Arches National Park is one of the most majestic places in the United States. In fact, we consider the park a must visit for those that want to experience the American Southwest and the vast red rock desert landscape in all its glory. A visit here will treat you to over 2,000 naturally carved sandstone arch formations made from years and years of erosion. To help you explore this beautiful destination, we’ve curated a listing of some of the best hikes that Arches National Park has to offer, ranging in difficulty to accommodate beginner to advanced hikers.
Due to its stellar beauty and infinite recreational opportunities, it is no wonder why Arches National Park is a popular destination for travelers from all over the world. Of course, Arches National Park’s popularity also means that many of the best hikes also happen to be extremely crowded. But don’t let the crowds dissuade you because there is more than enough desert landscape for everyone to enjoy. Just plan to get an early morning start to avoid the trail traffic. Another option is to consider visiting here during the shoulder or off-seasons when the park is less busy. Still, no matter when you visit you’re sure to have an amazing time hiking the trails of Arches National Park.
Below are some of our favorite hikes that we hope you’ll enjoy as well. If you plan to also visit Canyonlands National Park during your travels, don’t forget to check out our article “Best Hikes in Canyonlands National Park.” Happy hiking!
Best Hikes Series: Arches National Park
Delicate Arch is perhaps the most iconic arch in all of Utah. In fact, you may have already seen its likeness before — it’s prominently featured on Utah license plates. Without a doubt, Delicate Arch is a true gem and no trip to Arches National Park is complete without a firsthand glimpse of this amazing rock formation. We consider this hike a bucket list hike and ranks up there among our most memorable, simply because of its stunning beauty.
That said, this trail is extraordinarily popular. It’s so popular that you may have a hard time finding a parking spot depending upon when you arrive at the trailhead. If the trailhead parking is full, you could park a bit further away in overflow parking. However, parking in the overflow lot will extend the length of your hike a fair amount. So, the theme with any hike in Arches National Park is to get there early and plan to enjoy the day. Maybe pack a lunch and spend some quality time enjoying the Delicate Arch landscape. You sure can’t beat the scenery.
Balanced Rock is arguably the second most iconic image in Arches National Park, following Delicate Arch. Although this isn’t really as much of a hike as it is a short walk, we think Balanced Rock should be on everyone’s list as a must-do. Technically, you can see everything from the comfort of your own vehicle if you want to. But we wouldn’t recommend this, since it’s not as fun. Rather, we suggest that you find a parking spot and experience an up-close view of this precariously balanced boulder.
Similar to many of the other hikes listed in this article, parking at the Balanced Rock trailhead may be limited. Therefore, we recommend that you plan an early arrival to avoid traffic and parking congestion. The great thing is that Balanced Rock is not too far of a drive from the park entrance, so you can plan a quick visit here and then explore other parts of the park.
Devils Garden is a fantastic hike because it’s fairly moderate in length and you pack in a number of unique arches along the way. Indeed, some of the most popular arches that you’ll see along the loop hike include Landscape Arch and Double O Arch. But you have the option of taking a few side trails to see Partition Arch, Navajo Arch, Pine Tree Arch, and Tunnel Arch. Although the main trail towards Landscape Arch is considered easy, it becomes progressively more difficult along the way to Double O Arch. Furthermore, as you continue to hike, the trail becomes primitive and difficult heading back towards the parking lot.
As with other hikes in Arches National Park, this hike will be busy. However, the further you hike in, the less crowded it becomes. That’s the beauty of the longer hikes in Arches National Park, since many visitors only take quick jaunts along the trail and head back to their vehicles. So, don’t omit this hike because of its length, or you will miss out on some truly splendid arches.
The Fiery Furnace hike is very popular and requires an individual permit or participation in a park ranger-led guided hike. Permits are required because the Fiery Furnace, although short in length, can be fairly disorienting to novice hikers due to its maze-like nature. The terrain is mixed and sometimes difficult with sand, narrow slots, and gaps; but, it is extremely fun!
So, you should stop by the visitor center before you head into the park for the day and see if any individual permits or spots in the guided group hikes are available. Permits and guided hike spots are limited and popular, thus they are not always guaranteed to be available — particularly during peak season. Still, you should try your luck and see what’s available. Plan to arrive at the visitor center when it opens at 8am so you can improve your chances of securing a permit or spot in a guided hike.
We strongly encourage the guided hike for novices and experienced hikers alike because of the valuable interpretive information the park rangers share with the group. Furthermore, the rangers are extremely knowledgeable about the geologic history of the area, if you are interested in learning more information on how Arches National Park became what it is today.
