Arches National Park may just be the most iconic place in Utah. Delicate Arch particularly gets a lot of limelight and is even featured on the state’s license plates. It’s just one of the astounding formations in this surreal park that has the highest concentration of arches in the world.
I’ve seen a bunch of 1-day itineraries for Arches. While it’s a small park compared to some of the giants like Glacier or Yellowstone we think that you need at least 2-3 days to truly experience it. Sure, you could buzz through the park, stop at a few formations, and snap a couple pics to say, “I’ve seen that.” But can you really say, “I’ve done that”? And why do it all, if you’re not taking the time to get to know a place?
We’ve put together a 2-day itinerary for the park but also included some bonus activities for a third day if you have more time. This itinerary is hiking focused because we feel that’s the best way to truly delve deep into a place and let it seep into you. If you spend 3-4 days here, you could easily hike every trail in the park.
Where to stay
The Park: There’s one campground in the park. It was closed because of construction when we visited and tends to fill quickly so this itinerary is based on staying outside the park. If you happen to score a spot in the park this itinerary still works great and you’ll save drive time.
BLM Campgrounds: There’s a ton of BLM land in the area so it’s easy to find free camping as long as you arrive early in the day. Note that quite a few of the BLM campgrounds have fees so check them out ahead of time and know what to expect. Here’s a link to the free camping site we use and the other fee-based BLM campgrounds.
Hotels and Commercial Campgrounds: The Moab Tourism website is a good resource for finding all lodging types.
Where to eat
This itinerary assumes you’ll pack your lunches and eat on the trail each day, but evenings are free for exploring another one of our favorite things—food. Moab has a ton to offer in the way of food adventure. Quaint cafes and restaurants, a brewery, and even a food cart or two. Here are the places we tried and recommend, but there are many many more options to choose from.
Moab brewery: So yummy that we ate here twice during our stay. They have a gelato counter and offer full-strength carry-out brews—a rare find in Utah.
Zax Pizza: Awesome lunch special with all-you-can-eat pizza and salad bar. The salad bar is served out of a wooden canoe which is just fun.
La Hacienda: Flavorful and comforting Mexican food with big portions.
2-Day Itinerary for Arches National Park
Since Arches isn’t huge, you can drive the entire main road in under an hour if traffic’s light. The park gets over a million visitors a year though so there are a lot of people crammed into the small space. We saw lines at the entrance station that rivaled a Star Wars movie release. Also, it’s common for parking lots at the most popular trailheads and sites to fill by mid-morning, so it’s best to get an early start. Here’s a map of the park to help orient yourself and visualize the itinerary routes. We’ve included the approximate hike distances for each destination and the park’s difficulty rating, as well as a few add-on options.
Visitor center: Start your day by stopping at the visitor center just past the entrance. Not only can you get info from the rangers, but there are interesting exhibits about the park geology. Then follow the main road up the steep hill and into the heart of the park.
Add-on option – Delicate Arch Viewpoints: Drive to the Delicate Arch viewpoints at the end of a well-marked side road and hike to the upper and/or lower viewpoint. We really enjoyed seeing Delicate Arch from a distance first, then doing the hike right up to it. You’ll be amazed by how small it looks from afar and how grand it is up close.
Roundtrip hike distance / difficulty level: .5-1 miles / easy
late morning – afternoon
Delicate Arch: Drive to Wolfe Ranch which is also the trailhead for this hike. If you stopped at the viewpoint, Wolfe Ranch will be on your way back out towards the main road. Check out our action-packed hike to find out what not to do on your way to Delicate Arch.
Roundtrip hike distance / difficulty level: 3 miles / difficult
Sand Dune Arch: Get back on the main road and continue further into the park to find the short hike to this arch.
Roundtrip hike distance / difficulty level: .3 miles / easy
Skyline Arch: A little further up the road is the turnout for this trek.
Roundtrip hike distance / difficulty level: .4 miles / easy
Add-on option – Tapestry and Broken Arch: If you’re up for more hiking and want to visit two additional arches, you can hike this loop trail. It’s accessed from either the campground or the Sand Dune Arch trail.
Roundtrip hike distance / difficulty level: 2 miles for the loop from the campground / easy-moderate
Balanced Rock: Make your way back toward the park entrance and stop at Balanced Rock on the way.
Roundtrip hike distance / difficulty level: .3 miles / easy
Viewpoints: Continue on the main road towards the park entrance and stop at any viewpoints along the way that strike your fancy. Options are: Petrified Dunes, Courthouse Towers, La Sal Mountain, and Park Avenue.
Sunrise at the Windows Section: Get-up early for sunrise at the North/South Windows and Turret Arch. You’ll find this area from a side road just past Balanced Rock. Trust us, you won’t be disappointed that you set your alarm. Make sure to walk around the back of the Windows to see them lit up in golden warmth.
Roundtrip hike distance / difficulty level: 1 mile / easy
Double Arch: Stay parked where you are and walk across the parking lot to the short Double Arch trail.
Roundtrip hike distance / difficulty level: .5 miles / easy
Add-on option-Garden of Eden: On your way back to the main road stop here to see some unique formations and what rock climbers’ dreams are made of.
Viewpoints and Overlooks: Get back on the main road heading further into the park and stop at some or all of the viewpoints and overlooks along the way. Options are: Panorama Point, Salt Valley overlook, and Fiery Furnace viewpoint.
Devils Garden Trailhead: Drive to the end of the main road and get ready for arch overload. You can see 7 different arches along the trails in this area. There are many options here for distance and difficulty with the Primitive Trail making a loop right through the Devils Garden. Apparently, we were having a motivated day because we did the full shebang. Be warned: some of the steep rocks and ledges are a bit sketchy, and if it’s recently rained you may even get to take a little dip in a water hole like we did. It’s a great way to banish that foot funk😉
We definitely recommend the full trail if you’re up to the challenge. Double O Arch is a perfect place for lunch with lots of rock to sit on. Just make sure not to step on the crypto! This stuff literally holds the desert together and stepping on it can undo hundreds of years of growth. Okay, PSA of the post done.
Roundtrip hike distance / difficulty level: 1.6 miles to Landscape Arch / easy, 4.2 miles to Double O Arch / difficult, 7.2 miles for the Primitive Trail and all spur trails / difficult
Drive out of the park and replace all those calories you burned today with a delicious dinner in Moab. You earned it!
Extra Time? Add-on Day 3
Maybe you’re a super hiker and have time for one more hike? Well, add-on the 2-mile roundtrip Park Avenue trail and see some amazing monoliths.
If you have an extra day you could drive the unpaved road through Salt Valley and hike to Tower Arch and the Marching Men. Or you can get a ranger guided (or park permitted) hike through the Fiery Furnace area. Just make sure to book this in advance.
If you have a four-wheel drive vehicle, take some of the lesser traveled dirt roads in the park. You’ll avoid the crowds and be able to explore remote desert landscapes that most visitors don’t get to see.
If you happen to visit on a Friday in the summer, check-out the Moab Farmers Market at Swanny City Park. We also advise spending some time in downtown Moab. There are loads of activities and places to keep you entertained—eateries, shops, live music, author readings, festivals, and more. We have a post coming out later this month all about the endless adventure opportunities in the bustling little city of Moab.
Have you been to Arches? What’s your favorite place in the park?