best day hikes in arches and near moab

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night sky at Arches National Park

ARCHES NATIONAL PARK, near Moab in Utah, preserves some of the defining scenery of the American Southwest. The park has something like two thousand natural sandstone arches, including the symbol of the state of Utah - Delicate Arch. It's a relatively small and very popular park, whose most famous features are close enough to roads that you can easily see most of them in a day or two's visit. Despite the crowds it's famous for a good reason, and I often stop by again on a trip to Moab. There's almost always something different to see and photograph. This page summarizes some of the best day hikes in Arches, along with some suggestions for lesser known hikes just outside the park.
The Windows
Driving from the park entrance, you pass Balanced Rock and various other canyons and rock formations to reach the first major concentration of large arches in the Windows section. No real hiking is necessary here - the Windows themselves, Turret Arch, and the spectacular Double Arch are all within a few hundred yards of the parking lot. Unsurprisingly, this area is frequently very crowded.

Windows Arches national park Utah
Sunset in the Windows section of Arches National Park

You've almost certainly seen various postcard images of the Windows. The image of Turret Arch seen through one of the Windows is a dawn shot, though the area is equally beautiful at sunset.

Landscape Arch and the Devil's Garden
The Devil's Garden section of the park lies at the end of the main paved road. The highlight of this area is the almost unbelievably fragile looking Landscape Arch, whose span of 300 feet competes with Kolob Arch for the title of longest natural arch. (Kolob Arch, in Zion National Park, is a long-ish but rewarding hike, but the arch itself is nowhere near as impressive as Landscape Arch.) It's an easy two mile round trip on a freeway of a trail to see the arch, and despite the crowds the trip should not be missed. The best light on the arch is at dawn or soon afterwards, though good photographs are hard to come by even then, since the locations close to or underneath the span which would offer the most interesting angles are off limits to hikers.

landscape arch utah
Landscape Arch, Utah
Double O Arch, Arches national park
Double O Arch

Beyond Landscape Arch, a more lightly frequented trail makes a four or five mile loop across and through the sandstone fins of the Devil's Garden. Double O Arch is the most interesting formation along the loop, but several smaller arches and more or less interesting rock formations can be reached via short side trails. This is also a nice - and quiet - location from which to see sunrise in the park. My brother and I once hiked out to near Double O Arch for dawn, and caught some nice light on the rock fins with the feeling that there was no-one else around for miles.
Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch Utah
The incomparable Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch is the most famous feature of Arches, and the only major sight which requires a modicum of effort to visit, as it's some three miles (round trip) and 500 feet above the trailhead. The route is easy, though as there's no shade it's extremely hot during the summer. Take water, and avoid the worst heat by starting late in the day (or, better, go in the spring or fall), but do not pass up the opportunity to see the arch if at all possible. It's an excellent short hike - one of the best to be found anywhere - with a dramatic reveal of the arch at the end. Expect to find a crowd at the arch pretty much anytime of the day (and into the night). The classic time for photography is toward sun down in the winter or spring, when the sandstone takes on a deep red shade that contrasts with the snow on the La Sal mountains in the background.

A timelapse tour of Arches National Park

Although Arches is close enough to Moab that the town lights are visible, the night sky is still spectacular. The video shows some of the highlights of the park. This was shot over a few days in springtime.

Nearby hikes: The Fisher Towers and Onion Creek
Fisher Towers hike Utah
The Fisher Towers

Moab is the base for a range of hiking and mountain biking adventures, most notably in Canyonlands national park which has numerous excellent day hikes. Outside the parks, I'd recommend exploring the Fisher Towers, which lie just off the scenic byway (SR-128) that follows the Colorado river out of Moab. There's an excellent 4-5 mile hike that gives a close-up view of the famous climbing formations en route to an overlook of the Colorado River valley.

Onion Creek Utah
Hiking Onion Creek
Onion Creek below the Fisher Towers
Below the Fisher Towers

It's also possible to hike among the small canyons that lie below the Fisher Towers. The Onion Creek road provides access to the start of the narrow section, about 3 miles off SR-128. It's a dirt road that fords the creek several times, but should be passable in decent weather. One can hike both the main canyon, and various side canyons that head off in the direction of the Fisher Towers. How far you go depends a bit on your willingness to do some scrambling, but you can certainly spend a fun half day exploring without much difficulty.
Dead Horse Point State Park
Sunset Dead Horse Point Utah
Sunset from Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Finally, if you're unsure where to go to see the sunset, Dead Horse Point is the classic choice. It's a small state park just off the road to the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands. There's a great view of the river far below.