Known for its remarkable red sandstone formations and delicate natural beauty, Arches National Park is one of the most famous destinations within the National Park System. Believed to have formed by erosion from sand, rock, water and salt deposits over 300 million years, the park has the world’s greatest collection of natural stone arches. Located along the Colorado River in southeastern Utah, Arches, as it is commonly called, boasts more than 2,000 stone arches, a diverse and amazing amount of plant and wildlife and other spectacular rock formations, such as balanced rocks, spires and the aptly named fins. To better acquaint first time visitors, here’s a brief, yet very practical travel guide to Arches National Park.
How To Get There
The closest commercial airport is Canyonlands Field (CNY), about 14 miles from the park’s entrance. Only two airlines serve the small airport – Delta Connection (operated by SkyWest Airlines) from Salt Lake City and Great Lakes Airlines from Denver. Current information shows two car rental agencies at this airport – Canyonlands Jeep and Car Rentals and Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Other commercial airports within driving distance are Grand Junction Regional Airport (GJT) (110 miles) and Salt Lake City International Airport (236 miles).
The California Zephyr Amtrak train has stops in Grand Junction and Green River, Utah. The California Zephyr runs daily between San Francisco (Emeryville) and Chicago
Arches National Park is located off Highway 191, five miles northwest of Moab. Interstate travelers can take Highways 40 or 70 to connect with Highway 191.
Where To Stay
Arches National Park
There is no lodging within the park. Only one campground lies within the park and reservations must be made well in advance during the peak months. Devils Garden Campground is located within the heart of the park and features 50 individual sites and two group sites. Reservations for all sites must be booked through Recreation.gov. First-come, first-serve camping is only available from November 1 to February 28.
Located just minutes from the Arches National Park Visitor Center, Moab offers a variety of lodging options, including hotels and motels, bed and breakfasts and specialty lodging. Several commercial campgrounds and RV Parks also operate within the Moab area, in addition to campgrounds managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
30 miles south of Moab on Highway 313 is Dead Horse Point State Park, with 20 campsites at Kayenta Campground. Reservations can be made online through ReserveAmerica. The scenic state park also offers three yurts, capable of sleeping up to six people, with reservations made by phone or online.
Bordering Dead Horse Point State Park is Canyonlands National Park, with camping available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Squaw Flat Campground offers 26 sites and three groups sites and the Willow Flat Campground offers 12 sites.
Where To Dine
Top Things To Do
Although there are no mountain bike trails within the park, cycling is one of the best ways to enjoy Arches National Park. Cycling is restricted to only paved and unpaved roadways such as Salt Valley and Willow Springs roads. However, Arches and its surrounding area is one of the nation’s best spots for cycling, with several outstanding road tours. But Moab is best known as a premiere destination for mountain biking and features more than 100 amazing trails, including one of the world’s most famous mountain bike trails – Slickrock Trail.
A road tour of Arches is the easiest and quickest way to see many of the park’s amazing rock formations. However, parking is limited throughout the park, particularly during the peak months from March to October. Fortunately, the National Park Service expanded parking near the trailhead for Delicate Arch, with a dirt lot now open and paving expected to be completed by mid-summer. Visitors driving or planning to hike during this time should check online to determine if the road paving will impact parking and thus may want to get there before 9 a.m. Delicate Arch is easily the most famous attraction in the park and the most popular attraction to see. Unfortunately, the arch is inaccessible by car and motorists must park at Delicate Arch Viewpoint, then walk a short distance to see the iconic symbol of Utah from afar.
Another recommended driving tour is the Windows section of the park, offering visitors the opportunity to see many of the largest arches, including Double Arch, Balanced Rock and Turret Arch. Motorists can see the arches from the parking lot but round trip walks to any of these formations are less than a mile.
A number of businesses authorized by the National Park Service also offer tours of the park by van or bus. Taxi services also provide transportation to the park from Moab.
Arches features 15 scenic hiking trails, ranging from easy and moderate to very challenging. The most popular hiking trail is the Delicate Arch Trail. However, the trail is one of the five that’s considered strenuous and hikers must bring plenty of water to endure the 3-mile round trip trek from the Wolfe Ranch parking area. Among the easiest hikes are Balanced Rock, Delicate Arch Viewpoint, Double Arch and San Dune Arch, all taking 30 minutes or less.
The 2-mile round trip Park Avenue Trail is one of the most popular moderate hikes, affording hikers views of the fascinating rock formations resembling buildings on New York’s Park Avenue and the trail closest to the park’s entrance. One last hike of particular interest, Fiery Furnace, requires either a permit or guided tour by park rangers or licensed tour operators.
Ranger Led Programs
Complimentary and paid walking tours are offered daily during the spring by friendly and knowledgeable park rangers for adults and children five and over. The free, guided walks lead visitors on a one mile walk on an easy or moderate trail and no advance registration is required. The three-hour Fiery Furnace Tour is a strenuous, three-mile hike and requires hikers to walk and climb on irregular rock and along narrow edges. However, the maze-like Fiery Furnace is quite popular and reservations routinely sell out well in advance.
Commercial Tours And Equipment Rentals
From park tours and guided horseback rides to bike rentals and river rafting, many outstanding businesses in Moab offer a number of guided trips, tours and equipment rentals. Recommendations for bike rentals and tours include Moab Adventure Center, Chile Pepper Bike Shop, Rim Mountain Bike Tours and Poison Spider Bicycles. Moab Adventure Center is an excellent choice for the best selection of tours and equipment rentals. Among the notable services offered here are river rafting, stand up paddleboarding, scenic flights and a zip line adventure. NAVTEC Expeditions is another recommended local business for tours of Arches and Canyonlands, as well as raft rentals and canyoneering.
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Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.