For those of you who know me, you know how much I love scenic landscapes. I guess that is what has drawn me to our national parks. They have some of the most beautiful landscapes this world has to offer. There is nothing more serene than being in nature with nothing to occupy your mind except for Mother Nature’s beauty. That is what got me into photography in the first place. I wanted a way in which to capture those moments to share with others.
I have been to exactly half of the 46 National Parks in the continental United States, with plans to visit the remainder of the parks here and outside the 48 continental states. And I have plans to write about each and every one of those parks so that I can share with you my experiences and any tips I might have collected along the way.
The next park I am covering in my National Parks series is one of my favorite parks. It is also the first national park I ever visited, so it has a special place in my heart. It is one of the most recognized parks in a region that is loaded with beauty. Arches National Park is located in Southern Utah and is one of the crown jewels of the national parks system. The park is so iconic that one of its main features, Delicate Arch, is displayed on Utah’s license plate.
How to Get There
Arches National Park is just a 10 minute drive from the wonderful city of Moab, Utah. If you are planning on visiting the park, I would definitely look for accommodations in Moab. I would suggest checking out Moab’s tourism website before you start planning your visit. To give you an idea of the proximity of Arches National Park to large cities in the area, it is roughly a 3.5 hour drive from Salt Lake City and a 6.5 hour drive from Las Vegas.
If you plan on camping in Arches National Park, make sure you plan well in advance as Arches only has one campground – Devil’s Garden Campground. I’d suggest making a reservation well in advance, especially if you are planning on visiting during the busy season.
Best Time to Visit
The best time for you to visit Arches National Park is ultimately going to depend on what you want to do when you are there. Spring (April thru May) and Fall (September thru October) are the most temperate times of the year in Southern Utah. You’ll get T-shirt weather and will avoid the extreme heat and occasional floods in summer, and the possibility of snow in the winter.
However, Spring and Fall are also the busy season for the park, so if you are visiting to do photography, go camping, or do some mountain biking, be prepared to deal with crowds.
If you do decide to visit in the Summer, make sure you always carry more water than you think you will need. It can get very hot in the summer and it is very easy to underestimate the amount of water you will need on a hike. If you decide to visit in the winter, make sure you bring adequate clothing. Arches National Park sits on an elevated plateau and it can get quite cold in the winter. I would suggest bringing layers because the weather can often be unpredictable.
Top Things To See and Do
There is a lot to do in Arches National Park and the surrounding area. One of my favorite things to do in any park, but especially in Arches, is hiking. There are plenty of great hiking trails to take advantage of in the park. Again, just make sure you have enough water when you set out. I cannot emphasize this enough.
I have also included some great resources below where you can find more information about the parks.
- Arches National Park Map
- Arches National Park – Plan Your Visit
- Arches National Park – Visitor Guide
The Moab, Utah area is a huge mountain biking region, so biking enthusiasts flock to Moab every year to test their skills in the region. Keep in mind that bikes are not permitted on the trails inside the park, but you can your bike on the roads inside the park and there are plenty of trails available to explore in the surrounding area.
The most iconic image of Arches, and one of the most iconic images of the American West and our National Parks in general, Delicate Arch is an absolute must see for visitors to Arches National Park.
If you aren’t in to hiking, the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint is just a short hike (100 yards) off the park road and can give you some nice perspectives of the arch.
However, if you want to get up-close to the arch to get close shot (such as the picture above), you will need to hike roughly 3 miles up to the arch. The trail has 480 feet of elevation (see picture below) and it is recommended that you bring 2 liters of water per person.
The Fiery Furnace is another absolute must see for all visitors to Arches National Park. It consists of an amazing collection of narrow sandstone canyons, natural arches, and other rock formations. While the view from the Fiery Furnace Viewpoint (see below) is amazing in its own right, I would definitely recommend getting close-up by doing some hiking.
Keep in mind, there are no trails into the Fiery Furnace. It is a labyrinth of canyons that can only be accessed by either taking a ranger guided hike or obtaining a day-use permit from the visitor center. It requires doing a bit of planning, but it is well worth it.
If you are an inexperienced hiker, I would absolutely recommend the ranger led hikes. I have done quite a bit of hiking in my life and I found the ranger-guided hike to be both informative and fun.
This is one of my favorite features inside Arches National Park. It may not get the fame that Delicate Arch gets, but it an equally impressive rock formation in my opinion. If you haven’t visited Arches National Park and gotten a chance to see this arch, I wouldn’t put it off too long. The arch is delicate and there is no telling how long this arch will last.
There are a few great viewpoints in which to view this arch. The Lower Landscape Arch Viewpoint has a great view of the arch, and is only a short hike (100 yards) from the park road, but in order to get a really good look at this arch, I would strongly recommend making the 3 mile hike to the Upper Landscape Arch Viewpoint. Though again, make sure you bring plenty of water. It is recommended that each person carry at least 2 liters of water on this hike.
The Windows section of Arches National Park is considered by many to be the heart of the park because of the number of natural arches concentrated in the area and the beauty of the scenery. The arches in this section include Turret Arch, North Window (pictured below), South Window, Double Arch (also pictured below), Cove Arch, and Ribbon Arch.
If you are up for some hiking, I would suggest the Windows (1 mile) and Double Arch (half mile) Trails. These are fairly easy hikes and the views are pretty incredible.
Accessible by using the Devil’s Garden trail, the Tunnel Arch is one of the most visited features in Arches National Park. The Devil’s Garden trail is a relatively easy hike with very little elevation change, so it is one of the more popular hikes in the park. It is an 7.2 mile loop, but the hike can be tailored to fit your needs and ability. Along the trail you will pass 7 natural arches, there is a lot of payoff for little effort with this hike.
- Tunnel Arch 0.4miles
- Pine Tree Arch 0.5 miles
- Landscape Arch 1.6 miles
- Partition Arch 2 miles
- Navajo Arch 2 miles
- Double O Arch 2.3 miles
- Dark Angel 2.5 miles
- Private Arch
Park Avenue is one of the first features you will see when entering the park, and it is pretty hard to miss. Named after New York City’s famous street, the rock spires look a lot like skyscrapers. The contrast between the red rock spires and the blue sky is breathtaking. If you want to get closer, the Park Avenue trail is a moderate 2 mile hike that will take you into the canyon towards the Courthouse Towers.
One of the most popular features within Arches National Park, Balanced Rock appears to be defying gravity as it balances upon a pedestal of mudstone. Accessible via the Balanced Rock trail, which is a 0.3 mile paved loop, it is one of the easier features to reach and one of the only features that is clearly visible from the park road.
Hot Air Balloon Ride
If you have the time, I would highly recommend exploring Arches National Park and the surrounding area by balloon. The view from above is absolutely breathtaking. I used a company called Canyonlands Ballooning and they were fantastic. Balloon rides take off early in the morning and last about an hour. Pricing is $279\person in the low season and $299\person in the high season (mid May to mid September).
The balloon ride takes you up-and-over Arches National Park, giving you a really cool perspective of the landscape. I was able to get this really cool picture of Delicate Arch from above (see below) from the hot air balloon. It was a ride of a lifetime and I absolutely recommend it if you have the time.