Top 10 Things to Do in Arches National Park

by Jon D. B.
top-10-things-to-do-arches-national-park

Whether you have one afternoon or a full week in Utah’s crown jewel, the ultimate Arches National Park excursion is just a Top 10 list away.

Few national parks offer as much to marvel at as Arches. And making one trip out to the Moab, Utah wonderland almost always guarantees a return trip – or several. From North America’s most impressive natural arches to some of the best scenic hikes anywhere, you could truly spend a lifetime in Arches and not see everything.

Outsider’s here to help narrow that all down for an informative Top 10, however, as most of us don’t have a lifetime to spend in a single park. But as you browse, please keep in mind that climbing, scrambling, rappelling, walking, or standing upon any arch in Arches National Park is strictly prohibited. We must be excellent stewards of the natural world, and all our National Park Service works so hard to protect. That said, let’s get to it!

10. Start with Park Avenue Trail

Hikers on the Park Avenue trail 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)

We’re kicking off this list with Park Avenue Trail not because it’s the lowest recommendation, but because we want you to see it first. And chances are, it’s the first wonder you’ll decide to visit, too, as it’s just 3.6 miles (5.8 km) after Arches National Park Visitor Center.

  • Roundtrip Distance: 1.8 mi (3.2 km) 
  • Time: 1 hour 
  • Elevation Change: 322 ft (98 m) 
  • Difficulty: Moderate 
  • Accessibility: The paved walkway to the viewpoint is accessible to wheelchairs
    • Beyond, this trail has a long flight of stairs and requires some walking on sand and uneven surfaces

In Park Avenue, you’ll gaze down a grand boulevard of rock and behold spectacular formations. A few hilghights include visitor-named “Queen Nefertiti,” “Queen Victoria,” and “Sausage Rock” (also known as “The Corndog”). Park Avenue Arch is also visible from the parking lot, suspended high up a rock wall to the right.

To do so, the park has a paved sidewalk that leads to a viewpoint down this corridor of towering rock walls and sensational spires. Descend the steep stairs to walk the trail among massive monoliths, taking you to Courthouse Towers Viewpoint – a must-see Arches sight.

If you’d like a roundtrip hike, retrace your steps along the trail rather than walking along the road. And if steep stairs aren’t your thing, enter Park Avenue Trail from the north side.

9. Underrated Gem: Double O Arch & Trail

Tourists beside the Double O Arch in the Arches National Park near Moab, Utah on April 22, 201(Photo by Mark Ralston / AFP / Getty Images)

One of the most underrated features in the park, Double O Arch is a dual-formation featuring – you guessed it – two Os. To find this marvel, head for Devils Garden Trailhead (more on this area below). Devils Garden is at the northern end of the park, some 18 miles (28 km) from the park’s only entrance. But keep in mind that this is a strenuous trail, and not an adventure to tackle lightly.

  • Roundtrip Distance: 4.0 mi (2.9 km) 
  • Time: 2-3 hours 
  • Elevation Change: 275 ft (84 m) 
  • Difficulty: Strenuous 
  • Bring: Bring at least 2 quarts (2 L) of water per person. Avoid wearing shoes with open toes, high heels, or slick soles 
  • Accessibility: Beyond Landscape Arch, this trail is not accessible to wheelchairs

Double O Arch is past Landscape Arch, where the trail climbs steeply over sandstone slabs. Stay vigilant, as there are uneven surfaces and narrow ledges with steep drop-offs.

Drinking water is made available spring through fall, but always be sure to bring ample water and containers for your Arches hikes. For more on how to hike Arches safely (and avoid becoming one of the hundreds of Search & Rescue ops the park tackles every year), see our Arches National Park Safety: Best Practices To Safely Explore the Desert Park.

8. Sand Dune Arch & Trail

Utah, Arches National Park, Hiker On Top Of Sand Dune Arch. (Photo by Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Despite the need to hike through deep sand, Sand Dune Arch Trail is rated as an Easy hike and makes for a quick, excellent excursion. And once you tackle this less than half-a-mile walk, you’ll arrive to this incredible hidden arch that stands behind tall sandstone walls. It’s an out-of-this-world environment, one that feels more akin to Luke Skywalker’s Tatooine than anything you’d expect to find in a U.S. state.

  • Roundtrip Distance: 0.4 mi (0.6 km) 
  • Time: 15-30 min 
  • Elevation Change: 0 ft (0 m) 
  • Difficulty: Easy 
  • Accessibility: While the trail is mostly level, it crosses deep sand and has one very narrow section, which makes it not accessible to wheelchairs

If you want to continue this excursion, head across the grassland to Broken Arch, then return on this same trail or make a loop through Devils Garden campground.

Both in the sands and grassland, you’re bound to see some amazing Arches wildlife, too. For more on park species, see our Arches National Park Wildlife: Desert Animals You’ll Encounter & When to See Them.

