The Fiery Furnace Hike in Arches National Park is a must-do! More primitive and difficult than typical national park hikes, the Fiery Furnace offers surprise after surprise. Get even closer to nature by choosing this challenge!
Trail Length: 2.5 miles
Average time: 3-5 hours
Our time: 2 hours
Ages of our group members: 24 – 27, mid-50s
There are only two ways to do the Fiery Furnace hike. The first is to sign up for a ranger-guided hike. Ranger-guided hikes begin April 29th and can be reserved at the national park website. The second is to obtain a permit, in person, from the visitor center and hike it yourself. Permits sell out fast, even on unpopular weekends, and you can only get yours, in person, within seven days of your planned hiking day. Permits cost $6 per person. This post will not cover the canyoneering option – that is an entirely different conversation.
The ranger-guided hike is the park’s recommended option for first-time Fiery Furnace hikers. This is because this hike is unlike any other in the park. There is not a maintained trail. The only indication of the correct path is little brown and cream arrows periodically pointing hikers in the right direction. The little arrows are spread out and blend into the surroundings. They can also be misleading. For example, if an arrow points left, it could mean left for only about ten feet or left for 100 yards. Many times the next turn was unmarked at first with the arrow hiding further down the path.
A ranger-guided hike is also recommended because there are many canyon offshoots from the main trail that can be perused throughout the hike. These canyons offer extra obstacles and sought-after sights but can lead hikers in many directions, along with many dead ends, making it difficult to get back on track. Rangers can tell you which canyons are worth exploring and how to get back to the trail when finished. All in all, it is simply very easy to get lost in the Fiery Furnace.
The final reason that ranger-guided hikes are suggested is because of the fragile ecosystem in the Fiery Furnace. Rangers work hard to keep this area of the park as wild and primitive as possible. This insures that hikers get closer to nature than anywhere else in the park but it also means that the trail is not visible. Arches National Park has rules about where to step and where not to step for this reason but these are hard to follow since the trail is barely distinguishable from the rest of the surroundings. Rangers are better equipped to guide hikers in the best way to take care of this part of the park. Scroll down to get a better look at some of the rules for the Fiery Furnace.
How to do it like we did:
Since we did this hike in March there were not any ranger-guided hikes available. We showed up at the visitor center at 8:45 a.m. the day before our hike. The visitor center opens at 9 a.m. The Arches National Park website does not list the number of permits issued per day but when we got there (on a non-busy, unpopular weekend) there were only 20 permits left. We had six people in our group.
Since we were first timers to the Furnace, we had to sit through a 30 minute orientation. The orientation is mainly about how to respect this piece of land and what the rules of the permit are. I share some of these rules at the end of the post.
Our plan was to hit the trail at sunrise the next morning (about 7:30 a.m.). It was raining pretty good when we got up so we meandered around Canyonlands and then drove back to Arches. We finally got on the trail at 10:42 a.m. At this point, the rain had turned to fluffy snowflakes. While I prefer hot weather, I love the way the white contrasts with the red rock and sand! Snow in Moab can be quite a treat.
The trailhead shares a parking lot with the Fiery Furnace Viewpoint. There is a pit toilet directly next to the trailhead. The trail splits in two directions. Choose the right-hand trail, or the east trail. The trail runs in a counter-clockwise loop. All the arrows point counter-clockwise. The east trail gets you started off correctly on the counter-clockwise loop.
It does not take more than a few hundred feet before the trail starts to get interesting. The entire experience consists of climbing down rocks, over boulders, through canyons, and along the wash. It is truly a majestic obstacle course created by nature. Kenon’s parents, who are in their mid-50s, scrambled over and under everything right along with us and had a blast! I would not recommend this for anyone who can not handle the physical demands of the constant up and down of going over rocks.
The tricky part is figuring out where all of those little arrows are telling you to go. For example, this arrow shows up at the bottom of a rocky hill, at the point where your first come to the wash. We all thought it was telling us to go left, along the wash. This made sense because the orientation video stresses the importance of staying on the rock or along the wash. However, when we went left it just took us to two dead ends. Cool dead ends – one was a little arch and the other a waterfall.
This arrow was actually telling us to go immediately up the rock and walk alongside the left cliff face. This will reconnect you with the wash and another arrow on the other side.
Towards the end of the hike, you climb through a wide canyon onto a cliff that opens up towards the main part of the park. Recognizable landmarks, including Balancing Rock, can be seen in the distance. There is an arrow pointing toward a giant rock face that leads to three different slot canyons. There is another arrow on the giant rock face that tells you which canyon to choose. The correct slot canyon immediately opens up to another arrow that points to a very obvious staircase with a railing. If you do not see the arrows, staircase, and railing, you might want to consider going back and regrouping at the arrows.
Since the canyon was snowy and wet, everything was slippery. We completed the loop in two hours because we could not explore very many slot canyons in the wet conditions. Every slot canyon you decide to add to your hike will add more time.
1. If you start to feel lost, go back to the last arrow you remember seeing and regroup. It is a good idea to take notes (and even pictures) of landmarks and arrows as you go. This will help you work your way back if you get too far from the trail. Building cairns, leaving objects or food, and carving or writing symbols into rocks and trees are prohibited in the Fiery Furnace. The best way to keep track of your trail is a photo diary.
2. Use AllTrails but do not rely on solely on the app. The GPS sometimes get confused when the canyon walls get really high. AllTrails worked most of the time to keep us on track.
3. If you plan on using AllTrails and keeping a photo diary of landmarks, take a backup phone charger just in case.
4. If it is wet when you go, keep this in mind: slickrock gets slicker in the rain. Step carefully.
Gear of the Trip:
Rain Jacket. We were expecting wet but we were not expecting snow. A nice hard shell, with the proper layers underneath, will keep you dry and warm. I love this one from Columbia because it is lightweight and packs down easily to be carried when the sun comes out.
I really wanted to do an in-depth route description for this hike. I thought if I took a lot of pictures and paid close attention I would have enough information. It was so much more difficult than that! The Fiery Furnace is truly a wild land. It prides itself in being a puzzle that wanderers need to figure out as they go. There is a main route but there are also so many beautiful distractions, alternate paths, and alluring challenges. The scenery is complex and difficult to describe. We ran into one woman who had completed the hike twice before and was more turned around than we were. We, as first timers, found the correct path before she did. It’s a maze in there. Like all good mazes, though, if you go back a few turns you will find a better way.
Hindsight is 20/20 and I now know what I have to do to obtain a quality route description when I go back. But it will take a lot of time, focus, and patience. My suggestion to you if you try to figure it out without a ranger or someone who has done it before is have a lot of patience. Use AllTrails to keep yourself pointed in the general direction of the exit. Be willing to go backwards if you need to. Above all, enjoy working out the puzzle.
Fiery Furnace Rules and Reminders:
1. Protect the ecosystem by walking in sandy washes and on rocks.
2. Stay off “social trails.” These are short cuts through flora and top crust that other hikers have made. They damage the environment and should be avoided.
3. If the route you are in disturbs sand dunes or soil crust, retrace your steps and find another route.
4. Pack it in, pack it out. This includes solid human waste and food scraps.
5. Take photos of natural landmarks to keep track of your route.
6. Keep your voice low so others can enjoy the natural wildness of the Furnace without being disturbed.