Arches National Park: Our Top 5 Picks

Hike to Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch is the landmark of Arches National Park. Depicted on Utah’s state license plate and in every piece of literature you’ve sifted through planning your trip, it’s not to be missed. What surprises many people is the best viewing of this famous iconic American west landmark requires one of the longer hikes in the park. Three miles round-trip brings you up-close to this magnificent beauty, and it’s absolutely worth it! Best as an early-bird special (think arriving before 8 am maybe even as early as 6 am) or a stunning sunset experience. Views include the Colorado River and the La Sal Mountain Range picturesquely framed within the arch.

Know before you go: Popular means crowded. This won’t be a peaceful serene experience unless you have the true dedication to start your day at the crack of dawn.  This hike is exposed, so bring plenty of water, a wide-brim hat, and sun protection. If you’re driving from Under Canvas Moab, it’s a 35 minute drive, so plan accordingly.

Stargaze at Garden of Eden

The southwest is home to some of the darkest unobstructed night skies in the contiguous United States. With 90% of the population living in areas of light pollution drowning out the spectrum of stars visible to the naked eye, you don’t want to miss this phenomenal experience. The Garden of Eden is a geological section of Arches showcasing towers, spires, goblins and fins rather than arches. Aches that are here are moderately sized with some developing “baby” arches dotting the landscape like rare wildflowers. A spectacular view of the night sky over an interesting horizon of shadowy formations awakens your imagination.

If you’re lucky enough to visit in perfect conditions under a clear new moon sky, you may even see the rings of Saturn with a pair of average binoculars. Bringing a star chart or joining a ranger-led event can get the most from your experience if you’re wanting more than just the magnificent view to remember.

Know before you go: Night vision is strongest after about 30 minutes of adjustment. Using this time to familiarize with your settings can lessen the need for artificial light. If needed, use a red light filter to maintain your night vision. Take some time ahead to learn your camera’s night photography settings and consider bringing a tripod to capture breathtakingly sharp long-exposure photographs. Desert nights are chilly; bring a blanket or jacket.

Explore Fiery Furnace/Skull Arch

Adventure seekers and families alike will absolutely love this unique labyrinth of spires, sandstone walls, narrow slot passages and scrambles along the 2-mile counter-clockwise loop with dead-ends leading to majestic viewpoints and surprise geological formations like Skull Arch. This fun natural playground gives the kids a break from the “just another arch” doldrums and makes you feel like a kid again. Many spots require a helping hand to balance, rock hop and squeeze though making this a fantastic family bonding or team building escape that feels more like a live video game quest of treasure hunts and discovery than a day at a National Park. Working your way through this adventure canyon is a 3-6 hour excursion leaving you eagerly wishing for more.

Know before you go: Permit Required.  On the first day of your visit you should go to Arches Visitor Center to secure your permit for this hike to ensure you get a spot.  Minimum age: 5 years; max group: 10 people. All participants must be present to watch an orientation video to get the permit. This is not a casual stroll so water, a backpack, sun protection, a map and sturdy shoes with grippy soles are necessities. You need to stay aware and pay attention along the way as there are many ways to get lost. GPS does not work here.

Discover Hidden Ancient Petroglyphs at Dark Angel

Possibly the truest hidden gem of the park, this unmapped ancient American Indian art wall is so tucked away visitors have come to the park for decades and never known of these petroglyphs and pictographs, and there are 100’s of them! Like all “hidden gems” they require commitment to locate, and only those dedicated enough to put in the time and effort will be blessed with this experience.

Approach the Dark Angel monolith spire via the Devil’s Garden Primitive Loop off the Devil’s Garden trail. It’s a total out-and-back distance of just over 8 miles which gets, as the name implies, more primitive the further along you go. Prepare for exposure, narrow passages, slickrock, and sand pits.  A bit west of the Dark Angel spire, off the beaten path, you may come to a sign that reads “You’ve found something unique. Please preserve it.” That’s it; that’s your only landmark to let you know you’ve found this pre-historic art gallery etched as far back as possibly 6,000 years. Enjoy!

Know before you go: While this isn’t an off-limits section of the park, in doing their part to help preserve this historic landmark, park officials will not help you locate it, and you can’t find it on a map. If you find the petroglyphs, please DO NOT TOUCH! Oils and lotions from our hands degrade the fragile sandstone and pictograph pigment.

Off-road to Tower Arch

If you’re looking for something a bit rugged, fun driving and offers your best chance of serenity and solitude, you can’t pass up this opportunity. Located in the Klondike Bluffs section of Arches, this trail requires a several-mile drive down a rugged dirt road to reach, over which you will certainly not see a single tour bus. That alone is a win. On the trail, in some places you’ll wade through sand (especially near the top) and rock scramble in others. Along the 1.5 miles out to Tower Arch, you’ll pass breathtaking vistas, the “Marching Men”, deep red rocks more vibrant than in much of the rest of the park, and there’s more chances to see wildlife like prairie dogs. The seclusion is something you never dreamed you could have at a park as busy as Arches. Tower Arch itself is huge and offers shade beneath. This is a great hike to do mid-trip or on your last day when you’re over the crowds and looking to savor one last amazing day.

Know before you go: 4WD recommended. At the least you’ll need a vehicle with good clearance to navigate the choppy dirt road, which becomes impassable in wet conditions. You must check the weather forecast and be sure there’s no possibility of getting caught in the rain. Tow fees off this road are exorbitant.

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