Exploring the Park by Car
You 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 view points or stretching your legs on a variety of longer hikes. The main road is easy to navigate, even for RVs, but parking at some view points 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 blackbrush, 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, and then proceed past the "petrified" sand dunes to Balanced Rock, a huge boulder weighing about 3,600 tons, perched on a slowly eroding pedestal.
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. 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 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. You can also 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 view point 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 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 trail head. From here you can hike to some of the most unusual arches in the park, including Landscape Arch, considered the longest natural rock arch in the world.
From the trail head parking lot, it's 18 miles back to the visitor center.
Although not many have left their mark in this rugged area, a few intrepid Ute Indians and pioneers have spent time here. Just off the Delicate Arch Trail is a Ute petroglyph panel that includes etchings of horses and possibly of bighorn sheep. Also, near the beginning of the trail is Wolfe Ranch. Disabled Civil War veteran John Wesley Wolfe and his son Fred moved here from Ohio in 1898; John's daughter Flora, her husband, and their two children arrived in 1907. They left in 1910, after which John's cabin was destroyed by a flash flood. The cabin used by Flora's family survived and has been preserved by the Park Service. You'll see the cabin, a root cellar, and a corral.
For a delightful escape from the desert heat, take a break at the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve, 934 W. Kane Creek Blvd. (tel. 435/259-4629; www.nature.org/wherewework). Owned by the Nature Conservancy, this lush oasis attracts more than 200 species of birds and other wildlife, such as river otters, beavers, and muskrats. The preserve has a wheelchair-accessible 1-mile loop trail, boardwalks over the wet areas, and a two-story viewing blind. Guided bird walks are given (call for the current schedule), and bird and wildlife lists and self-guided tour brochures are available. In late spring and summer, visitors are advised to bring mosquito repellent.
The preserve is open daily year-round from dawn to dusk, and admission is free. From downtown Moab, go south on Main Street to Kane Creek Boulevard (btw. McDonald's and Burger King); go west about 3/4 mile, passing the Moab Public Works Department, to a Y in the road. Take the left fork, and continue for about another 1/2 mile to the preserve entrance. From the parking area, a footpath and bridge lead over Mill Creek to an information kiosk and into the preserve.
Many visitors to Arches spend time at nearby Canyonlands National Park.
Scouting Movie Locations Around Moab
Pick up a free "Moab Movie Locations" brochure in the Moab Information Center, Center and Main streets (or download it from the website, www.discovermoab.com/movie.htm), and you can head to your favorite movie locations in the area. See where scenes for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) were shot in Arches National Park. At Canyonlands' Island in the Sky, Max von Sydow as Christ delivered the Sermon on the Mount in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965); he stood facing the Green River at the Green River Overlook on a rock to the left of the fence. Just 2,000 years later in cinematic time, the two heroines of Thelma & Louise (1991) drove off the cliff under Dead Horse Point 10 miles down the Shafer Trail (also called Potash Road), an unpaved road off Rte. 279, 19 miles south of Moab. Earlier in the film, at Arches' Courthouse Towers, they locked a pursuing police officer in his patrol car trunk, and several chase scenes were filmed in the La Sal Mountains outside the town of La Sal off Rte. 46.
For fans of westerns, in Rio Grande (1950), John Wayne rescued kidnapped cavalry children from a pueblo just off Utah Scenic Byway 128, a half-mile up a dirt road from Milepost 19, and located a hideout in The Comancheros (1961), 1 mile east of Milepost 21. In Cheyenne Autumn (1964), cavalryman Richard Widmark chased the Cheyenne across a flat area south of the Arches' South Park Avenue. And Devils Garden in Arches served as the site where an Indian ambush trapped the U.S. Cavalry in the truly terrible Taza, Son of Cochise (1954), starring Rock Hudson and Barbara Rush. More recent movies that shot scenes in the area include Geronimo, City Slickers II, Mission Impossible II, 127 Hours, and Guns, Girls, and Gambling.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.