A landscape of reds, oranges and pinks dominate Arches National Park. Erosion, uplift and time in the Colorado Plateau have created an oasis of arches, domes, fins, hoodoos, spires and balancing rocks in this 119-square-mile park in southeast Utah. Over 300 million years ago this region was a prehistoric inland sea with dunes. Slowly, it has been carved, eroded and uplifted by wind and water. However, the time of arches are transient on the geologic timescale, as evidenced by a few that have crumbled in recent years.
Arches, sandstone, Entrada slickrock and red rock, petroglyphs, Arches National Park is an arid oasis
The visitor center and park are open all year (with shorter winter hours). Spring and fall are peak travel times and bring more comfortable temperatures. Arches is not known for trees or large mammals but with close observation, visitors can see cacti, wildflowers, yuccas, mosses, lizards and birds, and along the Colorado River on the southeastern boundary, cottonwoods and willows.
5 Must-Do’s in Arches National Park
Stand Beneath an Arch: With over 2000 arches, dozens can be visited up close
See it Before it is Gone: Landscape Arch (visit at sunrise)
Sunset: Hike up at dusk to experience the sun blanket Delicate Arch in rich colors
Ancient Art: Petroglyphs near Wolfe Ranch
Behold the Night Sky: With little light pollution, Arches is now a certified night sky park
Arches National Park Campgrounds
There is only one campground within the park, but The Bureau of Land Management offers 26 campgrounds just outside the park. Most of these sites are first-come, first-served with cash/check only. Recreation.gov offers other campgrounds in quiet, scenic locations a few miles away from Moab. Options include individual and group, and by reservation or first-come, first-served.
Devils Garden Campground
What you need to know: The campsite is located 18 miles into the park, on the opposite end of the main entrance. With 51 sites, this is the only campground located within the park. Reservations are highly recommended and can be made up to six months in advance for tents and RVs (no electric hookups). Rates start at $25 per night.
From November through February the sites are first-come, first-served. The two group sites can be booked twelve months in advance (with higher rates of $75 to $250). Minimal amenities include firewood, staff on site, potable water, flush and vault toilets, picnic tables, grills and trash collection.
Why this campground? It is the only campground in the park and is situated near numerous trails in the Devils Garden area, which offers more arches than any other section of the park. A few signature trails that start nearby include Landscape Arch (easy, 1.5 miles), Broken Arch (easy, 1.3 miles) and Skyline Arch (easy, 0.3 mile).
Family-Friendly Hikes and Activities: Go star-gazing. Trek up to Delicate Arch at sunset—be warned, it is 3 miles roundtrip and there are a few steep ledges near the arch. But it is worth the climb. During the day check out the petroglyphs (Ute, Freemont and Pueblo) near Wolfe Ranch.
Ranger-guided 3-hour tours of the Fiery Furnace take visitors through a maze of sandstone fins (moderate/strenuous). Observe prickly pear cactus, squeeze through passageways, and walk beneath arches. Venture south into the park to explore Double Arch (0.5 mile), The Windows (1 mile) and Park Avenue (ADA-compliant/accessible, 1 mile).
Hidden Treasure: Delicate Arch Viewpoint (different than the hike up to the arch) can be accessed by a short hike/walk. Bring binoculars to see the famous arch from a distance. The lower viewpoint is ADA-compliant/accessible; the upper viewpoint is an easy 0.5-mile hike. The key time to visit is at sunrise (whereas the hike up to the arch is best seen in the setting sun).
“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” – John Muir
Arches National Park Backcountry Camping
Permits are available at the visitor center for a small fee and can be issued up to seven days beforehand. As of 2017, there are now three designated campsites permitted for backcountry camping (Devils Courtyard and the upper and lower wash of Courthouse Wash), with permits for up to seven people per site.
Do not let the small size of the park fool you. It is easy to get lost while navigating the backcountry when much of the terrain is similar: rocks, sandstone, arches. Come prepared with maps and knowledge. Learn more about backcountry camping in Arches, including packing in and out human waste, and other regulations.
Exciting Sites & Scenic Drives Near Arches National Park
One main 36-mile road cuts through the park. The road has plenty of viewpoints and stops of scenic desert landscapes, red rock canyons, arches, and rock spires along the mesa and river. Check out nearby Moab or next-door neighbor, Canyonlands National Park.
Insider Tips for Visiting Arches National Park
The park is four hours (by car) south of Salt Lake City and two hours west of Grand Junction, CO. Arches is a park where you will want to use strategy and planning. There is only one entrance. Arrive before 9 a.m. or after 2 p.m. if possible.
There are no stores (other than the visitor center) and restrooms are rudimentary. A plethora of viewpoints provide unique angles and panoramas along the park road. Parking can be limited especially midday or in peak-season. Sunset and sunrise reveal the arches in their best light with rays of sun dancing and long shadows creeping across the sandstone.
The daily newspaper provided at the gate/visitor center contains information on which arches are best to see in morning versus later afternoon; read, inquire and strategize. Many arches are off the main roads, so do not be surprised by how many require a trek.
Nearby Moab is a hub for outdoor enthusiasts and is a great place to stock up on food, visit shops and book biking, rafting or sky-watching excursions.
ARCHES NATIONAL PARK CAMPERS BEWARE:
Sandy, loose soil means some tent stakes may not work.
Slickrock gets slippery and sandstone loose when it rains.
Climbing down is more challenging than up.
Much of the park is exposed and campers need to be mindful of lightning, downpours/hail, high temperatures (over 100F in summer) and hypothermia.
Winds can be gusty as well.