It’s surprising how much there is to do around Moab. Even with five full days in the area, we already want to come back to do the things we missed. If you don’t have a lot of time, you might find yourself with just one day to see the Arches National Park.
Even though Arches National Park is huge, don’t worry, one day is plenty of time to see the best of the park. You can even get in seven short hikes to the grandest arches.
In this post, we go over everything we were able to fit into one day at Arches National Park, along with timings so you can easily plan your day.
Table of Contents
Getting into the Arches National Park
To reduce overcrowding, the Arches National Park is trialing a timed reservation system from April 3, 2022 to October 3, 2022. This is only for the park’s busiest hours, 6 am to 5 pm. In addition to park fees, there is a $2 charge to make the reservation. Book online with the park.
Typically, the park is open 24 hours, even though the Arches Visitor Center doesn’t open until 8 or 9 am, depending on the season.
To get the most of your day, you need to plan early to get a morning reservation or arrive before 6 am.
Even if reservations are not required during your visit, often by 9 am, the park fills to capacity and shuts the gates. Sometimes they don’t reopen until after lunch.
Note: America the Beautiful Pass holders still need to book a reservation and pay the charge.
What To Do If You Can’t Get into Arches National Park
Not all is lost if you can’t get into the Arches National Park. This happened to us the first time we tried to get into Arches. Luckily, not all the arches in Moab are within the national park.
Just across the street from the Arches entrance is Utah State Route 279. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, there are a few free hiking areas with amazing arches, even dinosaur footprints.
- Poison Spider Dinosaur Track Trail – Dinosaur footprints preserved in stone and petroglyphs.
- Longbow Arch Trail – Fun hike without all the crowds.
- Corona Arch Trail – We loved the hike, and the arch is one of the prettiest in the area.
While you’re in Moab, the Canyonlands National Park is also a must. The park doesn’t get nearly as busy as Arches National Park, so it makes a good backup plan if you need it.
Another option is to start your day at Dead Horse State Park, near the Canyonlands. The park only takes a few hours to visit. Come back to the Arches in the afternoon or after 5 pm if you can’t get a reservation.
Tips for Visiting Arches National Park
- Like most of Utah’s National Parks, summer in the desert is dangerously hot, but oddly crowded. Avoid visiting in summer if you can.
- Always bring plenty of water with you, even for a short hike. We use a day pack and water bladder.
- The soil is alive! I know, it sounds a bit crazy. The biological soil crust at Arches National Park is “a living soil that creates a crust over the landscape.” The park asks, actually begs, visitors to stay on trails or bare rock. Stepping in the soil could damage a delicate ecosystem which can take centuries to recover.
- Bring your own lunch. With no onsite restaurants or food to buy inside the park you’ll waste precious time leaving for lunch. Plus, you might not be able to get back in!
Start the Day with Sunrise
When you only have one day in Arches National Park, it’s best to start as early as possible. Plus, sunrise has a magical illuminating effect on the orange desert sand.
Days warm up quickly, starting early also lets you get in a few hikes before it gets too hot to enjoy.
Both La Sal Mountain Viewpoint and The Windows make good sunrise spots.
Our sunrise at the North Window started off promising, but the cloud cover quickly squashed the beautiful light.
On a good day, it’s popular to go through the North Window and scramble the cliff’s edge on the left. This will give you a photo of Turret Arch through the North Window. However, you’ll likely find a crowd sitting under the North Window Arch cluttering your photos.
In One Day, You Can Drive the Entire Arches National Park Road
The road cutting through the Arches National Park is about 20 miles long, including its branch roads.
With around a dozen viewpoints, the National Park Service estimates driving the entire park while visiting each viewpoint for ten minutes, takes about three hours.
If you plan on seeing any arches up close, you’ll need more than a ten-minute stop. However, hopefully this gives you an idea on how much time you have for exploring.
In One Day, You Can Take Several Short Easy Hikes
In addition to the roadside viewpoints, several arches require less than an hour’s hike. These are our favorites.
