Exploring Arches National Park: On the Road in Utah

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Strap yourselves in ladies and gents, we’re headed to Arches National Park.

Welcome to Utah
Live elevated. Good motto.

After we parted ways with Amanda in Colorado, we continued West, to Moab. Here we met up with Clarissa’s friend Hannah and then continued to Ken’s Lake Campground, a nice BLM site where we tented up for the night. As soon as the sun sank below the ridgeline, the temperature dropped about ten degrees. It’s true what they say, the desert does get pretty chilly at night.

Though we hadn’t planned on building a fire, there was enough scrap wood and downed branches in the area that I could pull together a decent little campfire for a couple of hours. We sat by the fire, enjoyed our dinner and a couple of beers, then called it a night. We had a lot planned for the following day.

Ken's Lake Campground
This was a fine BLM campground not far from Moab. We enjoyed our stay, and I highly recommend it.

We awoke early in the morning, made breakfast, and broke camp. Then we got on the road for Arches National Park.

Arches or More?

We planned to start our day at Arches, but to continue on to two or three National and State Parks that day. If you’re thinking about doing something like that, I’m going to recommend that you don’t. After a short time in Arches National Park, we realized that we could spend several days exploring, and still not see everything. We opted to enjoy as much of one National Park as we could, saving the others for future trips. As much as I’d like to see Zion and Capitol Reef, I’m convinced this was the right decision. It allowed us the opportunity to explore on foot, take our time hiking, and see more of Arches than you can see from the road.

Sheep formation in Arches National Park
Although you can see this guy, who looks like a sheep, well enough from the road.

Before I get too far into our visit, let’s take a minute to talk about Arches in general. Originally named a National Monument in 1929, Arches became a National Park on November 12, 1971. This is 76,679 acres of high desert, home to over 2,000 natural arches composed of mostly sandstone, as well as a bunch of other incredible geologic formations (like the previous pictured sheep, which was itself, at one time, an arch).

Arches National Park has the highest density of natural arches in the world. These seem solid and permanent, but when it comes to geologic time, nothing really lasts forever. Eventually, all such formations will fall to time, gravity, and erosion. Since 1977, forty-three arches have collapsed; Wall Arch, a popular formation along the Devil’s Garden Trail collapsed in 2008 and more are headed that way (we saw evidence of this during our visit, read on). But there is still plenty of time to check out these arches and rock formations. Most will stand generations longer than we will.

Balanced Rock in Arches National Park
We started stretching our legs around Balanced Rock. That’s Clarissa in the photo, just to give you a sense of scale.

There is plenty to see and explore in Arches National Park. We started out scrambling along the base of the above pictured Balanced Rock, before heading onto the Windows Trail. It’s a pretty good place to start; in a relatively small area you can check out a few arches, such as North Window…

North Window in Arches National Park
South Window…

South Window at Arches National Park
and Turret Arch

Turret Arch in Arches National Park

Windows Trail presents little challenge to the experienced hiker. Those who aren’t accustomed to heat or hiking may struggle a little, but you’ll find these spots pretty accessible to the experienced and inexperienced alike. Further, you’ll see these beautiful formations from a better vantage point once you approach them; We did our best to them in pictures, but trust me, ain’t nothing like the real thing.

NOTE: In this area, as well as in several other spots in the park, you’ll see warnings to stay on the trail, or to stay off of the soil in a certain spot. HEED THOSE WARNINGS! Over one million people visit this park each year – that’s a lot of feet! So to keep the soil in good condition, stay on the trail. Trust me, you’re not going to miss anything.

Another easy and accessible trail I recommend taking is Double Arch, which leads to, you guessed it, Double Arch! On a round trip the trail only covers roughly a half mile, and the terrain holds little challenge.

Double Arch in Arches National Park
Plus, double the arches!

Delicate Arch

Eager for more of a challenge and a much larger arch? Consider hiking to Delicate Arch, the largest free-standing arch in the park, and probably the best known of all the formations.

The trail to Delicate Arch is only three miles round trip but it’s not an easy hike. Experienced hikers shouldn’t have any trouble, so long as they stay properly hydrated. The rangers urge you to take at least two liters of water per person, and I strongly agree. It’s hot out there during the summer, and there is no reprieve from the sun. After the first half mile, you’ll be hiking on slickrock, following cairns steadily upward, and then you’ll traverse a rock ledge for the last tenth of a mile before reaching the arch. The sun bakes you the entire way. We saw tons of unprepared visitors suffering dehydration. Don’t make that mistake, just carry plenty of water with you.

The heat and the hike are well worth the effort when you see Delicate Arch up close and personal.

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park
Well worth the hike!

This is a popular spot, so if you’re trying to get a shot directly underneath the arch, you may have to wait your turn. Relax and enjoy your visit. No sense trying to rush!

