Several weeks ago, I had the great opportunity to visit the Mighty Five National Parks of Utah, which includes Arches National Park. The trip was part of an ongoing project with Marriott International, The Americas, to highlight some incredible places around the country, including our national parks. Few would disagree that there is something almost magical about America’s National Parks. Often called America’s Best Idea, each park is the result of years of tireless work on behalf of concerned citizens who wanted lands they felt to be unique and undeniably special protected forever. The National Park System represents the North American model of conservation, which itself was a hard concept to introduce to the general public more than a century ago but today is the standard by which similar parks around the world are judged. Reserving lands for posterity was not a popular idea at the time, but thanks to a handful of forward-thinking individuals, we as a country have now saved some of the planet’s most incredible natural and cultural wonders, including Arches. To help inspire you to visit or just better plan your own trip, here are a few things you should know about Arches National Park.
Arches National Park & Getting There
Exploring the Park in Two Hours
One of the many reasons why I love visiting the National Parks is how accessible they are even if you don’t have a lot of time to visit. Sure, you could spend many days exploring Arches but that’s not a luxury everyone can afford. Just because you don’t have a lot of time doesn’t mean you can’t see the best of the parks. Decades ago a concerted effort was made to create driving loops in almost every National Park to allow visitors to easily and quickly see the best or most popular features of each park. So, if you just have two or three hours yes, you can still experience the best of Arches with ease. One thing to keep in mind about the National Parks of the West though is just how big they are. Even though driving loops exist, the vast size of the parks themselves means you still have a lot of driving to do even if only to see the highlights. Before the trip I purchased a National Parks Annual Pass, which is honestly a smart thing to do if you plan on visiting two or more parks in a year. Not only did it save me money, but it made getting in and out of the parks easier as well. Before tackling the driving route, I stopped off at the visitor’s center to learn more about Arches and which stops along the loop I thought made the most sense for me to see.
Getting to Arches is pretty easy, even if you aren’t visiting all Mighty Five National Parks. Moab, where the park is located, is a popular recreation spot and many people plan vacations just to spend time there and experience the region. I drove from Denver, which admittedly probably isn’t the most common route, but was a very scenic drive. The most convenient option is to fly into Salt Lake City and then make the easy 3-½ hour drive south to start your adventure.
Arches was first designated a National Monument in 1929 and then a Park in 1971; the massive 76,000 acre site recognized for the more than 2,000 sandstone arches that grace its lands. The most famous, Delicate Arch, even adorns the Utah license plate and driving to the park itself it’s hard not to be enthralled by the natural beauty of the region. Arches National Park though is about so much more than its namesake geology, there also exists around the park enormous formations that look like the handiwork of the gods. Spires, balanced rocks, sandstone fins, and eroded monoliths are all strewn about the landscape, creating a red rock diorama that looks more like Mars than anywhere on Earth.
According to the rangers at Arches, if you have three hours your can complete the entire driving loop, spending ten minutes at each viewpoint. And, to be honest, if you’ve made the trek to Arches in the first place I can’t imagine spending less time than that. One thing to keep in mind is that Arches is a very popular park, much more so than nearby Canyonlands so you will have traffic to deal with in the park itself and you’ll also need to be patient when it comes time to park your car at each viewpoint. My advice is to arrive early and enjoy as much of the park as you can before the heat of the day and thousands of other intrepid souls join you. There’s a lot to love about exploring Arches National Park, but some of my favorite spots include:
Park Avenue and Courthouse Towers: This is the first section of the park that all visitors see when driving in and, for me at least, it’s one of the most remarkable. Visitors can walk among the massive monoliths and towering walls to see views of the nearby La Sal Mountains. The sheer walls of this canyon reminded early visitors of buildings lining a city street, hence its name. It’s also, I think, the perfect first introduction to the wonders of the park.
The Windows Section: Considered by many to be the heart of the park, here you’ll find a large concentration of arches and it is one of the most scenic locations in the park. There are also a number of short hikes to help visitors better appreciate the beauty of the landscape.
Devils Garden: Located at the very end of the park road and 18 miles north of Arches Visitor Center, this is one of the most rugged areas of the park, but also one of the most impressive. There are a number of arches, spire and fins and many great hikes to help visitors better appreciate the rough and tumble terrain of Southern Utah.
Fun Hikes If You Have More Time
Most National Parks, but especially ones in the American West are a hiker’s dream and in Arches there are certainly plenty of options. I’m not the type of guy to do a daylong hike but, I do enjoy short hikes and I tried several of them while exploring Arches National Park. Here are a few not to be missed, but there are of course many more throughout the park.
Delicate Arch: The park’s most famous formation, it’s what all visitors want to see. Getting there though can be more of a challenge. There are two viewpoints for the arch, one requires no hiking and the other is a moderate hike. If you want to reach the arch itself though, you have to be prepared. It’s 3-miles round-trip and takes between 2-3 hours to do. Starting at Wolfe Ranch, the trail climbs 460 feet up a steep slope and has no shade, so be prepared.
The Windows: This is an easy 1-mile round-trip hike that features the massive North and South windows as well as the Turret Arch. It’s a great way to gain a better appreciation for the park.
Sand Dune Arch: I enjoyed this short hike because it was so different from other areas of the park. The hike is just 0.3 miles round-trip and takes visitors through deep sand and a narrow canyon to a secluded arch tucked among the sandstone fins.
Landscape Arch: Although the park calls this 1.6-mile round-trip hike easy, I’d honestly place it in the moderate category for the average person. It’s well worth the effort though as you hike along a fairly flat trail to reach the massive Landscape Arch, admiring the scenery along the way.
Moab & Where to Stay
One reason Arches is so popular is because it’s very accessible. Located just a few miles from Moab, this small town is the ideal home base to enjoy not only Arches, but also Canyonlands National Park as well as a whole host of other fun recreational activities from rafting to Jeep adventures. Since it’s a major tourist center, there are plenty of places to spend the night but here are two you should keep in mind.
SpringHill Suites Moab: This was one of my favorite hotels of the trip, thanks in large part to how expertly they’ve brought the natural elements into the hotel experience. Set among the region’s famous red rocks, every room enjoys stunning views at this new 99-suite hotel. It’s that suite experience that always makes SpringHill a great option for me; I love having the extra space to spread out and just relax after a long day of exploration. Add in complimentary breakfast and one of the closest locations to both Arches and Canyonlands and you have a hotel experience that is hard to beat.
Fairfield Inn & Suites Moab: Located next door to the SpringHill Suites, the Fairfield enjoys the same stunning location and access to the parks, as well as shared amenities like the large and inviting pool. Also like their sister hotel, the Fairfield has thankfully fully embraced its location, making the experience feel unique and bespoke. Add in amazing views of the red rocks and the Colorado River below and you have another incredible hotel to call home for a few days.
Arches National Park is one of the country’s great natural treasures and it should be a place everyone has on their travel bucket list. No matter how you choose to experience the park, just make sure you take the time to experience its grandeur in person for a trip you’ll never forget.
To learn more about Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks, please be sure to listen to the episode of the Explore the World Travel Podcast I devoted to them.