Arches National Park in Utah: Everything You Need to Plan Your Trip from Lodging and Must-Sees to Wildlife and Safety

by Jon D. B.
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Plan the ultimate trip to Utah’s Arches National Park with Outsider’s National Parks team as we highlight one of Earth’s most incredible landscapes.

One of the most remarkable landscapes on Earth is waiting for you just north of Moab, Utah. Over 2,000 natural stone arches and hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive rock fins, and giant balanced rocks bring millions to this red-rock wonderland every year.  The breathtaking, red-hued Delicate Arch dominates the east. Landscape Arch’s long, impossibly thin shape crowns Devils Garden to the north. And the Colorado River carves an unreal landscape into the park’s southern border.

But this wildly unique geology also presents unique challenges. Below, you’ll find everything you need to surmount these obstacles and plan the ultimate trip to Arches National Park.

Must-Sees & Must-Dos of Arches National Park

North Window view of the Turret Arch in Arches National Park’s Windows Section, taken at sunrise. (Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Unlike more forested federal lands, the arches and sandstone structures in Utah offer a much different experience on its trails – from traipsing up rock walls to navigating rock cairns. While most of the routes are marked as easy or moderate, there’s almost always a challenging slope or scramble along the way. However, because most of them are relatively short, you can easily complete a couple or more in a day. For all of these trails, you’ll need to have solid footwear to combat any loose rocks. –  Amy Myers

Outsider’s Choice of Arches Trails, Easiest to Hardest

  • La Sal Mountains Viewpoint (easy)
  • Sand Dune Arch Trail (easy)
  • Double Arch Trail (easy)
  • Landscape Arch Trail (easy)
  • Skyline Arch Trail (easy)
  • Fiery Furnace and Surprise Arch Trail (easy)
  • Park Avenue Trail (easy to moderate)
  • Cove of Caves via Parade of Elephants Trail (moderate)
  • Tower Arch Trail (moderate)
  • The Tunnel (moderate)
  • Delicate Arch Trail (moderate)
  • Dark Angel Trail (moderate)

Must-See Arches of Arches National Park

We would be doing a disservice to Arches National Park if we didn’t include a few of the park’s namesake structures. The most popular ones are those that have stood the test of time and made us question the basic laws of physics, but there’s not one arch in the park that won’t take the breath from your lungs – whether from the hike in or the view itself. Add these four arch trails to your itinerary, but keep in mind that because they are so popular, they will have more crowds. Be sure to have a backup plan in mind just in case you don’t feel like fighting the traffic on the trails. – Amy Myers

Delicate Arch Trail

One of the most recognizable of Arches’ landmark geological creations is the Delicate Arch. Featured on Utah’s license plate, it is the largest free-standing arch in the park.

  • Length: 3.2-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Elevation: 629 feet
  • Duration: 1.5 hours

Landscape Arch Trail

Next to Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch is one of the most widely known. At 306 feet wide, this arch is one of the longest in the world. And yet, at its center, it’s only 11 feet thick.

  • Length: 1.9-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Elevation: 252 feet
  • Duration: less than an hour

Double Arch Trail

The Double Arch trail is popular not just for the structure itself but also because it provides a red-rimmed window to the rest of the park’s landscape.

  • Length: 0.6-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Elevation: 95 feet
  • Duration: 15 minutes

Skyline Arch Trail

The Skyline Arch doesn’t get its name for the arch itself. Rather, the name comes from the literal skyline that the surrounding rocks create, almost as though you’re looking at the skyscrapers of a red rock city.

  • Length: 0.4-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Elevation: 36 feet
  • Duration: 10 minutes

For an in-depth breakdown of each of these trails and sights, see Amy’s Arches National Park Must-Sees: Hikes, Views, and Landmarks, from Delicate Arch to Cove of Caves.

The Hidden Gems of Arches National Park

While the main must-see arches in the national park are definitely worth the crowds and the excitement, sometimes we all need a bit of seclusion to truly enjoy the wonder of the environment. Even though they may be lesser-known, these must-sees are no less beautiful than the more popular attractions at Arches National Park:

  • Sand Dune Arch Trail
  • Tower Arch Trail
  • Dark Angel Trail
  • The Tunnel
  • Cove of Caves via Parade of Elephants Trail

For breakdowns of each of these hidden gems, alongside many more sites to see, head to Amy’s Arches National Park Must-Sees: Hikes, Views, and Landmarks, from Delicate Arch to Cove of Caves next.

Arches National Park Wildlife: Desert Animals You’ll Encounter & When to See Them

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Photo credit: Getty Images, Outsider

We don’t often think of deserts as teeming with wildlife. But Arches National Park is a strong example of how even the driest parts of America are still teeming with life. Countless birds, lizards, and mammals compete for resources beneath the park’s 2,000 natural sandstone arches.

Successful wildlife watching in Utah’s Arches, however, greatly depends on the weather, time of day, and season you visit. For this reason, we’re focusing on the diurnal wildlife of Arches National Park (the species active during the day), as you’re far less likely to spot the nocturnal species cloaked by night.

During daytime in Arches, you’re most likely to spot:

  • Reptiles: diverse, colorful lizard species (like the western collared lizard) alongside a few snakes
  • Mammals: Kangaroo rats, rock squirrels, antelope squirrels, chipmunks, and mule deer are common
  • Birds: various impressive birds of prey, like hawks, falcons, and eagles
    • Desert songbirds and fishers also inhabit riparian areas with access to running water

Keep in mind, many desert animals have a temperature range in which they are active. If it’s an intensely hot, sunny day, you’re unlikely to see much of anything scurrying out into the open.

