Kenon and I are gearing up for another trip to Moab this weekend. His parents are visiting so we’re having a family camping weekend. We will be spending a lot of time in Arches National Park since Kenon’s dad and his brother have never been there. It got us thinking about our favorite way to see Arches National Park in one day. Since the other four members of our group have been to Arches, we are also mixing it up with a new endeavor: Fiery Furnace Trail. However, we are still hitting all the classics.
This day itinerary works really well because you see as many of the highlights as possible while still getting some actual hiking time in.
The bulk of the sights of Arches National Park are located along Arches National Park RD – a drive that meanders through the park. The accompanying map that can be picked up at the Ranger Station is very useful because it identifies and (sometimes) describes all the rock formations that you will see along the way. There are a multitude of turnoffs along the road for snapping all those tourist pics. If we have a newbie to the park with us we stop at all the turnoffs. We only spend significant time at three main points.
First Stop, Delicate Arch
We do Delicate Arch early because it gets hot and busy as the day goes on. It is also the longest hike so we get it out of the way while everyone is energetic. Since Delicate Arch is such a tourist attraction, many assume the hike will be easier than it actually is. NPS.org itself lists it under “difficult” hikes. It is 3 miles round trip with 480 feet of elevation. 480 feet is really not that much elevation but it is highly concentrated in certain areas, making some parts of the hike a thigh-burner and a heart-pumper.
The trail is easy to follow. Starting at the parking lot, follow the well-defined trail to where the trail begins to climb the slick rock. From here, the path widens and is less defined. It is still easy to follow, as years of visitors have worn discoloration into the slick rock. Follow this line, along with the cairns, to continue on the path. This is also the part where most of the incline comes into play.
As you approach the arch, the trail narrows along a cliff. This can be a little nerve-racking for those with a fear of heights. It does not last long and there is more room than first appears.
Most (almost all) of the hike is in direct sunlight, on an open rock face. It will feel very much like a desert hike so bring plenty of water. I have seen all ages conquer this route. The key to success: plenty of snacks and even more water. Three miles sounds short but it is so hot and steep that hikers can get worn out quickly if they are not prepared. And of course, it always helps to be in shape ahead of time.
The hike ends at the iconic Delicate Arch. You, me, and everyone want that cliche picture with the arch so be prepared for a wait. Going in the off-season or early morning can help you beat the line. If it is busy everyone works together to keep the line moving and make sure you get that landscape all to yourself. Though there are hundreds of people watching, it is possible to get a single person or family in the shot. Or, you can do like we did: hike around to the back side of the arch and you’ll have the whole place to yourself!
We are usually all hungry by the time we get done with this hike. A picnic lunch works wonders to keep everyone in the exploring mood. We stop at the picnic area located just before the loop that takes visitors to Devil’s Garden Trailhead. If you are lucky you can even catch some shade at this spot, as some of the tables are under trees. We also choose this spot because it is the most convenient one on our way to the next hike.
Second Stop, Landscape Arch
Landscape Arch is an easy 1.6 mile trail located at the start of the Devil’s Garden trails. The path is relatively even and there is no elevation gain. It is also a beautiful trail, lined with gorgeous desert flora the entire way. This is a wide, maintained trail that is effortless to follow.
The trail used to continue until hikers were directly under the arch. This part of the trail is now closed due to recent rock falls and the unstable nature of the arch. The viewpoint that the trail now ends it is still incredibly stunning. There is a large tree at the viewpoint, perfect for relaxing and taking in the expanse of the arch.
There are two more trails that branch off from this point if your group wants to continue hiking. Both of them end up at Double O Arch. The first is Double O Arch Trail, which is a continuation of Landscape Arch Trail. This will make the hike a total of 4.5 miles. After Landscape Arch, the trail gets more aggressive, climbing over rocky slabs and navigating narrow ledges. The second is Primitive Trail which is 7.2 miles total and very challenging. I have not yet completed either of these continuations but hope to one day.
Finally, with two good hikes under our belt, we finish the day at Double Arch. We keep this for last because it is only .5 mile from the parking lot. Those who are tired can relax and take pictures. Those who are still full of energy can climb all over the playground that makes up Double Arch.
1. Bring plenty of water for any and all hikes in Arches National Park. National parks are often easily accessible and make us feel safe. These are good things. However, it can cause us to forget the dangers of desert hiking. Heat sicknesses can develop quickly and seemingly suddenly. Keep your party well-hydrated and well-nourished.
2. Holiday weekends are incredibly busy at Arches National Parks. It is impossible to escape the crowds if you stick to the main road and attractions. When planning your trip, try to steer clear of holidays.