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15 Things You CAN’T MISS On Your First Trip to Arches National Park

View of Delicate Arch

We’ve all seen the photos. Arches National Park is stunning! It’s the wide-open west with red rock, sand, arches, bridges, and cool rock formations. It’s no wonder that Arches is a bucket list destination. This tiny national park packs a big punch and 4 million people visit a year.

Perhaps you are one of those people who want to experience Arches National Park for yourself but aren’t sure where to begin.

I’m Cheryl and I live with my husband Matt and our 4 kids in Utah. Arches is a 4-hour drive from our home and we’ve been there several times. We love how blue the sky contrasts with the redrock. Love how much of an adventure it is to hike in the desert. Love that if we don’t feel up for hiking, many of the coolest things in the park can be seen from the scenic drive or viewpoints. And… we love that at the end of the day, there are great places to eat and sleep outside the park.

Read on for all the things that you SHOULDN’T MISS on your first trip to Arches National Park. I’ll keep it simple and not overload you with too many things to do-just the essential ones. Plus, some of my handy tips I’ve learned over the years.

Best Spots in Arches: Delicate Arch, Tower Arch, Devil’s Garden, The Windows, Balanced Rock, Fiery Furnace, Park Ave.

1. Devil’s Garden:

Devil's Garden Arches
Devil’s Garden

Distance: 4-8 Miles, roundtrip

Time: 2-6 hours

Let’s kick things off with hikes. Devil’s Garden is the best hike in the park. Not only will you see some fantastic arches (Landscape Arch and Double O Arch), but you’ll get to hike along fins (that’s a fancy name for a narrow, residual wall of hard sedimentary rock that remains standing after the surrounding rock has been eroded away). It’s such an adventure!

I like that this hike offers several spur trails and loops depending on how much hiking you want to do. If you are trying to conserve your hiking steps, we recommend just hiking to Landscape Arch, a 1.8-mile round-trip hike. You’ll see the longest arch in North America (although we don’t think it’s the prettiest arch).

If you are feeling energetic we recommend hiking to Double O Arch (one arch on top of the other!). It will be 4 miles round trip from the parking lot and you’ll be doing some more rigorous hiking (wear hiking boots for this one) but the scenery, as well as the destination, are worth it.

There are additional arches in the area, but we think that Landscape Arch and Double O arch are the “must-sees”

2. Delicate Arch

delicate arch
Delicate Arch

Distance: 3 miles, roundtrip

Time: 2-3 hours

Surprised I put this 2nd? Delicate Arch is THE most impressive arch I’ve seen in any national park. It’s over 50 feet tall and is just towering. But… the hike to get there is the worst. It’s exposed, steep, and not very scenic. Usually, I enjoy the journey of the hike just as much as the destination, but that isn’t the case with Delicate Arch.

That being said, Delicate Arch is worth the effort to get to it. I’ve seen this arch several times and am always blown away by how big it is. Read all about how to hike it here

You’ll most likely be viewing the arch with several other enthusiastic travelers and will have to wait to take your photo. Try not to be annoyed. Feel the excitement in the air and enjoy the moment.

GOOD TO KNOW: Leave your drone at home. They aren’t allowed in national parks. The last time I was there, 2 people were flying them, and really took away from the experience for everyone else. Plus, drones can damage the park.

BEAT THE CROWDS AND THE HEAT: If you have it in you, get here at sunrise. You’ll be grateful for the cooler temperatures and less crowds. We’ve also done this at sunset in the spring and it’s really nice.

DID YOU KNOW?: Delicate Arch is on Utah’s license plates. Delicate Arch has also been called “Cowboy’s Chaps” and “Old Maid’s Bloomers” It does kind of look like a pair of pants if you look at it the right way.

3. Fiery Furnace

Rock formations in the Fiery Furnace

Distance: 2-3 miles

Time: 2-5 hours

The Fiery Furnace is a combination of slot canyons, arches, bridges, and needles in a condensed area. Calling it a hike is a bit of a stretch because it’s more of a maze through some super cool rock formations. We like to think of it as an escape room because the whole purpose of it is to get lost and explore.

I was a bit nervous about this because there wasn’t a map or a designated trail. But, the ranger told us that no one had ever gotten so lost that they had to be rescued. My family loved scrambling down the rocks and crawling through mini tunnels. We found 7 arches on our adventure and rarely saw anyone else.