7. Arches National Park’s Windows Section

This is known as Turret Arch which is in the center, It looks through what is known as the North Window, It is located in the Windows Section, This was taken at sunrise. (Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Many consider the Windows Section of Arches to be the heart of the national park, and it’s not hard to see why. Here is a land of unbelievable vista after unbelievable vista, including the unfathomably massive North Window (visible from the parking lot).

To reach the Windows Section, you’ll travel 12 miles (19km) from the park entrance. At the trailhead, trails lead out to Turret Arch, North Window, South Window, and Double Arch. The main trail is a gentle, easy climb up a gravel trail that leads to the massive North Window, South Window, and Turret Arch.

  • Roundtrip Distance: 1 mi (1.6 km) 
  • Time: 30-60 min 
  • Elevation Change: 99 ft (30 m) 
  • Difficulty: Easy 
  • Trail Tip: Across from this trailhead, a connector trail descends to the lower parking lot and Double Arch trailhead. Consider parking in one place and walking between the two lots, if you want to see more arches.
  • Accessibility: The first 300 ft (91 m) of this trail is considered barrier free and may be accessible to wheelchairs. Reaching the base of the arches requires walking up a slope and some rock stairs. The primitive section of trail is very uneven with steps up and steps down.

To return, take the same trail out. or take the longer primitive route to loop around before returning to the park lot. No matter which you choose, you’ll be blown away by Windows entering and exiting.

6. Unique Excursion: Fiery Furnace

Utah, Moab, Arches National Park, Fiery Furnace. (Photo by: Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Looking for something different in Arches National Park? Fiery Furnace is your bet. This ancient, natural labyrinth of narrow passages winds through towering sandstone walls of marvelous colors. Stay to stand at this viewpoint near sunset, and you’ll witness low-angle light that ignites the rock faces with a wood-fired furnace glow.

*As the national park states, “To enter the Fiery Furnace, you must accompany a ranger-guided hike or obtain a Self-Guided Exploration permit before your visit.” Both must be reserved through Recreation.gov (start at the prior links). The visitor center will also be able to help with any information.

But keep in mind, hiking in the Fiery Furnace is a different experience from other areas of Arches. Like a maze, there are abundant dead ends, multiple paths, and it can be easy to get lost. There are small markers for one counter-clockwise route in the Fiery Furnace, but there are many other possible paths. All of the above is why the park now requires either a guided hike or permit to enter. If you’re up for it, though, it’s beyond worth it.

5. The Clock’s Ticking on Landscape Arch

North America, USA, American, Colorado Plateau, Utah, Moab, Arches, National Park, Devils Garden, landscape Arch, MR. (Photo by: Dukas/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Located in Devils Garden, Landscape Arch is the longest arch in North America with a light opening of an incredible 306 feet (93.3 meters). Yet this magnificent arch is only 6 feet (1.8 meters) in diameter at its narrowest.

Amazingly, huge segments of the arch came crashing down in the 1990s, reminding us all that Arches’ landscape can change dramatically in a instant, and that these ancient features are still in a state of constant erosional change. And as thin as Landscape is, it may not be around for much longer – so it’s one you should make time to see on your Arches excursion.

  • Roundtrip Distance: 1.8 mi (2.9 km) 
  • Time: 30-60 min 
  • Elevation Change: 40 ft (12 m) 
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Accessibility: While the trail is considered barrier free, just before Landscape Arch the trail has steep slopes that may require assistance

To see Landscape Arch, hit the hard-packed trail in Devils Garden that leads to this spectacular ribbon of rock. If you’d like to continue on, spur trails lead to Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch afterwards.

4. Go for All of Devils Garden Trail

If there’s one specific area of Arches to recommend, it’s Devils Garden. Several of the features earlier on our list are located here, and for good reason. Here, you’ll find grand arches, massive spires, and an enormous concentration of narrow rock walls called “fins” (formed when rainwater erodes parallel fractures caused by the uplift of salt deposits below the surface). And it is these fins that will become the future arches of Arches National Park.

  • Roundtrip Distance: 7.9 mi (12.7 km)
    • Note: this is the distance for tackling the entirety of Devils Garden Trail 
  • Time: 3-5 hours 
  • Elevation Change: 286 ft (87 m) 
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Bring: Bring at least 3 quarts (3 L) of water per person and a headlamp and light jacket in case your return is after sundown
    • Avoid wearing shoes with open toes, high heels, or slick soles.  

The full Devils Garden Trail experience includes Landscape Arch, Double O Arch, Dark Angel, and the primitive trail, making it one of the most fulfilling adventures in any national park. But please note that this is a challenging hike. Narrow ledges, steep exposures, uneven surfaces, rock scrambling, and few trail markers are all part of this full 7.9 mile excursion.

