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

by Jon D. B.

Did you know that black bears wander through Arches National Park? Learn how to prepare for encounters, beat the heat, and more ahead of your trip.

Right outside Moab, Utah is one of the most remarkable landscapes on Earth. Arches National Park offers a breathtaking array of contrasting colors, land forms, and textures unlike anywhere else. 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. But the wildly unique geology of Arches also presents unique challenges.

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.

Arches National Park Sun & Heat Safety: HEAT KILLS

During the summer months, which is peak visitation season for Arches, expect high temperatures. Intense sunlight, low humidity, and open desert with a lack of shade all compound these temperatures to make them potentially deadly to us humans. In order to stay healthy in this climate, it is best to avoid hiking in the middle of the day in Arches.

Turret Arch, North Window, at sunrise. (Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

In addition, these crucial tips from the park will also keep you healthy, hydrated, and, well, alive:

  • 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:

HEAT KILLS graphic courtesy of Arches National Park, NPS

Remember: the sun rules the summer at Arches. Abiding by the guidelines above can and will safe your life!

Climbing, Scrambling, & Bouldering in Arches

A woman stands beneath Double Arch in Arches National Park near Moab in Utah. (Photo by: Andrew Lloyd/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

As Arches National Park knows, “Slickrock invites adventure.” When you climb, boulder, or scramble in the park:

  • 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.

In winter, trails may become icy. The park recommends wearing traction devices on your shoes during winter conditions. Further winter safety information can be found below.

General Hiking Safety in Arches

Hikers look out at Park Avenue in the Arches National Park (Photo by Mark Ralston / AFP)
  • 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.

Weather Safety: Lighting & Flash Floods

Arches National Monument, Delicate Arch with storm clouds approaching suddenly. (Photo by: MyLoupe/Universal Images Group, Getty Images)
  • 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:

As the park cites, “Storms and flash floods can be powerful and sudden.” It is imperative to check weather conditions before any visit. The unpredictability of weather in the desert, however, means visitors must remain vigilant at all times within the park.

Winter Safety in Arches National Park

While heat safety is crucial for spring, summer, and fall in Arches, winter is still a beautiful time to visit the park.

USA, Southwest, Utah, Moab, Arches National Park. (Photo by: Dukas/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The majority of hiking trails remain open year-round. In winter, however, trails may be icy and present different challenges. To stay safe during an Arches winter visit:

  • The park recommends you wear traction devices on your shoes
  • Traction devices and trekking poles are also recommended
  • Even in colder temperatures, it is important to drink water. You can get water at the visitor center or Devils Garden Campground.

During and after snowfall, packed snow and ice make popular trails slippery. Drifting snow can also cover trail markers, making even “easy” trails harder to follow. In addition, the park road may close for several hours for plowing during snowfall. Park roads, parking lots, and pullouts can remain icy, especially in shaded areas. Please use extra caution in these conditions.

Black Bear Safety in Arches National Park

North American black bear. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Believe it or not, black bears will sometimes wander down from the La Sal Mountains and other nearby parks in late August and September. Enough bear sightings have happened in Arches that park officials wish to stress the importance of bear safety for all visitors.

Firstly, it is important to reduce your chances of an encounter in bear country. To do so:

  • Be alert. Watch for tracks, droppings, diggings, and other bear signs. If you see a cub, retreat immediately – you can be certain the mother is nearby.
  • Make noise and stay on the trail. Typically, bears avoid humans. You can make this easier for them by making noise when hiking in the backcountry – talk with your companions, sing a song, whistle.
  • Watch for carcasses and stay away from them. Report all dead animals found near a trail or campsite to a park employee. If you smell rotten meat, leave the area immediately. Never approach or camp near a carcass. A bear may be out of sight, guarding its food. You might detect carcasses by the presence of ravens or coyotes.
  • Avoid carrying odorous items. Bears are attracted by smells of food and other odorous items. Leave food like bacon, tuna, ham, and scented personal products at home. Bears have a phenomenal sense of smell and can detect odors miles away. We recommend using dry, sealed foods; they are lighter and less aromatic.
  • Keep a clean camp and store food items securely. For the protection of bears, park visitors and employees, it is very important that bears do not gain access to human food. Never eat or store food in your tent. Dispose of food scraps properly (pack it in, pack it out) and don’t leave food, dishes, or stoves unattended.

Regardless of preparation or experience, black bear encounters and attacks can and do still happen. There are multiple behavioral patterns that influence how you should react to an attacking bear. For specific safety guidelines here, it is best to refer to the Arches National Park Black Bear Safety page and become prepared.

For more on the wildlife of Arches National Park and animal safety within, please see our Arches National Park Wildlife: Desert Animals You’ll Encounter & When to See Them next.