Located just north of Moab, Utah – Arches became a national park in 1971, spanning 76,679 acres with more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches. Now that’s a lot of arches!
According to the National Park Service, March through October is the busiest time in Arches National Park, with visitors totaling over 1.6 million.
The question becomes, “How can I see everything there is to see in Arches National Park in just one day when it’s so large?” Well, unless you have a helicopter, I don’t think that is humanly possible. BUT we can narrow down some of the most breathtaking sites to make your day trip unforgettable.
So if you only have one day in Arches National Park, we’ll go over tips on how to enjoy your trip, the best ways to see Delicate Arch and other arches within the park and complete your journey with a picturesque sunset at The Windows.
Tips to Enjoy your Day at Arches National Park
For a successful trip – especially if you are limited on time – it is always best to have a good thought-out plan. The following tips are meant to guide you as you build your more detailed one-day itinerary.
Remember, everyone has different needs and wants – so each journey will be slightly different, and that’s okay!
Start Early in the Morning
Arches National Park is open 24/7, but the crowds start funneling in around 9 am until early afternoon. We noticed that after 3 pm, things seemed to slow down a bit – we were there the first week of March.
Traffic tends to pick back up in the early evening for those eager to catch a spectacular sunset. Keep in mind starting early in the summer is beneficial to beat the heat… just know that you won’t be the only one with that idea.
If you are a short distance from the park, you can always view the Arches entrance station webcam to see how many vehicles are lined up to enter before leaving your location.
Be Prepared with Food and Water
Arches has no restaurants and no place to purchase water other than the visitor’s center. It’s recommended that each person in your group carry at least 1 gallon of water daily.
As for food, you can bring snacks to eat on the go or have a picnic if you are lucky enough to snag a picnic table. If not, pull off at a viewpoint or parking lot to refuel!
Moab, UT is a 15 to 20 minute drive from Arches National Park Visitor Center, so if all else fails, there are plenty of cool spots to grab a bite to eat in town.
Stop at the Visitor Center
Rangers are always on duty to answer any questions you may have on your visit to Arches National Park. They can provide detailed information on trail conditions, suitable trails for your group and drive times to get to certain areas.
If you are traveling with young ones, don’t forget to check out their Junior Ranger Program. Exhibits are available inside and outside to provide you with the history and geology of the park, along with information on what animals and plants to keep an eye out for.
And if you’re anything like me and collect magnets from all your worldly travels, you will definitely want to pick up a souvenir. So double-check the visitor center’s hours of operation, so you don’t miss your chance!
Know the Rules of the Park
How to View Delicate Arch
One of the most famous geologic features in the world, Delicate Arch will not disappoint with its massive opening of 46 feet high and 32 feet wide. Unfortunately, you can’t see it from the park road or even a parking lot. So let’s look at the different ways to view this iconic arch!
Hike to Delicate Arch
We suggest arriving early at the park and heading straight to the trailhead to get a parking spot and avoid the crowds. The parking lot can get full by mid-morning, leaving only the Delicate Arch viewpoint parking lot as the overflow (this adds two more miles to your round trip).
Although the trail is marked as difficult, we believe that is mostly attributed to the elevation gain and the ledges with drop-offs that might give people with a fear of heights a fright!
The ledges aren’t “too” narrow but take your time. During winter months, the ledges can be snow packed and icy since it stays shaded.
The first half mile of the hike is pretty mellow with not too many ups and downs, but the remaining mile before reaching the arch will make you work for the view… it will all be worth it, though! Once you arrive, take it all in.
Typically a line forms if you want your picture under the spectacular arch. As mentioned earlier, if you are looking for fewer crowds, try early morning, just after sunrise.
If you want to watch the sunset, know it gets pretty crowded – but we’ve heard it is amazing. There is no shade during the summer, so midday hikes could be strenuous in the heat and sun. Plan accordingly with proper food, water, clothing and sunscreen.
Delicate Arch Viewpoints
If you don’t want to hike to get up close and personal to Delicate Arch, you can choose from two viewpoints.
