Arches National Park: Utah’s Iconic Geological Wonder

Arches National Park: Utah’s Iconic Geological Wonder

Arches National Park is another delicate and awe-inspiring landmark in the United States. With towering burgundy sandstone arches and spires, Arches is truly one of the most unique parks of its kind.

The landscape around Arches National Park tells a different kind of story than most are used to. Visitation is measured more in the steps that you take, rather than the amount of time spent hiking to different monuments.

Each year, Arches attracts millions of visitors to its wonderland of red rocks and blue skies. Many of those visitors each year are RV campers in search of a new adventure.

Located just outside of the town of Moab, this popular national park in Utah offers plenty of accommodations for RV campers. Between several RV campgrounds, nearby grocery stores and gas stations, and the surrounding beauty at the heart of the Colorado Plateau.

There are plenty of reasons to put Arches National Park at the top of your list for an exhilarating RV vacation. With more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches located in the park, including the highly photographed Delicate Arch, Arches National Park is almost guaranteed to make long-lasting memories.

The park has the highest density of natural arches in the world. You can even get up close with many of the arches by hiking beneath them and resting in the cooling shade they provide away from the desert sun.

With so much to see and do in and around Arches National Park, there’s never been a better time to visit. That’s why we’ve written this comprehensive guide for your next RV trip to this incredible national park!

sunrise over the Arches National Park
Sunrise at Arches National Park

The History of Arches National Park

The region around Arches National Park has a long and dated history.

Humans have occupied the area since the last ice age, nearly 10,000 years ago. In fact, in some regions of the park, there are still petroglyphs remaining from ancestral Puebloans and Fremont people who lived in the area up until about 700 years ago.

The first Europeans to encounter the area around Arches National Park was a group of Spanish missionaries passing through in 1775. However, the area wasn’t inhabited by European-American until a group of Mormons known as the Elk Mountain Mission decided to settle down in 1855. 

As the years progressed, talk of the stunning sandstone arches started to spread across the newly forming country. Ranchers, farmers, and prospectors began to settle around Moab with hopes of starting new lives.

Traction for turning the Arches area into a national park began when Frank A. Wadleigh, the passenger traffic manager of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, was introduced to the area in 1923. He urgently suggest to the director of the National Park Service, Stephen T. Mather, to officially designate the area as a national monument.

A few years later, in April 1929, President Herbert Hoover signed a presidential proclamation to create Arches National Monument. In 1938, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a proclamation that greatly expanded the protected area that the Arches area encompassed.

Finally, in 1971, President Richard Nixon signed a bill which significantly reduced the total amount of protected area. However, included in that legislation was a proclamation to change the status of Arches National Monument to Arches National Park.

The Geological Formation of Arches National Park

Visitors who come to the park are often stunned by how other-worldly many of the rock formations look. 

The geological story goes back millions of years to explain how the arches, spires, monoliths, sandstone fins, and balanced rocks formed in what they are today. The primary cause for these unusual formations is due to a thick layer of salt that lies beneath the surface.

Nearly 300 million years ago, an ancient sea flowed into the region covering the entirety of the Colorado Plateau. Eventually, the sea evaporated and left huge salt beds behind. In the following sequence of events, layers of sandstone were deposited on top of the salt bed. 

The sun setting at Arches National Park

As thousands of feet of sediment began to pile up, the salt began to liquefy in some areas, thrusting up layers of rock into salt domes. For the next few hundred million years, wind-swept erosion and seeping water began to remove the younger rock layers from the surface.

The result of the earth’s forces mixing together and then separating are what created the beautiful salmon-colored rock formations we see today.

Although the park’s terrain appears to be extremely rugged, the opposite couldn’t be truer. The high-desert ecosystem is extremely fragile, especially when it comes into contact with the foot traffic from a million visitors each year.

Within the soil’s crust, there are tons of cyanobacteria, algae, fungi, and lichens that thrive in the high-desert dust on the surface. However, the scarce, unpredictable rainfall and lack of protection from plants makes the ecosystem slow to recover from compressional forces, such as foot traffic.

It may seem like a small price, but severe disruption of these tiny life forces can cause greater disruptions within the larger aspects of the ecosystem. That’s why it’s especially important to stick to the designated paths when visiting Arches National Park.

That way, we can all play a part in protecting these stunning and unique geological formations for future generations.

Getting to Arches National Park

Arches National Park is near the eastern border of Utah. It is located just five miles north of the town of Moab, making it especially convenient for last minute stops or casual evenings out.

Most people who visit the park travel by car along the scenic drive, which provides plenty of sightseeing opportunities as well as pull off spots for some well-traveled trailheads.

As with most U.S. national parks, the private vehicle entrance fee is $30. If you plan on hanging around in the area for a while, the Southeast Utah Parks Pass will buy you one year of entry to Arches and Canyonlands national parks, and Natural Bridges National Monument for $55.

There is also the America the Beautiful Pass for $80. If you’re an avid RV traveler with plans to visit multiple national parks and federal recreational lands within the year, this will be your most economical option.

