Arches National Park Must-Sees: Hikes, Views, and Landmarks, from Delicate Arch to Cove of Caves

by Amy Myers
arches-national-park-must-sees-hikes-views-and-landmarks-from-delicate-arch-cove-caves

With over 2,000 unique arches that seem to defy gravity and inspire wonder, Arches National Park is a trip that will have you treasuring the red dirt under your fingernails and the soles of your hiking boots. But what these unique views and smooth rocks don’t tell you is just how many nuances to hiking in Arches National Park.

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.

You’ll also need plenty of water and sun protection, particularly during the middle of the day when the sun is high and there’s little shade. If you plan on trying the more difficult trails, having a buddy to help you climb the steeper portions of the trails is always a good idea.

Guidelines for Hiking in Arches National Park

While Arches National Park’s must-sees are beautiful no matter the time of day or year, you might want to consider planning your routes around when the colors of the sandstone structures are most vibrant. The most popular times to visit viewpoints and overlooks tend to be at sunset during the spring and fall, when the golden glow of the sun hits the red rocks and sets the park ablaze.

Lastly, as tempting as it is to venture into uncharted territory, this is extremely detrimental to the park’s delicate, arid ecosystem. It takes just seven pairs of footprints to create a trail and cause potentially permanent damage to the flora and fauna in surrounding areas. This also goes for the rock formations as well. Trekking or climbing in any unpermitted areas only accelerates the rate of deterioration.

The view through Double Arch in Arches National Park near Moab in Utah. (Photo by: Andrew Lloyd/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Outsider’s Choice of Trails at Arches National Park, 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

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.

Delicate Arch Trail

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

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. Starting with a gentle inclination, the trail takes visitors across a bridge over a salt wash. Then the trail opens up to an area of “slickrock” or flat sandstone. With no place to stake a trail marker, you’ll have to pay close attention to the cairns (small rock towers) that mark the route. If you happen to knock one of these over, be sure to place them back in a stack before continuing on your way. These small structures are what keep hikers from getting lost and unintentionally damaging nearby shrubbery.

Landscape Arch Trail

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

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. While the trail is technically marked as easy, there are a few steep parts. Because the area has little coverage, there tend to be high winds. Sunglasses are especially important on this trail because at Arches National Park, with high winds come lots of sand.

For those looking for a longer trip, you can also pick up the Double Arch trail, too.

Double Arch Trail

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

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. This trail is mostly flat, save for one steep hill right before the viewpoint. Even though this trail is incredibly short, groups with wheelchairs and strollers might have a tough time getting over the hill. Thankfully, though, you can still get a great view of the Double Arch even from the parking lot, so if you decide to cut the journey a bit short, you’ll still get to enjoy the attraction. You can also see the Double O Arch along the way, and the Parade of Elephants Trail is close by.

The best time to visit this trail is during sunrise when you can catch the first glimpses of daylight peeking through the Double Arch.

Skyline Arch Trail

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

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.

The trail can be reached from Devils Garden Campground or the nearby parking lot. You can see the Skyline Arch from the parking lot, but it’s worth the short walk to the actual site. Here, you can take in just how massive these sandstone walls really are. With the wide and relatively flat path, this trail is incredibly friendly for wheelchairs, strollers and families with small children.

Hidden Gems at 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.

On these trails, you won’t be fighting with too many crowds to get a good shot of the archway or geological formation. These trails are great for filling in those midday hours before you head to Landscape or Delicate arches for a sunset hike. Or, keep them in your back pocket as a Plan B just in case the trail you intend on visiting isn’t available.

Sand Dune Arch Trail

  • Length: 0.3-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Elevation: 108 feet
  • Duration: 10 minutes

The Sand Dune Arch trail will make you think you’re heading to the beach in the middle of Utah’s western landscape. Along this short trail, you’ll pass through soft sands between the sandstone fins that separate hikers from the rest of the world. Here, you can bury your toes in the sand or even try out your bouldering skills. This trail is especially popular for families since the route is short and easy and provides lots of shade. Not to mention, you can even bring a beach toy or two – just remember to take it with you when you go.

The actual archway isn’t the only attraction along this trail. To the left of the trail, there is a small ledge you can climb up to. It’s a little more difficult than the rest of the trail and might require the assistance of a buddy, but it’s a great way to add an extra bit of adventure to your journey. For those looking to extend the trip even more, hikers can access the Broken Arch Trail as well as the Pinto Arch Trail from the same area.

Tower Arch Trail

  • Length: 2.4-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Elevation: 600 feet
  • Duration: 1.5 hours

Located behind the Klondike Bluffs, the Tower Arch trail ventures as far into Arches National Park as you can go. Like all arch trails in the national park, this one ends with an incredible view of a unique rock formation and Utah’s red cliffs. Along the way, you’ll also see the natural masterpiece known as the Marching Men Monument, a collection of eroding sandstone towers that mimic the rigidity of soldiers standing at attention, keeping watch over the parklands. You can see Parallel Arch across the way, as well.

