Experience Arches National Park in one day with this comprehensive itinerary!
Arches National Park is one of the “Mighty 5” national parks in Utah, alongside Bryce Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef. Although Zion is the most popular national park in Utah, I would argue that Arches National Park is an icon of Utah. If you look at the Utah license plate, the world-famous Delicate Arch – found within Arches National Park – is the main symbol. Even if you haven’t heard of Delicate Arch, you’ve seen Delicate Arch somewhere.
If the photo above looks familiar, that’s because it is Delicate Arch!
Arches National Park is a phenomenal national park because of the plentiful arches found throughout the landscape. An arch is a geologic oddity, formed over literal millions of years of erosion, wind, and freeze/thaw cycles. Even if you aren’t a geo nerd, it’s honestly fascinating that so many arches have popped up in one relatively small area.
With one day in Arches National Park, it’s easy to see the highlights and really experience the park. Find out how to do that with this complete Arches National Park one day itinerary!
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What you need to know about Arches National Park
Arches National Park is located in eastern Utah, just a couple hours from the Colorado border. The closest major airport is Salt Lake City (SLC) and the closest reasonably large regional airport is Grand Junction, in Colorado. Arches is just about 10 minutes from Moab and another 30 or so minutes from Canyonlands National Park, so there’s a lot to see in this area!
Arches is located in a legit desert, with harsh landscapes and soaring cliffs spotting the landscape. This means that the weather is extreme!
Summer daytime weather can reach into the low 100’s while nighttime weather dips as low as the 50’s, so the swings can be quite extreme. When exploring Arches, you need to keep this weather in mind – there aren’t many structures creating natural shade, and rock literally absorbs and reflects back heat! It can get dangerously hot quickly.
Arches ranges from 4,000 – 5,500 ft elevation throughout the park, so the elevation is similar to Denver. If you’re coming from sea level, you’ll feel it, but it’s nothing compared to Bryce Canyon.
Arches is a wildly popular national park. During peak weeks, the park will close as early as 7:30 am because it’s already at capacity. Plan to be in the park early – 6 am early! – during the busy season. Because the busy season is during the summer, this helps you avoid the heat, too, so it’s really for the best.
Where to stay to see Arches National Park
The closest town to Arches is Moab, and is a great launchpad for exploring both Arches and nearby Canyonlands National Park.
Of all the towns that cater to the Mighty 5 national parks, Moab is the least touristy. There are things to do in Moab besides the national parks (think ATVing, off-roading, slickrock biking, river rafting, and more) and that’s evident with the amenities and restaurants offered up in Moab.
In addition to these activities, Moab offers up genuinely awesome restaurants and shopping. If you’ve traveled to Colorado, Moab feels a bit like the people of Boulder, the environment of Golden, plopped into the main street of Breckenridge. It’s a cool town.
Moab is relatively small so staying in the city limits anywhere means you’ll be super close to all the action. However, the bulk of the shopping and restaurants are all located on the northside of town near the intersection of Main & Center Street. If you can snag a hotel there, you’ll be in the perfect location:
All the hotels recommended below are right in the center of Moab, with varied amenities and price ranges. You can’t go wrong with any of these options (although the Best Western Plus Canyonlands is absolutely stunning if it’s in your budget. Trust me, it’s a legit Best Western!).
How to spend your arrival day in Moab
The 1-day itinerary for Moab requires you to start early. Since you almost certainly won’t be arriving as early as 5 am, I assume you’ll have at least half a day to hang out around Moab.
If you want to do something adventurous, Moab has so many different options. You can raft the Colorado river, go off roading, bike the slick rock, go canyoneering, and more.
If you want to save your outdoorsy energy for Arches and Canyonlands, Moab offers up options for that, too. That was the route I took and I really enjoyed exploring Moab and taking a more low-key afternoon!
Start your day off with lunch at Milt’s Stop and Eat. Milt’s is a super popular burger joint that attracts locals and tourists alike. Get a burger, onion rings, and a milkshake for the whole Milt’s experience. And you may not know this, but fry sauce is a BIG DEAL in Utah, so definitely dip your fries or onion rings in the provided fry sauce, too.
My recommendation? Their chocolate peanut butter milkshake is out of this world.
From here, you’re going to drive south of town to visit a vineyard.
Yes, a real vineyard! How cool is that?
There are technically two wineries near Moab, but in my opinion, only one was worth visiting. If you are curious and have time to kill, then go check them both out. There’s one about 25 minutes up a canyon called Castle Creek Winery. This one was fine.
The one I really enjoyed was Spanish Valley Vineyards and Winery. Unlike Castle Creek, they grow their own grapes and produce their own wine. The tasting is something like $14 and includes 6 wine samples and the wine glass shown. Although I enjoyed all the wines, the Gewurztraminer wine was absolutely fantastic. It tasted like drinking wine on a front porch during a heatwave – fitting, since this is a desert.
From the winery, return to Moab and go shopping! Park your car somewhere around Main and Center and peruse the shops. There are outdoorsy shops, touristy shops, and everything in-between. Downtown Moab is done up really well and it’s so cute.
