Sandstone arches, windows in red-rock cliffs, and towering spires are all part of the draw and why so many people seek to know the best times to visit Arches National Park. With over 2,000 of these features documented, the park has the densest collection of stone arches in the world!
The reason there are so many arches relates to the unique geology of the area. Buried beneath the surface lies a thick band of salt which was squeezed upward by the heavy rocks above. This cracked the layer of Entrada Sandstone into parallel lines. Next, rainwater soaked into the sandstone and froze during winter which further pried apart the rocks into the dramatic terrain we see today.
Located near the town of Moab, in eastern Utah, this 120-square-mile park sees over 1.6 million visitors each year. Due to limited parking, and because there is only one paved road leading in and out, the park can be very crowded at times. In fact, during peak visitation, rangers will often temporarily restrict access until congestion lessens. Thus, if you want to experience Arches National Park adventures for yourself, it’s important to know about the best times to visit.
Best Times to Visit? Early Morning, Evening, and Off-season
From roughly March through October, the park sees peak visitation between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. The park service warns that some trailhead parking lots may be full by just 7:30-8:00 a.m. Often, by mid-morning, around 9 or 10 a.m., a line of cars stretches along the entrance road from the fee station. When the line reaches the entrance sign near US-191, it can take up to an hour to enter the park. Once all parking lots are full, park closures can last as long as three to five hours until crowds subside.
In general, visitors are discouraged from arriving between 9am and 2pm. Thus, during peak season, the earlier you arrive the better. Weekdays are generally a better bet than weekends. And holidays can be particularly busy, including the weeks surrounding Easter and the weekends of Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day.
If you don’t want to go early in the morning (an Arches National Park sunrise is amazing), another option the park service recommends is to arrive during late afternoon or early evening. Aiming to arrive around 4 or 5 p.m. should hopefully see less of a wait at the entrance station. This timing allows you to view the beautiful sunsets that Arches offers, with popular viewing spots including The Windows and Delicate Arch. However, it’s important to know that in the desert, especially during summer, late afternoon and early evening are often the hottest part of the day. For this reason, people going in the late afternoon and early evening should set their expectations accordingly. In general, drinking more water and hiking shorter distances will be necessary.
If you want to avoid the peak season crowds, consider visiting during the off-season from November through February. In general, the weather in Arches National Park during this four-month off-season is quite pleasant and sees fewer total visitors than a single summer month. November and February see average daily high temperatures in the mid-50s, while December and January see daily highs in the mid-40s. For braving the cool to cold weather, winter visitors will avoid entrance lines and full parking lots. In fact, winter visitors may even have lesser-visited parts of the park to themselves.
The Main Park Road: Arches Scenic Drive
A highlight for many visitors to Arches National Park is viewing the stunning scenery while driving the main park road: Arches Scenic Drive. The park road is 18 miles, one way, with two spurs each about 2.5 miles long. To drive the entire 23 miles of road, 46 miles round trip, the park service recommends 4.5 hours, which allows for 10-minute stops at each viewpoint. If you plan to do any hikes, you’ll need to plan accordingly. Particularly popular viewpoints include the Windows Section and the two Delicate Arch viewpoints.
Best Hikes in Arches National Park
Another highlight of visiting the park is hiking to some of the famous arches. There are over a dozen trails in the park, with most options being easy hikes of short distances to spectacular viewpoints.
One of the easiest and most popular trails is The Windows, a 1-mile round-trip hike up a gentle slope to the base of the massive North and South Windows. Starting from the same trailhead, an even shorter option is to hike a half-mile round trip to the base of Double Arch.
The most famous and iconic arch in the park is probably Delicate Arch. Starting from the Wolfe Ranch trailhead, the park service categorizes this 3-mile roundtrip hike as difficult because the trail climbs nearly 500 feet up a steep slickrock slope. It’s important to bring plenty of water, especially given there is limited shade along the route.
Another area that is popular for hiking is Devils Garden. Located at the end of Arches Scenic Drive, this trailhead provides access to a series of trails leading to various arches. Perhaps the best-known feature in this area is Landscape Arch. At 306 feet long, and 11 feet thick in the center, this is one of the world’s longest stone spans. In 1991, a 60-foot-long slab of rock detached from the bottom and plummeted to the ground below—a remarkable moment which was captured by a visitor on video.
If you hike beyond Landscape Arch, the trail becomes difficult as it climbs steeply over rock slabs, involving uneven surfaces and drop-off ledges. The rewards for tackling this route include access to Double O Arch and Dark Angel pinnacle.
Where to Stay and Eat
There’s only one campground inside Arches National Park, Devils Garden Campground, which has 51 sites. Thus, most visitors will need to secure camping in Arches National Park or lodging outside the park.
There are many private and public campgrounds throughout the area, while most hotels and motels are found in the nearby town of Moab. The Moab national parks area has a lot of options. The Travel Council maintains a current listing of area campgrounds and lodgings at www.discovermoab.com.
When it comes to restaurants and supplies, Moab is once again your best bet with tons of options for food and drink.
Other area attractions
Since you’re already there, why not check out some of the other attractions in the Moab national parks area?
These include Canyonlands National Park’s Island in the Sky and Needles Districts, Dead Horse Point State Park, the LaSal Mountains, and more. In addition to hiking, mountain biking is extremely popular in the area, with many famous trails, including Slickrock and the Whole Enchilada.
Another popular area activity is river rafting or canoeing on the Colorado and Green Rivers. Popular class I-II float trips include Ruby-Horsethief Canyons and Meander Canyon on the Colorado River and Labyrinth Canyon and Stillwater Canyon on the Green River. Two thrilling whitewater trips are possible on the Colorado River: Westwater Canyon and Cataract Canyon.
For more information, visit the Discover Moab website or stop by in person at the Moab Information Center at 25 East Center Street.
Hopefully, you find these tips helpful when planning your trip to Arches National Park. There’s plenty more information to share, so if you have a comment or a tip, please leave it below!
Cover photo: Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. NPS/Neal Herbert