Like many other trails in Arches, this must-see’s route doesn’t have a whole lot of markers, and according to hikers on AllTrails, it’s easy to get off-course. Pay close attention to cairns along the way, and take the hike slowly.

Dark Angel Trail

  • Length: 4.7-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Elevation: 721 feet
  • Duration: 2 hours

The Dark Angel Trail is a great option for early morning hikes, as there aren’t many people during this time of day. Once you reach the viewpoint, you’ll feel an almost uncontrollable desire to climb the heavens-reaching structure. Along the way, you’ll also find several offshoots in which you can see the Pine Tree Arch, Tunnel Arch and Landscape Arch. You’ll also have access to the Private Arch Trail.

Similar to the Tower Arch Trail, it’s easy to get lost on the Dark Angel Trail. There are quite a few rock scrambles along the way, so make sure to follow the trail markers and keep an updated map at the ready. You can also take the Devil Garden Primitive Loop, which connects back to the start of Dark Angel.

The Tunnel

  • Length: 3.2-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Elevation: 206 feet
  • Duration: 1.5 hours

While the Dark Angel structure reaches high into the sky, the Tunnel at Arches National Park looks as though it will take you to another world. Typically, the arches and hollow structures at the park stand alone or are a part of an eroding fin of sandstone. But the tunnel is just that — a squirrel hole carved out in the middle of a stone wall. You can also see three other rock formations during the trip as you hike up to the steep scramble just before the viewpoint.

Other hikers recommend wearing pants or tall socks since there is plenty of overgrown brush. Be sure to stay left on the trail and stay on the designated route as there are several other paths that intersect, especially near the riverbed.

Red Rock Overlooks at Arches National Park

There are few sights in this world more magical than a clear blue sky contrasting against an auburn horizon freckled with whitecapped mountains. And while Utah’s arches and geological wonders might take up most of your time at the national park, not to be forgotten are the trails that lead to magnificent, must-see overlooks.

Fiery Furnace and Surprise Arch Trail

  • Length: 2.1-mile loop
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Elevation: 505 feet
  • Duration: 1 hour

Like Dark Angel, the Fiery Furnace and Surprise Arch Trail are best suited for early morning adventures. This must-see in Arches National Park also passes the aptly-named Skull Arch, which looks as though you’re peering through the inside of a skull. You’ll also be able to see Surprise Arch, which resembles a couple of skylights.

The Fiery Furnace and Surprise Arch Trail would be more popular, but in order to minimize the impact on the fragile ecosystem, the park has required a limited number of $10 permits to access the area. Luckily, though, you can purchase a permit several days in advance of your trip.

La Sal Mountains Viewpoint

  • Length: 0.1-mile loop
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Elevation: 3 feet
  • Duration: 10 minutes

The La Sal Mountains viewpoint isn’t so much of a trail as it is a short walkway to the overlook. From here, you can see the massive mountain range behind the red rock towers scattered throughout the park. It’s an easy stroll and it can get pretty crowded, but it’s definitely worth the brief trip.

Park Avenue Trail

  • Length: 1.8-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: easy to moderate
  • Elevation: 298 feet
  • Duration: 1 hour

Depending on your skill level, you may find the Park Avenue Trail on the easier side or a bit more strenuous. Located just a few miles from the Arches National Park Visitor Center, this must-see was original just deposits of desert dirt over 150 million years ago. Over time, layers of rock covered these deposits, compressing them into sandstone. Eventually, erosion carved out massive “fins” or vertical slabs, allowing us to see the first steps in arch formation happen right before our eyes.

To get to the viewpoint, you’ll start this trail on an established staircase before continuing onto a primitive trail marked by cairns. You’ll pass hiker-named rock formations like “Queen Nefertiti,” “Queen Victoria,” “Sausage Rock” and “The Corndog.” The trail ends at the Courthouse Towers viewpoint. This route is perfect for afternoons, as it provides plenty of shade and refuge from the midday Utah heat.

Cove of Caves via Parade of Elephants Trail

The Cove of Caves route can also qualify as a hidden gem in Arches National Park as not too many people travel this mile-long trail. Using the Parade of Elephants Trail, travelers venture just north of the Double Arch. The viewpoint is truly a can’t-miss. The Cove of Caves looks as though the red cliffs were on their way to becoming townhomes. With arches forming along the bottom, it looks as though someone had begun carving out the doorways for red-rock giants.

In order to reach the viewpoint, stick to the slickrock portion of the landscape and pay attention to cairns as there isn’t any actual trail. Be sure to stay off the surrounding shrubbery so as not to damage the surrounding ecosystem. To make your trip longer, you can also access The Windows Trailhead and Turret Arch from the area.

  • Length: 1.1-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Elevation: 272 feet
  • Duration: 30 minutes
Outsider.com