Arches and Canyonlands national parks are just like those boots from the Patsy Cline classic: made for walking. Bring your hiking shoes as both of these popular and iconic southeast Utah locations offer some of the best, most-scenic desert hiking in the world. Take your pick from trails that lead to everything from towering red sandstone spires and maze-like slot canyons to “how’d it get there?” arches and “how’d it get so deep?” rim-top vistas. Here are a few top hikes from each national park that you can pair for a memorable visit to the neighbors (only separated by a 30-minute drive) that lie just outside the adventure hub that is Moab.
Arches National Park
Considered one of America’s true scenic wonders, Arches National Park preserves 76,679 acres of high desert on the Colorado Plateau, highlighted by red sandstone canyons, fins, spires, impossibly balanced rocks and more than 2,000 gravity-defying arches, the highest concentration in the country. With elevations ranging from 4,085 to 5,653 feet above sea level and bordered by the Colorado River, expect a landscape of contrasting colors and textures—especially at sunset—backdropped against the towering, snow-capped La Sal Mountains. Note: With nearly 1.7 million annual visitors, the park implemented a temporary timed entry system running from April 3 to October 3, 2022, to help manage traffic. To enter, visitors will need a timed entry ticket (available in advance online at recreation.gov), photo ID and park entrance fee or valid park pass. More info: nps.gov/arch
Delicate Arch Trail
Here’s a moderate, 3.2-mile out-and-back with a twist. Most of this popular trail is on slickrock, the same sedimentary sandstone layer forming the park’s arches. Stroll ramps, ledges and wide-open bowls, making your way 629 feet up to the fragile rainbow of rock at the end of the line. The trail starts out easy, with most of the climbing coming once you hit the slickrock ramp in its second half. At the top of the slickrock section, take a careful glance south to take in the snow-capped La Sal mountains. But pay attention; the trail narrows here to just 3 feet wide, with a sheer drop to your left and a cliff rising on your right. And don’t second-guess if you’re on the correct trail; you won’t see the arch until rounding the corner at the very end. Note: If you try it in winter, beware of ice on the last section.
Located at the end of the park road (18 miles and about a 45-minute drive north of the Visitor Center), Devils Garden is one of the park’s premier hikes. You’ll find a maze of arches, spires, and narrow rock walls called fins, the predecessor to arches. Plan a full day for the whole 7.9-mile loop; it might not sound like much, but it’s filled with side-journeys and stops to take in the spectacular landscape. One is Landscape Arch, the longest arch in North America at 306 feet (and only 6 feet in diameter in places after portions collapsed 20 years ago). Other worthy detours include short spurs to Pine Tree and Tunnel arches, the Double O Arch, Navajo and Partition arches, and Dark Angel. Hit them all and you’re in for a nearly 8-mile trek. Note: The “primitive” trail on the return portion has a couple spots requiring some delicate down-climbing and side-edging of your shoe soles, so be prepared in hiking shoes with good traction (not flip-flops). If you want to camp, reserve a spot at the Devils Garden Campground ahead of time from March through October (first-come, first-served in winter).
Located near the center of the park (14 miles from the Visitor Center), Fiery Furnace is one of the park’s crown jewel hikes, a natural labyrinth of narrow passages winding between towering sandstone walls, fins and arches. Viewed from above, it looks like a literal maze. While this section of the park harbors several hundred arches (play a game to see how many you can find), the most popular and easy-to-spot ones include Walk Through, Crawl Through, Skull, Kissing Turtles and Surprise arches. While the trail is only 2 miles long, you’ll need a few hours to scale its ramps and stairways and explore its myriad side-passages. You’ll be on slickrock most of the time. But don’t expect a smooth bike path; you’ll encounter uneven terrain, narrow ledges above drop-offs, loose sand and thin slots to squeeze your way through (pass on dessert the night before). Wear good hiking shoes with gripping soles (no sandals or high heels allowed). Each person must also carry at least one quart of water, stowed in a backpack so your hands are free to help navigate the terrain. Note: Due to its difficult nature, children under age 5 are not allowed, with an adult required to accompany children aged 12 and under. While pre-COVID, the park offered ranger-guided tours, in 2022 it only offers self-guided hikes, requiring a permit purchased in advance at recreation.gov and watching an orientation video describing the area and how to minimize your impact. Not up for the hike? The Fiery Furnace overlook is accessible to all; hit it at sunset to see the colorful red sandstone bathed in alpenglow.