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The sun rises over the red rocks of southwest Utah. Long shadows form and warp as the light comes on – and suddenly the shapes materialize. Big, sweeping arches, carved from the rock over time by wind and water, are breathtaking in their natural beauty. This is Arches National Park, one of Utah’s Mighty 5. One glance more than demonstrates why this place earned its protection for future generations.
I visited Arches National Park in February 2020 as part of a trip to explore all the natural wonders in the Moab area. In addition to Arches, I spent time in Canyonlands and nearby BLM lands; there’s a lifetime of outdoor adventures to be had here. But personally, I think Arches is the crown jewel. It’s easy to access and can be visited no matter how much time you have to spend.
If, as I was, you’re rather short on time, you can make the most of just one day in Arches National Park. It’ll be a full day from sunrise to sunset, and full of epic arch views and hikes. Read on for all the details you need to plan a perfect day in Arches.
Planning Your Visit to Arches National Park
Before jumping into things to do in Arches National Park and what order to do them in if you only have one day, here are some important logistics and other considerations you need to know.
Driving & Parking in Arches National Park
There is one main road in Arches National Park, Arches Scenic Drive. This means it’s relatively easy to get where you’re going.
There are a few roads that offshoot from Arches Scenic Drive, including The Windows Road and Delicate Arch Road, but they’re easy enough to find and follow.
And while the driving might be easy, it’s the parking that might prove to be a little difficult. Parking is limited at all of the major sights in Arches National Park. And if you have an oversized vehicle, like an RV, it is even harder to find a spot. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead and know when the crowds will be the smallest. Luckily for you, I’m here to help!
Arches National Park Entrance Fees
As part of the National Park system, Arches operates under the same rules as other parks. You’ll either need to pay an entrance fee or use a National Parks Pass to enter.
Here are you options:
- The private vehicle entrance fee, good for 7 days, is $30. This makes sense if you have more than one day at Arches and plan to drive in or out several times.
- You can walk into the park for $15 per person, good for 7 days. This is what you’ll pay if you park in Springdale and walk in.
- An annual America the Beautiful Pass is $80. This gets you into every national park and all fee-collecting federal lands. I got my first one in 2019 and it’s such a money-saver that the America the Beautiful Pass is totally worth it! You can get the America the Beautiful Pass from REI.
You can read more about the fees – and check that the above is accurate – on the Arches NPS website.
Where to Stay in/near Arches National Park
There’s one campground in Arches National Park, at Devils Garden. (This is near where to have lunch and Landscape Arch, for context once you read the rest of my one-day Arches itinerary.) Reservations are required during the popular summer months; it’s first-come, first served during the winter.
Outside the park, I recommend staying in nearby Moab. There are loads of independent and chain hotels in town, plus other accommodation options like Airbnbs.
What to Do in Arches National Park (When You Only Have One Day!)
Drive Arches Scenic Drive (All-Day)
Throughout your time at Arches National Park, you’ll be driving on Arches Scenic Drive. This 36-mile road is the main path that winds through the park; it takes you to pretty much all of the best sites. And it doesn’t hurt that you’ll see many of the park’s famous red rock arches along the way.
Sunrise/Morning Hike to Delicate Arch
Your first real stop in Arches National Park is Delicate Arch. As the most popular and most photographed arch in the park, it is a must-see stop during your one day in Arches National Park. And you’ll want to hike this three-mile trail early on in the day to minimize the crowds. Along the way, you’ll be able to see the Wolfe Ranch cabin and Native American petroglyphs from the people of the Ute tribe.
Once you arrive at the 52-foot-tall sandstone arch, you’ll be blown away. While there, you can simply take a seat and watch the fiery colors of the sunrise dance on this naturally curved structure. You’ll definitely end up taking at least a dozen photos of just this arch alone! It’s no wonder that it has become a widely recognized symbol for both Arches National Park and for Utah as a whole! (It’s on the Utah license plate!)
Explore the Garden of Eden & Balanced Rock
Balanced Rock and the Garden of Eden are two beautiful, yet underrated sites at Arches National Park. And they’re two of the best stops to visit during the park’s busier hours in the late morning.
