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This Rocks, Naturally: Arches National Park (Utah)

Double Arch in Arches National Park Utah - Happier Place

Arches National Park might be the most rewarding U.S. park because of the easy access to incredible views. Some of the best sights can be seen right from the car. And you’ll love the photos you’ll take!

The layout of Arches National Park invites you to take a scenic drive, go for a smooth bike ride or turn off the main road for easy or more challenging hikes. No matter how you explore Arches National Park, you will be astonished by the breathtaking rock formations and landscape.

So make sure you have your camera ready to take some of your favorite Americana photos ever. We’ve collected the most important information, ultimate must-see recommendations and personal photography tips for an awesome Arches National Park visit.

Quick Facts About Arches National Park

Arches National Park lies in the high desert just north of Moab, Utah. It’s part of the Colorado Plateau with the La Sal Mountain range as a majestic backdrop. It features 2,000 sandstone arches and other rock formations! The park covers 76,679 acres (310.31 km2) with its highest elevation at 5,653 feet (1,723 m).

Arches first became a National Monument in 1929 and then a National Park in 1971. The dramatic, serpentine road from Moab into the park was paved in the 1950s. It’s a rather fascinating choice since a more mellow entrance road should have been possible via the Salt Valley. But with a stunning park like this, the first view of it should be breathtaking. And it is!

Scenic drive around Arches National Park, Utah.
Scenic drive around Arches National Park, Utah.

Must-See Sights in Arches National Park

There are several rock formations that are on everybody’s must-see list – and for good reason. The way the park is laid out, you’ll be able to see most of them right from the road, a parking lot or a scenic pull-out. Of course, we recommend that you walk up to them. Here are the top must-see sights in recommended driving order:

1. Three Gossips, The Sheep, The Organ (Courthouse Towers Viewpoint)
2. Balanced Rock
3. Double Arch, North + South Windows, Turret Arch (Windows Section)
4. Delicate Arch

The Courthouse Towers: The Organ in the foreground and the Tower of Babel in the background.
The Courthouse Towers: The Organ in the foreground and the Tower of Babel in the background.
Classic view of Balanced Rock in Arches National Park.
Classic view of Balanced Rock in Arches National Park.
One of the most popular sights in Arches NP: the Double Arch.
One of the most popular sights in Arches NP: the Double Arch.
North Window and South Window in the Windows Section of Arches.
North Window and South Window in the Windows Section of Arches.
Utah's famous Delicate Arch seen from the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint.
Utah’s famous Delicate Arch (it’s on the Utah license plate).

With some extra time, don’t miss these additional Arches gems:

1. Fiery Furnace
2. Devils Garden (trails to Landscape Arch, Skyline Arch, etc.)
3. Park Avenue Trail

The otherworldly Fiery Furnace section in Arches NP.
Part of the otherworldly Fiery Furnace section in Arches NP.
Skyline Arch along one of the easy trails in the Devils Garden section of Arches National Park.
Skyline Arch along one of the easy trails in the Devils Garden section of Arches National Park.
Arches National Park Scenic Drive along the Park Avenue rock formation.
Park Avenue rock formation seen from the Arches Scenic Drive.

Arches National Park Visitor FAQs and Tips

The park is open 24-hours a day, every day. The visitor center is open most days from 9am to 4pm; hours change by season. The restrooms and drinking water are accessible all day, every day.

The entrance fee is $30 per non-commercial motor vehicle (15 people or less), $25 per motorcycle or $15 per person (on foot or bicycle) and is good for 7 days. Of course, we recommend you get the America the Beautiful Pass, which covers your fee at more than 2,000 federal recreation sites across the United States, including all the National Parks and Wildlife Refuges. It’s a great way to support the amazing U.S. National Parks and Recreational Lands system! As of this writing, the America the Beautiful pass costs $80 (if you’re not eligible for any of their discounted passes, e.g. senior or military).

Arches National Park features a 50-site campground at Devils Garden. Standard campsites can be reserved up to 6 months in advance for stays March 1-October 31. Between November 1 and February 28, sites are first-come, first-served.

Cycling is popular in Arches National Park and surrounding areas.
Cycling is popular in Arches National Park and surrounding areas.

Because Arches National Park is located in the high desert, weather can be extreme and also change quickly. Average temperatures in the winter are between 18 F (-8 C) and 49 F (+9 C)… and in the summer between 59 F (15 C) and 97 F (36 C). Depending on the season, trails may be covered in snow or the heat and sunshine may be so extreme that you shouldn’t find yourself without a hat or without plenty of water.

Even though pets are allowed in Arches National Park, you can only have them with you in cars, parking lots, picnic areas and the campground. Pets are not allowed on any of the trails. So it’s probably best to just leave your pets safely at home.

Looking west from the Windows Section near sunset.
Looking from the Windows Section towards the late afternoon sun over rocks and hills.

