Arches National Park, located in eastern Utah, is iconic for its, well, epic natural stone arches, set in the heart of the Colorado Plateau. As the perfect escape for outdoor enthusiasts and photographers alike, Arches is a wonderful addition to any trip to Utah. If you have one day in Arches National Park, here’s exactly what you should do in the park, in addition to where to stay in Moab, what to pack, and the best insider tips.
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Table of Contents
- How to get to Arches National Park
- When is the best time to visit Arches National Park?
- What to pack for Arches National Park
- Hotels near Arches National Park
- Camping near Arches National Park
- How to get around Arches National Park
- Is one day in Arches National Park enough?
- How to see Arches National Park in one day
- Other things to do near Arches National Park
How to get to Arches National Park
Unless you live within driving distance to Moab, you will likely need to fly in- the two closest airports are Grand Junction, Colorado (a one hour and 35 minute drive) and Salt Lake City, Utah (a 3 hour and 40 minute drive).
To get the best deals on airfare (especially to off-the-beaten-path airports like Grand Junction), I swear by using Skyscanner– you can set flight alerts, compare airfares, and other money-saving hacks. You will also need to rent a car to get to and around the park (unlike some popular national parks, like Zion, Arches does not have a shuttle system)- I recommend booking cars as far in advance as possible to snag the best deals.
Arches is also a popular stop along road trips, including those who are stopping by the Mighty 5 National Parks in Utah (including Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, and Canyonlands). Driving through Utah’s landscape is absolutely epic- if you’re considering extending your trip from Moab through other parts of Utah (you totally should!), check out my guide to planning a Utah National Parks road trip.
When is the best time to visit Arches National Park?
The best time to go to Arches is April through May and September through October, when temperatures during the day are between 60 to 80 degrees.
Summertime can be swelteringly hot in the park- my husband, Justin, and I visited towards the end of September and it was STILL over 100 degrees during part of the afternoon! The most popular time to visit the park is from March through October (hot af weather notwithstanding).
If you’re looking for a quieter time to have those arches all to yourself, winter in Utah can be a spectacular time to visit. While the temperature can be pretty frosty during this period (highs in the 40s and lows in the 20s), the park can, at times, get a light dusting of snow that makes the park look even more magical.
What to pack for Arches National Park
I assume you have the toothbrush and socks portion of your packing list figured out, but what about the odds and ends that you should bring along that will make your trip to Arches that much better?
- Sun protection: Y’all, that Utah sun can get REAL in Arches. I honestly usually think hiking hats look a bit doofy, but this is one of those instances where the doofiness may be worth it. Consider grabbing a hat like this one (or this one for the fellas- you can totally look like Indiana Jones!), as well as packing sunscreen and sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection.
- Hiking shoes: Most of the terrain you’ll be hiking on at Arches will not be particularly challenging or rocky- the trails are usually made of sand or solid rock. As such, you could probably get away with wearing hiking sandals- I’ve been eyeing a pair of Tevas, which are seemingly beloved by all hippies and vanlifers (women’s or men’s) or alternatively, Chaco’s (women’s or men’s). If you’ll be visiting in the wintertime, some of the hikes, especially on rocky surfaces like Delicate Arch, can get quite icy, so I’d recommend bringing proper hiking boots (I’ve used these Merrell’s for years and men’s equivalent can be found here).
- Reusable water bottle: Did I mention it can get pretty steamy in Arches, especially in the summertime? There’s something about Moab’s desert climate that seemingly just sucks all moisture right out of your body. Be sure to stay hydrated and be a friend to our planet by bringing along a big reusable water bottle. Justin and I also keep a refillable jug of water in our car so that we can refill our individual bottles between hikes. After spending way too much money and creating way too much waste with disposable water bottles, these two purchases have been gamechangers.
- A cooler: There are no dining establishments in the park. As such, when you’re feeling hangry, you can choose to drive into Moab, which, depending on where you are in the park and how bad traffic is (seriously, the traffic getting in and out of Arches can be a NIGHTMARE), can take anywhere from 10 minutes to up to two hours. So with only 24 hours in Arches, if you’re road tripping to the park like we did, I’d highly recommend packing a cooler (we have one like this and use it all the time for road trips!) to keep in your car with some breakfast and lunch to cut down on costs and wasted time.
