There’s a lifetime’s worth of exploration to be had in the red rock desert of southeastern Utah, but a fabulous place to start is by spending two days in Arches National Park. We’ve put together the perfect Arches itinerary to make sure you don’t miss any of the best sights, hikes, activities and natural wonders of this iconic park. From scenic drives to beating the crowds at Delicate Arch to paddling down the Colorado River, this itinerary will have you adding Utah to the top of your bucket list.
Arches National Park is requiring timed-entry reservations during peak hours April 3 – Oct. 3, 2022. Learn how to get your reservation.
Spend the Morning Hiking Fiery Furnace with a Ranger
Fiery Furnace, a remote section of Arches National Park, is a beautiful maze of red rock canyons. A trek through this area of the park free of traditional “trails” is filled with squeezing through tight canyons, balancing on narrow ledges, jumping gaps and using that upper body strength you haven’t needed to find since high school gym class to hoist yourself up. For first-time hikers, the best way to visit this easy-to-get-lost-in area is on a ranger-led hike. Hikes depart at 9 and 9:30 a.m. daily and tickets are required.
Tickets for ranger-guided hikes in Fiery Furnace are released one week ahead of time on recreation.gov, at 8 a.m. MDT. These tickets sell out fast, so be sure to log on right when they are released for your best chance of getting one.
This 2.5-hour hike is strenuous and children under five years old aren’t permitted.
Cool Off on a Scenic Drive
Continue your Arches itinerary by cooling off in your car’s air-conditioning on a scenic drive through the park. You can see many of Arches’ most incredible formations and views from the comfort of your car or a short walk to a viewpoint. Allot at least 4.5 hours to explore all the paved roads in the park if you want to stop at all the viewpoints.
Arches National Park Road is the main route in the park and is 18.2 miles from the entrance off Hwy. 191 to its terminus at Devils Garden Campground. After completing your hike in Fiery Furnace, you’ll be near the end of the road.
On your drive back through the park, turn off on Delicate Arch Road. Stop at Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint and walk 100 yards on level ground to see arguably the park’s most iconic feature from a mile away. The Upper Viewpoint is a 0.5 mile walk and has stairs but provides a more unobstructed view. Tomorrow’s itinerary includes hiking to the arch’s base.
As you continue along the main road, you’ll see the turnoff for the Windows Section on the left side. Along this road you’ll find tons of arches and gorgeous rock formations including Double Arch. If the weather’s cool, consider hiking one of the trails in this area.
Don’t miss Balanced Rock on your way back to the Visitor Center. This mind-boggling formation appears to be perched on a skinny stone tower. In the distance, the often snow-capped La Sal Mountains are visible.
See the Stars
Arches is a certified International Dark Sky Park, making it a perfect place to stargaze. This designation means the park has incredible, dark night skies and is committed to protecting that darkness from light pollution.
To get a front-row ticket to the best show in town, spend the night at Arches’ only campground: Devils Garden. On a clear night, you’ll catch incredible views of the stars as you sit around a campfire. Reservations fill up quickly for the peak season of March 1 – Oct. 31. Log onto recreation.gov at 10 a.m. six months in advance of your desired dates to hopefully snag a campsite. The other months of the year the campground is first-come, first-served.
If you’re visiting in the spring or fall months, check the park’s event calendar at www.nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/calendar.htm for ranger-led stargazing programs. A ranger presentation is followed by stargazing through a telescope. These events usually happen near a new moon.
Do a Sunrise Hike to Delicate Arch
Start day two of your Arches itinerary by waking up before the sun to hike to one of Utah’s most iconic destinations: Delicate Arch. While it’s hard to experience solitude at this popular spot, you can beat most of the crowds by opting for a sunrise hike.
Be at the trailhead, which is located at the Wolfe Ranch Parking Lot, an hour before first light. Use a website like timeanddate.com to check what time first light, or “civil twilight”, will occur. Since you’ll be hiking in the dark, don’t forget to bring a headlamp.
The hike to Delicate Arch is 3 miles roundtrip and you’ll gain 538 feet in elevation. The first half-mile is a gradual gravel trail before you hit the slickrock. Make sure to pay attention on this section of the route as there is no defined trail across the rock. Keep your eye out for cairns, which are piles of rocks that mark the way. Downloading the trail on an app like GAIA GPS before leaving cell coverage can be helpful if you get turned around.
The last part of the trail is a narrow section with a wall on your right and a steep drop off on your left. Keep your eye out for Twisted Donut Arch on the right before the stunning view of Delicate Arch fills the landscape.
Find a good spot to sit and watch the sun come up. After you soak in the beauty of a desert sunrise, head back the way you came.
See Moab’s Best Art Gallery at Courthouse Wash
For your next adventure, head out of the park and back down Hwy. 191 toward Moab. Park in the Courthouse Wash Parking Lot just north of Moab along Hwy. 191 on the left-hand side of the road when you’re coming from Arches. From this parking lot, you can access the Courthouse Wash Panel, an incredible ancient art wall featuring both pictographs and petroglyphs from different peoples over the course of the last 4,000 years. While the trailhead isn’t actually in the park, the panel itself sits just inside the boundary.
Take the paved bike path back south towards Moab from the parking lot. Stay on the bike path until you’ve crossed the bridge over Courthouse Wash. Just past the bridge there’s a dirt trail that leads to the panel. Stay right at the fork, following signs for the Courthouse Panel. From here, the trail heads up to the base of the cliff and some minor scrambling is required to get close to the panel.
The long human figures date back between 1,500 and 4,000 years. The bright white circles are dated later, either done by ancestral Puebloans or Paiute, Ute or Navajo people 700 – 2,000 years ago. You can also see pictographs – images pecked into the rock – on this panel. In 2008, an infrared photo revealed more images not visible to the naked eye.
Treat this panel with the same respect you’d give to artwork in a museum as it’s the culture and history of the Indigenous people of Utah. Don’t touch or deface the panel in any way.
Leisurely Paddle the Colorado
The best way to cool down on a hot desert afternoon in Moab is to hit the river. While the Colorado River doesn’t run through Arches, it forms the park’s southeastern boundary. Opt for a leisurely float down a mellow section of the river just north of town and you’ll drift past the national park, seeing it from a completely different angle. Our favorite method for floating the river is a standup paddleboard. Join a guided tour from Paddle Moab that’s great for families with kids ages 10 and older and lasts 3.5 hours. Or opt for the Rent & Ride Package in which the company picks you up at Lions Park just outside of Moab and shuttles you up to 12 miles up-river with paddleboards and life jackets. They’ll meet you back at the park to pick up your rentals at the end of the float. This option is great for more experienced paddlers.
Either way, you’ll pass beautiful canyon walls as you skirt the national park’s border and get a chance to cool down.