Arches National Park, Moab
What a stunningly beautiful park! One of the most spectacular I have seen so far in the US. It features arches and pinnacles and all sorts of weird formations sculpted by the wind in the red Endrada sandstone.
The only downside is that it is very crowded. Nicely paved roads lead to the main attractions which are than a short walk from the parking lot, and therefore you can never be away from people! Anyway, just drive all the roads, ignore the RVs and enjoy the landscape!
I definitely enjoyed the following trails:
Devil's Garden: past "landscape arch", it is less crowded as the hike becomes slightly difficult and the views are absolutely to die for! 7.2 miles (11.5 km) round trip
Delicate Arch (photo): definitely worth it despite the crowds (it is the most famous arch and symbol of Utah) because of its amazing setting. 3 miles (4.8 km) round trip
Tower Arch: this hike is beautiful and away from the crowds as you have to drive on a wash-boarded dirt road for 10 miles before reaching the parking lot. 3.4 mile (5.6 km)
$10 per vehicle, a pass good for a week
Spend a full day exploring National Park. Start off at information center located near the entrance of the park. Take a good 30 minutes to learn about the geology and topography of the area. It's a great information center with insightful exhibits.
Then take your car or car rental around the park. Stop at as many monuments as possible. It is a wonderful experience. And make sure you bring your camera - if you don't you will regret it. Here are some Arches you must visit:
- Delicate Arch (furthermost arch)
- Double Arch
- Sand Dune Arch
Other rock formations worth seeing:
- Balanced rock
- Devil's Garden (you'll find the Sand Dune Arch there)
But there is a lot I didn't get to see because I only had a few hours there. So I recommend taking a whole day to visit the park.
- Hat (hot/sunny)
- Sunglasses (windy/dusty)
- Water (not many places to refill)
- Snacks (not many, if any, places to buy food)
- A car (you'll need a car to explore the whole park)
The first time I visited Moab, I only had few hours to visit Arches National Park. This time around, I gave myself a week in Moab. I am thrilled to have done so. I was able to explore more of this beautiful natural area including Canyonlands National Park. This park is comprised of two totally separate parts. One is called "Island in the Sky" and the other is called "The Needles." On my trip, I visited "Island in the Sky" because it was closer to downtown Moab than "The Needles."
The entrance to "Island in the Sky" is about a 35- to 40-minute drive from Moab. It's a pretty beautiful drive as you climb up to a couple thousand feet where you reach a plateau adorned with short and dry vegetation - it was reminiscent of a lush African desert. I stopped at the visitor center prior to exploring the park - I was curious about the name "Island in the Sky." The ranger told me the name was given to the plateau because, over time, the remaining layers surrounding the plateau will erode and the plateau will be left free-standing in the sky. After this short education session, I decided to head off and explore this once-will-be island in the sky.
The "Island in the Sky" area of Canyonlands is not over crowded. In fact, often times I felt quite removed from the rest of the world - and that felt incredibly and positively overwhelming. Getting around the park is quite easy and if you don't plan on going on any major hikes, you can do this whole section of Canyonlands in 3.5 hours or so. My favorite stops in the park were Mesa Arch and the Green River overlook.
Mesa Arch - If you have to pick a single stop on "Island in the Sky" it would have to be Mesa Arch. It's a breathtaking arch, in my opinion it rivals some of the better arches in Arches National Park for beauty and effect. To get to the arch you'll have to do an easy half a mile hike.Super tip: From the parking lot, you have a choice to take a path straight up or to the left in order to get to the arch. Go to the left. This will give you a surprise element when you reach the arch.
Green River overlook - If you have to pick between the Grand View Point overlook or the Green River overlook, I suggest the Green River overlook. I visited the Green River overlook before the Grand View Point overlook and was disappointed with the latter. The Green River overlook was just so beautiful and awesome - I felt quite at peace looking out. The Grand View, although Grand, did not give me the same feeling.
So all in all, if you have 4+ days in Moab, it's a good idea to save half a day for "The Island in the Sky." It’s totally worth the $10 per car.