We recommend you don’t visit Arches (or the Moab area, for that matter) during the annual Moab Jeep Safari. Unless, of course, you want to participate in driving 4x4s around the incredible and challenging Utah terrain. In 2019, the Easter Jeep Safari will happen April 13 – 21.

Save paper and come prepared: download pdf maps of Arches National Park, campgrounds, surrounding area and more from the clever and independent National Park Maps website.

Pinetree Arch in Devils Garden frames the next magnificent view.
Pinetree Arch (along another Devils Garden trail) frames the next magnificent view.

Hiking in Arches National Park

Arches National Park isn’t necessarily known for its long adventurous hikes. But the park does offer some rewarding short and medium-length trails so you can stretch your legs, gain a different perspective, experience a little solitude, see the more elusive arches and spot some wildlife.

As mentioned at the top, the infrastructure of Arches National Park makes it very easy to see most of the famous sights from a car or a bike. This also means it can quickly feel like you and the masses are just jumping from parking lot to parking lot.

If you want to get more in touch with nature and get away from the crowds, we highly recommend you get out of the car and off the bike and take a hike.

As always: bring plenty of water, a snack, appropriate clothing, and means of communication. In the summer, try avoid hiking in the heat of mid-day.

Get up close with the sandstone formations while walking on easy trails.
Get close with the sandstone formations while walking on easy trails around Devils Garden.

Devils Garden: This section of the park features the most arches. Various trails north and south of the campground will take you to astonishing arches and will remind you that you’re actually in nature and not just at a tourist attraction. Popular option: 1.6-mile trail to Landscape Arch (North America’s longest arch.)

Delicate Arch: Hike the 3-mile (round-trip) trail from Wolfe Ranch to see the most famous arch up close. This trail will not provide any kind of solitude – unless you hike up there during unfavorable weather conditions.

Fiery Furnace: This area is already incredible to see from afar. To hike it, you will need to acquire a special permit at the visitors center. Since this zone doesn’t have any trails and features huge boulders, narrow squeezes, and unnerving rock cliffs, you might want to explore it first on a ranger-led tour before heading in their on your own.

Skinny, yet wide: fins near Fiery Furnace.
Skinny, yet wide: fins near Fiery Furnace.

Arches National Park Photography Tips

One of the reasons Arches National Park is so rewarding is because of all the opportunities for you take outstanding photos of iconic rock formations and stunning landscapes.

I. BE AWARE OF THE LIGHT

Because of the brightness of the desert sun and reflectiveness of the sandstones, different times of day will give you very different results.

Turret Arch photographed against the sun.
Turret Arch photographed against the sun.
East side of Turret Arch during Golden Hour.
East side of Turret Arch during evening Golden Hour just before sunset.

The golden hour (the hour right before sunset), sunset and sunrise are always magic times for photography, so go for it. Here they may turn the rocks in your photos too red. (Luci desatured some of the photos featured here to dial down the red.)

To see the rock formations clearly and not just in silhouette, different times of day are better for different rock formations.

The following are recommendations from the Visit Utah website. Early morning light is best for lighting up the Moab Fault, the Three Gossips, Sheep Rock, the Great Wall, Turret Arch, the Spectacles, Double Arch, Cache Valley, Wolfe Ranch, Landscape Arch, and Double O Arch.

Late afternoon or evening light is best for lighting up Park Avenue, the Courthouse Towers, the Petrified Dunes, Balanced Rock, the Garden of Eden, North and South Windows, Delicate Arch, the Fiery Furnace (permit required), Skyline Arch, the fins in Devils Garden, and Tower Arch.

Post-sunset and nighttime photography at Arches also brings interesting results with rock formations adding a little foreground drama to the star-filled sky.

Golden Hour light is even more intense among the reddish rocks and sand.
Golden Hour light is intense among the red rocks and sand. (Yes, this photo has been de-saturated to dial down the red.)

II. TRY A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE

Some of the park’s sights are so famous that you’ll likely want to get your own photo from the popular angle. But we recommend you take a walk around (or drive a little distance) and capture “the famous” from a different perspective. This way you can create something fresh, maybe show some context and have a little exploring adventure.

North Window glows red in the sunset light. Arches National Park - Happier Place.
Classic view of the North Window during sunset.
Looking up at the North Window from inside.
Looking up at the North Window from inside.
Another perspective: the "negative shadow" of the North Window on a rock formation off the beaten path.
Another perspective: the “negative shadow” of the North Window falls onto a rock formation off the beaten path east of the Windows Section.

Classic view of Delicate Arch: 

Different perspectives of Delicate Arch:

Delicate Arch next to a line of rock formation which may be future arches...
Delicate Arch next to a line of rock formation which may be future arches or balanced rocks…
Getting new context for the famous Delicate Arch as it balances at the top of a big bowl
From a far we get the bigger context: Delicate Arch as it balances at the top of a big bowl (left third of frame).