Whenever you end up hungry for dinner, I recommend checking out Sabaku Sushi.
I’ve become a bit of a sushi snob, thanks to the awesome dining options in Houston. Ever since becoming a snob, I’ve found that sushi in small towns is almost always disappointing. But Sabaku was legit delicious.
The fish was buttery soft, full of flavor, and paired with fresh, bright veggies. The flavors were more complex than a California roll, but didn’t rely on mayo for taste. Honestly, this is one of my new favorite sushi restaurants. If you like sushi, you gotta give Sabaku a try.
You could explore the town of Moab more – maybe hit up a brewery or shop – but my recommendation would be to go to bed early. You’re going to be setting your alarm for about 4:30 in the morning!
The complete 1 day itinerary for Arches National Park
Arches National Park is wildly popular and insanely hot during the summer months. Because of this, it is absolutely critical that you plan on a really early start. This will ensure that you actually get into the park (they close when it gets too crowded, which can happen as early as 7:30 am during busy weekends!) and help you avoid the scorching desert sun.
It’s worth it, I promise.
So set your alarm for 4:30 am and plan on heading straight to the Delicate Arch trailhead.
Start your day with the 3-mile Delicate Arch trail
Delicate Arch is a Utah icon, and if you only do one thing while in Arches National Park, it has to be Delicate Arch.
Delicate Arch is located about 25 minutes into Arches National Park, making the drive from Moab just about 35 minutes. Your goal is going to be to be at the trailhead by 6 am. I showed up before 5:45 am during the Memorial Day holiday weekend and it was nearly full.
Delicate Arch is a fairly strenuous hike, even though it’s only about 1.5 miles each way. You’re going to have to trek up some slickrock and it’s pretty much all climb until you arrive at Delicate Arch.
Because of this, it is VERY important to wear hiking boots. You need grippy shoes!
I was being eaten alive by mosquitos, so in addition to the regular hiking gear you’ll probably be packing, be sure to bring along some bug spray, too!
Don’t worry about taking breaks on the hike if you start to get tired. It took me just about an hour to reach Delicate Arch, and I’m definitely not much of a hiker (or exerciser, really…).
One thing that is really cool about the hiking community is the sense of solidarity. People would regularly stop to chat, encourage each other, and cheer each other on. I never felt alone, even though I traveled solo. It was genuinely awesome.
Before long, you’ll arrive at the majestic Delicate Arch. Isn’t she just awe-inspiring?
This photo is people-free, but there were tons of people here in reality. You have to be strategic and wait for a gap when someone isn’t near the arch. Luckily, hikers are a pretty cool bunch, so an orderly line forms to the left of the arch so that people can snag pictures up close. If you’re a little patient, you’ll be able to grab a picture while people walk out from under the arch to get their camera.
When you’ve gotten your fill of Delicate Arch, meander back to the parking lot. Don’t forget to use the restroom at the trailhead before you leave!
Head to Devil’s Garden to Check Out Some More Arches
Once you’re done with Delicate Arch, head to your car and make your way to Devil’s Garden.
Devil’s Garden is another wildly popular feature in Arches National Park, so you may struggle to find parking. I reached Devil’s Garden around 8:30 or 9 am during Memorial Day weekend and couldn’t find parking, so unfortunately, I missed out on Devil’s Garden.
However, if you’re able to snag a parking spot, this is an awesome place to explore.
For an easy hike, head to Landscape Arch. Landscape Arch is the longest arch in North America, spanning nearly 400 feet! The hike to Landscape Arch is an easy 1.9 mile, relatively flat trek. On the way to Landscape Arch, you can take two quick spurs to check out Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch.
The hike technically continues past Landscape Arch but it gets significantly more difficult. If you’re feeling motivated, go for it, but I vote turn around to explore the rest of the park.
When you’re done, hit the Scenic Drive and head to the Sand Dune Arch trailhead.
Backtrack to See Broken Arch and Sand Dune Arch
Meander on the Scenic Drive and make your way to the Sand Dune Arch trailhead. From this parking lot, you’ll be able to see two arches relatively quickly!
From the Sand Dune Arch trailhead parking lot, you’ll have the option to turn left towards Broken Arch or turn right towards Sand Dune Arch.
By this time in the day, you’re probably going to be hot and more than likely tired. I vote that you take this trail the easier way in order to see as much as possible in one day in Arches National Park.
My recommendation? Take the trailhead to the left to see Broken Arch. Don’t bother completing the loop – double back and continue the short (but sandy!) trail towards Sand Dune Arch.
I’ll be honest, both arches here were less exciting than other arches in the park. If you’re going to skip one portion, I think it could be this one, but if you have time, this is a quick jaunt!
If you were going to pick one of the two, I’d pick Sand Dune arch. It’s really shaded and a quick walk, so it’s a pretty pleasant stroll.
Meander back to the Garden of Eden and the Windows Section
After you’ve gotten your fill of Sand Dune and Broken arches, again head back to the Scenic Drive and follow signs to the Windows Section. Here, you’re going to visit a few more arches and a scenic view!