Driving out of Arches National Park on Willow Springs Road, we happened across this orientation sign, highlighting the spectacular dinosaur tracks preserved in this area.
During the Jurassic Period, some 165 million years ago, the Moab area was part of a shallow tidal lands of an inland lake. The area's vegetation attracted many dinosaurs, and in turn, predators, including the two types whose tracks can be seen very well here: the Saurapod and the Therapod. Both were human-sized dinosaurs that walked upright.
Their tracks were preserved in the mud as it slowly turn to sandstone under the pressures of time. The Saurapod tracks were broader, with shorter toes, whereas the Therapod tracks showed more of a "claw-like" print, with longer toes and narrower heel.
I have to say that the staff at this Tourist Information was the most helpful and enthusiastic bunch of people that I have encountered in a long time.
We mentioned that we were headed to Arches NP the next morning and planned to be there from sunrise to sunset. The woman behind the counter pulled out a map of the park and advised us where the best viewing spot for sunrise would be and then charted out what hikes we should do and when, filling our entire day and then ending with a recommended viewing spot for sunset. She had been to the park countless times and knew all of the trails firsthand.
Her advice was priceless and we promptly asked her to help us plan our visit to Canyonlands NP for the following day!
Arches National Park, in southern Utah, consists of 119 square miles and boasts over 2,000 natural sandstone arches. The park is just 5 miles north of Moab, so if you're in town, it would seem a shame to miss this iconic park.
Arches National Park was designated a national monument on April 12, 1929 and further designated as a national park on November 12, 1971.
Arches National Park boasts the highest density of naturally formed arches. Most of the arches in this nature park are wind-eroded formations of Entrada Sandstone. Some arches, such as double arch, are pothole arches, being formed by water erosion.
But, arches are not the only geologically enchanting aspects of the park. Interesting rock formations show layers of erosion influences and other geological events.
You may explore the park in your own vehicle, or hop upon a tour bus and be guided through the amazing features. If you have a high clearance 4 wheel drive vehicle, there are some back road 4x4 trails that will bring you to remoter areas of the park.
Some iconic geological symbols of the park include:
Delicate Arch — a 52 foot freestanding arch
Balanced Rock — a 55 foot, 3,500 ton Slick Rock boulder sitting 128 feet up on a pedestal of mudstone
Landscape Arch — a 290 foot arch - the largest in the park
Petrified dunes — petrified remnants of sand dunes
Entrance to Arches can be gained with all federal lands passes. Or:
Individuals: $5 (Good for 7 Days)
This fee applies to motorcycles, bicycles and walk-ins (per person).
Vehicles: $10 (Good for 7 days)
This fee includes all occupants of a vehicle.
Local Passport: $25 (Good for one year)
Good for entrance to Arches, Canyonlands, Hovenweep and Natural Bridges.
Please see my Arches National Park pages for more information.
The Moab Adventure Center is a reliable, quality and competitively-priced adventure center in Moab. It's a store and adventure provider in one. They are located smack in the middle of downtown Moab and you can't miss them because they have a huge raft mounted on posts at the corner of Main St. and 200 South. They present themselves really well and they are buttoned up company. I felt like I was walking into a mini-Disneyland for Adventure enthusiasts. The staff was really friendly and they suggested the perfect adventure itinerary based on my interests.
The Moab Adventure Center offers tons of amazing group adventures and they often offer discounts if you book three or more adventures with them. They are definitely the most popular adventure provider in Moab and it's not just because they have a flashy store on Main Street. It seems they really offer the best quality for the price. I spoke to various individuals on my group activities who booked activities via various providers and their experience with Moab Adventure was the best according to them. I, on the other hand, decided to stick to Moab Adventure solely and they certainly met my expectations.