III. FIND CONTEXT AND CONTRAST

This landscape gives so many opportunities to show more than just one subject. By combining several rock formations, you can tell a little story. You can emphasize how formations have evolved or in what context they can be found.

Three Gossips and The Sheep in Arches National Park
Three Gossips and The Sheep… just looking or gossiping?
A different angle of Balanced Rock shows the future balanced rocks in the making.
A different angle of Balanced Rock shows the future balanced rocks in the making.
The two people in front of the sandstone rock formation give an idea of size in Arches NP.
The two people in front of the sandstone rock formation give an idea of size… or oversize.

Even just the contrasts of colors from the red rocks to the blue sky and the snow-covered La Sal Mountains in-between create lively drama that will make your photos stand out.

Turret Arch and other rock formation in front of the snow-covered La Sal Mountains in Utah.
Turret Arch and other rock formation in front of the snow-covered La Sal Mountains in Utah.

With all those attention-grabbing rock formations, don’t overlook the “little things”, like those flowering plants or that deer that just looked at you from behind that bush.

Deer in front of Tunnel Arch in Arches National Park.
Don’t get so distracted by Tunnel Arch that you don’t notice the deer looking right at you.

What’s Nearby Arches National Park?

There is so much more to see and do in this corner of Utah than just Arches National Park.

First of all, there is the town of Moab (population 5,000+), where you will find plenty of hotels, restaurants and rock shops, naturally.

Just on the other side of Moab is the more diverse, yet less famous Canyonlands National Park, which deserves just as much attention and probably more time.

The Colorado River makes up the south-east border of Arches and offers fun river activities, like white-water rafting.

Dead Horse Point State Park offers iconic views of the Colorado River from high above. Looks familiar? It’s the location featured in the ending of “Thelma and Louise”.


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Hike, Bike or Drive and Take Amazing Photos: Arches National Park (Utah)
Ultimate Guide to Arches National Park (Utah) - Includes Photography Tips!

Let’s Inspire Each Other!

Have you been to Arches National Park? Then please tell us about our experience and share your tips. How about other National Parks? Do you have a favorite park you’d like to recommend?

Please leave a comment below – inspired by these questions or whatever you’d like to share…


All photos taken by Luci Westphal, except the Instagram photo taken by Devin aka dev_marie427.

Hike, Bike or Drive and Take Amazing Photos in Arches National Park. #HappierPlace

15 thoughts on “This Rocks, Naturally: Arches National Park (Utah)

  1. So beautiful! I love the outdoors, and I remember seeing this place featured in one of my backpacker magazines. Hopefully I can get over my fear of flying some day, and visit here! Your photos are absolutely stunning.

    1. Thank you for the kind words about the photos. I do truly hope you get over your fear of flying – not only so you can see this or other National Parks in the US, but just so you can go wherever you want to. Two friends of mine have taken a course on overcoming their fear of flying. It worked for both – and now they can fly!

  2. Love the pictures… the pictures make me feel calm and relaxed. Looks like one could be stress relieved here. the very site of the place is a calmness

    1. Yes, this can be a very relaxing place. But it can also be very crowded, which these photos don’t show. Glad you like the photos!

  3. Wow it’s really a postcard kind of view isn’t it. I’ve only been to Yosemite and it was an absolutely beautiful experience seeing the vegetation and animals.

    1. It really is postcard-picturesque at Arches. Awesome you’ve seen Yosemite! I’ve yet to visit there. It’s very high on our list. Can’t wait to see and photograph that park!

  4. These photos are simply too stunning for words! I could seriously look at the sunset over a National Park for hours. Actually, I hope to do so in real life someday!

    1. Aww, thank you, Liz! I hope you get to do that in real life, too!

  5. Absolutely stunning photos and a great read! The contrast between the orange rock and the blue sky is picturesque! I would love to visit!

  6. It just makes we wonder about what happened millions of years ago to give rise to these rock formations we see today. I hope I could visit this place in my lifetime! It is truly a wonderful sight to see.

  7. Arches national park Utah is such a beautiful place, full of nature. Those rocks looks so amazing, Would love to visit here next summer

  8. We are planning to visit the Arches when we take our cross country camping trip. Beautiful photography!

    1. Oh, that’s awesome! A cross-country camping trip that takes you through that are sounds amazing. My dad did that in the late 1970s, and I’m trying to get him to go with me on the same route – but maybe with hotel rooms. Wishing you an amazing time on your big trip next year – and hope to hear more about it when it happens! Thank you so much for your comment, Cyndi!
      xx Luci

  9. I’d absolutely appreciate a road trip to Utah National Park..it sounds so majestic especially when it’s all sunny! And the features are so beautiful…those rocks are just carved artistically!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, Dalene. I bet you’d enjoy a road trip through that area a lot. A few photos can hardly capture how amazing it looks when you’re there.

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