- Stargazing gear: All of the parks we visited in Utah had amazing stargazing opportunities, but Arches perhaps had the most dramatic. During our visit, the Milky Way appeared right over the iconic Delicate Arch (it’s so famous, it’s on Utah’s license plate)- how can you compete with that?! So if you, too, want a mindblowing stargazing experience, I’d recommend bringing:
- A headlamp: To be able to get to and back from your stargazing spot safely, I’d recommend bringing along a head lamp (fun fact: you do have to hike along a somewhat scary cliff ledge during the Delicate Arch hike)- we have these rechargeable ones, which are awesome since they came in a pack of two and we never have to worry about carrying around extra batteries!
- Photography gear: Obviously, this one is totally optional, but if you’re a photography nerd, you’ll be hard-pressed to find better astrophotography opportunities than in Arches. To capture our night shots in Arches, Justin used a Sony a7III camera, coupled with a Sony 16-35mm Vario-Tessar lens. Since you’ll need to take the photos with long exposure, we couple our Sony with a Peak Design tripod (super light, compact, and flexible- 10/10, would recommend!).
- America the Beautiful Pass: For one car, it costs $30 for a one-week pass into the park. However, if you have plans to stop by a couple of U.S. National Parks within a year span, these fees are waived if you pick up an America the Beautiful Pass, an annual pass that costs just $80 and gets you into more than 2,000 U.S. national parks, forests, shorelines (and on and on).
The proceeds support the National Park Service and if you plan to go to at least three national parks per year (which usually cost around $30-$35 per car per visit), picking up one of these bad boys is a no brainer. You can either pick one up here, at your local REI, or at most staffed entrance stations at U.S. National Parks.
Obviously, if your adventures this year don’t include some National Park visits other than your trip to Arches, purchasing a pass probably doesn’t make a ton of financial sense. But otherwise, it’s seriously one of the best money saving “travel hacks” that I know!
Hotels near Arches National Park
There are no formal accommodations within the park’s borders.
Luckily, though, unlike some more desolate national parks, Arches is conveniently located right near Moab, a super cute town with major hippie vibes (my first dining experience in Moab was at a donations-based, all vegan food truck, where there was a mini-drum circle and the majority of the clientele were barefoot- so, yeah, pretty granola). Plus, there’s lots of awesome things to do in Moab beyond just Arches, from Canyonlands to white water rafting and more under-the-radar hiking trails, like the Corona Arch.
Word of warning, though- those crunchy vibes and plentiful adventures come with some sticker shock- even traditional budget accommodations like Super 8 start around $180 a night (and can definitely get quite a bit higher than that). Most hotel rooms in Moab are well over $250 a night for unremarkable accommodations, so with that context in mind, consider staying at:
- Moab Valley Inn: This hotel is reasonably priced (for Moab, anyway), comes with a continental breakfast, and has a hot tub and pool. With a location right in the heart of Moab (and right across from its only microbrewery, Moab Brewery), this is a great choice for those trying to stay on a budget or for families.
- MainStay Suites Moab: If you don’t mind staying at a chain hotel, this new hotel has friendly and accommodating staff, clean and spacious rooms (including a kitchenette), and located right along Main Street.
- Gonzo Inn: Looking for something a bit more boutique? The Gonzo Inn leans in hard to the Southwestern aesthetic and has the perfect location for all the light sleepers out there (*raises hand*)- close to Moab’s main drag, but far enough away to let even the lightest sleeper rest easy.
- Hyatt Place Moab: If you’re looking for swanky vibes, this new and upscale hotel definitely feels more like a resort than your typical lodging near a national park. With a gorgeous pool with views of Moab’s soaring canyons, free laundry services, and private breakfast nooks for you to partake in your continental breakfast, this is definitely one of the best places in Moab to get your luxe on.
