The Perfect 2 Days in Arches National Park Itinerary

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by Duncan McHenry

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The many dunes, arches, loops, spires, and other unique sandstone rock formations have countless visitors each year planning the perfect 2 days in Arches National Park itinerary.

As the result of roughly 65 million years of erosion and other slowly grinding natural forces, the landscapes of this Park and its famed areas like the Windows and Devils Garden are a fascinating scene for all kinds of outdoor recreation, with activities like hiking, sightseeing, horseback riding, and biking.

How Many Days in Arches?

While Arches is certainly big enough to keep anyone occupied for days on end, it’s smaller than some of America’s marquee national parks like Rocky Mountain and the Great Smoky Mountains.

So when you’re considering how many days to spend in Arches National Park, rest assured that it’s worthwhile to be here for even just a day or two, as you’ll be able to cover some ground and not end up feeling like you weren’t able to truly do the area justice.

If you only have one day in Arches National Park, this is still enough to see the highlights, though you won’t have time to partake other activities like mountain biking or horseback riding. However, you can still enjoy a scenic drive and some great hiking.

Those with two days to spend will find that you can really do the area justice. Spend the first day getting your bearings and seeing some, of the most iconic viewpoints and the second day on an adventure activity or a longer hike.

Turret Arch at The Windows Section in Arches national Park
Turret Arch at The Windows Section

Getting To & Around Arches NP

Getting to Moab from the nearest major cities such as Salt Lake City or Denver is as easy as following I-70 to its intersection with Highway 191, which affords direct access to both Moab and Arches National Park.

Travelers coming from farther south in Arizona or New Mexico, or even from as far as Las Vegas, will also find getting here to be an easy road trip on major highways with good access to services. 

Arches is an excellent national park in terms of its public facilities and how well it’s maintained, so navigating this park via paved roads is easy for virtually any type of vehicle, from RVs (just be aware the road can be narrow at times), to lifted sport utility vehicles, to small four-door sedans, and everything in between.

The real roadblock (often literally speaking) these days is the traffic, which is of course at its worst on weekends and at its absolute worst on weekends between the peak visitation months of March to October.

One of the best strategies for beating the crowds and traffic and not spending half of your day stuck in a hot car sitting in lines is to get to the park early. Peak visitation hours tend to be between about 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., so planning on entering the park at 6 a.m. is a great idea if you can be up that early.

By the same token, planning on leaving the park later in the evening can help you avoid the bottleneck effect when many visitors are trying to leave at once. Since parking is limited at all destinations in Arches, it’s also a good idea to carpool whenever possible if you’re traveling with a group.

If Arches is a stop on a longer road trip such as from Denver to Moab and you need to rent a car for this trip you can browse to find deals across major suppliers. Alternatively, check out Outdoorsy if you prefer to rent an RV or campervan.

It’s also worth noting that there is a fee to enter the park. If you plan to visit a few of the US national parks in a year, it can be worth purchasing the America the Beautiful Pass which grants access to all parks in the US National Park Service for one small fee.

Driving through Arches National Park
Driving through Arches NP

2-Day Arches National Park Itinerary

With two days to spend in Arches National Park, you can choose to be an adrenaline junkie and pack in as much outdoor recreation as you can stand, or you could be more leisure-inclined and simply have a great time sightseeing and enjoying the scenery, with your camera strap never far from the back of your neck.

Be sure that some of your time spent in Arches is devoted to simply appreciating the views of landmarks like Courthouse Towers, the Windows, Delicate Arch, Sand Dune Arch, Fiery Furnace, and more—many of which can even be conveniently seen from the major park roadway.

The Courthouse Towers in Arches
The Courthouse Towers

Day 1 – The Windows and Devil’s Garden

Tour and Hike Windows Road

There’s no better way to kick off 2 days in Arches than with some time spent in the open air, and with the Courthouse Towers, Petrified Dunes, and the Windows being some of the first areas you’ll see after the visitor center, these are good focal points for day-one hiking. You can see a lot of this from the easy Park Avenue trail.

You’re likely to leave the car and spend a bit more time at the Windows area, so it’s not a bad idea to only make short stops at the Courthouse Towers and the Petrified Dunes along the way.

Other rock formations like the Rock Pinnacles along the Great Wall will also be in view from the road as you pass the Petrified Dunes Viewpoint.

