September 29, 2013
Arches National Park, in eastern Utah, is more jewel box than grand wilderness area – an array of short trails that lead through amazing rock formations glowing in the early morning and late afternoon sun. The most famous are the more than 2000 arches formed by millions of years of wind erosion, the highest concentration of such formations in the world.
One night in this world famous park afforded us enough time to walk a couple of the shorter trails, overnight at the central campground, and get an early start on the Devils Garden trail the next morning.
With over a million visitors a year to this small park and with limited parking, reservations at the Devils Garden campground are highly recommended, especially in peak season, March – October. The National Park Service pages include good information on traffic and parking in the park.
Garden of Eden – Short Scenic Drive/Walk
This 2.5 mile road winds through an area of iconic formations and expansive vistas. A short walk affords an up close view of the Turret Arch and the North and South Windows, some of the parks grandest arches. At 3:30PM on a Sunday afternoon crowds and parking were manageable.
The only campground within the park is nestled among rock formations near the Devils Garden Trailhead. Consisting of 50 well-spaced campsites, some with dramatic views, the campground has running water, clean bathrooms with flush toilets, and a sink for washing dishes. Campsites include a grill fire pit and a picnic table.
Devils Garden Loop Hike
The 7.2 mile trail network including the loop hike and all spurs is well blazed with cairns. Still, the park trail map found in the Arches Visitor Guide handed out at the entrance of the park is useful for negotiating the various side trails.
While most all of the prominent arches are viewed from the main trail, the primitive return loop takes you through an impressive area of fins, the precursor to the arch, and is worth the time and effort if you have it. This more rugged trail, however, does involve some scrambling up and down boulders. It took us 4 hours with numerous photo stops to complete the entire trail system.
Note for photographers: The Arches Visitor Guide lists the best lit arches in the morning and evening.