Moab Adventure Center's signature adventures include:
Colorado River Adventure
They offer half- and full-day adventures. I strongly recommend the full-day, but if you do the half-day, book the afternoon trip so you can enjoy an amazing BBQ lunch on the Colorado River at the Red Cliffs Lodge Pioneer's River Deck restaurant - the BBQ is included in the price. I did the full day rafting adventure and it was insanely fun. The raft guides were energetic and pumped as we descended rapids that were category 1 - 3 and participated in rafting wars. The BBQ thoroughly beat my expectations. They had salad, chips, fruit, cookies, lemonade, but most impressively they had quite a few variations of burger patties. They even had two types of veggie burgers! I tried my very first black bean veggie patty and it was absolutely delicious! If you go on a rafting trip make sure you:
1) Wear clothing that will dry quickly
2) Bring a water bottle (you can refill on the raft)
3) Bring a water proof case for your camera
4) Bring sunscreen and sunglasses
5) If you have valuables with you, bring a waterproof rafting pack that you can clip onto the raft.
They offer 2- to 4-hour day-time and sunset tours on Moab's slick rocks.
They offer two 4-hour tours at Arches National Park. One is a sunset tour and the other is a special guided tour through the Fiery Furnace. I did the Fiery Furnace tour and I would definitely recommend it to anyone else. It was a private guided tour with four other people. The guide took her time with us and gave us very personalized service and education through the Fiery Furnace. Arches National Park only allows 75 people to go through the Fiery Furnace every day, you have to have a special hiking permit or you have to be part of a tour. So it's definitely a superbly exclusive experience. It's like a giant maze of amazing slick rock formations, narrow canyons, balanced rocks and arches. One of the loveliest arches in the Fiery Furnace is the Surprise Arch. It has that name because it's hidden far into a narrow canyon. One thing you should know is that you can go on this hike with a Park Ranger as your guide. The cost for the latter is far lower than what I paid. The only downfall is that the group size is much larger - I think they can reach upwards of 30 people. But if you don't care about group size, you may want to book with the Park Ranger. Just go the Arches National Park visitor's center early in the morning (7:30 a.m. or so) or call them to ask about a tour.
The Moab Adventure Center can also help you book other activities such as mountain biking, flights, horseback riding, jet boat tours and climbing and canyoneering. I booked the canyoneering trip and it was grand! I had never gone canyoneering before and this was a fantastic introduction. I started with a 90-ft rappel into a giant chasm and then continued on with a 120-ft rappel down a giant arch formation! A few of my group-mates had major fear of heights, but the instructors did a great job keeping them calm and getting them to beat their fears! After the two rappels the guide took us for a beautiful 1-hour hike through a lush canyon along side a river stream. If you plan on doing this trip, bring shoes that are rough and water resistant.
So, all in all, if you're coming to Moab, I would definitely suggest you check out the Moab Adventure Center. It's a great place to start your adventure - it really worked out for me!
Delicate Arch is one of two of my favorite arches at Arches National Park. My other favorite is Sand Dune Arch. However, between the two arches, Delicate Arch makes visitors work much harder. Sand Dune Arch is located an easy 500 feet from the road, whereas Delicate Arch is located 2 miles from the road on top of a giant slick rock formation.
Before making your way up to the arch you can take a 5-minute pre-hike detour to check out Wolfe Ranch. The Ranch was settled by John Wesley Wolfe and his son in the late 1800's. All that's left of them now are two small cabins and old cattle gates. You can then loop around to see an original petroglyph panel of Native American images showing people on horseback.
The hike up to Delicate Arch is strenuous. There is very little shade and it is uphill for the majority of the way. The hike up takes about 40 minutes or so - I wasn't really timing myself, but that seems about right. Keep your eye out for collared lizards, they are really beautiful and they don't flee from people - great photo opportunity. Delicate Arch is the perfect reward for this strenuous hike. It sits delicately and powerfully on the edge of a cliff. It's a beautiful rock formation that is a combination of sand stone and salt. Overtime, the salt "melted" away from the center of the formation and left the strong sand stone to fend for itself - and it's fending quite nicely! In fact, this arch is a celebrity and is often embedded within Utah license plates.
