Visiting Arches National Park
Located in southeastern Utah, near the Colorado border, Arches National Park is a fantasy-land comprised of colorful rock layers that have been eroded into a panorama of mesas, buttes, canyons, monumental arches and majestic stone monoliths.
Sparsely vegetated with scrub and other plants adapted to a generally arid environment, the nudity of the landscape at Arches is more than compensated for by the amazing variety of rock colors and innumerable changes in their apparent hues throughout the day. At times you will swear the rock is gray-brown, while at other hours it appears reddish brown and a surprising orange at sunrise and sunset. It is the sense of constant change that makes each hour, each day and each visit here seem like a totally new experience.
Arches is relatively compact and you can see many of the best arches and stone monuments from the road. Hiking the park’s trails is the only way to see some of the most interesting of the arches and other landforms, but the hikes are relatively easy and always rewarding. Arches is a great park for family exploration.
The geology of the park is comprised of numerous layers of sandstone that sit on an underground salt bed. The weight of the sandstone layers, which were deposited both by wind and water, eventually deformed the salt dome, resulting in faulting of the surface materials. Over long periods of time these crustal movements were responsible for the formation of the numerous arches in the park.
The current theory of arch formation is that erosion of the sandstone by freezing and thawing within faults and along the cracks caused by faulting, created small openings that enlarged over time to form sandstone fins. Some of the fins were further eroded into arches by additional freezing and thawing, as well as the influence of gravity. Regardless of the process, the result is a wonderland of natural sandstone arches in a collection that is unique in all of the world.
Arches is a relatively small park and can be toured in a day by the casual visitor. It is easy to spend two or more days in the park, if you want to explore its many vista and trails. If you are a photographer, Arches National Park will provides scene after scene of unique, colorful and often, unexpected views.
The Park Service offers walks to an area called the Fiery Furnace twice each day. The group size is limited and reservation can only be made at the Visitor Center. Commercial tours of the area are offered by local outfitters, principally in Moab. See the official Park website for details on visiting, hiking, and camping. By the way, the Park averages around the 4,000 feet elevation.
Availability and Admission Fee
The entrance fee to the park is $10 per private vehicle, $5 for pedestrians or cyclists. Admission is for 7 days.
The park is open year round 24 hours a day, while the Visitor Center, which is closed December 25, is open form 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. from April to October and 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from November through March. There are a number of interesting displays at the visitor center as well as a video that is worth seeing.
In-park camping is available at the Devil’s Garden Campground, which is limited in size. See this section of the Arches Website for details on campsites and camping. Stargazing and astronomy are exceptional here due to the lack of neighboring lights, but perhaps not as good as Bryce Canyon National Park.
Best Time To Visit
The park is a cold weather area from November through April and warms up from May through August, with summer temperatures often exceeding 100 F. However, nights are usually cool year round and very cold during the winter. Precipitation is spread evenly throughout the year, with snow in the winter and thunderstorms possible the rest of the year.
The best times of the year to visit Arches are the temperate months of April, May, and mid-September through October (although September and October are the rainiest months at the park, the amount of precipitation is relatively low). During these periods, the temperatures are pleasant, the weather usually clear and the combination makes the park a pleasant place to tour.
Lodging and Nearby Places
The nearest major airport is Salt Lake City, Utah (226 miles).
Arches is located in a remote section of Utah and you will either need to stay in Moab or Green River (40 miles). Moab (6 miles) is the nearest town that offers accommodations, as well as outfitting, river rafting and access to other outdoor adventures. Visit Discover Moab for more information.
Arches National Park is, also, close to Canyonlands National Park, another of the area’s scenic wonders. We do not cover Canyonlands because access is limited to 4-wheel drive vehicles and even then the road to the Park may be impassable. If you are interested in Canyonlands, you might consider taking a tour offered by one of the many outfitters located in Moab,
Because Arches is a small park and may not take a lot of time to tour, you will likely want to combine your visit here with other national parks in Utah or Colorado. Arches is a good park to visit from Mesa Verde, at least if you intend to tour Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, both in Utah. If that is your plan, try to see Arches in the morning (it’s spectacular) and drive to Bryce Canyon later in the day.