Arches National Park was one of the first national parks I ever visited, and the first to truly blow my mind. I had never been a big nature guy until my spontaneous U.S. road trip all the way back in the summer of 2016. Arches National Park was my introduction to the deserts of the Southwest, although the red rocks and Martian landscapes could have been an entirely different planet altogether.
No matter how popular it may get, I’ll die on the hill that Arches National Park is a must-visit destination. Not just for nature-lovers or hikers, but for anyone. I’ve personally visited it three different times now, and will never tire of its surreal landscapes and multitude of adventures. Located just outside of Utah’s adventure capital of Moab, you’ll find the entrance to Arches, or essentially a gateway to another planet.
Things To Know Before Visiting Arches National Park
Visiting Arches National Park During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Let’s start with one of the questions on everyone’s minds right now. What is it like to visit Arches National Park during the Coronavirus pandemic? Honestly, things have gotten close to back to normal for the most part. I last updated this in October 2020, with my last visit being in September 2020. One of the main changes as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic has been the closing of the Visitor Center. Recently, park rangers have been assisting visitors outside of the visitor center on the front patio. The park store is also open. However, the Fiery Furnace hike, museum exhibits, and the theater remain closed.
Of course, you should continue practicing social distancing and wearing a mask on crowded trails. Delicate Arch is a particularly crowded trail, and other hikes tend to have narrow points and bottlenecks where it can get congested. Wear a mask when you are around people, and try to give people at least six feet of space when possible. Just do the right thing. An old Karen did wave her walking pole at my face when I put on my mask as I passed her, though. Utah, man.
Safety Precautions for Arches National Park
Outside of taking precautions for COVID, there are other reasons to be careful at Arches. It gets hot, bro. That’s the first thing that comes to mind. During the summer months, the temperatures in the Moab area climb to well over 100 degrees during midday. Sometimes, they don’t dip below 100 until close to sunset. Bring a lot of water and sunscreen, because you likely won’t find shade once you’re out on the trails.
Cell signal is also hard to come by in the park, although some parts of the park will have it. However, it’s very hit-or-miss so it’s safer to assume that you won’t have signal. Tell people where you’re going to be so they know where to look for you if they don’t hear back from you. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Oh, and make sure your car is good. While there will be no shortage of cars passing by, it’s still a pain in the butt to have car problems all the way out here. Don’t drive deep into the desert if you know your car is having problems. Do as I say, not as I do. We all know I often push my car irresponsibly to its limits.
Best Time To Visit Arches National Park
Summer holidays usually mean that most people visit Arches National Park during the summer. If you are lucky enough to have vacation days outside of the summer, Arches National Park is best-visited in the cooler months. I’ve visited in both August and July, and the heat was nothing short of brutal. I visited again in mid-September and the weather was much more tolerable, and actually pleasant. It even got chilly a few times.
Entrance Fees for Arches National Park
$30 for a one-week entrance per vehicle.
$80 for an annual pass including entry to all the national parks.
$70 for an annual pass to just Arches National Park.
It is slightly cheaper ($15) if you simply walk, cycle, or motorcycle ($25) onto the park. However, unless you’re motorcycling, it’s not entirely feasible to see much of the park by foot or by bike.
The Best Things To Do At Arches National Park
Arches National Park is a hiker’s paradise. There are so many unique landscapes and a variety of hikes offering different scenery and terrain. These are some of the best hikes in Arches National Park.
This is without a doubt the most iconic view in Arches National Park, or maybe even all of Utah. I mean, it’s on the license plate, so it does have an argument for that title. The short 3.1 mile roundtrip hike is absolutely stunning. I’ve done it twice now, once during the brutal midday heat and once during sunset. Without a doubt, hiking Delicate Arch at sunset is the best time to take on this adventure.
Devil’s Garden Loop
Next to Delicate Arch, this is my favorite hike at Arches National Park. It’s far less-visited than Delicate Arch and boasts up to seven different arches. The loop is around seven miles long, with stretches of primitive trail and scrambling. However, some people only hike up to Landscape Arch before turning around. Double O Arch is another highlight, but involves sections of primitive trail. Aside from the other arches like Private Arch, one can also hike up to the rock formation known as Dark Angel.
Park Avenue is one of the first things you’ll see as you drive into Arches National Park. After paying your entrance fee and winding up the curvy roads, you’ll find the parking lot for Park Avenue. The view from the parking lot is stunning already, but if you want to get more up close and personal, you can hike down into the valley. This short hike will make you feel tiny as you surround yourself with towering red monoliths. It’s a great starter hike, and one that shouldn’t take more than an hour roundtrip.
This one isn’t much of a hike, but is definitely one of the cooler things to see at Arches. You can see Balanced Rock right when you pull in from the parking lot, but you can go on a short walk to get a better view of it. One of the coolest things about this rock is that there aren’t any other big geological formations nearby. Like seriously, how did it end up looking like that?
You’ll need a permit for this hike, but if you manage to get one, it’s one of the best adventures in Arches National Park. The permit costs $6 and can be obtained at the visitor center, but make sure to get the permit at least a few days before you want to do the hike. This hike is pretty popular, so during peak season, you might find yourself having to wait a few days. The loop is less than two miles long, but it boasts a lot of stunning views.
The Windows and Double Arch
Apparently there’s a difference between arches and windows. I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart, but there’s a section of Arches National Park known as the Windows. Here, you’ll find a series of arches and windows all a close distance from each other, including Turret Arch, and North Window and South Window. From the other side of the parking lot, you’ll find the short trail to the stunning Double Arch.
Where To Stay When Visiting Arches National Park
One of the nicest things about Moab is that there is a wide variety of places to stay, especially for a pretty small town. Whether your budget calls for sleeping in your car or having your own private pool, Moab’s got you covered.
Campsites Near Arches National Park
There are no shortage of campsites in Arches National Park or in the Moab area. Inside Arches National Park, Devil’s Garden is the only developed campground. If you get a permit from the Visitor Center, you might be able to camp in the backcountry. Outside of the park, you have plenty of options. You have your choices of free primitive camping and then you’ve got glamping at places like KOA. I’ve stayed at both KOA and ACT campgrounds. Check out Campendium for a list of free and paid campsites in and around Moab.
Hostels in Moab
I was surprised to see Moab had a hostel, so I jumped at the opportunity as soon as I saw it. As a budget traveler, I’m a big advocate for staying in hostels. Although I wasn’t sure how it’d be during the Coronavirus pandemic, I had a good experience staying at Lazy Lizard Hostel. I spent one night in a private cabin with my sister for $45, and then three nights in a shared dormitory for about $35 total. During the offseason, the prices get even cheaper.
Airbnbs in Moab
Moab’s got a ton of different hotels to choose from, but the rapid growth of Moab’s tourism industry is honestly cramping my vibe. Stay away from the Marriotts and opt for a unique experience with Airbnb.
More on Utah’s National Parks
It’s no secret that Utah has some of the most otherworldly scenery in the country. The national parks of Utah are known as the Mighty Five, and I was blessed to have been able to visit all of those five. Here are some more guides on visiting the Mighty Five national parks of Utah.