Exploring the Arches National Park by Car

Arches National ParkYou can see many of the park’s most famous rock formations through your car windows, although we strongly urge you to get out and explore on foot. You have the option of walking short distances to a number of viewpoints, or stretching your legs on a variety of longer hikes. The main road is easy to navigate, even for RVs, but parking at some viewpoints is limited. Please be considerate and leave trailers at the visitor center parking lot or in a campground.

After leaving the visitor center, drive north past the Moab Fault to the overlook parking for Park Avenue, a solid rock “fin” that reminded early visitors of the New York skyline. From here, your next stop is La Sal Mountain Viewpoint, where you look southeast to the La Sal Mountains, named by early Spanish explorers who thought the snow-covered mountains looked like huge piles of salt. In the overlook area is a “desert scrub” ecosystem, composed mostly of black-brush, with some sagebrush, saltbush, yucca, and prickly pear cactus, all plants that can survive in sandy soil with little moisture. The area’s wildlife includes the black-tailed jackrabbit, rock squirrel, kangaroo rat, coyote, and several species of lizards.

Continuing on the scenic drive, you begin to see some of the park’s major formations at Courthouse Towers, where monoliths such as Sheep Rock, the Organ, and the Three Gossips dominate the landscape. Leaving Courthouse Towers, watch for the Tower of Babel on the east (right) side of the road, then proceed past the “petrified” sand dunes to Balanced Rock, a huge boulder weighing about 3,600 tons, perched on a slowly eroding pedestal.The Organ at Arches National Park Utah

You’ll soon take a side road east (right) to The Windows. Created when erosion penetrated a sandstone fin, they are visible after a short walk from the parking area. Also in this area are Turret Arch and the Cove of Caves. As erosion continues in the back of the largest cave, it may eventually become an arch. A short walk from the parking lot takes you to Double Arch, which looks like exactly that. From the end of this trail, you can also see the delightful Parade of Elephants.

Return to the main park road, turn north (right), and drive to Panorama Point. Here you’ll find an expansive view of Salt Valley and the Fiery Furnace, which can really live up to its name at sunset.

Next, turn east (right) off the main road onto the Wolfe Ranch Road and drive to the Wolfe Ranch parking area. A very short walk leads to what’s left of the century-old ranch. If you follow the trail a bit farther, you’ll see some Ute petroglyphs. More ambitious hikers can continue for a moderately difficult 3-mile round-trip excursion to Delicate Arch, with a spectacular view at trail’s end. If you don’t want to take this hike, you can still see this lovely arch, albeit from a distance, by getting back in your car, continuing down the road for 1 mile, and walking a short trail to the Delicate Arch Viewpoint.

Returning to the park’s main road, turn north (right) and go to the next stop, the Salt Valley Overlook. Varying amounts of iron in the rock, as well as other factors, have caused the various shades and colors in this collapsed salt dome.

Continue now to the viewpoint for Fiery Furnace, which offers a dramatic view of colorful sandstone fins. From here, drive to a pullout for Sand Dune Arch, down a short path from the road, where you’ll find shade and sand along with the arch. It’s a good place for kids to play. The trail also leads across a meadow to Broken Arch (which isn’t broken at all; it just looks that way from a distance).

Back on the road, continue to Skyline Arch, which doubled in size in 1940 when a huge boulder tumbled out of it. The next and final stop is the often crowded parking area for the Devils Garden Trailhead. From here you can hike to some of the most unusual arches in the park, including Landscape Arch, among the longest natural rock spans in the world.

From the trailhead parking lot, it’s 18 miles back to the visitor center.