First up is Balanced Rock. Located just off of Arches Scenic Drive, this teetering boulder looks like it’s defying gravity. It looks like it could tumble off its 128-foot high perch at any moment! To get the best view of Balanced Rock as possible, you can hike the 0.3-mile Balanced Rock Trail.
Once you finish up at Balanced Rock, make your way onto The Windows Road. This will take you to the Garden of Eden. While there, you’ll be able to see quite a few smaller red sandstone arches and many of the 400 types of plants found in the park. And then behind all the lovely red rocks and thriving shrubs, you can catch amazing views of the snow-capped La Sal Mountains in the background.
Hike to the Windows, Turret Arch & Double Arch
After your time at the stunning Garden of Eden, you can continue along The Windows Road. It will lead you to three more amazing highlights of Arches National Park: the Windows, Turret Arch, and Double Arch. All of these landmarks are fantastic additions to your itinerary for one day in Arches National Park.
You can visit the Windows (both the North Window Arch and the South Window Arch) as well as Turret Arch on the Arches Windows Primitive Loop. This one-mile path is the perfect place for a comfortable easy walk filled with striking natural landscapes.
As for Double Arch, the trail to this iconic natural wonder is so close to the Arches Windows Primitive Loop that you can simply think of it as an 0.5-mile extension. Fun fact: Double Arch was actually featured at the start of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. And while the Double Arch is certainly the highlight of the Double Arch Trail, you’ll also be able to catch breathtaking views of other rock formations, including Elephant Butte, Cove Arch, and Ribbon Arch.
Have a Picnic Lunch near Devil’s Garden
After all of the excitement of the morning, you’ll need to stop for lunch to refuel your energy. Especially since you’re going to tackle at least one more hike before the end of the day! And since there are no dining options within Arches National Park, a picnic lunch near Devil’s Garden is a perfect idea!
You can certainly prepare and pack your own picnic lunch using ingredients from one of the local grocery stores in Moab. Or, as an alternative, you can grab some food in the morning from one of the restaurants in town. TK Cafe Takeaway
And while you’re eating your flavorful panini or burrito, you can take in the amazing views of the bright red rocks contrasting with the lovely green trees. Don’t be surprised if a raven or two comes over to see if you’re willing to share.
Hike to Landscape Arch
There are 2,000 natural sandstone arches in Arches National Park, and Landscape Arch holds the special title of being the longest arch in the park. And to make this natural wonder even more impressive, the sandstone beam that creates the arch is just a mere 11 feet thick!
To reach this record-breaking arch, you’ll have to tackle the longest hike of the day: 1.6 miles along the Devil’s Garden Trail. It is important to note that this trail technically continues for a whopping eight miles. It gets considerably more difficult after reaching Landscape Arch, so make sure you turn back once you get to this natural landmark unless you plan ahead for a longer hike
Enjoy the View of Park Avenue
As the final stop of your one day in Arches National Park, you’ll retrace your steps along Arches Scenic Drive until you reach Park Avenue.
Park Avenue, despite its name, is not an actual road. Rather it’s simply the name of a trail that winds through the magnificent red rocks. You can get a fantastic view of Park Avenue and the accompanying Courthouse Towers from the Park Avenue Overlook. As an added bonus, it’s an especially beautiful spot to watch a colorful sunset.
If you still have time and energy, you can get an even better view of the landscape by making your way along the one-mile Park Avenue Trail. Since this is a point-to-point hike, you have two options. First, you can hike out and back for a total of two-miles. Or, if a member of your group wants a break, he or she can drive to the end of the hike and pick you up there, so you’ll only have to hike one mile.
What about the Visitor Center?
Normally in my one-day national park guides, I mention the Visitor Center as a must-do. You’ll notice I haven’t added it here – because it won’t be open before sunrise and will likely be closed after sunset.
Instead of having you spend precious hours of your one day in Arches National Park at the Visitor Center, I recommend skipping the Visitor Center if you only one day. If you do arrive in Moab the evening before your day in the park and the Visitor Center is open, make a stop on your way into town. There you’ll learn about the geologic history of the park and all the incredible views you’ll see the next day.
There you have it: an epic itinerary to make the most of one day in Arches National Park! Do you have any other questions about visiting Arches? Let me know in the comments.