Things to do in Arches National Park

Arches National Park was the first national park we visited of ten total.  We came from the east, driving through the Rocky Mountains then through red desert sands and then into a canyon of orange rock walls. As we pulled up to the park entrance we watched as kids rode pieces of cardboard down sand slopes toward the street. The park entrance was packed, we came on a Sunday afternoon, one of the busiest times to visit a national park we found out. We waited in a line of no less than 40 cars and purchased an $80 annual national park pass, our ticket into every park we would enter for the remainder of the trip.


We grabbed a park map and a trail map from the visitor center, asked a park ranger about the best trails to hike and were on our way. There’s only one way into the park and it takes you up the side of the canyon and into the park. Once to the top of the canyon, we drove along the two-way road that took us past turnouts and trailheads to view the many arches in the park. Some of them you could see from the road.

There were endless amounts of rock formations shooting up from the ground and creating natural sculptures. Like laying in the grass and seeing pictures in the clouds on a summer day, so was driving through the park. The rocks formed men and hats and horses and any sort of thing you could make up with your imagination. The colors made it even more stunning. Neither Parker or I had spent much time in a desert, and we wondered how the colors could be so rich.


One of the most popular trails in the park is to Delicate Arch (the one featured on the Utah license plate and sign when you enter the state), and that was our first stop. It’s a 3-mile hike roundtrip and moderately strenuous. It left us dripping in sweat, and me with a bright red face. The 100 degree weather didn’t help much, but the lack of humidity was a welcomed blessing from our usual midwestern weather.

The hike to Delicate Arch was completely uphill and went over large rock faces, through rock outcroppings and on the edge of dropoffs. The path was filled with tourists from all over the planet, coming to see something in our very own country that is known throughout the world. This was something we noticed throughout our entire trip; we have access to so much beauty in the United States, yet how many of us actually see it all? People come from all over the world to see these grandeurs, yet we often don’t even venture across our own country to see them.

The arch awaited us at the end of the trail, even larger than I expected and surrounded by hundreds of tourists. There was a line of people waiting just to go underneath the arch and get a picture. I waited in line as Parker watched from a distance, camera in hand. I listened as people in line talked about the arch and how it’d been their dream to see it, how they didn’t think the hike to it would be so much work and how beautiful this vast land was.


On my turn I walked underneath the arch and realized how small I felt beneath the tons of rock that loomed over me. Small in a good way; in a way that I knew there was much for me to learn, discover and see in this world. I also wished that Parker and I had this place all to ourselves, that we could experience it without all the photo-taking and shouting. That was something we learned we could actually do as we got further into our trip.

Travel Tip: Visit at sunrise or sunset. Between 10 A.M. and 5 P.M. are the busiest hours of the day to visit popular sights, hike trails and adventure in the national parks. Ironically, sunrise and sunset are the most beautiful times of the day and the best time to see wildlife, yet not many people get up early enough or stay out late enough to enjoy these times. Avoid the crowds and get up early to see places unobstructed by hundreds of tourists. Then take a nap in the afternoon when everyone else is out for the day. Head out again at around 6 P.M. to see more. 

After finishing our hike to Delicate Arch we hiked to Landscape Arch. This trail was only 1.9 miles and was relatively flat. Instead of the solid rock we walked on to Delicate Arch, this trail was sandier. Delicate Arch is a long and skinny arch, but unlike Delicate you are not allowed to walk near or under it due to its unpredictable eroding. Still amazing, and all the more reason to visit before it is gone altogether.


Before we left the park, we drove to the very end of it, then headed out. Compared to the other national parks we visited (Yosemite or Yellowstone), Arches is relatively small. It takes only about 30 minutes to drive to the end of the park, whereas driving Yosemite could take up to three hours. We ended our day in Arches at about six in the evening and headed to find a camp spot near our next stop: Canyonlands National Park. There is no camping available in Arches or Canyonlands, but the surrounding area of Moab has plenty of campgrounds. We stayed at Horsethief Campground, which was first come, first serve and cost only $12 a night. We ended our evening with a dinner of rice, beans and grilled vegetables made over our gas stove, then fell asleep under a full moon.