Only 75 people a day are allowed into this area and you need a permit. You also have the option of doing a self-guided tour or a ranger-led hike. Try to do this if you can get a permit. It’s one of the most memorable things our family has done in Arches.

4. The Windows

The Windows arches in Arches National Park
The Windows

Distance: About 1 mile

Time: 1 hour

This hike includes 4 arches and is easy (there are a few stairs). If you are traveling with small children or not up for a big hike, this would be our #1 choice for you. You’ll see the North Window, South Window, Turret Arch, and one of our favorite arches… Double Arch!

It’s unique and so beautiful. You kind of feel like a cheater because you get to see one of the best arches in the park with hardly any work.

GOOD TO KNOW: This part of the Windows hike is hard-packed dirt and accessible.

HANDY TIP: If you get here and there isn’t parking, just be patient. Because it doesn’t take long to explore this area, people are coming and going a lot. A spot will most likely open up soon.

IF YOU HAVE MORE TIME AND ENERGY: Tower Arch is another great arch to visit. It will take you 2-3 hours to do this moderately strenuous 2.6-mile, round-trip hike, but this arch is cool because there is a tower rock formation next to it.

5. Park Avenue View Point

View of Park Avenue in Arches National Park
Park Avenue View Point

This is one of the first places you’ll see as you enter the park. It’s appropriately named because the towering walls look like skyscrapers! You have the option to do a short hike here as well, but we like to save our hiking steps for other sites. We love to see it at sunset with the sun making the red rocks glow!

6. La Sal Mountains View Point

 This is a quick pull-off that provides some nice views of the Courthouse Towers area to the north (see the interpretive sign for the names of the formations), as well as the La Sal Mountains to the east.

7. Delicate Arch Viewpoints

Delicate Arch from the viewpoint
Delicate Arch from viewpoints

Unfortunately, the viewpoint is far away from the arch and underwhelming. There is an Upper and a Lower Viewpoint. We think the arch looks farther away from the Upper Viewpoint (optical illusion), so it’s not worth it unless you want to test our theory or get a nice short walk in. 

8. Fiery Furnace Viewpoint

Sign and trailhead to the Fiery Furnace at Arches
Fiery Furnace Trailhead

If you aren’t able to get a permit to explore the Fiery Furnace, a good runner-up is to go check out this area from the viewpoint.

Something kind of cool to do is to stand at this viewpoint near sunset when low-angle light makes the rock faces glow like a wood-fired furnace- hence where it gets its name!

9. Arches Scenic Drive

Road through Arches National Park
Arches Scenic Drive, Canva

The Arches Scenic drive is a must for everyone! You’ll most likely do most of this drive en route to the hikes and viewpoints within the park! It begins at the visitor center and ends at the Devil’s Garden area at the end of the park. It’s 30-45 minutes one-way without stops.

You’ll see Park Avenue, La Sal Mountains Viewpoint, Balanced Rock, the Fiery Furnace, and many more all on this drive.

10. Visit Canyonlands National Park

Cactus and flowers in Horseshoe Canyon in Canyonlands
Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands
ancient ruins at aztec butte canyonlands
Aztec Butte, Canyonlands

The first 9 things to do are all within Arches National Park, but you are really missing out if you don’t also explore Canyonlands and Moab on your visit.

Canyonlands National Park is incredibly close by (less than 30 minutes depending on the district you are visiting) and offers a completely different experience. You’ll see viewpoints that look like the Grand Canyon, go on some more adventurous hikes, and even drive the super-scary Shafer Trail (if that sounds fun to you.) It’s much larger AND less crowded than Arches National Park.

READ: An Easy Guide to Visiting Canyonlands National Park

11. Go on a Jeep Ride

Family with tour guide in front of jeep
Our family at Hell’s Revenge on a Dan Mick Jeep Tour

As of this writing, all 3 of my kids are teens and my baby is 10. Of all the things we have done in Arches and Moab, this is their ABSOLUTE favorite thing we’ve done. There are obstacles and terrain on BLM land that you wouldn’t believe are passable but jeep tour companies take thousands of tourists on these every year! The adventure riding in Moab is a destination unto itself.

Our climb up Hell’s Revenge is something our family will never forget!

We used Dan Mick’s Moab Jeep Tours. This company helped establish the trails in Moab and took us on an adventurous (yet safe) ride. Use the code “ROCKIES” for a discount when you book.

