Over President’s Day weekend, I packed up the car and left town early to escape the overcast grey skies of the Wasatch Front. As I drove southeast, each passing mile of the three-and-a-half-hour road trip down to Moab meant less snow-covered peaks and more red rocks sneaking into the terrain.
The promising forecast of 55 degree weather and the off-season crowds made it one of the best times to intimately explore Arches National Park. With over one million annual visitors, you are bound to see other people on the trails, but visiting this park before the peak season (April – September) is a great way to escape the crowds.
There are over 2,000 natural arches, making the grand landscape of Arches National Park home to the greatest concentration in the country. Beyond that, the beauty of the balanced red rocks, sloping sandstone hills, peaks, spires, and slick rock canyons of Arches make this park an ultimate destination for desert rats. Inside the park, there are 14 hiking trails to choose from, along with areas for rock climbing and canyoneering. Surrounding trails just outside of the park give you access to mountain biking and ATVing.
The entrance fee is $25, so shelling out $80 for an annual parks pass is worth it for the chance to visit this part of Moab again, or any of Utah’s other national parks. You can’t live in Utah without seeing the iconic Delicate Arch that appears on Utah license plates, but once you get away from the ant march of traffic on the trail, try some of the lesser-known hikes such as the Fiery Furnace. You’ll need to purchase a $6 permit in order to navigate the sandstone fins of the furnace, and if you need a helping hand, rangers are always available for guided tours. With 76,000 acres of Arches’ delicate desert ecosystem, you can have hours of fun exploring the park.
SPRING BREAK ITINERARY
MONDAY: Moab is a popular tourist destination, which means planning ahead is crucial so you don’t end up driving around trying to find a campsite at the last minute. Inside of Arches, Devil’s Garden Campground is often full. Instead, take advantage of the many surrounding campsites outside of the park for cheaper rates. I’d recommend the Sand Flats Recreation Area, just eight miles south of Arches. There are 120 sites to choose from at $15 a night. Each campsite has a fire ring and picnic table, and all are within short walking distance of a vault toilet.
Once you set up camp, go for a scenic drive through Arches to take in the sights of Delicate Arch and the Windows section. Here you can see some of the largest and most iconic arches in the entire park. Check out the historic Wolfe Ranch, home of the first family of settlers to live in Arches.
TUESDAY: Start at Devils Garden campground and hike the 7.8-mile primitive trail loop. The farther along you get, the thinner the crowds become. You’ll see seven arches on this hike, starting with the 290-ft. span of Landscape Arch. Hiking the primitive trail is a great way to break away from the crowds while taking in the beautiful scenery of the park. Just make sure you’re prepared to do a bit of scrambling and sliding as you navigate over the terrain. As you traverse farther along the trail, enjoy the seclusion of the surrounding valley of desert life and geological formations.
WEDNESDAY: When your body is good and sore from the previous days’ hike, head over to Moab Main Street to visit the in-town attractions. Get your feet off the ground at Raven’s Rim Zip Line adventures and catch a birds-eye view of Moab for $129. If heights aren’t your thing, at the same location and for the same price, you can book a 2.5 hour 4WD adventure tour through the high desert. There are many shuttle services in the area to drop off and pick you up at the end of the day if you choose to try out river rafting or mountain biking.
THURSDAY: Finish your trip hiking some of the moderate trails. Trek a mile to check out historic rock art panels at Courthouse Wash (one mile), gaze in wonder at Balanced Rock (0.3 miles), or navigate sand dunes and slick rock as you make your way to Broken Arch Loop (two miles).
FRIDAY: If being surrounded by million-year-old rocks makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, then it’s worth it to make a stop at the Moab Giants Dinosaur Park before you hit the road home.
The attraction is conveniently placed just nine miles north of Moab on Hwy 191 and boasts a large concentration of fossils. Tickets are $22 to enjoy all the indoor and outdoor activities of this mini Jurassic park. Roam along the dinosaur trail to discover over 100 life-sized dinosaur models, check out ancient sea creatures in the paleoaquarium, and browse the museum to learn all about the animals that lived in Moab centuries ago.