Camping near Arches National Park
If, instead, you’re looking for a budget stay, camping, whether by tent or RV, can be a great option. Within Arches, you have two options to camp. Your first camping option is the Devil’s Garden Campground ($25 per night for an individual site). You can reserve sites here up to 6 months in advance for stays March 1-October 31; the campground is usually full almost every single night, so I highly recommend putting an alarm in your phone to remind you to make reservations the day they open for your desired date (that’s what I do!).
Alternatively, you can backcountry camp in Arches (see here for my packing list for backcountry camping trips). To do so, you’ll need to pick up a $7 permit from the Backcountry Permit Office (note- this is two miles south of Moab, located at 2282 SW Resource Blvd., Moab, UT), up to a week ahead of time. Some unique things about backpacking in Arches:
- Arches has an atypical restriction on digging catholes (i.e., holes that you dig for your poop when you go camping) into the desert floor- I’ve read this is to preserve Moab’s cryptobiotic soil (fun fact: Moab’s dirt is comprised of a delicate balance of soil, bacteria, fungi, and algae). As such, you’ll have to bring a landfill safe commercial toilet system, like Wag Bag, to do your business. Ah, the joys of getting close to nature!
- To reduce the impact of backcountry camping on Arches’ delicate environment, camping permits are extremely limited… as in, like, four per day (you can see the available campsites here). Honestly, if you’re going during the busy summer season, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll be able to snag a permit if you’re only in the park for a day- but totally worth a shot!
One of the great things about Moab is that there’s a ton of great free campsites nearby on Bureau of Land Management land, like Yellow Circle Road Dispersed Camping and Strike Ravine Dispersed Camping. If you’re an RVer looking for hook-ups, there’s, of course, a decent number of RV parks around (ranging from about $40-$90+ a night), like Canyonlands RV Resort and Campground and Portal RV Resort and Campground.
How to get around Arches National Park
As mentioned above, Arches does not have a shuttle system, so you’ll have to drive your vehicle to get around. Alternatively, you can bike in Arches (with either regular bicycles or e-bikes) on any paved surface- there are several places in Moab to rent bikes, including Poison Spider Bicycle or E-Bike Moab.
Is one day in Arches National Park enough?
There’s over 2,000 arches in the park, so it’s safe to say, with just 24 hours, you’re not going to be able to see it all. That being said, you can definitely see the majority of the highlights of the Arches, especially if you’re willing to have a jam-packed day (Justin and I started at around 6 am and left the park at 11 pm- it was a long, tiring day, but damn it, we saw a LOT of super cool arches!).
How to see Arches National Park in one day
With all those logistics out of the way, let’s get down to the fun part- things to do in Arches National Park with 24 hours!
1. If I could only give you one piece of advice about Arches, it would be to start early! You’ll both beat the crowds (again, Arches is a VERY popular national park, so it gets busy!) and get a head start on that Utah heat. So with your bright and early wake up call, I suggest heading to the Devil’s Garden trail, which is all the way at the end of the park’s main road, Arches Scenic Drive (18 miles from the entrance).
This hike is kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure- you can elect to hike up to 7.9 miles to see each of the seven different arches along the trail (going counterclockwise starting at the trailhead, there’s Landscape, Partition, Navajo, Double O, Private, Pine Tree, and Tunnel Arches) or, if you’re looking for something a little more chill, you could hike just 1.9 miles to the Landscape Arch, believed to be the longest natural stone archway in the world! Depending on which arches you decide to hike to, this can be an out-and-back trail or, if you want to hit all of them, a loop (to see an interactive map of the trail, check the National Park Service’s website).
If you decide to hike the full loop (which I’d totally recommend!), note that the eastern portion of the loop is called the Primitive Trail, a hike which includes scrambling up steep rock faces and skirting across sandstone fins with significant drop-offs- a total blast for some hikers and a nightmare for others.