There are also fee free days on certain holidays. Be sure to check in on the Arches National Park website for further details.

In order to reach Arches National Park from the Las Vegas to the southwest, expect to travel for seven hours over a distance of 450 miles. The fastest route will take you up I-15 N into Utah and then you’ll cut across the state on I-70 E. Once you draw nearer to the park, take US-191 S to Arches Entrance Road.

If you’re heading in from the direction of Denver, Colorado, it’s a fairly simple drive as well. All you’ve got to do is travel westward on I-70 for five and a half hours over a distance of 350 miles. This route will also lead you to US-191 S to enter the park.

If you’re coming from the southeast, near Albuquerque, New Mexico, there are several routes available. I-40 W to US-491 N is a good bet, but US-550 N to US-491 N should shave a few minutes off of the trip. In either event, once you reach US-191 N, you’ll eventually be led to Arches Entrance Road. The entire trip should take you a little over six hours, and just under 400 miles.

There is only one main way to enter Arches National Park, so any GPS mapping should take you to the primary visitor’s entrance.

RV Camping near Arches National Park

There is only one campground within Arches National Park. The Devils Garden Campground does accommodate RVs between 20 and 40 feet in length but there are no hookups available at any of the sites.

The Devils Garden Campground allows visitors to camp among slick rock outcroppings unique to the region. There are 51 total sites available and sites usually book up months in advance. Although, you can reserve standard campsites up to six months in advance.

This campground is a great choice if you want the full rustic experience among some of Arches most iconic rock formations. There is no cell phone reception, no internet connectivity, no dump stations, no showers, and no laundry facilities. However, you will have access to potable water at the filling station, firewood, and flush toilets.

The Devils Garden Campground costs $25 per night for a standard individual site.

Fortunately, there are several alternatives to the Devils Garden Campground if the park sites are all booked up, or if you want to have access to a greater number of amenities.

These include the Slickrock Campground RV & Tent Camping Resort, the Moab Valley RV Resort, the Archview RV Resort and Campground, the Canyonlands Campground, the Spanish Trail RV Park & Campground, and the OK RV Park & Canyonland Stables.

Each of these campgrounds accommodate RV campers and range between $20 and $50 per night. Each campground is also less than 16 miles away from the park entrance to Arches.

Attractions at Arches National Park

There is plenty to do within Arches National Park, especially if you’re into hiking and backpacking. Many of the park’s trails culminate in rewarding viewpoints looking over some of the iconic red rock formations.

The Delicate Arch Trail is probably one of the most popular trails, because it concludes with the fantastic sight of the Delicate Arch, which seems to defy the elements pressing against it.

Delicate Arch at Arches National Park, Utah
Delicate Arch at Arches National Park
Photo by SoloTravelGoals on Unsplash

Adventurous types also find thrills hiking the Fiery Furnace trail, which leads through a series of narrow passages surrounded by towering red sandstone walls. However, because it’s easy to get lost among these walls, and because GPS technology often does not seem to work within the area, visitors must apply for ranger-guided hikes or permits to enter the area alone.

There are also plenty of landmarks that are easier to access with shorter and easier hikes. Landscape Arch is North America’s longest arch, stretching 306 feet from end to end. It takes about 50 minutes hiking along flat ground from the Devils Garden trailhead to the arch.

Balanced Rock is also another iconic sight, where a hundred-foot boulder sits precariously perched atop a thin pedestal of rock. 

Balanced Rock at Arches National Park
Balanced Rock at Arches National Park

The Windows Section is about 2 miles in size and is considered to be one of the most scenic areas in the park. It is home to some of the largest arches in the park and is additionally one of the easiest areas to reach by hiking one of the many short trails out from the parking lot.

Upon entering the park, the Arches Visitor Center is well-worth stopping by. Many visitors have referred to the center as a “gold mine of information.” There are exhibits inside and outside of the building that describe some of the park’s geologic formations, human history, plant life, and animal populations.

The Arches Visitor Center also plays a film every 30 minutes, which fills you in on even more of the finer details of the surrounding area.

A Teetering National Park 

With such a unique geological landscape, it’s easy to see why RV adventurers come from hundreds (and sometimes, thousands) of miles around to witness the beauty only found in Arches National Park.

In the summer months, the temperatures in the Arches area can exceed 100 degrees. Although it’s a dry heat, exploring the park’s trails can be very uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous, in order to see some of the greater landmarks.

The best time to schedule an RV trip therefore is in April and May, or September and October.

If you want to avoid the crowds, visiting in the winter can also be a great option. The average temperatures in December and January fall between 22°F and 44°F. A winter visit can also elicit the even more extravagant site of seeing some of the arches dusted with a light covering of powdery snow.

Taking an RV adventure out to Arches National Park is certainly a journey that every RV owner should make. 

From scenic drives to hiking in narrow canyons, incredible stargazing to sunlight adorning the rugged faces of sandstone spires, Arches National Park is undoubtedly a geological wonderland.

Interested in other U.S. National Parks, then check out our National Park checklist.