Travelers from all over the world marvel at the red rock formations and sandstone arches that dominate the Mars-like landscape at Arches National Park.
Located in southern Utah in the town of Moab, the park covers 76,500 acres and has over 2000 arches within its borders – the highest concentration in the world. The surrounding Moab area is a destination for rock climbers, mountain bikers, off-road enthusiasts, and geology buffs.
There is something new (or, rather, very old) and exciting waiting around every corner of the Colorado River that runs along the park’s southern border. Arches National Park sees over one million visitors each year. Because of its popularity, a trial timed-entry permit system was implemented for April – October 2022.
RVing in Arches National Park is an experience like none other. Here’s what you need to know before you go.
Why Visit Arches National Park in an RV?
With 18 miles of scenic driving within the park and its location in Moab, Arches National Park is the perfect RV base camp for a classic American southwest adventure. There is a campground within Arches National Park that accommodates RVs up to 40 feet in length, but it can fill up quickly.
Luckily, the surrounding Moab area has a variety of private campgrounds, state parks, and the Bureau of Land Management off-grid camping areas to fit the needs of RVers, toy haulers, and van dwellers.
Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse State Park are also close by and are fantastic additions to an RV trip you and your traveling companions will never forget.
When to Visit Arches National Park
Arches National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. As of 2022, a pilot program for timed entry reservations is in effect from early April through early October from 6 AM to 5 PM.
Arches is a very popular national park. Plan ahead and prepare for traffic, crowds, and limited camping availability if you plan to visit during the peak season of March through October.
Arches National Park in the Spring
If enough rain falls in the early spring, there is a chance to see the wildflowers bloom in the desert. Wildflower growth is quite variable yearly, but the best chance to see the bloom is in April or May. If you’re lucky enough to be there during bloom, you can learn more about the flowers you encounter with the park’s comprehensive wildflower guide.
Spring weather is also quite variable, but it is likely to be relatively warm during the day and significantly cooler at night. Bring a rain jacket or shell for the cooler temps and occasional rain showers that springtime in the desert can bring.
Arches National Park in the Summer
The summer is Arches busiest season and the season with the most extreme temperatures. Arriving early or late can help you beat the crowds and the sweltering summer heat that regularly reaches 100 degrees by midday.
The park has limited shade, so if you plan to hike, make sure to bring sunscreen, a hat, and wear clothing that allows you to keep cool. Also, take advantage of your RV’s air conditioning and enjoy a scenic drive between viewpoints along the main park road.
Arches National Park in the Fall
Arches National Park is still quite busy in September and October, with many visitors visiting in the fall when temperatures are not quite so extreme. Layers are crucial as temperatures can still reach the 80s in September but fall to the 20s overnight in November.
If you’re catching an early morning sunrise at one of the popular photography spots like Double Arch or Turret Arch, bring a hat and gloves.
Arches National Park in the Winter
Winter is the off-season in Arches, so you will likely avoid large crowds, and you’ll have a better chance of finding parking at the most popular hikes and viewpoints. It doesn’t snow much in Moab, but visiting in winter allows for a unique view of the arches when they are capped with snow.
Bringing shoe traction can be helpful, as snow can easily pack to ice and make even relatively easy trails slippery. A parka, thick socks, gloves, and a hat will keep you warm as you photograph the park on a cold, crisp morning.
Ranger-led tours do not run during the winter months, and timed-entry reservations are not required. Be aware that the entry road may close for a few hours to allow for plowing in the event of snow.
Where to Stay
Devil’s Garden Campground is the only campground in Arches National Park. It is located 18 miles past the entrance station and is open year-round. Reservations for camping in Arches National Park are required between March 1 and October 31, and sites are first-come, first-served from November 1 to the end of February.
Devil’s Garden has 49 RV sites that accommodate motorhomes and trailers up to 40ft long. There are an additional two tent-only group sites available. During the winter months, only 24 sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The campsites at Devil’s Garden are not developed – there are no water or electricity hookups, and there is no dump station. Drinking water, pit toilets, and flush toilets are available year-round, but there are no shower facilities. Backpacking is also an option in the park if you’re looking for remote campsites.
Cell service is limited to non-existent in most of the park, but public Wi-Fi may be available at the Visitor Center (18 miles away from the campground). A cell signal booster can be a good addition to your RV if you need service during your stay.
