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!
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Classic view of Delicate Arch:
Different perspectives of Delicate Arch:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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…