Arches National Park is one of the highlights of touring Utah’s The Mighty 5®. On our guided van trip out of Salt Lake City with Southwest Adventure Tours, we explored five breathtaking national parks: Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion.

Our first day we explored the vast vistas of Canyonlands National Park. We eagerly anticipated seeing Arches National Park, especially the iconic Delicate Arch depicted on Utah’s license plates and on the side of our touring van.

Arches National Park

There was so much to see in Arches we were glad we were touring with a guide and van. Photo: Elizabeth R Rose

About Arches National Park

We put on our hiking boots and headed out early for Arches National Park, just outside our home base of Moab. Arches National Park is known for the 2,000 plus arches found within its borders—the highest density of natural arches in the world.

Arches sits on an underground salt bed, deposited across the Colorado Plateau 300 million years ago when the area was actually a sea. Rock eventually formed over the soft salt bed. Shifting rock on the salt bed, erosion from winds and water, and underground faults created the geological masterpieces known as arches, windows and fins.

Arches National Park

You can learn more about the history and geology of the area at the Visitors Center. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

We encountered evidence of the upheaval and petrified sand dunes. We also learned that the landscape continues to shift, change and erode. In fact, a huge rock slab fell from the underside of Landscape Arch back in 1991 and Wall Arch fell in 2008.

Hiking to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park

We drove through Arches National Park marveling at the sights… balanced rock, the distant sandstone windows and the tall formation known as the Three Gossips. Our goal was to hike to Delicate Arch before the crowds arrived. It is a well known arch, so the parking lot can fill up by mid-morning. Our guide told us that the Olympic Torch passed through the arch on its way to Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

I was intrigued by the green layer in the nearby layered sandstone beautifully contrasting with the red rock layers. Our guide told us it was Glaconite, a greenish gray iron-rich clay mineral associated with ocean sedimentation.

Arches National Park

I was fascinated by the color of this greenish gray layer. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Even though the park has created wide, compacted trails for the beginning ascent, it’s not an easy hike to the arch—a total of about three miles round trip. After hiking up the rolling dirt trail, hikers hit the long sandstone hill also known as slickrock. At that point cairns—stacks of rocks—mark the trail to the arch on a steady incline.

Arches National Park

The hike to Delicate Arch includes some slippery moments on the slickrock. Photo by Thomas Lynch

It was at that point, as we were admiring the surprising appearance of pink quartz boulders, that I opted to walk back and forgo seeing the arch up close. Despite having my hiking boots on, plenty of water and a collapsible hiking stick, the 5,000 ft. altitude was taking its toll. I wasn’t excited about the slickrock, either.

Arches National Park

Beautiful pink quartz boulders on the trail to Delicate Arch. Photo: Elizabeth R Rose

Some of our hardier travel companions continued on and had great photos to show for it, along with a real sense of accomplishment.

Arches National Park

The wow moment of the hike for those who adventured on… Delicate Arch. Photo by Thomas Lynch

I meandered back down the trail, enjoying the vistas, the smell of the desert that comes only after a spring rain, and visited easily accessible points of interest.

Arches National Park

This wash was filled with water and the desert was green after the rain. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

From the trailhead, you can walk to the remains of the John Wesley Wolfe Ranch, which was abandoned in the early 20th century. There were two log structures—one partially underground while the other reportedly more suited to Mrs. Wolfe who didn’t like the small cabin’s dirt floor.

Arches National Park

The cabin at the Wolfe homestead. I wondered where they got their logs and, more importantly, how they dealt with the isolation. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Just past that homestead, cross Salt Wash on a bridge and, to the left, there’s a Ute petroglyph panel. It was easy to see the depiction of horned sheep and a rider.

Arches National Park

Puebloan, Fremont and Ute peoples hunted in this area. Petroglyphs remain telling the story. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Discovering the Wonders of Arches National Park

We wound our way further into the park as our driver pointed out the formations and popular areas … Park Avenue, Windows Section, Balanced Rock, Courthouse Wash, the Petrified Sand Dunes, Fiery Furnace, Double O Arch and others. There were several photography stops and surprises at every turn.