Staying Outside the Park
If you are unable to secure a campsite within Arches National Park, check out these other nearby options:
- The Portal RV Resort: Located in Moab, UT, and only a 5-minute drive to the entrance station.
- Spanish Trail RV Park: Located in Moab, UT, about a 20-minute drive to the entrance station.
- Shady Acres RV Park: Located in Green River, UT, about a 45-minute drive to the entrance station.
Invest in a Good Sam Membership and save 10% on nightly stays at Good Sam Campgrounds.
Tips for your Camping Stay
- Reservations can be secured at Recreation.gov up to 6 months in advance for stays between March and October. Campsites are often fully booked months out.
- If you are camping within Arches National Park, timed entry reservations are not required. A limited number of timed entry slots are made available for the day before a visit.
- You can plan your trip for the offseason (November – February) and take advantage of the 24 first-come, first-served sites.
- Campsites can be occupied for up to seven days (consecutive or nonconsecutive) within a 30-day period, with a maximum of 14 nights per calendar year.
How to Get Around Arches National Park
Most of the roads in Arches National Park are paved, but the main entrance road is windy, narrow, and has steep grades, especially the first few miles as you enter the park. On occasion, the access road can be closed due to inclement weather or ice during winter months.
RVs up to 40 feet are permitted on the paved roads in Arches, but be sure to look out for bikers and pedestrians along the way as they also share the road.
There are unpaved roads in Arches National Park that are generally passable with a two-wheel drive vehicle but require high clearance. Unpaved roads in the desert can quickly become muddy and impassable, even with 4-wheel drive, after rain or snow.
If you’re looking for a relatively tame dirt road adventure, try exploring Salt Valley Road (7.5 miles) to see the Klondike Bluffs area of the park. No ATVs or off-road vehicles are allowed in the park.
Places to Go
If it’s your first time visiting Arches National Park, plan visits to some of its most popular attractions.
The Visitor Center
This is a natural first stop when visiting Arches National Park, as it is just beyond the entrance gate. The visitor center has restrooms and drinking water available. It also houses the park’s bookstore and exhibits wildlife sculptures by the artist Matthew Gray Palmer. The visitor center is generally open every day except December 25th, but the hours vary by season.
Delicate Arch is the most famous site to see in Arches and is featured on the Utah license plate. The best way to view the arch is by hiking the 3-mile round trip Delicate Arch Trail.
It is considered a strenuous hike because of more than 500 feet of elevation gain, exposed slickrock, and a short walk along a ledge that may be a bit of a challenge for those afraid of heights, but it is well worth the effort!
If you’re not up for a hike to the arch, you can get a distant view of it from the short, accessible Delicate Arch Viewpoint Trails – one of the viewpoint trails is wheelchair-accessible.
Landscape Arch in Devil’s Garden is the longest arch in North America at more than 290 feet and the fifth largest worldwide. At only 6ft wide at its center, it is a truly breathtaking sight to behold. An easy 1.6-mile mostly paved hike to the arch can be enjoyed by just about anyone!
This is a very popular feature in the park that has a .3-mile easy trail that allows you to hike around the formation. The scale of the balancing rock is sometimes hard to comprehend even when you’re looking right at it – the balancing rock is the size of three school buses!
Fiery Furnace is a popular hike that requires an advance reservation with a guide ($16) or an individual permit ($10). The hike is challenging and requires jumping over gaps, hiking near steep drop-offs, and squeezing through tight rock formations.
Reservations can be obtained through Recreation.gov up to seven days in advance. Children under 5 and pets are not permitted on this hike.
Things To Do in Arches National Park
There are activities suited for everyone – from seeing rock formations up close on foot to enjoying scenic vistas throughout the park from the comfort of your vehicle.
Canyoneering is something that many other national parks simply can’t offer. The unique landscape here allows you to descend into steep sandstone canyons and explore the breathtaking geology of the park. Permits must be obtained through Recreation.gov for each planned route. There are designated access and egress routes maintained by park staff to minimize environmental degradation.
Getting a chance to explore on foot is a highlight of any trip to Arches National Park. The Delicate Arch Trail (3.6 miles round trip) and the Devil’s Garden Loop (7.8 miles round trip) are strenuous and extremely popular hikes and lead to the most famous sandstone features in the park. But there are several relatively short, accessible hikes along the main park road to view the arches.
