Guide to Planning a Trip to Arches National Park




People walking on the Delicate Arch Viewpoint trail in Arches National Park


DAVID L. MOORE – US WEST/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Delicate Arch Trail

Things to do

See the main arches: You can see most of ANP’s grandest structures via access roads directly off the scenic drive. From the parking lots at each archway, short walking trails lead to up-close views.

Freestanding 52-foot-tall Delicate Arch, which adorns Utah’s state license plate, is one of the world’s most recognized geological features. To marvel at what Abbey called “a weird, lovely, fantastic object,” park in the Wolfe Ranch parking lot (13 miles from the park entrance) and hike the Delicate Arch Trail, a 1.5-mile climb up a slickrock slope with 480 feet of elevation. For a less-grueling alternative, park one mile up the road in the Delicate Arch Viewpoint lot. From there, a flat 50-yard (and wheelchair-accessible) trail takes you to the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint, where you can see the arch from a mile away. The Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint requires a moderately challenging half-mile walk but gets you that much closer.

Twelve miles from the park entrance, the Windows Section contains the best concentration of ANP’s most mesmerizing formations. “Delicate Arch is the busiest spot in the park, but the Windows Section is the park highlight,” says Brian Martinez, of Navtec Expeditions, a tour operator in the park. “I’ve lived here for 20 years, and I still get giddy and antsy when I see it.”

A gentle half-mile trail from the Windows Section parking lot (the first 100 yards are wheelchair-friendly) takes you to North and South windows, also known as “the spectacles” because they look like a pair of reading glasses from afar. Stand inside the North Window’s 90-foot-wide mouth and admire the glistening peaks of the distant La Sal Mountains on your left; then look right and snap a panoramic shot of the towering spire protecting nearby Turret Arch.

Elsewhere in the Windows Section is Double Arch, easily accessible via a quarter-mile trail on the parking lot’s north side. Formed by water erosion from above, two arches share the same foundational stone, with the southern span holding claim to the park’s tallest arch opening at 112 feet. “You really need to stand underneath Double Arch to appreciate it,” says Martinez of the gyroscopic structure. Scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Thelma and Louise were filmed in this exact location.

At the end of the scenic drive, in the Devils Garden area, Landscape Arch’s staggering 306-foot-wide light opening (longer than a football field) is the widest span of any arch in North America. An easy 1.6-mile round-trip hike on the first portion of the Devils Garden Trail takes you to the razor-thin formation.

Go hiking: Aside from the 3-mile round trip to Delicate Arch, the park’s signature attractions can be seen from flat, short trails.

For a lengthier, moderately difficult hike with a little bit of rock scrambling, tackle the complete Devils Garden Trail, a 7.9-mile loop in the back of the park alongside spires and pine trees with spurs that lead to eight archways, including the lesser-visited Double O Arch and Navajo Arch. Insider tip: Hike this trail counterclockwise so you end at Landscape Arch.

For something truly special, sign up for a ranger-led hike ($16) through the Fiery Furnace, a 2-mile, three-hour adventure through an isolated labyrinth of canyons, fins and body-scraping passageways. Offered daily March through October, you’ll need to reserve your ticket online at nps.gov) as spots typically fill up a couple of months in advance. (Note: In a fragile ecosystem like ANP, one errant footprint can cause years of damage. Martinez likes to remind all visitors to “stay on the trail and don’t bust the crust!” Cryptobiotic crusts are an amalgamation of green algae, fungi and other tiny organisms that hold the soil together and prevent erosion).

The wheelchair-accessible Park Avenue Trail, with its skyscraper-canyon walls, is one of the most beautiful walks at ANP. The easy stroll (2-mile round trip) along the valley floor gives you a close-up of the Courthouse Towers, towering stone columns that shoot from the desert like a NASA rocket.

Discover unique (non-arch) geology: Archways are ANP’s marquee attraction, but its other head-turning geological features deserve attention, too.

As you cruise the scenic drive, it’s hard to miss the Three Penguins, the park’s first significant sandstone tower (130 feet tall), which hovers above the visitor center and resembles a marching trio of the tuxedoed seabirds.

To the south of Double Arch, the Parade of Elephants — a lone section of sandstone shaped like a single-file herd of elephants parading through the desert — would make Michelangelo envious of nature’s ability to sculpt a masterpiece.

Balanced Rock (nine miles from the park entrance), a giant chunk of sandstone standing 128 feet tall, sits atop an eroding pedestal of mudstone like a sundae cherry. You can see it from the scenic drive, but hike the short 0.3-mile trail around its base to fully grasp its size and beauty.

Stargaze: On a clear night, a wealth of stars can be seen from anywhere in ANP, a certified “dark sky” destination. During the summer months, rangers lead one- to three-hour stargazing sessions that include constellation talks and telescope viewing at Panorama Point (11 miles from the park entrance). Reservations aren’t necessary, but check with the visitor center for an updated schedule.



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