We Tried Moab’s Best Jeep Trail: Hell's Revenge

12. Raft the Colorado

Person kayaking down the Colorado River
Raft the Colorado River in Moab, Canva

Not only are white water trips available (book here), but there are also scenic cruises (book here) if you just want to watch the sunset on the Colorado River.

Our oldest son did a whitewater trip for a youth camp a few years ago and it was all he could talk about for a week after he got back.

13. Bike the Slickrock Trails

Full disclosure, we have never done this. However, I have family who love to do this and our writer who covers Canada flies to Moab every year to bike the trails. If you like biking, you really ought to look into this more.

Woman biking down slickrock in Moab
Cindy, our Banff writer, riding in Moab

14. Eat Amazing Pasta at Pasta Jays

Pasta dish
Amazing pasta from Pasta Jay’s

This is probably my favorite restaurant near a national park. EVERYTHING here is good including the pizza and salad, but I always order pasta because I’ve never had pasta this good anywhere else. Moab great food and you can read all about it Best Places to Eat in Moab, Arches, & Canyonlands

15. Look At the Stars

Delicate Arch under the stars
Arches at night, Canva

Arches is a certified Dark Sky Park. So often tourists (us included) think that the day ends when the sun goes down. However, many of the parks in the West, Arches and Canyonlands included, have amazing stargazing opportunities.

The parks never technically close and you can enter and view the sky without the light pollution of city lights. It’s really worth checking out.

Understanding the Layout of Arches

Map of areas of Arches National Park

Arches is famous, of course, for its arches! The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches, but only about 23 are listed on the official park map. The arches are actually formed from narrow walls, or “fins,” that are found all over the park.

Arches National Park is not as majestic as the other Utah parks, but it’s more intimate and just as enjoyable. It’s a small park, only taking about 30-45 minutes to drive to the end. The best thing about Arches is that all areas of the park are wonderful, so no matter what you do in Arches, it will be rewarding.

Arches is very close to Canyonlands National Park as well as the gateway towns of Moab and Green River, Utah.

Map of Moab area

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How Many Days Should You Visit Arches?

How many days you visit mostly depends on what you are interested in doing. If you like to hike, you can do the big hikes in the park in 2 days if you are up for hiking 5-6 miles a day. You’ll also be able to do the scenic drive and see some viewpoints.

If you aren’t a hiker, 1 day should be enough time to check out some viewpoints, do the scenic drive, and maybe walk to an arch (really try to see Double Arch at the Windows) if you can.

Add an extra day if you like the idea of doing an adventure activity outside the park. We believe that a good mix of beautiful sites within a national park combined with an outside-the-park adventure creates a perfect itinerary. Think of it like the creme inside an Oreo cookie.

We are actually guide writers and have sold over 11,000 guides helping people travel to the West. You can check out our 2-5 day, step-by-step plan for visiting Arches and Canyonlands to make planning your trip a breeze!

Navigating Arches

Arches is both easy and challenging to navigate. The park is small and there is only 1 road that spans the length of the park. The challenge is that there is no shuttle system and 4 million people visit Arches every year.

Timed-Entry Reservations

Although we have never found driving through the park unpleasant, parking can be incredibly frustrating. In 2022, Arches National Park implemented a timed-entry reservation system to ease the congestion. In most years, it runs from April 1st- October 31st and is required for all visitors entering the park between the hours of 7:00 am- 4:00 pm. As reservation windows and other requirements change from year to year, we strongly recommend going directly to Arches National Park’s website for the most up-to-date details.

People often complain about this, but from our experience, it has created a better visitor experience. When we were there in November of 2022, and the timed-entry system wasn’t in place, the parking lots were packed. When we returned last April (over spring break!) we had no problem finding a parking spot with the timed-entry system in place.

GOOD TO KNOW: If you aren’t able to get a timed-entry reservation a few months in advance, don’t lose hope. Timed-entry reservations are also available the night before and we know several people who have gotten in making their reservations this way. Also, remember that you can always enter the park before 7:00 am or after 4:00 pm- both nice times with fewer crowds. You can read our blog post Can’t Get a Reservation for Arches? Here are 9 Things to Do Nearby for additional ideas.

Arches National Park is Primitive– Surfaces within the park are sandy, packed-dirt, or slick rock (it’s only slippery if it’s wet or covered in sand). All the restrooms throughout the park are pit toilets and there is no running water. The visitor center when you enter the park has flushing toilets and places to fill up on water. There are no gas stations or places to buy food within the park. The best spot for these needs is Moab or Green River Utah.