North and South Windows & Turret Arch (30 - 60 mins)
The large parking lot for The Windows fills up early, especially since it’s a popular spot for sunrise. The short loop walk to the three arches takes roughly 30 mins. However, we recommend continuing on the longer primitive trail behind the South Window Arch for views from the back.
Double Arch (15 - 30 mins)
Don’t move the car. From The Windows, take a short walk to the far side of the parking area. The Double Arch is visible from a distance, but it’s worth getting close. Along the walk, you’ll see the Parade of Elephants on your left.
Sand Dune Arch (15 - 30 mins)
Tucked in between narrow corridors of rock, the short trek to Sand Dune Arch is along a very sandy path. The arch itself is not one of the most exciting, but we really loved the setting.
Skyline Arch (10 - 20 mins)
Viewable from the road, Skyline Arch got more spectacular as we got closer. It’s one of the shortest hikes in the park.
Tunnel Arch & Pine Tree Arch (30 mins)
Along the Devil’s Trailhead, Tunnel and Pine Tree Arches are the first stops. They require a worthy detour off the main trail.
Tunnel Arch wasn’t all that exciting, but as it’s up high it was easy to see.
With a fascinating backdrop, Pine Tree Arch looked like a three-dimensional painting. It was one of our favorite arches in the park.
Landscape Arch (30 mins)
To reach this fragile ribbon of rock, you’ll continue on the main Devil’s Garden Trail for another fifteen minutes past the Pine Tree spur trail.
Stretching 306 feet, Landscape Arch is one of the world’s longest stone span. However, after a large rock fell from the arch’s underside in 1991, the arch is only 11 feet wide at its center. It’s worth seeing this beauty before it disappears.
Beyond Landscape Arch, the trail gets much tougher and can take up to five hours for the round trip. With only one day at Arches, we recommend turning around at the Landscape Arch Viewpoint.
In One Day, You Can See the Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch is the Arches National Park’s most famous attraction, and there are three ways to see it.
- The three-mile round trip Delicate Arch Trail from Wolfe Ranch (2 – 3 hours) is the only way to see this giant beauty up close. The trail is rated difficult as it climbs 480 feet up a steep slickrock slope. There’s no shade, so it’s best to do the trail in the cooler times of the day. It’s best to time your hike for sunset when the natural light sets the arch aglow. If you choose to do this trail, you won’t have time for many of the other short hikes.
With only one day at Arches, we recommend heading to the viewpoints instead of doing the longer hike. To reach the viewpoints, follow the Delicate Arch splinter road to the end. The viewpoint trails do not go through to the Delicate Arch.
- Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint (5 minutes) – By far this paved flat trail is the easiest way to see Delicate Arch. However, you are quite far away. Now would be a wonderful time to pull out the binoculars.
- Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint (15 – 20 minutes) – If you have more time, and energy, we recommend continuing to the upper viewpoint. The trail steadily climbs upwards for a half-mile and is the most strenuous hike on our list. Though the Delicate Arch was still quite far away, we felt the short climb was worth it as we were able to get good photos using my 80 – 400 mm lens.
Where to Stay for the Arches National Park
Camping at the Devils Garden Campground is the only way to stay in the Arches National Park. Reservations are highly recommended, especially from March through October.
The Arches is close to the town of Moab. Most of the town’s accommodation is along the main road, US-191. Expect hotels in Moab to cost more than you’d think they should, especially in peak season.
Books on the Arches National Park
With an infinite number of places to explore around Moab, if you’re spending more than a couple of nights a guidebook sure comes in handy.
- Hiking Canyonlands and Arches National Parks – A guide to more than 60 great hikes.
- Best Easy Day Hikes in Moab – Small enough to carry with you but packed with local hikes you might not find otherwise.
- Collier’s Guide to Photographing Arches National Park – A must for those who want to come away with those perfect photographs.
- A Complete Guide to the Grand Circle National Parks – Visiting more than just the parks of Moab? This handy guide provides helpful information on several key parks within the Grand Circle.
Looking for more posts on Moab or Utah’s National Parks?