3. Come for Double Arch, Stay for Stargazing

A photographer using a bright light to illuminate Double Arch in Arches National Park. (Photo by: Alan Dyer /VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The tallest arch in the park at 112 feet (34 m), and the second longest after Landscape at 144 feet (44 m), Double Arch is one of the true wonders of North America. Photos of this majestic feature speak for themselves. But like all photos of Arches National Park, they still do not do justice to an in-person viewing. Double Arch is truly a gem you have to see to believe.

  • Roundtrip Distance: 0.6 mi (1 km) 
  • Time: 15-30 min 
  • Elevation Change: 30 ft (10 m) 
  • Difficulty: Easy 

A quick view is available from the parking loop at The Windows. Or, take to the gently sloping path that leads to its base. Which we highly recommend, so you can see this:

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

As the park describes, “This gently sloping trail leads to the base of two giant arch spans that are joined at one end. Hikers choosing to scramble up the rock beneath the arches should plan their route carefully, as climbing up is often easier than climbing back down.”

  • NPS Trail tip: Across from this trailhead, a connector trail climbs stairs to the upper parking lot and the Windows trailhead. Consider parking in one place and walking between the two lots, if you want to see more arches.

And as with all of Arches National Park, we highly recommend sticking around for a night excursion if possible. Here, the stargazing is truly life-changing, and offers many Dark Sky perks, including seeing our Milky Way Galaxy with the naked eye. Double Arch, in particular, is an amazing spot to stargaze.

Camping in Devils Garden Campground is an excellent way to stargaze, too. For all the details, see our Arches National Park Lodging: Campgrounds, Cabins, Securing Reservations in Devils Garden, Moab and More.

2. Arches National Park Scenic Drive

Entering Arches National Park Scenic Drive, Moab, Utah. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Whether you choose to hike Arches trails or not, driving the national park’s Scenic Drive is a must-do. The park’s main road passes many outstanding natural features and famous Arches landmarks, all from the comfort of your vehicle.

To make the most of your scenic drive, tackle it with a timeframe in mind. If you have 1.5 hours:

  • Drive to The Windows Section and see some of the park’s largest arches
    • Add a half hour to stroll beneath either North Window or Double Arch
  • *OR* drive to Delicate Arch Viewpoint and see the world’s most famous arch, a mile distant
    • Stop at Wolfe Ranch on your way back and imagine what it would have been like to homestead this relatively barren area in the late 1800s

Want more than just a quick jaunt? If you have 3 hours, combine the above and do both!

If you have 4.5 hours, drive the entirety of the Scenic Drive and paved park roads. Within this timeframe, you can spend a good 10 minutes at each viewpoint. Then, be sure to visit The Windows Section, Wolfe Ranch and Delicate Arch Viewpoint.

But please keep in mind that parking is limited at all destinations. Popular trailheads like Delicate Arch and Devils Garden (both listed above) may fill for hours at a time, especially on weekends and holidays.

1. Crown Jewel of Arches National Park: Delicate Arch

A hiker explores Delicate Arch in Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. December 9, 2008 (Photo by Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

There are over 2,000 stone arches here, but one stands above the rest as a symbol of not only the park, but of Utah and the American West. That honor belongs to Delicate Arch, a somewhat misleading name for this towering giant.

The light opening alone of Delicate Arch is 46 feet high and 32 feet wide. This megalithic marvel is the largest free-standing arch in the park as a result (as it does not span out from cliffs).

There are plenty of places to see Delicate Arch from afar. But if you want an up-close-and-personal visit, you’ll need to tackle the full, strenuous trail.

  • Roundtrip Distance: 3 mi (4.8 km) 
  • Time: 2-3 hours 
  • Elevation Change: 538 ft (164 m) 
  • Difficulty: Strenuous 
  • Bring: There is no drinking water at this trailhead. Bring at least 2 quarts (2 L) of water per person
    • Avoid wearing shoes with open toes, high heels, or slick soles
    • Sunset hikers: carry a flashlight or headlamp for each person
    • In winter, carry traction devices for your shoes to safely cross icy sections
Hikers walk beside the Delicate Arch at sunset in the Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)

Chiefly, the park asks that all visitors avoid this hike during midday summer heat. This trail climbs up a steep slickrock slope, and there is no shade for the entirety of the excursion.And before reaching Delicate Arch, the trail follows along a narrow rock ledge for about 200 yards (183 m), so be sure you’re comfortable with heights.

  • Accessibility: The first section of trail to Wolfe Ranch cabin and the petroglyph panel is accessible to wheelchairs
    • Beyond, the trail climbs steeply up rock
  • Parking: Limited oversize vehicle parking is available across the street from the main lot

If you’re up for it, Delicate Arch Trail is one of the most rewarding excursions any national park offers, making it an easy pick for our #1 spot.

For more ahead of your excursion, see our Top 10 Things to Know About Arches National Park: PHOTOS next.

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