How To Get To Arches

Many people visit Arches as part of a larger road trip. Though there is a small airport in Moab, we’ve never heard of anyone using it. Most people fly in or out of Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, or Denver, and drive to Moab.

  • Salt Lake City Airport to Moab: 4 hours
  • Las Vegas Airport (Harry Reid) to Moab: 7 hours
  • Denver Airport to Moab: 6 hours

If you fly into Salt Lake City or Las Vegas, it’s easy to visit Utah’s Mighty 5 (Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands). You could even add Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon.

You can also fly into Denver and visit Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park and Durango.

Map showing directions to Arches from different areas

Where To Stay

Outside view of Sorrel River Ranch at night
Sorrel River Ranch

Although Moab has a variety of hotels to stay in from chains to locally owned places. The Red Cliffs Lodge (book here) and Sorrel River Ranch are both popular picks. You can read our blog post 9 Great Places to Stay in Arches, Canyonlands, and Moab if you want to know more.

However, we prefer to stay in Green River, UT. Moab can get really congested and expensive. We like that Green River is a small town, less than 45 minutes from Arches and Canyonlands, and offers affordable places to stay.

Honestly, our family loves to stay at the Super 8 because they have family rooms, a good breakfast that our kids like, meets our standards for cleanliness, and is priced just right.

If we want a nicer experience, the River Terrace Inn (book here) has a great view of the river outback and a wonderful breakfast. My parents stayed here and loved it!

Where To Eat

The Blue Pig has amazing BBQ

The only downside to staying in Green River is the lack of good restaurants (Ray’s Tavern and the Tamarisk are alright). No worries, Moab is full of amazing has several places that we love to eat. You can read Best Places To Eat in Moab, Arches, and Canyonlands if you want an in-depth review.

You already know about our favorite place to eat, Pasta Jays, but we also love Blu Pig BBQ. It has amazing smoked meat and live music 7 days a week!

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I visit Canyonlands and Moab? Arches National Park is the big name that gets people to this area, but we think that Canyonlands and Moab are both worthy of your time. Check out our Perfect Itinerary for Arches, Canyonlands, and Moab (2-5 Days).

When is the best time of year to visit? Arches has very little off-season throughout the year. April after spring break is a nice time because there are leaves on the trees and the green contrasted with the red rock is really pretty. We also like to visit in October (not fall break) because the cooler temperatures allow for hiking during longer hours of the day. We also like November.

We avoid going on Memorial Day weekend because of the crowds and June-August because of the heat.

What if I have a disability? Unfortunately, most of the trails within the park are not accessible but Arches is still an amazing park for you to visit. Enjoy the viewpoints, Arches Scenic Drive, and go to the Windows section and see Double Arch.

How much does it cost to visit Arches? A 7-day pass costs $35 and will get you into both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Lodging is Moab, UT can be expensive and it’s common for standard rooms to run between $200-$300 a night. It’s a bit cheaper if you stay in Green River, UT.

You can expect dinner at a restaurant to cost around $20 but there are several fast food chains and grocery stores if you wish to spend less. There are also fancier dining experiences where you can spend more.

Most adventure activities, including rafting and jeep rides, will cost around $100 a person, depending on the company and which experience you choose.

Arches is certainly a bucket list destination and I hope that now you feel more prepared for an amazing trip out West.

If you want to make your trip to Arches and Canyonlands a breeze, check out our easy-to-follow, step-by-step itinerary.

Itinerary Includes

  • A PDF file to print or save to your tablet
  • 41 pages of detailed information about Moab and how to see it
  • A step-by-step guide for what to do and see each day, with flexibility to fit your schedule.
  • Each day groups attractions together most logically and efficiently to get the most out of your trip
  • A checklist for you to mark off all the arches you’ll see!
  • Maps on each page to guide you to each destination
  • One Day Non-Hiker Plan and 2 Day Hiker Plan so you can see Arches National Park on your own terms
  • Driving directions and things to do coming from Colorado, SLC, and Capitol Reef
  • ★ ratings for each site and activity to help you prioritize
  • Guide to the best activities to do in Moab (+Jeep ride discounts)
  • Moab and Green River Dining Guide
  • Check boxes throughout the guide to help you prepare for your trip
  • 3-5 days of itineraries covering the BEST of Arches and Canyonlands

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