If you only have time for one trail this morning once you’re in the Windows, it should be the namesake 1-mile climb leading to the towering North Window, South Window, and Turret Arch. You can then take a slightly longer, less-maintained trail back to the parking lot that starts at the South Window viewpoint if you choose.

See if you can capture an image of the Turret Arch as seen looking back through the North Window Arch for an iconic Arches National Park image from your trip to show friends and family.

After hiking, be sure you also take some time to appreciate the Parade of Elephants, Garden of Eden, and Balanced Rock features that are close to the road on your way back to the park entrance.

The Windows in Arches National Park
The Windows in Arches National Park

Lunch at the Visitor Center

The one visitor center in Arches, located just inside the entrance, is generally open every day except December 25, with hours varying by season.

When open, restrooms and drinking water are generally available, and you can also learn more about the park’s history with exhibits, a park movie, and a bookstore.

A short one- or two-hour stop here on the first day of your Arches itinerary for a picnic-style lunch is a great way to take a rest in the hotter part of the day and prepare for what the afternoon and evening have to offer.

Hike the Devil’s Garden Trail

With some morning sightseeing under your belt, and after having taken a lunch break in the shade, take the opportunity to head into the farther reaches of Arches and explore the Devil’s Garden Area. This network of trails begins at the Devil’s Garden Trailhead, where many different trails and points of interest branch off and can be accessed.

While there are numerous arches, spires, and other formations located in this famed area of Arches National Park, be sure you leave ample time to see the crown jewel, the Landscape Arch.

This is North America’s longest arch, with a light opening of 306 feet and a diameter of only 6 feet at its narrowest. Amazingly, large sections of this arch actually came crashing down in the 1990s, meaning that this awe-inspiring rock formation is hanging on by a thread, geologically speaking.

For anyone who chooses to venture farther into this area past the Landscape Arch, you’ll be rewarded if you make the steep climb to Double-O Arch. Wide-ranging views of the surrounding landscape and the nearby sandstone “fins” can be seen from here.

Other notable trail options nearby include the Primitive Trail—the most hazardous in Arches and not recommended when rock is wet or icy—and short-spur trails to other formations like the Navajo Arch, Partition Arch, and the Dark Angel.

Devils Garden in Arches National Park near Moab
Devil’s Garden

Visit the Fiery Furnace

Another option you might explore either before or after hiking in the Devil’s Garden Area is the Fiery Furnace, which is located about halfway between the Windows section and Devils Garden.

One of the most unique landscape features in Arches, the Fiery Furnace is a maze of narrow sandstone canyons that can only be entered on a ranger-guided hike or after obtaining a day-use permit from the visitor center.

Getting around in here requires fitness and agility and can expose you to heights, and there is no formally maintained trail, so be sure to keep carefully to the marked route if you choose to come here without a guide.

Fiery Furnace Formation
Fiery Furnace Formation

Day 2 – More Arches, Biking & Horseback Riding

Sunrise Scenic Drive

Since you’re likely waking up a little tired on day two after a good bit of hiking on the first day, take the opportunity to do some more touring in the early morning from the comfort of your vehicle.

If you only made it as far in as, say, the Petrified Dunes and the Windows on day one, drive all the way back to Panorama Point and then make the right turn for the Wolfe Ranch and Delicate Arch Area.

The Delicate Arch is another one of Arches National Park’s most prized features. And best of all, there is an Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint and a Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint, so this is an ideal area to visit when you’re not planning on venturing very far away from the paved road.

Bring a camera for this one, as the views of Delicate Arch at sunrise are the stuff of the most iconic images of the American West, with the surrounding panorama featuring wide-open skies, snow-capped peaks, and the Utah desert.

 Delicate Arch at sunset
Delicate Arch at sunset

Moab for Lunch

After your morning of touring in the park, you’ll have a nice chance to make a short retreat to the town of Moab for lunch. Local favorite watering holes and eateries like Moab Brewery and Moab Diner are great places to grab a bite and chat with some friends before heading back to the national park.

And if you make it to town feeling like it’s too early for a beer and a burger, breakfast and brunch options are in no short supply. Try Love Muffin Café or Jailhouse Café for eggs benedict and a coffee.

Try Mountain Biking or Road Cycling

It’s a bit more challenging to find good mountain biking in Arches than some other areas around Moab since bikes aren’t allowed on trails or anywhere that’s not a road.

With that said, mountain bikes are well-suited to some of the park’s dirt roads like the Salt Valley and Willow Springs roads, and touring the paved roads on a road bike or e-bike can be an exciting way to get some exercise while sightseeing.