Arches National Park

In the Devils Garden area we stopped in an area where several arches and windows could be visited from the parking area. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Fortunately, our guide/driver Dennis knew that lines could form getting into Arches and knew what time to be there. Currently, the roads through Arches close Sunday through Thursday nights at 7 p.m. and reopen the following day at 7 a.m. Crews are working on the entire road system through November 2017. Check the Arches National Park website for current road conditions before you visit.

We went into the park twice… once, early in the morning and again after lunch. It worked out well.

Best of Our Adventure in Arches National Park

One of our travel companions raved about an area called Park Avenue. I was happy to hear that our next hike was one way through the canyon—possible if you had a driver/guide as we did. It was one of the most beautiful one-mile hikes I have ever taken. Since our driver let us off at the highest point of the hike, we walked down into the canyon for the entire hike, making it very easy.

Arches National Park

My wow moment was looking out over the depth of the Park Avenue Trail and formations. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

All around us were sheer rock walls, interesting rippled sandstone, gnarled trees and the first of the spring wildflowers. This fairly easy hike was my wow moment of the day and one I’d recommend it for anyone visiting Arches.

Arches National Park

This bright paintbrush was evidence that spring had arrived in Arches. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

As I walked, I got a sense of how this area got the name of Park Avenue. If you’ve walked the streets of New York City, you feel the immensity of the buildings on both sides of the avenue just as we were felt the immensity of the cliffs around us.

Arches National Park

While the towering cliffs were stunning, sometimes little things like this yellow wildflower tucked into the interesting rocks caught my attention. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

We took our time because there was so much to see. At the end, as we came out of the canyon, we saw the well-known rock formation, The Three Gossips. Our van was waiting at the end of the trail and we were off to discover more of the beauty and intrigue of Arches National Park.

Arches National Park

The Three Gossips rock formation. I wonder what or who they were discussing? Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Moab Dining and Shopping

After a wonderful morning of touring and hiking it was back to Moab and a hearty lunch at the Moab Brewery, the only microbrewery in town. It’s a fun place with bicycles hanging from the ceiling and a cool gear store. I opted for the special of the day, a chicken cordon bleu sandwich. By the way, their fries are excellent!

Arches National Park

The Chicken Cordon Bleu sandwich and fries was an excellent reward after a morning outdoors. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

After that, our driver dropped us off at the intriguing Moab Rock Shop where some of us were looking for gifts to take home. They had rocks and minerals from all over the world, mining memorabilia and local Utah rocks and fossils. Yes, Moab had galleries and gift shops, but I was on the hunt for some interesting rocks to take home. I had been inspired by the local geology.

Arches National Park

Families were loving this place. There was petrified dinosaur bone, semi-precious stones, local rocks and minerals and more. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

After going through the shop, I decided on a beautiful grey-blue geode from nearby Moki Dugway, a cool and fairly scary road full of switchbacks. I discovered Moki Dugway near Medicine Hat on a previous trip with a friend who had a reliable Jeep.

Arches National Park

The only thing better than finding this beautiful geode at the rock shop would be to find it yourself in the desert. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

And, after all that hiking and shopping, in the evening we walked from our hotel to Fiesta Mexicana. It was an ideal spot for a refreshing Margarita and delicious Mexican-American dinner. Did you catch our earlier adventures at Fiesta Mexicana during our visit to Canyonlands National Park?

Arches National Park

After a day outdoors, the Margaritas at Fiesta Mexicana hit the spot. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

About Southwest Adventure Tours

Southwest Adventure Tours is a Utah based business providing individuals and groups with scenic, photography, and adventure tours throughout the Southwestern US. Their specialty is small group experiences… usually between 14 and 25 passengers. They offer a wide range of multi-day tours and day tours from Las Vegas, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and other local areas adjacent to the National Parks. Our group numbered six and we enjoyed the comfort of a new Mercedes touring van with driver/guide. Our guide took care of all the details and made sure that everyone, no matter what their physical ability, had an enjoyable adventure along the way.

Next…

The next day we headed to Capitol Reef National Park.

Click here to read about all of The Mighty 5® National Parks in Utah.

Arches National Park


Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with tour, accommodations and meals for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

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Utah's Mighty 5 National Parks: Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. Check out the beauty of Arches National Park.