because there’s actually quite a bit of shade in here.

Double Arch

After leaving Sand Dune Arch, we turned back to our left away from Devil’s Garden and that crazy parking lot. We drove back down to The Windows Section, which is another left hand turn right before you reach Balanced Rock. At the end of this road are two parking areas. The first one you come to (upper lot) takes you to the North and South Windows and the Turret Arch. The lower parking lot takes you right to Double Arch. You can actually see it as you’re driving up the road and from the lot. But walk out to it, it’s an easy half mile round trip and it’s pretty cool.

It was 8:00am when we arrived and both the parking lots were pretty full, maybe 3/4 full already. We parked and wandered around for a while. The Double Arch is actually two giant spans that are joined at one end. Unlike most of the others, this area had people climbing all over. You’re probably not going to get a picture with just you in it. It’ll be you along with some new friends!

If you like this, check out Canyonland National Park: Hiker’s Paradise

Arches National Park
Double Arch

Park Avenue

From Double Arch, we headed back down to Park Avenue for another try at parking there. We arrived in the parking area about 9:30, just at the same time as large rain drops began falling. We hopped into Cupcake to eat some breakfast and wait out the rain. Then we laid down and both promptly fell asleep for an hour! Guess our early morning expeditions caught up to us.

After the rains and our nap, we walked down to the overlook. There’s a moderate trail from here that goes out a mile. It descends steeply into the canyon and continues to Courthouse Towers. This is an out and back, unless you want to walk along the busy roads of Arches National Park. Who wants to do that? No one. So retrace your steps back to the overlook.

Arches National Park
Park Avenue

Back into Moab for lunch

We headed back to the truck and decided to go get some lunch. Moab has a great little food truck area on 100 N Street, just off Main Street (and right across from Moab’s only laundromat. We wanted to try out Quesadilla Mobilla so we headed back into town. It was certainly a good choice! It’s nice to be in the middle of amazing national parks, but also close to town. Check out our Moab article for all the goods on it.

Quesadilla time

Arches National Park at Night

One cool thing to remember is that Arches is open 24 hours. So that means you can get a good parking spot, snooze in your car or camper for a little bit and then do some star gazing. While we didn’t stay in the park, we did check out the stars from our boondocking spot. It was even further from Moab, so even less light pollution. It’s amazing. More stars than I could ever imagine. Arches and Canyonlands are both part of the certified International Dark Sky Park. Yep, there’s an actual certification for the darkness. Crazy, isn’t it?!

The moon was growing during our stay in this area. In fact, on our last night it was full and huge! And of course, very bright. That makes it a little more difficult to see as many stars as a night with a tiny cresecent moon. But still, it’s a light show as far as you can see. I use the phone app, SkyView Lite, which maps the stars and constellations. It even shows me where the International Space Station is, calling it the largest artificial body in orbit! It’s a pretty good free app, which I recommend if you’re like me…interested, but not obsessed.

Whether you visit Arches National Park for one day or for a few days, I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we did. The rock formations are crazy fun to see and the arches really are spectacular. You can rent a jeep or an ATV in Moab to explore some of the back country. Or you can rent a mountain bike and see things at a slower pace. There’s a paved bike path from Moab to Arches and beyond. This area offers endless opportunities to get outside and be a part of nature. So go on and get yourself outside!

Arches National Park
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