Arches National Park is probably one of the coolest natural playgrounds I’ve been to. With its multitude of hiking trails, serious stargazing potential, and otherworldly terrain (we’re talking fins, pinnacles, and more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches), the red rock oasis located just outside Moab, Utah has got some serious wow factor.
I had the chance to spend a day in Arches this past month, which – aside from the 30-degree temperatures and brief bout of snow – was an absolute adventure to be had.
On a time crunch? You’re in luck! The park is small enough that you can tackle a lot of its top sights in less than 24 hours. Here are some suggestions on how to spend your day:
1. Kickstart your adventure at the Visitor’s Center
As the first stop past the park entrance, the Visitor’s Center is a useful way to start your trip. You can check trail conditions with the park rangers, seek out specific advice, browse items in the gift shop, and watch a short film detailing how the park’s thousands of sandstone arches are formed and weathered.
2. Head up Arches Scenic Drive towards Park Avenue
Arches Scenic Drive is 36 miles roundtrip and features panorama after panorama of the park’s spectacular and otherworldly scenery. The first stretch will take you right past Park Avenue, a series of immaculate red rock towers and fins resembling the Big Apple skyline – practically an anomaly way out west.
There’s a moderate, 1-mile trail that takes you right through the natural skyscrapers, but it’s skippable if you’re on a time crunch. Instead, pull off at Courthouse Towers Viewpoint to snap some photos of the most famous monoliths (the Three Gossips, Courthouse Tower, and Queen Nefertiti among them), and then be on your way – some incredible adventures await!
3. Make a pit stop at Balanced Rock (15 minutes)
If you aren’t already beside yourself with marvel, this incredible feat of nature will certainly cause some jaws to drop. A short path will take you all around the iconic feature, standing 128 feet tall and hoisting a 3,600-ton boulder for all to admire.
4. Explore The Windows Section (~1 hour)
Shortly after Balanced Rock is the pull-off for The Windows Section, which passes the Garden of Eden and ends at the trailheads to Double Arch and The Windows.
The 0.5-mile hike to Double Arch is easy and the scenery so lovely, it feels landscaped. It ends right beneath one of the coolest arches in the park, beautifully contorted and incredibly photogenic.
The separate, 1-mile hike to The Windows takes you to three different arches – North Window, South Window, and Turret Arch. Similar to Double Arch, the trail is easy, and features spectacular vistas of the surrounding scenery – plus literal red rock windows onto the distant La Sal Mountains.
5. Head to the back of the park for Devils Garden and the Landscape Arch Trail (~1-1.5 hours)
At the very end of the park lies Devils Garden, a campsite and trailhead to some of the park’s most statement-making scenery.
The 1.6-mile trail to Landscape Arch is pretty easy but by no means dull. You’ll wind through desert brush past towering sandstone before arriving at the spectacular arch. At more than a football field in length, Landscape Arch is the largest arch in the world – and pretty surreal to witness in person.
Once you’ve had your fix of the enormous red rock marvel, you can choose to adventure on down a primitive trail towards Double O Arch (another 3-ish miles RT.) Alternately, you can head back the way you came, and make brief detours along the route to visit Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch.
6. Spend the late afternoon at Delicate Arch (~2.5-3 hours)
Next it’s on to arguably the most famous arch in the world (or at least the state – I mean, it is featured on the Utah license plate!): Delicate Arch. This prodigy of a spectacle will positively blow you away (if the wind doesn’t do it first) – and the trek to get there is wild and satisfying in its own right.
You’ll head out for a half-mile over a maintained trail before seemingly off-roading it up an enormous slab of slickrock, unmarked save for little cairns placed at intervals along the rock face. The climb up the rock is moderately strenuous, and levels out amongst sandstone and desert brush, before winding around a short, narrow ledge to make the big reveal.
Be aware that the majority of this trail is completely open, with little to no shade available. Come prepared with proper footwear and sufficient water (the NPS recommends 2 quarts per person) – particularly if you’re attempting it during the summer.
7. Catch the sunset over Fiery Furnace (1 hour)
Fiery Furnace is a mesmerizing labyrinth of fins, hoodoos and narrow canyons. Though entering the red rock maze requires hiring a ranger guide (only available April-September) or else obtaining a permit at the Visitor’s Center, the viewpoint gives you a peek into its incredible – and mysterious – beauty.
At sunset, the labyrinth glows red like embers, meaning your final moments of the day will be spent savoring the breathtaking Utah landscape in the form of a fiery sandstone dream.
There are so many jaw-dropping places to experience in southern Utah that it can be hard to decide which ones to see. That being said, Arches is a must-do.
If you have the leisure of choosing when to visit, I highly recommend going in the winter. While you risk inclement weather and road closures, there’s something so peaceful about viewing the park’s red rock phenomena amidst snow-dusted scenery. Plus, you virtually have the park to yourself. Hard to beat that!
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What U.S. National Park should I tackle next? Share your favorites below, and don’t forget to follow more Jetsetter-in-Training adventures on Instagram.