We went to Arches National Park as part of a longer road trip around Southern Utah. It was quite the highlight, with dozens of natural arches big and small. Here’s a guide to getting the most out of a trip through Arches.
What to Drive
First of all, if you’re doing a road trip–the only way to do Utah–you should splurge for the SUV. We were going to get a smaller car, but the GMC Acadia was all the airport in Salt Lake City had left. Thank god! It was a beast and got us everywhere we needed to go without a second thought. Get.the.SUV.
When to Go
When we say when to go, we mean what time of day. If you’re looking for a season, I highly recommend spring or fall. It gets very very hot during the day in the summer!
Now, as for time of day. If you want to experience Arches without driving through the park bumper-to-bumper, it’s extremely important to go early. You should also purchase a National Park pass ahead of time so you do not have to sit in line to pay. We hit the road before the sun came up so that we could be to the park around 7:30/8am. Just a few hours later, the trails and the road were insane. Worse, the later in the day you start, the hotter your hikes will be. Never forget you’re in the desert and those days get hot!
How to Enter the Park
One of our best tips for traveling to Arches National Park is about how to enter the park. There is an entrance at the southern tip and you can move your way north through the park. But don’t! We accidentally found the better option and now you can do it intentionally.
As you travel south from Salt Lake City, make a quick, sharp left turn onto BLM 144, then take a right onto BLM 145. BLM 145 goes straight through to the northern entrance to the park. The drive to the park is a rough and bumpy one-lane road with offshoots that lead to some very cool campgrounds nestled under huge rock cliffs. You know it’s an adventure because it’s a dirt road!
But, if you’ve just driven from Salt Lake City, this is the point at which you really start to feel like your trip has begun. Before you get to Arches, you’ll see huge boulders, people camping and wildlife.
As you keep going, the entrance appears seemingly out of nowhere.
Now you’ve already had an adventure and you’re not even there yet! While there is a gate here, there’s no park attendant, so you can only take this route if you got your pass ahead of time.
Which Arches to See
If you only have one day, you’ll want to move quickly through the park. There’s so much to see here, you have to pick and choose. If you’re following this guide, you’re starting at the top, which ends up being the best way. The longer hikes are at the northern part of the park, so you’ll get to experience them with fewer people and at a cooler part of the day. Here are the hikes/arches we saw and recommend.
When you enter from the north, the first arch you come to is Skyline Arch. You can see it for awhile before you finally get up close. It’s a huge rock wall with an arch through the middle.
When I say this is a huge rock wall, I mean huge. Just look at Neal at the base of it!
Sand Dune Arch
The next arch down the road is Sand Dune Arch. It’s a quick hike from the parking space, but well worth getting out of the car. There’s a large arch here and some great shade if it’s gotten hot already. It’s also a fun sandy playground.
When you walk out of the trail from Sand Dune Arch, instead of turning left to your car, go right! There’s an AWESOME arch not too far down the trail. Broken Arch feels like it comes out of nowhere. It’s a gorgeous arch.
It might not look that big, but here’s a picture with Neal for scale:
These arches are just incredible. If you walk through, you also get a vast view of the desert.
Near here is also Devil’s Playground. We wanted to go, but didn’t think we had enough time. If you have more than a day, make sure to check it out. Also, the Fiery Furnace looks awesome. We learned the hard way, that you have to book this adventure in advance. You need a ranger guide because there can be flash flooding. We’ll do it next time!
One of the most popular arches is Delicate Arch. This one you want to get to early because the parking lot fills up and the crowds get thick. To get to the arch, you have to walk up a steep rock wall.
As you can see, there’s not much trail here. It actually can get quite confusing in some areas and you end up following the crowd and getting caught in areas you can’t get down from! We did just that following some fearless kids. It was still cool, even though we had to turn around and backtrack a little bit, because all of Utah is a giant playground.
It’s also all worth the trip when you see that arch. Tip: before you go to the base of the arch, climb up the rock wall face with a small hole (future arch!). You get this great framing of the arch:
Then walk down and around to the base.
As you can see, there are a lot of people here (and we’ve heard this is nothing!). I think this only gets worse as the day goes by and in the summertime. Always get there early! The good thing about having people around is that they will typically help you take pictures as everyone wants a picture under the arch. I know we did 🙂
On your way down, stop at the bottom to take a look at some Ute Indian Petroglyphs. There’s quite a few around Arches and these ones are in exceptional condition.
A Cluster of Arches
The next several arches are all near each other. You park in a lot and walk from arch to arch. It’s easy-peasy, but BEWARE. There are snakes here. A few popped out from the shrubbery here and there and gave me quite a scare. Here are all the arches in this area.
Northern Window Arch
Northern Window Arch is a large set of double arches. You can get up close or marvel them from afar.
Turret Arch really does look cooler from far away. You can walk from Northern Window Arch to Turret Arch.
We couldn’t figure out how Elephant Butte got its name. I mean, do you see elephant? Just kidding, it obviously looks like an elephant!! We actually didn’t take the time to get close to this one. As far as we could tell, you can’t walk all over this rock; you can only walk up to it. We enjoyed it from a distance.
Double Arch was very cool. We climbed up under the arches. It’s hard to articulate why this is cool, but when we looked up to see a relatively thin piece of rock above us, and sat up in the rock’s crevices, we felt extremely free. I felt like I could live up there!
Along the way, you’ll see rock climbers. This area is a huge spot for sport climbing. If you go a little south to Moab, there are even more areas that are excellent for climbing. Here are climbers at the Garden of Eden:
Don’t forget to bring your gear!
If you are following this guide, you’ve managed to get out of the park before it closes. If you don’t know, Arches closes oddly early. I think it’s because it’s one long road and they need to get people out of there. Anyway, we happily left just before sunset. We went south to Moab and decided we had one more hike left in us.
Corona Arch is not in Arches National Park, but it’s still one million percent worth checking out. The parking lot for the trail is adjacent to the Colorado River and a railroad. The tracks are beautiful, especially at sunset.
To get to Corona Arch, you walk up a fairly steep rock face and then a pretty flat, rocky trail. Once you get to where you can see the arch, you start doing some fun rock climbing. There are ropes and ladders and it’s very, very windy! Or at least it was when we were there. We weren’t worried, though. We had a great sunset hike all the way the arch.
Once you’re past the ropes and ladders, you go by this giant hole in the rock. I climbed up under it, too.
But now for the main attraction. Corona arch:
It was extremely windy up here! Quite cold, too, as the sun went down.
We wanted to stay there until the stars came out, but the cold got the best of us. We also weren’t sure if we could do the ropes and ladders in the dark. By the way, if you do this arch and sunset, DO NOT FORGET YOUR HEADLAMP! We had ours:
We got out of there just before it really got dark, but you never know. You should always bring headlamps and first aid kits and everything else with you on a hike.
So there you have it, a Photo Guide to Arches National Park. Another half day in the park and you can see more, but I would only set aside a day and choose carefully. We also wrote about a fun adventure (and scariest driver ever!) down Shafer Trail Road via Potash here, check it out and have fun!
Like it? Pin it!