In the high desert town I call home, we receive over 3 million visitors a year. A large number of visitors for sure.
But of those visitors, over 1.8 million go to Arches National Park.
With over 2000 arches, red rock delights, and nearly 120 square miles (190 sq km) in size, a lot to see and do.
However, most visitors stay on paved roads that add up to ~45 miles (~70 km) of out-and-back driving. And that’s the highlights many people, including friends visiting from out of town, want to see.
Between guiding, taking friends for visits, and the hikes Joan and I did in the park, I’ve curated a variation of some “Arches Highlights.” A way to see some of the more well-known places in the park and works for the person who wants to do some light hiking of about ~5 miles (~8km) total and wishes to spend ~4 hrs or so to see the park.
I don’t claim this particular tour is the definitive one, the best, or one suited to everyone’s taste. I do know many people I’ve taken on this tour or suggested to like it quite a bit.
With all this in mind, I present a suggested way to see the highlights of this national park. You miss my colorful anecdotes, hand motions, and the remnants of my “RhoDyeluhn” accent, but that’s a potential plus!
First, some critical info –
- Until October 3rd, 2022 you’ll need to go to rec.gov to reserve your entry time between 6 AM to 5 PM. Starting October 4th, you will not but expect long lines during peak hours, at least until November. TBD for future use of timed entry.
- There are no snack bars or similar in Arches. While you can fill up water bottles, you’ll want to pack a cooler with cold drinks and food.
- Ditto for gas stations. Fuel up in Moab about fifteen minutes south of the park entrance.
- See my Quick and Dirty Guide to Moab for more info.
Now, on to the highlights tour; I listed all hikes as round trip distances.
No. 1 – View the iconic Court House Towers and nearby rock formations above you as a suitable introduction to the park. The nearby Courthouse Wash formed a travel path to the Colorado River.
No. 2 – If Delicate Arch is the park’s most well-known formation, Balanced Rock makes for the second most iconic part of the park. Looking like something out of a Road Runner cartoon, this rock greeted people at the original entrance to Arches. With views of the La Sal Mountains, this partially paved .3-mile (.4km) loop gives you an up-close look at the 128-foot (39m) tall rock.
No. 3- After this stop, drive slightly further and turn right to The Windows and Double Arch trailhead. Among the highest concentration of arches in the park, the 1 mi/ 1.6km r/t hike of The Windows lets you go under an arch and get expansive views of towards Moab area. After this walk, continue across the way to Double Arch to go .6 mi/1km round trip to the largest arch in the park.
No. 4 – Continue back to the main road, stop at the aptly named Panorama Point, and enjoy the views back towards Balanced Rock, Devils Garden, and over the well-known Fiery Furnace. This spot features picnic tables and pit toilets.
No. 5 –. Shortly after this stop, take a turn to the Delicate Arch Viewpoint. You won’t get the view of the arch as with a hike, but you’ll see the arch close enough to get a sense of it.
- History Bonus – On the way back, stop at the Delicate Arch Trailhead and take the east hike to the historic Wolfe Ranch homestead and then slightly further to the Fremont and Ute rock images.
No. 6 –. Continue to Sand Dune Arch and enjoy a .4mi/.6km hike behind a fin, under an arch, and to a sandbox-like area enjoyed by many children.
No. 7 – Now, head to the end of the road and enter the Devils Garden area. Its many fins and rock formations are an incredibly picturesque park area. With a moderate 2 mile/ 3 km to Landscape Arch, you can see one of the most prominent arches in the world at nearly the length of a football field (or not quite 100 meters). Note –. I would not go beyond this view as the hike becomes more of a commitment.
Be sure to take the easy side trip to Pinet Tree Arch, which I always find delightful and among my favorite park views.
No. 8 – Drive nearly back to the visitors center but take a right-hand turn into the Park Avenue viewpoint. Named after a view that looks like its famous namesake in Manhattan, I love the views down the canyon-like walls and the lighting often found here.
And that ends the highlights tour. You can now look over the interpretive display inside the visitor center and buy some schwag to commemorate your visit!