Recommended Hiking Apparel and Gear
All of the referenced hikes in this article are recommended as day hikes because of their shorter length. Although these hikes are fairly popular, remember that you will still be in a remote part of the country. Therefore, you should always be prepared and carry the appropriate type and amount of gear, clothing, food, water, and other essentials. For certain, make sure that your packing list includes the Ten Essentials.
We typically do a lot of rock scrambling when we’re in Utah. Thus, it pays to have footwear that is up to the task. Approach shoes are particularly useful because they have excellent grip, but are not as heavy as hiking boots. If you are in to rock climbing, approach shoes are excellent options to hike to the crags. Even if you don’t intend to climb, approach shoes simply make a great option for all around red rock scrambling and light hiking.
We are huge fans of La Sportiva’s footwear line, especially their rock climbing shoes. La Sportiva’s Boulder X approach shoes are a great selection because of their versatility and overall high quality construction. We’ve had multiple pairs of the La Sportiva Boulder X’s over the years, mainly for hiking into rock climbing crags, and will keep using these for a long time. If you’re looking for a lighter weight option, consider La Sportiva’s TX Guide, which is built more like a running shoe.
Utah gets hot in the summer, so you’ll likely be opting for shorts if the weather calls for them. As with all hiking clothing, avoid cotton materials because they absorb sweat and soak in moisture. Instead, opt for hiking shorts designed with technical fabrics for their quick drying properties. Look for lightweight designs that can also hold up to regular abrasions and scraping on rocks and brush. And, always remember to wear sunscreen to protect from the sun’s rays.
prAna’s variety of hiking shorts are great because they are quick-drying and typically have a UPF 50+ sun protection rating. Try the Zion Shorts or Brion Shorts for men, or the Olivia Shorts for women.
The sun is very strong in Utah, so wear clothes that protect your skin but keep you cool. For extra sun protection, we like to wear an ultralight, UPF-rated long-sleeve shirt with a hood. Many outdoor clothing gear companies make such shirts (e.g., Patagonia, Outdoor Research, North Face, etc.). Look for extremely lightweight construction made of technical, non-cotton fabrics.
Our go-to hiking shirt in the summer is Outdoor Research’s Echo Hoody because of its UPF sun protection qualities and lightweight (4oz.) breathable construction. The shirt has a hood for added neck protection and has thumbholes to protect your hands from sun exposure, if you are not wearing sun gloves. Outdoor Research also makes different varieties of the Echo shirt (e.g., quarter zip, long sleeve without hood, t-shirt, etc.).
Opt for a day pack that is light, versatile, and carries enough volume for your day hiking needs. For instance, on many of our Utah day hiking adventures, we select a pack with about 20L-25L, which is enough for us to carry adequate water, a packed lunch, and other essentials.
For our day hiking needs in Utah, we like the Osprey Talon 22L (men’s) or Osprey Tempest 20L (women’s) because they are both high quality, lightweight day packs with ample carrying capacity. These two packs are some of Osprey’s best sellers, and for good reason. They are well-made, versatile packs that will last a long time and can be used as much for travel and city use as for hiking purposes.
The Talon and Tempest come in a variety of sizes: 11L, 22L, 33L, and 44L for the Talon and 9L, 20L, 30L, and 40L for the Tempest. But again, opt for a smaller pack for day hiking.
We’ve become accustomed to using trekking poles for most of our hikes. Although trekking poles are optional and a matter of preference, they come in handy on hikes where you gain/lose significant elevation. We recommend considering using trekking poles for added stability. Opt for the lightest weight poles your budget can afford.
We regularly use the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z trekking poles because of their super lightweight construction and overall packability. These poles are some of the lightest on the market and perform admirably. Click here for a more detailed review of the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z. But, check out Black Diamond’s full Distance trekking pole line-up for a variety of options.
The Moab area, and Arches National Park in particular, has quite a few hiking guide books out there. And many of them are not very good. Honestly, if you’re planning on visiting more than just the Moab area, it’s likely a better investment to purchase a book that covers a wider breadth of Utah rather than just Arches National Park. So, depending upon your travel plans, we included some of our favorite guide books that are specific to Arches National Park, while others detail hikes within and beyond the park.
Furthermore, we included some of our favorite non-fiction books that feature Arches National Park. Our top-pick is Desert Solitaire, written by Edward Abbey, because it paints an excellent picture of beauty of the Utah desert. This would be an excellent choice to read prior to your travels!
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