This is an especially good option for the cooler times of the year, and this is best done on a weekday with relatively low levels of on-road traffic. If you’re renting bikes in Moab, a paved path connects the town to the entrance to Arches and then continues along US 191 to UT 313.

Even if you’re just getting out for a few hours, always plan strategically, as access to water, shade, and facilities can be limited to non-existent in this desert climate.

If biking isn’t really your thing, the afternoon of your second day can also be a great time to check out some more light hiking options.

While others are off mountain biking one of the unpaved roads, you can always do a shorter hike somewhere like the Windows that you didn’t get to do on day one. Double Arch is a nice 0.5-mile, 20-minute hike that leads to the base of two huge archways that are joined at one end.

Another low-key hike that’s not far from the Arches Visitor Center is the short walk and climb to a prehistoric rock art site, the Courthouse Wash Pictograph Panel. This large, colorful panel of ancient rock art stands as a reminder of the Native Americans and their passage through this area for many hundreds of years.

Alternatively, you can venture south of the Moab to Dead Horse Point State Park and do some hiking there.

Salt Valley Overlook
Salt Valley Overlook

Evening Horseback Riding

You can likely work out DIY cycling and hiking when you visit Arches National Park if you choose, but an evening horseback ride is one activity where you’ll need to hire a guide, as horseback riding is highly regulated in the park and best done with professionals.

Once you’ve made a booking with an outfitter, however, this can be one of the most exhilarating ways to explore the park.

Taking in the view of Delicate Arch at sunset from horseback will have you feeling like you’re in a scene from your favorite Western movie, and learning to handle the reins while safely riding with a group is a great way for families to introduce younger kids to this activity.

Have More Time?

Book a Raft Trip on the Colorado River

The Colorado River runs alongside Arches National Park before draining through the Moab Valley, making for an abundance of rafting and water recreation opportunities. If you find yourself having 3 days in Arches at your disposal, consider devoting part of a day to booking a raft trip.

Local outfitters will float you on various sections from Westwater Canyon near the Colorado border all the way down to Moab and beyond, with float trip durations ranging from just a couple of hours to longer overnights.

If you prefer to pre-book your rafting adventure ahead of time, some options including this full-day trip along the Westwater Canyon, this half-day rafting trip or this full-day rafting and Jeep tour.

Colorado River overlook
Colorado River overlook

Spend More Time in Moab

Moab might be best known as a basecamp for adventurers looking to access Arches or Canyonlands, as well as the rest of the surrounding area, but the town itself also has a lot to offer for travelers.

The Museum of Moab is a great local attraction that’s home to a collection of dinosaur bones and other archaeological artifacts, and the main downtown strip has an array of gift and specialty shops with pieces made by local artisans for sale.

Among these is the Moab Rock Shop, where an impressive selection of geodes and other interesting fossils and rocks can help to deepen a sense of the area’s geologic history.

Where to Stay in Arches

Adventure Inn Moab – An excellent choice for mid-range travellers, this boutique hotel is the perfect place to rest your head in Moab. They have a number of great rooms available, free parking on site, and even have laundry facilities so you can keep your clothes clean while exploring the beauty of Arches National Park.

Comfort Suites Moab – If you have a bit of a higher budget and are looking for some consistent comfort to ensure you’re well-rested for exploring the national park, then this is a great choice for you. Not only do they have a range of rooms available, but they also have a heated swimming pool to take the edge off a long day.

Private Rental – If you’d rather have your own private home when spending time in Arches National Park than stay in a hotel there are a number of fantastic options available to you. For instance, this quaint house in Moab is located within easy reach of Arches.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Moab hotels

Balanced Rock in Arches
Balanced Rock in Arches

While smaller than Canyonlands and Zion, Arches National Park holds just as much potential for outdoor explorers and casual sightseers.

Two days is plenty of time to do this area justice, with a little time to spare for checking out the town of Moab. So dial in your nightly accommodations or means of camping and your mode of transportation, and you’ll be well-equipped to plan your Arches itinerary.  

Are you planning a trip to this beautiful park? Have any questions about visiting? Let us know in the comments!

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Duncan is a writer for The World Was Here First. He lives in Colorado and also works as a fly fishing guide and instructor when not editing or writing. He has spent time in Costa Rica and has made numerous trips exploring the Western states of the Rocky Mountains.


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