Traveling along the main park road allows you to pull off at scenic vistas and view many of the arches and rock formations that Arches National Park is famous for right from the comfort of your own vehicle (and while enjoying your air conditioning!).
The park road is 18 miles long, with numerous pull-offs and picnic areas to enjoy. The main park road is safe for nearly any size RV or trailer – just be mindful of some of the sharper turns and steep grades just past the entrance. Remember that no ATVs/off-road vehicles are allowed in the park.
The main park road is 18 miles long, and biking is allowed in the park, but there are no official bike lanes. The first few miles of road are narrow with switchbacks and often congested, so many bikers find it better to drive up and unload their bikes at the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint parking area.
The Moab area outside of the park is a haven for road and mountain bikers. There are designated bike paths and world-class mountain bike trails throughout Moab.
With over 2000 sandstone formations on display, Arches National Park is a destination for professional and amateur photographers. Many photographers stake out spots for shots to capture the arches at sunrise and sunset.
Delicate Arch is perfectly illuminated at sunset, but you may be faced with the challenge of cropping the crowds out of your photos. Turret Arch and Double Arch are photographer favorites for sunrise. Remember to bring a headlamp if you are hiking to viewpoints before sunrise or after sunset.
If you’re visiting during peak season, try checking out one of the park events. There is a guided walk at The Windows viewing area (6 pm), Patio Talks at the Visitor Center (times vary), and evening programs (8 pm) at the Devil’s Campground Amphitheater. These events generally do not take place during winter months. Other things to do in the park include horseback riding, stargazing, rock climbing, and commercial tours.
What to Bring and How to Prepare
- The entrance to Arches National Park is only about five miles from the town of Moab, where you can find grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, cafes, and gear shops.
- It can take up to an hour to drive from the Devil’s Garden Campground in the park into Moab, so be prepared to fill a portable gas can and stock your camping cooler in town before heading to your campsite.
- Firewood is available for purchase at the Arches National Park bookstore located in the Visitor Center. Depending on the season, you will either pick up your bundle at the bookstore (winter) or the campground (peak season).
- Generator use is limited to 8-10 am and 4-8 pm in Devil’s Garden Campground. If you need electricity for extended periods of time, plan to have access to a power station or solar setup.
- Arches National Park is located in the high desert of southeastern Utah and experiences extreme temperatures, so preparing for the season is important so you can enjoy your stay.
- If you’re traveling in the peak season (April – October), having sunscreen, plenty of water, and sweat-wicking clothing will be important, as temperatures can reach over 100 degrees in the park, and there is limited shade.
- During the offseason (November-February), the park can experience below-freezing temperatures and occasional snow.
- Wearing layers and having shoe traction, like YakTrax or Microspikes, can allow you to explore the trails safely.
Brief History of Arches National Park
The land of Arches National Park has been home to humans for over 10,000 years. Petroglyphs of the Ute Indians dating back to 1650-1800 AD can be seen in Arches National Park near the Delicate Arch trailhead. Much older petroglyphs dating back over 2000 years can be found along the Colorado River just outside the park entrance.
“Arches National Park acknowledges the peoples who are traditionally associated with these landscapes: Hopi Tribe, Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, Las Vegas Paiute, Moapa Band of Paiute Indians of the Moapa River Reservation, Navajo Nation, Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, Pueblo of Zuni, Rosebud Sioux, San Juan Southern Paiute, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe of Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.” From the Arches National Park official website.
The land that went on to become Arches National Monument and, eventually, Arches National Park was the cattle ranch of a Civil War veteran named John Wesley Wolfe. His family’s cabin can be seen at the base of the trail to Delicate Arch and is on the national register of historic places.
The area was originally designated a national monument by President Herbert Hoover in 1929 and enlarged in 1938 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
It is also the setting of much of Desert Solitaire, a classic 1968 book by environmental activist Edward Abbey. Abbey spent two summers as a park ranger and documented his experiences of the land, interacting with park visitors and the controversies of public land preservation.
In 1971 Arches was designated a National Park by President Richard Nixon. President Bill Clinton signed a law that expanded the boundaries of Arches National Park to what they are today.
Have you visited Arches National Park? Share your tips and advice with fellow readers!