Specific Reptile Species You’ll Spot:

  • Arches’ Striking Western Collared Lizard
    • A true star of Arches National Park, the western collared lizard sports a bold, beautiful pattern of colors that pop right out of the amber desert. The males have especially vibrant scales
    • Other species to look out for include the northern whiptail lizard, the desert spiny lizard, and the ornate tree lizard
  • Snakes in Arches
    • The most common snake amongst Arches National Park’s wildlife is the non-venomous, slow-moving gopher snake. The species can grow up to 96 inches, or 8-feet long, but are typically 4-6 feet in length. Spot them by their brown to reddish blotches on their back
    • As far as snakes to avoid, there are midget-faded rattlesnakes – a species with extremely toxic venom – in Arches National Park. Always be on the lookout for rattlesnakes in their habitats. While bites are rare, they can occur

Bird Species in Arches:

  • As for birds, raptors make up an important chunk of Arches National Park wildlife. Species you’re likely to see are the Peregrine falconAmerican kestrelred-tailed hawk, and cooper’s hawk
  • If you’re lucky, you may also see a bald eagle while in Arches. The unique burrowing owl (below) also calls the park home
  • On even the hottest of summer days, you’ll see turkey vulturesravens, and white-throated swifts circle over rock formations

Mammal Species in Arches:

  • From the tiny kangaroo rats to impressive mule deer, mammals are all over Arches, and these two species specifically are a common sight for visitors. Desert cottontails are also a common sight for visitors.
  • In total, just under 50 species of mammals inhabit the park’s ecosystems. The majority of mammals are inactive during the daytime, however, so Arches National Park isn’t a premiere destination when it comes to mammalian wildlife watching.
  • Desert bighorn sheep also live year-round in Arches, but are rarely sighted. Your best bet to spot one is along Highway 191 south of the visitor center. These impressive mammals also roam the talus slopes and side canyons near the Colorado River.

For images and in-depth information on each specie above, please see Arches National Park Wildlife: Desert Animals You’ll Encounter & When to See Them next.

Predators & Predator Safety in Arches

Despite visitors rarely spotting them, larger mammalian predators do exist in Arches. Mountain lions call the park home, with 80% of their diet comprising of mule deer across Utah. These big cats will migrate to nearby mountains during summertime, and are less populous during peak season. Sightings are incredibly rare, but visitors should always be aware that they are in mountain lion habitat.

For crucial safety information, tips, and guidelines on Arches National Park mountain lions, please see Arches National Park Wildlife: Desert Animals You’ll Encounter & When to See Them next.

And believe it or not, black bears will sometimes wander down from the La Sal Mountains into Arches in late August and September. For crucial black bear safety in Arches, please see Arches National Park Safety: Best Practices To Safely Explore the Desert Park next.

Arches National Park Safety: Best Practices To Safely Explore the Desert Park

Tourists look out at Park Avenue in the Arches National Park near Moab, Utah on April 21, 2018. – The park which has over 2000 arches that were formed over 100 million years by a combination of water, ice, extreme temperatures and underground salt movement. (Photo by Mark Ralston / AFP) (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)

Each year, Arches park rangers respond to hundreds of search and rescue incidents (SARs) in both Arches and Canyonlands. Out in this vast desert, location and rescue can take hours – even days. And deaths do occur in the park. But just like the National Park Service, Outsider wants visit to be safe, memorable, and enjoyable.

Below are some of the potential hazards you’ll experience in the park – and the crucial tips that’ll keep you safe.

  • Eat plenty of food and drink at least one gallon of water, per person, each day
  • Carry and drink water (at least 2 liters) during all activities in the park, such as hiking
  • If you forget yours or lose what you’ve brought, you can get water at the visitor center and at the Devils Garden trailhead and campground
  • Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing and a wide-brimmed hat
  • Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin
  • Again, avoid hiking in the middle of the day! Save strenuous activity for early mornings or evenings

The park’s HEAT KILLS program is also in place to help visitors recreate responsibly in the Utah national park. It may seem intense, but heat is the leading cause of death in Arches National Park.

General Hiking Safety in Arches

  • Never rely on a cellular phone to summon help; cellular service will not reach into many areas of Arches
  • If you become lost, stay where you are and wait for rescue
  • Wandering alone will endanger your life and make finding you difficult
  • When traveling alone, always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return
  • As with any national park, the buddy system will always be the best way to ensure a safe visit. Stay with companions while hiking. Separation can mean getting lost.

Climbing, Scrambling, & Bouldering in Arches:

  • Be sure you can retrace your steps. Climbing up is easier than climbing back down.
  • Sandstone is slippery when wet or covered in sand. Use caution.
  • Do not climb or walk on arches or major features like Balanced Rock.
  • Wear sturdy shoes with enough tread to give you good traction. Do not hike in smooth-soled shoes or boots. Some trails cover uneven terrain and follow rock ledges.

Weather Safety: Lighting & Flash Floods

  • When lightning is present:
    • avoid lone trees, cliff edges and high ridges
    • Crouch low to the ground
    • Return to your vehicle if possible
  • If heavy rainfall begins:

Camping & Lodging in Arches National Park

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(Photo by Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

While there’s only one campground within Arches National Park, there are plenty of surrounding campgrounds and lodging opportunities just a few minutes drive from the entrance. And since sunrise and sunset are the most popular times to visit the Arches, you’ll want a quick journey home so you can rest and recover before the next day.

To plan your stay in Arches, Outsider’s Amy Myers has you covered with an extensive breakdown of lodging and camping options to visit next.

Happy trails, Outsiders!

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