As the name suggests, this path is not well-maintained and can be tricky to follow, requiring you to look out for rock cairns (little piles of rocks created by other hikers) to navigate. As such, I’d recommend downloading an offline map of Arches National Park on Google Maps before you head into the park (cell service can be quite spotty) and using GPS to help you get back to the trail if you get turned around (other options to help you navigate include signing up for an AllTrails Pro membership and downloading a trail map ahead of time or, if you frequently hike in remote places, it may be worth investing in a gadget with a GPS tracking system, like a Garmin Fenix watch).
Although a trail that requires GPS tracking may sound intimidating, it is 10 out of 10 worth it- the arches closest to the trailhead tend to be packed, but the further back you go, the crowds get thinner and thinner, while the landscape gets more spectacular.
Some tips for Devil’s Garden:
- If you’re looking to cut out some mileage on this trail, I’d recommend skipping Dark Angel, which is a generally unremarkable sandstone pillar sticking out of the earth. Dark Angel is accessible from an optional out-and-back spur trail, starting right after the Double O Arch, on the western half of the trail loop. Skipping Dark Angel will save you 0.8 miles of hiking- after reading countless apathetic reports from others, we cut it out of the itinerary and have zero regrets!
- If you’re looking for the most bang for your buck along this hike, consider just hiking to Landscape and Double-O Arches as an out-and-back trail along the western portion of the loop (4.5 miles), which will show you the most impressive arches on the trail (and arguably the park!), as well as some of the best scenery in Moab. If you go this route, there are spur trails you can take to see four other arches along the way (Tunnel, Pine Tree, Partition, and Navajo). While all of these arches are lovely in their own right, I wouldn’t call them showstoppers- so if you’re tight on time or trying to save your feet for hikes later in the afternoon, feel free to skip them.
2. Depending on how much of Devil’s Garden you hiked, it’s probably about lunchtime by the time you finish (hiking the full thing will take between three to four hours). You have two options here:
- Pack a lunch? Why don’t you avoid the hottest part of the day and nom down in your car (A/C blasting) all while going on a picturesque ride along Arches Scenic Drive? Since Devil’s Garden is towards the back of the park, this is the perfect opportunity to slowly make your way towards the front, and bonus- there’s usually significantly less traffic heading in this direction. You’ll drive past some must-see spots that you’ll be seeing up-close later in the day (like Delicate Arch or the Windows District), but I’d recommend stopping at a few other points of interest along the way (I’ve ordered these headed from the north end of the park, to the south):
- Sand Dune Arch: Perhaps one of the most photogenic arches in the park, squeezed between two sandstone fins and accessible via an easy 0.3 mile trail.
- Fiery Furnace Viewpoint: An impressive maze of towering red sandstone fins. Note that there is a 2 mile hike that weaves through the Fiery Furnace, but it can be incredibly easy to get lost in there (and, thus, super dangerous given Moab’s heat) and requires either obtaining a permit or going on a ranger-led hike.
- Balanced Rock: A 3,600 pound boulder, which appears to be balanced precariously on a natural 128 foot pedestal (pssst… this is really a product of erosion and not magical rock balancing skills). You can easily see this epic formation from the parking lot, but if you’d like to take a closer look, there’s a 0.3 mile loop that encircles the structure.
- Park Avenue: One of the first showstopping scenes that you’ll pass by when you first enter the park, consisting of several soaring red monoliths out of the desert floor. While most people stop in the parking lot for some quick photos, you can also opt to do a two-mile hike through these jaw dropping formations.
As you drive along, keep an eye out for bighorn sheep and mule deer, which can often be seen along the road.
- Alternatively, if you want to explore Moab a bit, this is a great time to take a break from the midday heat and go pick up some lunch in this cute and funky town. Some great options are 98 Center, with fun Vietnamese fusion options, like banh mi nachos; Moab Garage Co., a trendy cafe offering unique takes on lunch fare, like a deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich; and Love Muffin Cafe, dishing up sandwiches with fresh and homemade ingredients. Afterwards, you can stop and grab a beer at Moab Brewery or peruse some of the cute shops in town like Moab Made, The T-Shirt Shop, and Back of Beyond Bookstore.
