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NATIONAL PARKS GUIDES: ARCHES

Double Arch, Arches National Park, UT
Double Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

History and Stats

The land has seen human habitation for over 10,000 years, the earliest inhabitants being ancient Pueblo people. They would leave the region 700 years ago, but when the Spaniards explored the area in the late 18th century, the area was inhabited by Ute and Paiute tribes. The area would later be settled briefly by Mormons, and a hundred years after Europeans first traveled the region, ranchers, farmers and prospectors began to permanently settle the area.

Interest in the unique features of the land slowly grew, and the Park Service began a series of surveys in the mid-1920s. Under the powers of the Antiquities Act of 1906, it was given status as a National Monument in 1929 by President Herbert Hoover. It would be called Arches after Frank Pinkley, superintendent of the Southwest portion of the Parks Department, coined the term during a visit.

The size fluctuated over the years, originally being two smaller separate areas protecting the geologic formations themselves. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt enlarged the area in 1938, which was later slightly adjusted for a road in 1960 by the Eisenhower administration. President Lyndon Johnson substantially increased the size in 1969, which would be reduced by President Nixon two years later, but redesignated as a National Park.

The park, adjacent to the Colorado River, grew up along with the village of Moab, which was settled in 1878 and incorporated in 1902. The area as a whole is sometimes referred to as America’s Playground, for its reputation for outdoor activity and high adventure.

Date Founded: April 12, 1929, as a National Monument, redesignated as a National Park on November 12, 1971

Size: 119.8 square miles

Elevation: between 4,085ft (Visitor’s Center) and 5,653ft (Elephant’s Butte)

Rainfall: 10in, 7in of snow

Visitors: Over 1.5 million a year

Open: Year-round

Fees: Entrance Fees are on a weekly basis and range from $12 (single, bicycle or on foot) up to $30. *We will note that these fees are covered completely by the America The Beautiful Pass, which applies to over 2,000 different sites.

Mission

“To preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”

Being that Arches is one of the more well-known parks in the world, a great deal of work and consideration has gone into protecting the delicate desert ecosystem as well as the deceptively fragile rock formations throughout the park. There is a large focus on education and hiking trails as well.

Facilities

The Visitor’s Center (open 7:30-6:00 April-September, 8:00-5:30 October-November) offers a multimedia educational experience and an in-depth look at the wildlife and geology of the region. The region’s geologic past and the origin of the arches is also discussed at length. It also delves into considerations of industrial tourism. There is a large gift and bookshop on site, as well as multiple water fountains and extensive bathrooms.
The single road that cuts through the park offers several pull-offs and parking lots for the various sites, trails, and vistas.

Hikes, petroglyphs and even the remains of an old homestead can all be found along the roadway, and there are bathrooms with vault toilets at many of the trailheads.

Closest Civilization

The town of Moab (pop. 5,200+) boasts all of the amenities of civilization and is a short 10-minute drive from the entrance of the park. A traditional tourist town, Moab has restaurants, a brewery, gift shops and equipment rental stores throughout its bustling, but small, downtown.Arches Map.jpg

Lodging

The options vary from the Devil’s Garden Campground inside Arches which was closed when we went, to Bureau of Land Management sites along the river, to the glamping experience of a KOA campground, to privately-owned sites like Ken’s Lake, where we stayed. We will note that as a popular destination, the early bird gets the worm when it comes to campsites.

Devil’s Garden has 51 sites, potable water, and vault toilets. It also features an amphitheater used for NPS programs. Additional Information can be found here.

BLM sites vary, but all have vault toilets, some have picnic tables.

Here is a listing of all BLM sites in the area.

Ken’s Lake has 31 sites, no water, picnic tables and vault toilets.

Here is a listing of all the privately owned sites in the area.

There are many other sites further away from Arches and Moab as well, and more information can be found here.

Fees will vary from place to place. Devil’s Garden will run $25/night for groups up to 10 and higher for groups over (There may be discounts for certain levels of ATB Passes). BLM sites are $15/night. Fees in privately-owned sites may vary, but Ken’s Lake was $15/night.

A KOA site rate will also vary, but for a ‘campsite’ that includes a pool on the campus, expect to pay close to hotel rates for many of the sites.

There are several hotels in town, but the average hotel room will be somewhere in the area of $150 a night.

Camping Level

Because of the options available, your experience can range from Newbie (an RV or a cabin) to Intermediate (camping in a tent on a site with minimal amenities, far away from Moab, involving hiking in). Our camping choices were perfect for a Novice level.

The campsite at Ken's Lake, UT.
Not bad for our seventh choice. Ken’s Lake, UT

Seasonal Programs

Much of the programming offered is free and is scheduled from Spring until Fall. Guided hikes, talks, and special programs can all be found on the NPS site here. Guided Hikes through the Fiery Furnace can be reserved in advance, or purchased at the Visitor’s Center. There are two different hikes offered, a loop and an out-and-back, which cost $16 per adult, $8 per child 5-12 and $10 per adult, $5 per child, respectively. It is also possible to arrange a hike through the Fiery Furnace without a ranger here.

Our experience

Arches was an amazing time, and through a combination of luck and being slightly off-season, we were able to secure a campsite and watch a full moon rise over the Moab valley. Firewood is available all over town, and supplies are easy to come by. Due to road construction in the park and in the surrounding area, travel and scheduling became more of an issue than we would have liked, but we were able to enjoy the vast majority of the sites we had wanted to see.

Things we’d like to try next time

The NPS offers a lot of daily programming, from talks in the amphitheater (which was closed when we were there) to ranger-guided hikes through the Fiery Furnace. The hikes we did take were on the shorter side, and on a return trip, we would likely focus more on a few longer hikes, rather than a handful of short ones.

The climbing, slack-lining, rafting, biking and ATV riding offered in Moab all looked like incredible fun, and it’s something to consider for a return trip.

Special Note

  • As strong as the arches look, over 40 have collapsed since Arches was founded.
  • Walking or climbing on the arches is not only illegal but incredibly dangerous.
  • The desert ecosystem, due in part to low rainfall, but also to its natural fragility, suffers greatly with every footprint that goes off-trail. While the parks are there to be appreciated by everyone, there won’t be anything left for future generations if you don’t enter with respect for your surroundings today.
  • All of the smaller trails and sites can be seen in a single day, provided you’re willing to put congested areas on hold for another pass later in the day.
  • Make sure to stock up on water at the Visitor’s Center, as there is none within the park.
  • Aside from the ubiquitous raven, we were lucky enough to see a family of deer calmly grazing in the shadow of a cliff, along with wheeling hawks.
Balanced Rock, Arches National Park, UT
Balanced Rock, Arches National Park, UT

Have you ever gone to Moab to enjoy America’s Playground? What were your experiences at Arches? Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments!

Official NPS Site

Read more about our experience at the Arches National Park here.

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