Don’t turn into the Garden of Eden viewpoint just yet. It’s easier on the way out, so plan to check that out after seeing the Windows.
From the Windows parking lot, you’ll have the opportunity to see four more arches: North Window, South Window, Turret, and Double Arch.
I’ll be honest: I was exhausted and arched out by this point, so I took the lazy route. If you’re feeling the same way, it’s easy to see the arches without hiking. If you are interested in checking the arches out up close and personal, however, the trails aren’t too long:
- North Window, South Window, and Turret Arch: All three arches can be reached with a relatively quick 1-mile loop on the Windows trail.
- Double Arch: A quicker, 0.5 mile hike from the parking lot to see two arches next to each other.
Like I said, I took the lazy way out and didn’t venture very far on the trail. It was like 100 degrees and I had already hiked Delicate Arch! The Windows trailhead was packed and the sun was intense when I arrived.
Trek back towards the Scenic Route and pull into the Garden of Eden viewpoint. This is a quick stop – but it’s super photogenic!
Check out the Balanced Rock Viewpoint
Just adjacent to the Windows Road is Balanced Rock on the Scenic Drive. Head there and park – but you’re not going to hike this trail.
Balanced Rock is easily viewable from the parking lot and there’s really no reason to get closer to it. By this point, you’ve probably been in Arches National Park for at least 5 hours. If you’re super motivated, I would recommend hiking Park Avenue instead of Balanced Rock, but it’s a short 20 minute hike to get closer.
Who knows how long Balanced Rock will stay intact, so enjoy it while you can!
Visit the Three Gossips (and Maybe Park Avenue)
After enjoying Balanced Rock, you’ll head back on the Scenic Drive and make your way nearly all the way to the Visitor Center. You’re going to check out Courthouse Wash towards the Three Gossips and Park Avenue!
This is a super nerdy thing to say, but I think of any rock formation I’ve seen, the Three Gossips is the most perfectly named. The rocks look like three catty women, heads leaned together, whispering. So perfect.
You can easily see the Three Gossips from a quick viewpoint, no hike required!
You’re so close to being done with your one day in Arches National Park, so if you’re over it, I understand. But if you want to really finish off your day, you can check out the Park Avenue hike. Park Avenue is named so because it looks like Park Avenue in New York City. How cool!
Park Avenue is a moderate, 2 mile hike that will take about 1.5 hours to finish. 1.5 hours is a lot to ask now that the sun is high in the sky and you’re tired so no shame if you want to breeze back to the visitor center!
Whenever you’re complete, stop by the visitor center to pick up any souvenirs you may like.
Head back to your hotel to shower
After spending your 5-8 hours in Arches National Park, you’re almost certainly sweaty, dusty, and exhausted.
Take a quick shower and a nap – it’s the best way to avoid the peak desert heat in Moab. And a great way to catch up on some sleep you may have missed from your 4:30 am wake-up call!
Enjoy dinner at one of these Moab staples
Now that you’re feeling refreshed and clean, you deserve an awesome dinner after all that hiking you did!
I know I’ve said it a few times, but Moab has some really legit dining options, so good luck picking!
If you didn’t hit up the restaurants I mentioned above, then they’re definitely contenders. For me, personally, I prefer a sit-down restaurant and something more hearty than sushi after a day of hiking, which is why I recommend Milt’s Stop-and-Eat or Sabaku Sushi for your arrival day.
Anyway! These restaurants below are some great dining options in Moab that are both delicious and really satisfying after a day of activity.
Antica Forma serves up wood-fired Neapolitan pizza and it is legit delish. Made with fresh ingredients and delightfully chewy crust, Antica Forma serves up pizzas that are sure to please anyone in your party.
I ordered the namesake pizza – the Antica Forma – and loved it. Caramelized onions, balsamic, mozzarella, basic, and prosciutto – does anything sound more delicious?!
They were absolutely packed when I showed up but the servers were really friendly. If they’re packed, be patient and kind to your server.
Blu Pig BBQ
If you want something really filling, Blu Pig BBQ is the way to go.
I live in Houston and have access to some of the best BBQ around, and I still found Blu Pig to be awesome BBQ. One of my favorite things ever is burnt ends, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to find a burnt ends sandwich.
This is KC style BBQ, which is my favorite kind.
Save room for dessert because the peach cobbler is out.of.this.world.
Not many restaurants in Moab are open past 9, which is how I came across the Moab Brewery. I had wanted to try Thai Bella (mentioned below), but they were closed by time I showed up.
Moab Brewery was pleasantly surprising, though! The food was great, the beer was refreshing, and the vibe was awesome. If you have a picky crew or just want to enjoy a cold one, you can’t go wrong at the Moab Brewery.
I wanted something light so I ordered the fish tacos. The fish was light and fluffy and the guacamole portion was super generous. The portion was HUGE and I definitely couldn’t finish it, but I enjoyed every bite that I had.
The nachos and burgers looked legit, too. I left happy.
Honorable Mention – Thai Bella
So many people recommended Thai Bella to me, so I can only assume it’s wonderful. I arrived too late (sad day), but if you have the time and love Thai food, Thai Bella is super highly recommended!