I don’t really care what anyone says about Bryce or Zion, Arches National Park is clearly the best National Park in Utah. Although admittedly, our opinion changes quite often. When we decided to plan a trip for Spring Break this year, Moab seemed a natural destination.
Arches is very beautiful with deep red rock, clear blue skies, and many kid friendly hikes. The arches themselves are amazing, and it’s astounding to think of them all in one place. We spent parts of three different days in Arches so that we could see the majority of the park. I’ll give some of the highlights, as well as our tips for visiting, to help you plan your trip.
Between April and October, Arches is requiring reservations to help manage the crowds. Tickets are available 3 months in advance, so if you are planning on visiting in April, reservations become available January 10. If you are visiting in August, reservations would become available May 1. For more information on reservations, visit the Arches National park website. These tickets are free, but require a $2 processing fee.
Windows Section (1-2 hours)
The first evening we stopped at the Windows section of the park. Windows is a very kid friendly area. There are short hikes to 4 very impressive arches. Our almost 2 year-old walked every step of these 2 short hikes.
On the drive from the entrance out to Windows, make sure to stop at Balanced rock. It’s a quick walk around the rock, but it is a unique feature in Arches.
The hike to the North and South Window is short (1 mile loop), and mostly flat– a must do for any visitor, old or young. The first arch you pass is Turret arch, which is tall and narrow. The loop continues on past the north and south windows, which can also be seen from the road. These huge arches are a great introduction to the park.
Across the street from the windows is Double Arch. This is a much shorter walk right up into a unique double arch that looks like medieval architecture. We saw a jack rabbit hop by here, which really excited the kids. Between the short walk around Balanced Rock, the Windows section, and Double Arch, you can spend about 1-2 hours. This is a perfect after-dinner plan, or first thing in the morning because it is the first area you come to in the park.
Delicate Arch (3 hours)
The second section of the park is the most famous: Delicate Arch. The Delicate Arch overlook and hike is seen by hundreds of visitors daily. We always start with the lower viewpoint, which gives a nice view of Delicate Arch. If the trail to Delicate Rock seems too long, or hot, the viewpoint is a great alternative.
Then we take the real hike. It is best to get started early, especially if you are visiting in the heat of the summer. We were on the trail by about 8 am. The hike is fairly short (3 miles roundtrip) but steep and hot. It ascends straight up the slickrock, so watch for trail markers. Our 4 year-old made this hike without complaining, but we took it fairly slowly and carried the baby on our back.
Delicate Arch is spectacular, and the trail has been designed (purposely, I think) so that you walk around the bend and see the arch right in front of you. There is a large bowl, almost like an amphitheater surrounding the arch, and that’s a good thing, since there are often enough people to fill it.
We got lucky, and there wasn’t a soul at the arch, but the chances of that are extremely thin. By the time we left 45 minutes later, there were nearly 100 people. In the summer, there are even people at the arch in the middle of the night. On the way back from Delicate Arch, take the tiny offshoot to the petroglyphs. They are worth it, and barely add any steps to your hike.
Devils Garden (2-3 hours)
The final area to check out is Devil’s Garden. A few short trails and one long trail are very popular. The long trail starts at the end of the Arches National Park road and passes 7 major arches if you go all the way to the end.
Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch
The Devil’s Garden Trailhead begins in the north end of the park. It goes a short way and then a minor trail branches to the right. We really like this branch because it gets you away from the steady stream of people and takes you to 2 nice arches. The first is Tunnel Arch and the second is Pine Tree Arch. Many hikers turn around here and head back to the car, having done a very nice hike.
We pressed on toward Landscape Arch. I think this is the most impressive arch in the park. It is also the longest arch in the world, and it appears to defy gravity. When I was a kid, you could walk right up under Landscape Arch, but in 1991 a huge section fell, and now you view it from a distance. There are 2 other arches near here, and short steep trails take you right up to them. First you pass Partition Arch, and then Navajo Arch. If you do all this, you’ll go around 2.5 miles round trip.
Double O Arch
If you continue on, there is a longer, more strenuous hike to Double O Arch which is beautiful and mostly unvisited. This is as far as we’ve ever been along this trail, and we did it without children. With kids, we feel like turning around after Navajo Arch is wise, particularly if you’re going to stop at a few more arches on the way back.
There is one more arch that we like to hike to in Devils Garden called Tapestry Arch. The trail begins in the campground. You can also hike to this arch from the backside from Broken Arch, which we will talk about next. But it’s an easy out and back when you are in the Devils Garden area.
Roadside Stops (1-2 hours)
These next two areas can be done either on the way out to Devils Garden, or on the way back to the Visitors Center. We like to save Sand Dune Arch for last because our kids love to play in the sand, and then we can let them play as long as they want and not feel rushed. Also, they get very sandy, and then we can head back to the hotel to clean up. But place them in your itinerary with what fits best for your family.
Sand Dune Arch
The walk to Sand Dune Arch is only a few minutes, and the arch isn’t all that impressive, but beach-fine sand is deep and cool all around the arch. There are always a lot of kids (and adults playing here); it’s one of the busiest places in the park. If you have shovels and pails, you can bring them along. If not, the kids will have plenty of fun, anyway.
If you aren’t dragging yet, you can also walk out to Broken Arch. This arch is easily seen as you head to Sand Dune Arch, but it is very impressive to stand underneath because it is huge!
The other stop is at Skyline Arch. You can see the arch from the road, but we like to hike to the base an scramble around the rocks that fell out of the arch several decades back (check the sign). It takes maybe half an hour to make this short hike.
For the more adventurous among you, we have 2 other suggestions for Arches. First, try the Fiery Furnace hike. Kids must be 5 and must have an adult with each until they are twelve (so if your kids are 6, 8, and 10, you must have 3 adults). We did this hike before we had kids, and it is amazing. It is ranger-led (but I think you can do it yourself with a permit) and goes through one of the really cool sections of the park full of fins and steep red canyons. Space is limited, so get an early reservation and make sure you have good hiking shoes.
The second adventurous route you might take is to Tower Arch. A two-wheel drive can often make the 7 mile drive to this arch (ask a ranger) but the road is pretty rough, so make sure you have pretty good clearance. There is a moderate hike to the arch from the end of the road. We haven’t done this, but it is on our list for when the kids are a little bigger.
Make sure to stop at the Visitor Center and pick up a Junior Ranger booklet for each of your children. Then work on it as you drive and hike through the park. Then on your way out, turn it in at the Visitor Center and earn those badges. Check the Arches National Park website for hours at the Visitor Center.
If you’d like our itinerary of one day in Arches, click here. We went in the winter, so if you plan a spring or fall trip, you might be able to squeeze in a little bit more.
If you live in Utah and you haven’t been to Arches National Park, you are really cheating yourself out of some great adventures. This is the greatest National Park in Utah. If you’re going to Arches, make sure to check out our Things To Do in Moab and our Kid Hikes in Arches.