Since it is impossible to do everything, I’ve also tried to help you select a trail by adding my own personal rating from 1-5 for how easy the trail is (1 being super easy, 5 being more difficult) as well as a rating on how scenic the trail is. (5 being most scenic.) Difficulty and scenic value can be a subjective thing, but this is my own personal view based on hiking all of the trails listed. Time of day can definitely have an impact as any trail will be more difficult in the heat of the afternoon and shade is rare. All of the arches are also more scenic in the early morning or evening hours when the sun is lower in the sky.
General Tips for Arches
The biggest tip I can give to anyone visiting is to go early or go late. Arches is a relatively small National Park with a smaller amount of hiking trails and parking lots. For it’s small size, it packs a scenic punch of amazing geography that is very popular. This can lead to road congestion and difficulty in finding a parking spot. If you enter the park before 8 a.m. or after 4 p.m. (even earlier or at sunrise or sunset is even better) you can much more easily park at whichever trail head you want to visit. You can also take better pictures without dozens of other people in your view. We usually enter the park before sunrise, leave by 10 a.m. (driving past the crazy long entrance line of cars) and then enter again after an early dinner to hike more and watch the sunset. Again, the arches are at their scenic best when the sun is low in the sky so these are the best times to view and photograph them as well.
The second biggest tip is to bring plenty of food and water. While the park entrance is a short distance from town, the road within the park in long and winding with few facilities. It can take a good 45 minutes or more to travel back to town for lunch. Especially with kids it is important to bring plenty of snacks and meals to avoid any “hangry” kids. Water is crucial as you are in the desert after all. Bring twice as much water as you think you will need as there are only a couple spots in the park where water is available.
Our Top Hikes
1. Park Avenue Trail (Rated 3 for difficulty, 4 for scenery) – This is one of the first trails you come to in the park. A short and paved walkway leads to an overlook. From there, it is a slightly steep walk down uneven steps to the floor of the canyon. However, with a little help even little ones should be able to manage. Once you reach the bottom, it’s fairly flat and easy to follow. The trail is one mile one way if you go all the way to the end. You can walk as long as you like and then return the way you came. The views here are beautiful and this is one of our top scenic trails for any age in the park.
2. Balanced Rock Trail (Rated 1 for difficulty, 2 for scenery) – Balanced Rock can easily be seen from the road, but for a closer view there is an easy and flat 0.3 mile loop trail that circles the base of the rock.
3. Double Arch, Turret Arch, and the North and South Windows (Rated 2 for difficulty on main trail, 3 on the primitive loop, 4 for scenery) – I’m grouping these together because you park at the same lot for all of them. One one side of the road is Double Arch. The trail is about 0.5 mile round trip. It follows a mostly flat path until you approach the base of the arch. Then a little scrambling is required depending on how high you want to climb.
On the other side of the lot is the popular trail to the Windows and Turret Arch. There are some steps up and down between all the arches, but the paths are mostly easy on the main trail. There is a primitive trail that is rated more moderate and passes behind the windows. The primitive trail is a good trail for older kids if you want to escape the crowds. We hiked it on our previous pre-kid trips.
From the main trail, be sure to climb up inside the North Window for a great family photo op! Don’t be afraid to ask a stranger to take your picture together as a family. We often take turns taking pictures back and forth with other travelers so we can all be in the shot.
A short path connects between the each of the Windows and Turret Arch.
If you happen to be here around sunset, the views are even better.
4. Sand Dune Arch (Rated 1 for difficulty, 3 for scenery) – If you asked our kids, this would be their favorite arch hands down. (Hands full of sand that is!) This is another short and easy trail at only 0.3 miles to the arch. You pass through large sandstone rock fins before reaching the arch tucked away in the canyon. The kids loved the fun rocks to climb around or through on the the way to the arch. There was also a perfect natural rock slide located under the arch and they could have spent all day playing in the soft desert sand.
You can extend the hike and hit Broken Arch and Tapestry Arch as well to make a nice loop hike.
5. Landscape Arch and other arches at Devil’s Garden Trailhead (Rated 2 for difficulty to Landscape Arch, 4 for scenery) – The Devils Garden Trailhead is a very popular spot in the park. From one trailhead you can hike to numerous stunning arches, spires, and narrow rock fins. The full loop trail plus spurs is 8 miles and some sections are difficult. However, the trail to Landscape Arch is less than 2 miles round trip. This mostly easy path makes a good out and back for the whole family to see the longest arch in North America.
A couple of short and easy spurs lead to Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch. Tunnel Arch isn’t much to see honestly, but Pine Tree Arch is a nice one you can get close to.
6. Delicate Arch (Rated 4 for difficulty, 5 for scenery) – Delicate Arch is the iconic arch everyone sees on the Utah state license plate and even the 2014 edition of the American the Beautiful minted quarters series. This arch is very well known for good reason as it is a stunning sight to behold. The classic time to hike to this marvelous feature is at sunset. The setting sun makes the rock glow a golden red. This is the not the hike to do if you want to avoid crowds however, as you will be sharing the view with many other visitors.
Out of all the hikes listed, this one is the most difficult. Anyone in good physical condition can do it as there is nothing technical or particularly challenging, but it is longer than the other hikes at 3 miles round trip with no shade. The trail climbs steeply at first before leveling out as you follow the slickrock. There are rock cairns to mark the trail. At the very end you also have to walk along a narrow rock ledge. Caution with children at this section. Also be careful at the arch itself as there are steep drop offs. The park recommends at least 2 liters of water per person to do this hike. We did not do this one with our littles, but we have done the hike before kids.
There are several other hikes we have yet to do such as the Fiery Furnace or the full primitive loop at Devil’s Garden. We would love to hear your thoughts on these or any of the trails we have listed. Arches is an amazing place and even after three visits we have yet to explore all its wonders.