When you visit Arches National Park they do ask one thing from you, and that is if you would please stay on the trails. What may seem like a tiny detour from the trail, may be a serious damage to the fragile environment of the park.
Much of the area here is covered by 'cryptobiotic soil crust'. This crust is easily damaged by walking over it, especially when it is dry and brittle. Damaging this crust will cause erosion. It will take years and years for these areas recover, and sadly sometimes they never will. So keep Arches National Park beautiful as it is, and stay on the trails :-)
Be prepared for extremes of temperature when visiting Arches National Park. In the summertime the heat is extreme and the sun intense. In the winter temperatures drop and snow falls. During the summer you’ll be hard pressed to find shade in this part of the desert. Arches National Park attracts all types of adventure seekers. Just make sure you drink plenty of water and carry maps with you when hiking, camping or climbing. If you’re unfamiliar with the terrain don’t stray from the marked trails or go with a guide. If you get lost and caught out in the desert sun there isn’t much you can do to protect yourself from exposure. Know your limits, carry proper equipment and provisions, have a plan and be careful. But most of all have fun. If you’re a thrill seeker looking for adventure Arches National Park is the place for you.
The road going into Arches National Park from US Route 191 is very steep and winding for the first 3 miles. The road has no guardrails either. The person who drives this part of the road should be experienced.
1. No parking is allowed along the roadsides, so park only in designated parking lots. If the parking lot is full, you must return at a later time. This is strictly enforced. 2. Wood gathering is not allowed anywhere in the park, so bring your own stoves or fuel for the grills in the campgrounds. 3. Carry out all trash, including small items such as cigarette butts. 4. No hunting or firearms are allowed in the park. 5. Mountain bikes are only allowed on established roads, not on trails. 6. Pets are allowed only on park roads, in parking lots, or at your campsite, and must be on a leash or other restraint at all times. They are not allowed on any of the trails. Don’t forget that leaving a pet in a hot car while you go off exploring can cause heat exhaustion and death.
1. Always carry water on hikes. In the summer it is recommended that you carry at least a gallon a day per person, remember dehydration and heat can prove fatal. 2. Stay on trails to protect the fragile desert soils, Cryptobiotic Crust, and plant life. 3. Sandstone slickrock crumbles easily and can make climbing dangerous. 4. Rock climbing is permitted in the park, but not on most features named on the USGS maps, so for more information on where you may climb check at the visitor center. Technical rescues are expensive and dangerous, so always so remember that it is easier to climb up than it is to climb down. 5. Overnight backcountry backpackers must get a permit at the visitor center. You must carry all your water, and not campfires are allowed.
It's not a danger to you - it's a danger to the environment of Arches. You can almost never see it but it's all over the place. Despite the warnings on signs in several languages I still could see footprints in the soil all over the place away from the trail. Is it really worth getting that perfect picture at the expense of the health of a National treasure? I am talking about cryptobiotic crust - a combination of lichen, fungi, and algae that makes a powdery crust over much of the Colorado Plateau. One step can kill years worth of growth that helps hold moisture, reduces erosion, and provides nutrients for the ecosystem here. So please - stay on the marked trails.
If you visit this part of Utah, you will, no doubt, hear a lot about cryptobiotic soil.....crypto, for short. While walking through the desert, you will notice clumps of brown/black crust, almost like dried up moss. This is actually mosses, soil lichens, algae, fungi, and bacteria that is very much alive and important to the desert environment. It not only holds the ground together, preventing erosion, it acts like a fertilizer for plants. It is essential that you stay on marked trails while visiting parks in the desert. Trampling the crypto damages an entire ecosystem!!
If you are planning on doing some of the longer hikes, be prepared for terrain changes. There's slickrock, sand, rocky trails, and grassland. Wear good shoes. Carry plenty of water, it can get hot very quickly. Stick to the trails so you don't contribute to eroding landscapes. Watch for snakes!!
The climate here is generally hot and dry. Mosquitoes can be a problem especially wherever you find the occasional brook. Some hikes like that to Delicate Arch require some unexpected climbing and some difficult terrain like slickrock where traction can sometimes be a problem. Bring plenty of water, know your limitations, and let the strongest member carry your camera and picnic basket. Most of all -- enjoy your time.
Park signs warn of flash floods that arise so suddenly in the desert. Though such fatalities are more common to the other parks in southern Utah, the topography at Arches provides the same conditions where flash floods can be a serious problem. Light showers and even the briefest of sprinkles can set off a mudslide depending on where you are.
The biggest dangers here are heat stroke and dehydration. Many people fail to realize that this is a desert region with little rainfall. The only steady source of water in Arches is the Colorado River along the southern boundry, but it's not fit to drink. Take plenty of drinking water and don't overexert yourself. There is very little shade here too.
Do not go from the trail to far or try to find a new way through the labyrinth of The Finns. This maze is so big and confusing that you very easily get lost or get trapped in a dead end. There have been people lost before and found by the rangers too late!
As always, you should obey all warning signs. They are there to for your safety and to protect the park, its wildlife, and its plants. Avoid hiking alone on the more desolate trails.
Be sure to hydrate well and know your limits. Arches NP is in a very hot dry desert climate and also at a relatively high elevation. Take this into account and scale back your expectations.