3. Next up- head to the Windows District in the park, one of the largest concentrations of arches in the area. In just an easy 2.1 miles, you’ll be able to see up to seven different arches along the trail, in addition to other spectacular rock formations. Technically, this is two different hikes (the Windows Loop and Double Arch), but both trailheads are located in close proximity to the Windows’ parking lot. Start on the Windows side, where you’ll stroll to the North Window, Turret Arch, and South Window, each beautiful in its own way.
Protip: This hike’s gorgeous scenery is no secret- there’s a good chance it’ll be fairly crowded. If you want to beat the crowds, you can follow signs for the Primitive Trail, right past the South Window- the name will scare most casual visitors away and the trail, which leads around the back of the Windows for a unique perspective, is generally deserted. The path will eventually lead you back into the parking lot, where you’ll head counterclockwise to the start of the Double Arch trail.
Double Arch is one of the most distinctive features in the park, with two arches, closely positioned together, which form a beautiful open amphitheater. It’s such an interesting formation, it was actually used in the opening sequence of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (an absolute trash movie, but I digress). Be sure to get your Indy on and climb up and over the beautiful rock faces!
4. End your day in Arches with a bang at Delicate Arch, arguably the most famous arch in the world. This arch, which previously went by the very awesome names of “Cowboy’s Chaps” and “Old Maid’s Bloomers”, stands 46 feet tall and 32 feet wide, making it the largest freestanding arch in the park.
You have three options to see Old Maid’s Bloomers, er, I mean, Delicate Arch:
- a 50-yard path from the parking lot to the lower viewpoint, which provides a faraway perspective of the arch (it may be handy to bring binoculars),
- a moderately steep 0.7 mile out-and-back trail to the upper viewpoint (the arch is still pretty far away, but this is a great option for families), or
- a moderate to challenging 3.2 mile out-and-back trail to the foot of the arch itself! If you’re able to, I’d highly recommend Option #3- seeing the arch up close provides an absolutely stunning perspective that’s unfortunately not captured at the viewpoints.
Word of warning, though- I cannot stress enough how POPULAR this hike is. If you want one of those iconic pictures under the Arch, expect to wait in line with other hikers- when we went at sunset, I waited around 45 minutes!
Although I was, at first, dismayed by the crowds at Delicate Arch (I just wanted to get close to nature, man), it was actually kind of a fun environment- we saw a couple get engaged under the arch, another couple doing acrobatics… definitely one of the most engaging hiking experiences from a people watching perspective (pun obviously intended)! So I’d recommend bringing along a picnic blanket and a couple of sandwiches and beers and settling in a spot, overlooking the arch, to watch one of the most epic sunsets of your life.
But after the sunset, don’t head back down just yet- I’d highly recommend hanging out by the arch for dusk to fade into night, when the stars will twinkle to life. The night skies here on moonless nights are absolutely incredible- on certain nights, you can see over 2,500 stars and even the rings of Saturn with regular ol’ binoculars! Make sure you bring a headlamp so you can get back down to your car alright once you’re done staring at the heavens- the trail has some serious drop-offs and is pretty steep in areas.
And that’s it! You’ve totally just conquered Arches National Park in one day. Now go get some much needed shut-eye!
Other things to do near Arches National Park
Got some extra time in Moab?
Consider doing the following activities near Arches:
- Visiting Canyonlands National Park– it’s the least visited national park in Utah, but its rugged and remote landscape of expansive canyons is absolutely out-of-this-world.
- Watching sunset from Dead Horse Point in Dead Horse Point State Park– it’s like watching the sunset on Mars!
- Hiking the moderate 2.4 mile out-and-back Corona and Bowtie Arch Trail– Corona Arch is almost as epic as Delicate, but significantly less crowded.
- Getting your adrenaline pumping with a myriad of adventure activities. Want to sky-dive, go four-wheeling, rappel, float in a hot air balloon… (I could go on)? Moab has a ton of different tour operators all offering thrills in the desert landscape.
I hope you have an absolute blast exploring Arches National Park. Do you have any questions about the park? Are there any must-see hikes that I missed? Let me know in the comments below!
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