If you plan to go on this hike, remember to:
- Bring plenty of water
- Wear sunscreen
- Bring snacks (and keep the garbage in your bag)
- Bring sunglasses
- Wear sturdy hiking shoes/sandals - shoes with good grip
The Needles district of Canyonlands National Park is 75 miles from Moab. This section of Canyonlands has a landscape of sculptured rock spires, arches, canyons, and potholes. The needles, for which this section was named, are rock pinnacles banded in red and white. Most of the arches in the Needles district are hidden in the backcountry canyons and must be reached by four-wheel-drive trips or long hikes. If you are interested in history you will enjoy the hike to the old cowboy camp. You can get information about the hike and many others from the visitor center. In an alcove near the old cowboy camp you can see soot-blackened ceilings with handprints painted on the walls as well as other figures from the ancestral Puebloen Indians. Like the Island In the Sky district, the Needles district also gives you the opportunity to see some ancestral Puebloen granaries.
For more information on Canyonlands National Park check out my Kimberlyann's Canyonlands National Park, Utah pages.
This is a real trip to take as a side diversion form the parks in the area. The turnoff from Hwy 313 that goes to Canyonlands is about 13 miles form Hwy 191. Take that route for sure. If you were told, or heard to take the route off Hwy 191 by Arches-DO NOT, even if you have a 4WD. It is precarious, dangerous, and a lot of grief. I thought it would be a great idea to take Hwy 313 exit and continue to the connection to Hwy 191; a 18 mile drive. Well, the first 6 miles to get to Gemini Bridges form Hwy 313 ws fine. Then it changed. The road got rough and the surface changed to sand, then rock, then cliffs that you hung over the edge. That really was one of my worst feelings to get out of that situation while on the one month trip. It is scary if you fall off the cliff with the vehicle, or get stuck so bad, and need to walk out for help. I stopped two 4WD drivers coming the other way and they said I was lucky I was going down hill. The way form Hwy 191 they barely could make, and the weather was great and dry. SAnd, rocks, and steep climbs is a challenge.
After a full day of hiking through Arches National Park, Mom and I explored the slickrock in a specially outfitted Hummer. Our guide was great and very well versed in the history and natural beauty of the area. The tour was a lot of fun - and since it was a little too hot to explore the slickrock by mountain bike, this was a great way for us to see the area on our short trip here. We finally ended up atop the slickrock overlooking the Colorado River just in time for one of the most spectacular sunsets in my memory. We sat, perched on the red rock, watching the sun disappear from the afternoon sky, enjoying conversation with our tour group. Well after dark we piled back in the Hummer and headed back into town. A must for anyone visiting Moab!
Some wonderful hiking trails, all not very long and some very easy to walk from the car. A good mix with some primitive trails and well maintained trails. Entry into the park is only $10 and good for a week. There are over 2000 arches in the entire park.
The visitor center is very informative and a few years back was renovated it was nice that they did not increase the entry fee after the renovation (unlike Bryce). The drive to Devils Garden and the end of the park is not to be missed.
Camping is available but sites are at a premium and need to be reserved online before hand. There could be some available same day but need to check in with the rangers at the visitor center.
Arches National Park is known for its dramatic rock formations. Here, you will find massive sandstone buttes, petrified dunes, balancing rocks and of course, the greatest concentration of natural arches found anywhere in the world.
There is an 18 mile scenic road that traverses the park and dozens of hikes ranging from a few minutes to a few hours.
See my Arches NP pages for more photos and info.
This trail/road is off Hwy 191, just north of town 15 miles and after Arches park entrance. Located at mile marker 141. It seemed like an adventuresome place for me to go and see the sites. Supposedly has dinosaur fossils in the rock a way back off the road. Well, the first leg of the road was rough, but okay, and I went in about 2 miles. Then came the sand, and a lot of it; like 9-12 inches deep. That was not for my 2WD SUV, and I made a strategic decision to get out of there before getting stuck and no help around. The 4WD and some motor bikes seemed to like the terrain, but looked ragged from the venture. The sand turnoff road is dangerous in wet weather and afterward for a while. It is surely easy to get stuck and no traction for any vehicle there.
Devil's Garden hiking. Photo: Devil's Garden trailhead. February 1996.
This is a great hike with 9 arches if you do the entire loop which is 7.2 miles / 11.5 kilometers. The terrain gets a bit more difficult after Landscape Arch and involves some scrambling. Most people turn around at Landscape Arch. This is one of the best hikes in the park.