There’s More to Arches National Park Than Just Its Arches

Hiking on a rock fin on Devil's Garden Trail, which is one of the best hikes in Arches National Park.
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Sure, Arches National Park is best known for its breathtaking, mind-bending arches that cascade over the earth’s landscape. And sure, people travel from all over the world to see these beautiful arches. I did the same thing, and I highly recommend it to anyone.

But Arches National Park has so much more to offer than just its arches. Enormous sandstone rock fins pop out of the ground like a shark’s fin from the ocean. Massive rocks balance atop thin stone formations. Cliff faces jut sharply into the sky from the thin, granular red sand.

Heck, the clear blue sky beating down on sand, stone and rocks riddled with shades of red, orange and brown are enough to attract the attention of the most diverse world wanderers.

Don’t get me wrong, what I’m getting at is that you should visit Arches National Park for its arches (like the seven on Devil’s Garden Trail, the ever-elusive Delicate Arch or Tower Arch), but that you should stay for its other natural formations.

These are the best non-arch highlights of Arches National Park, which seems like somewhat of a conundrum as it slips off the tip of the tongue.

Devils Garden

While Devils Garden Trail offers close-up views of seven named arches, it also provides you with the experience to hike across steep sandstone fins. This allows you to build up a bit more respect for them than you would from driving through the park and seeing them from afar.

There are two sections in the park where you can hike on top of sandstone fins: one going up and down, and the other going directly across. Each fin has steep drop-offs on each side, giving you the ability to stare down in awe at the sheer size of these giants.

While hiking this 7.2-mile trail, you’ll also traverse Dark Angel, which is a straight-edged rock formation jutting directly out of the ground and up toward the sky. It starts a majestic range of sandstone cliffs that continue for miles, seemingly without stopping.

Devils Garden is also home to some of the most diverse landscapes inside the park, ranging from picturesque arches to sharp sandstone cliffs and thick patches of granular sand to diverse plant life like cacti, green algae, lichens and moss.

It’s also worth noting that Devils Garden is the furthest point of interest from the Arches National Park entrance, but that you should check it off the list first because it’s the most visited and gets pretty packed by 10 a.m.

  • Amount of Hiking Necessary: 7.2 miles out and back

Park Avenue & Courthouse Towers

Upon entering Arches National Park, the first amazing stop off you’ll see is the Park Avenue Viewpoint and Trailhead. While you can simply stop and take a gander down the “Avenue,” you can also take the 2-mile round-trip hike through Park Avenue, hiking along a relatively flat path with giant sandstone monoliths jetting up like skyscrapers on both sides.

Once past the Park Avenue trail, which is home to a bunch of smaller green desert plants and soft red sand, you’ll come to the Organ, Indian Paintbrush, the Tower of Babel, the Three Gossips, Sheep Rock and finally the Courthouse Towers.

All of these towering monoliths and natural stone columns make it feel like you’re walking through an ancient civilization filled with skyscrapers of natural stone. It’s truly an amazing sight to see while you’re in the park!

  • Amount of Hiking Necessary: None at the viewpoints, about 2 miles round trip for hike
Courthouse Towers
Park Avenue

Petrified Dunes

After making your way through Park Avenue and Courthouse Towers, you’ll get to the Petrified Dunes lookout point. I highly suggest you make a stop here! If you didn’t know any better, you’d think the area you’re gazing upon is just a bunch of hills in the distance.

To the contrary. About 200 million years ago, this area used to be home to extensive sand dunes. But as time is keen to change things, winds and climate turned these sandy dunes into petrified layers of sediment, quartz and calcite.

So look closely and use your imagination because these petrified dunes are sand dunes frozen in time by Mother Earth.

  • Amount of Hiking Necessary: None from the viewpoint, about 1.0 miles our and back for hike
This image was free on Flickr.

Balanced Rock

Aside from the arches, Balanced Rock may be one of the most unique structures in the entire park. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a rock balanced high in the sky on top of an eroding structure.

Balanced Rock, which is made of 128-feet tall slick-rock Entrada Sandstone, seems to be carefully balancing while perched atop an eroding pedestal, made of Dewey Bridge Mudstone, that seemingly defies the earth’s gravitational forces.

Since Balanced Rock is teetering with gravity, there will inevitably be a day when it falls for good. Its smaller cousin “Chip-Off-The-Old-Block” was also balancing similarly until it fell during the winter of 1975.

Arches National Park has been created through erosion, and it’s still eroding today. That’s one of the main reasons I urge you to live life in the moment and go visit while you still have the chance — while the natural structures are still standing.

  • Amount of Hiking Necessary: None at viewpoint, about 0.5 miles for hike

Parade of Elephants

Do you want to see ancient North American elephants frozen in time in the middle of the Utah desert? OK, that’s not exactly what you’ll see, but you can use your imagination and start to see the gigantic sandstone structures slowly morph into elephants walking behind one another.

The Parade of Elephants is on the Double Arch hiking trail and features rock structures that take the shape of elephants in a parade, their tusk pointing toward the ground while their feet are stomping.

  • Amount of Hiking Necessary: 1.1 miles out and back

Panorama Point

Panorama Point is the next stop on the list and it features a short walk of about 100 yards to the top of a picturesque part of the part. It overlooks the La Sal Mountains, countless sandstone rock formations and walls, and is the best view in the entire park that you’ll get with little to no hiking involved.

If you venture into Arches National Park at night, which you can do because it’s open 24 hours per day, you’ll find one of the best star-spotting locations in the entire region!

  • Amount of Hiking Necessary: About 100 yards

Rock Art Panel

About 10 minutes into the trail to see Delicate Arch, the most famous arch in the entire park, you’ll stumble across a wall of Ute Indian Petroglyphs. These petroglyphs were carved into the rocks as forms of art somewhere between the 1650s and 1850s.

You’ll see figures of people riding horses, bighorn sheep and much more! It’s really cool to see what the Ute Indians left behind. But make sure you don’t touch the rock art panel or deface it anyway! You’d be surprised how many people have done this throughout Moab and it’s really sad to see.

  • Amount of Hiking Necessary: About 0.5 miles out and back

Fiery Furnace

The last major area to see in Arches National Park is certainly not the least — plus it’s home to a few arches. Fiery Furnace is the only place in Arches that actually requires a permit to hike. Due to the fragile ecological features, visitors wishing to hike into Fiery Furnace must purchase a permit.

Once you purchase a permit, you can either choose a ranger-guided hike or continue by yourself. But you’ll want to apply for a permit months in advance because they sell out quickly.

The area is home to five named arches and a slew of sandstone canyons and fins, as well as diverse wildlife, fauna and a wide array of colors. If you can secure a permit, the 2-mile hike is highly recommended!

  • Amount of Hiking Necessary: 2 miles via purchasing a permit only

While I highly suggest you take in the arches during your trip to Arches National Park, I hope the sights in this article also make their way into your trip. Your visit will be a lot better if they do!

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