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park
Keep your eye out for an opening in the rock wall in the last tenth of a mile (give or take). You’ll find this alternate view which is worth a look.

While this is a popular hike, and tons of people make their way out to see Delicate Arch, take stock of your readiness before you set out on the trail. Do you have enough water? Are you wearing good shoes? Are you ready for the three miles in the sun and heat in summer, or potential snow and ice in winter? If not, consider checking it out via Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint, which provides a level hard packed trail, less than 100 meters, where you can observe the arch from about a mile away. I’m told that this trail is wheelchair accessible, but your mileage may vary. For a different angle, you can follow the more primitive trail to Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint. Neither trail will get you as close as Delicate Arch Trail itself, but they provide accessible views of Utah’s most famous arch.

On your way back, swing past the Petroglyphs. Likely created in the early 1800s, anthropologists believe that the Ute people created these depictions after the Spanish introduced horses to the area.

Petroglyphs in Arches National Park
These are over 200 years old. Respect them.

A lot of people visit Delicate Arch and call it a day. I recommend not following that course of action. Instead, consider checking out Sand Dune Arch Trail.

Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch

Though your experience will likely differ from ours, Sand Dune Arch Trail stuck out a bit; Heat and sun pervaded every step we took in the park, except those taken on Sand Dune. Tucked between two large sandstone fins, I even caught a chill walking through the deep sand toward a small secluded arch hidden away in the shade. Though we still had plenty of company, we experienced no crowds on this trail, quite a departure from the swarm of people we met on Delicate Arch Trail. All part of Sand Dune’s charm, I suppose.

Sand Dune Trail at Arches National Park
This spot was a cool reprieve from the hot sun!

Walk through the sand on Sand Dune Arch Trail and you’ll find, of course, Sand Dune Arch. Unfortunately, this arch is starting to collapse. Slowly, Sand Dune Arch is saying good-bye.

Sand Dune Arch at Arches National Park
Can you see where the piece cleaved off on the left?

But if you feel saddened by an arch that’s breaking, hiking the other direction will cheer you up, as it leads to Broken Arch.

Broken Arch Trail in Arches National Park

Broken Arch lies under a mile from the trailhead. You’ll do a little scrambling here and there, but nothing exceedingly difficult. You’ll feel happy that you came this way once you come to Broken Arch.

First thing you need to know; it’s not actually broken, though it sports a good crack in the lintel. The second thing you need to know…


Broken Arch in Arches National Park
Broken Arch!
Looking back through Broken Arch
Looking back through Broken Arch

It may appear silly to some, but I felt great satisfaction passing under Broken Arch. That said, I feel the readers of this blog will largely understand. You’re not reading this because you hate the outdoor experience, after all.

I should note that while we approached Broken Arch via the Sand Dune Trail, you can also start your hike at Devil’s Garden campground and loop back around. You can also continue on a trail spur to Tapestry Arch; Clarissa and I started that way, but we felt pretty worn by that point in time. We needed more water, more calories, and to take a load off. A beer wouldn’t have hurt either. So we settled for a decent view of Tapestry Arch from afar before returning to the car, bringing our visit to Arches National Park to an end.

Tapestry Arch as seen from the trail.
Tapestry Arch as seen from the trail.

Should I go to Arches National Park?

In my opinion, yes. Put Arches National Park on your itinerary. Even if you’re not ready for the more challenging trails, you’ll find plenty to do. Even if you never set foot outside of your vehicle (though I think you should) you’ll see lots of amazing arches and formations.

The park usually stays open 24 hours a day, so you have plenty of time to make your way on the looping park road. I say usually because as of the publication of this post, road construction in the park has temporarily limited their night-time hours – it’s supposed to be done by December 2017, but check the Arches website to make sure.

I’ve seen amazing night sky photography done at Arches. Friends have camped there. I’ve talked to people after they took on the harrowing Fiery Furnace hike. Some people just enjoy the drive, others want a more challenging visit. Over a million people come to Arches National Park and each has a different experience. What will yours be?

1 thought on “Exploring Arches National Park: On the Road in Utah

  1. Love this!! Ughh Arches and Moab were SO much fun. I’m def a fan of only going to one place in a day. I couldn’t imagine trying to hit up multiple parks! We spent 2 days in Arches, then on the day driving to where we’d be camping for Zion, we hiked Bryce. We spent the day hiking there, then finished the drive to our campgrounds at Coral Pink Sand Dunes park, which was close to Zion though not directly next to it (those were all booked).

    If you ever go back and want a cool place to stay, I suggest Lazy Lizard Hostel. Rent a private cabin. Super cheap, adorable cabin and cool place and atmosphere. So close to Arches, it’s right in Moab.

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