- The Lower Viewpoint is quick and accessible, only about a 100 yards walk.
- The Upper Viewpoint gives you a bit more challenge with 200 feet of climbing during your half-mile roundtrip hike.
Both options give you a clear shot of the arch. Just plan on bringing your camera’s zoom lens or binoculars to get a better view, as it’s about .75 miles in the distance.
Short Hikes to See Arches – and a Rock
I know not everyone wants to partake in long, demanding hikes. That’s why I’ve listed a few short distanced hikes/walks that will still allow you to get out into the great outdoors.
Balanced Rock stands 128 feet tall and contrary to popular belief, isn’t balanced at all. Instead, the boulder-shaped rock is attached to its pedestal, but the pedestal is slowly eroding, creating this illusion.
The rock is visible from the park road, but there is also a small parking lot available if you want to take a short hike around the base for a different perspective.
Sand Dune Arch
Although it’s a short distance to the Sand Dune Arch, you will walk in loose, deep sand and a narrow slot canyon. This area is excellent for kids because who doesn’t enjoy playing in a bit of sand? Remember always to leave what you find, that includes sand!
Once you are done exploring Sand Dune Arch and come out of the slot canyon, you can hike an additional 1.3 miles roundtrip to view the Broken Arch. This is an easy trail that travels across open grassland.
Skyline Arch is visible from the main road, but you also have the option to hike in to see it up close. The trail is relatively flat, with only a slightly uneven rocky beginning.
Once you’re standing near the massive wall housing the arch, you will notice a large pile of rocks nearby. In 1940, a large boulder suddenly fell out of the arch, doubling the size of its opening.
Most geologic transformations happen slowly over time, but occasionally you’ll see drastic changes instantly altering the appearance, Skyline Arch being a great example.
The path to travel to see Landscape Arch is part of the Devils Garden trail. Even though the 7.9-mile Devils Garden Trail is rated difficult, the first section leading to Landscape Arch is graded gravel with minimal elevation gains.
You can also check out two more arches (Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch) if you add another half mile to your roundtrip. The parking lot at Devils Garden Trailhead is large but fills up fast, so even though I sound like a broken record, arrive early.
Drive to the Viewpoints in Arches National Park
You can spend over two hours driving the 36-mile scenic road through Arches. Depending on how long you stay at each spot could add or subtract time. If you don’t want to stop at every viewpoint, I recommend at least stopping at the following:
La Sal Mountains Viewpoint
Taking the title of Utah’s second-highest mountain range, you can take in the panoramic view of the La Sal Mountains.
Courthouse Towers Viewpoint
The Courthouse Towers are a group of tall stone columns that reach over 4,000 feet. If you hit this spot and need to shake your legs out, a trail leads to Park Avenue Viewpoint for a close-up of the towers.
Before turning on The Windows Road, you will first see Balanced Rock. From here you will see the Garden of Eden, Double Arch, Turret Arch, and the North and South Windows.
Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint
As mentioned above, the Lower Delicate Arch viewpoint is the most accessible location without having to walk a long distance.
Fiery Furnace Viewpoint
Named because of the warm glow on the rocks from the afternoon sun, Fiery Furnace is actually cool and shaded within its towering walls. Here you will find fins, spires and canyons, and a backdrop of the La Sal Mountains.
Skyline Arch Viewpoint
The Skyline Arch is visible from the main road and will not disappoint!
Watch the Sunset at The Windows
When visiting the Windows, you will see the North and South Windows, along with the Turret Arch. Roughly 1-mile roundtrip, it is a relatively easy walk to view all three. We watched the sunset from the North Window, letting the sun’s rays dance around Turret Arch.
Make sure to bring an extra jacket in the cooler months. Once the sun sets, the temperatures drop very quickly.
Wrapping It Up…
As you can see, you have plenty of options to keep you busy for a day in Arches National Park. Whether you want to view the sites via hiking, driving, or a combination of both is entirely up to you.
Just remember that with whatever you choose, that you are prepared, you do it safely, and you leave no trace!
Check out our Google Web Story – 7 Incredible Things to Do in Arches National Park