double o arch at arches national park

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We couldn’t spend 10 days in Moab without at least one trip to Arches National Park.  Before visiting I was worried about the crowds at the popular Arches National Park.

When visiting, I noticed the herds of people aren’t all concentrated in one area of this sprawling park but the delays and crowding can still get really annoying. We discovered a few easy ways to avoid the crowds and find some solitude at Arches National Park.

delicate arch

How crowded is Arches? 

Arches National Park contains the densest concentration of natural stone arches in the world.   With the abundance of arches combined with the popular Moab location, Arches National Park gets more than 1.5 million visitors each year

With over 1.5 million people visiting the National Park each year and it is notoriously overcrowded. The peak season is between April and October. Most trailhead parking lots in the park remain full all day during these months.

Prior to 2022, the park closed its gates midday to limit visitors. We experienced this on our first drive into Moab in 2020, while camping at a nearby free BLM spot. The park gate was closed midday with digital signage posting “Park Full”. 

If you want to camp near Arches, check out Arches National Park Camping: Options from Free to Luxury in Moab.

We were not surprised the park was busy on the weekend but didn’t think this was a weekday issue as well. We were wrong, the park “closed its gates” at midday for the majority of the two weeks we were in Moab.

In 2022, Arches National park adopted a reservation system to reduce crowds and long entrance lines. Visitors to Arches without a reservation can enter the park before 6 am or after 5 pm or through one of the multiple OHV trails leading into the backside of the park.

Why can’t I go to Arches?

At the time, I was really upset that we couldn’t visit the Arches as planned.

In hindsight, there is one main road through the park.  Imagine if everyone entering the park were constantly bumper to bumper along the same road heading to the same destinations. 

Crowds in Arches would be overwhelmingly miserable if NPS didn’t restrict visitors. A new crowd control methodology has been implemented at Arches National Park, with timed entry reservations.   

kara at arches national park entrance sign

When will Arches reopen? 

During peak season, April to October, entrance reservations are required from 6 am until 5 pm.

During off-peak, the park occasionally closes its gates midday to prevent overcrowding. There is no set schedule for reopening the gates at Arches but we’ve noticed them closing around 11 am and reopening around 2 pm.

You will not be allowed to line up at the Arches entrance and wait for reopening if the gates are closed.

We arrived around 11 am on an off-peak weekday in 2019 to find the familiar “Park Full” sign posted and were severely disappointed.    Instead of going home defeated, we visited nearby Canyonlands National Park.

There are several great hikes in Moab that are outside of the park if your plans get spoiled like ours.

Do I need a reservation at Arches?

In 2022, Arches instituted a timed reservation-only system for entrance to the park from April 3 until October 3. Visitors must have advance reservations to visit Arches National Park between 6 am and 5 pm.

Who needs reservations at Arches?

Everyone visiting Arches between 6 am and 5 pm during peak season, April and October, needs a timed entry reservation. Vehicles without reservations will be turned away.

How to make entry reservations for Arches?

Timed entry reservations can be made on recreation.gov for a $2 service fee per vehicle (in addition to entrance fees or annual park pass fees).

When to go to Arches to avoid crowds? 

Visiting early in the morning or later in the afternoon is the best time to avoid crowds at most national parks.

Most visitors arrive at Arches National Park around 9 am and leave by 4 pm so plan your day to do the opposite.

Go for a sunrise hike, go back home for a midday nap or have a leisurely lunch, and then head back into the park for more late afternoon exploration when everyone else is leaving.

For recommendations for sunrise and sunset hikes, check out Complete Hiking Guide to Arches National Park: Trail Recommendations for Beginner to Advanced.

The National Park Service recommends arriving before 9 am or after 2 pm to avoid the crowds.

sunrise at arches national park

What not to miss at Arches National Park?  

The most popular sites you will not want to miss at Arches are the Arches Scenic Drive, Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch, Double O Arch and Double Arch. But everyone else visiting will want to see the same places, so you’ll need a strategy to avoid crowds at Arches.

rock fins at arches national park

Affordable, Self Guided Tour of Arches National Park

I recommended Gypsy Guides to maximize your time in National Parks.   Arches National Park was so much better with our Gypsy Guide app telling us stories and guiding us around the park.   The guide also recommends the best time of day for the photography, shady trails or smaller crowds. 

The app is available for Android and iPhones.   Price ranges from free to $15 depending upon the area being covered.   I don’t usually pay for phone apps but Gypsy is the one exception.

We purchased Gypsy Guide Apps for every National Park we visited during our first year of full-time RV living. Check out our story to learn how we were able to travel full-time in our 30s.   

The Arches and Canyonland combo is $12.99 and worth every penny.  The app uses the phone GPS (no cell reception needed) to play short audio clips as you approach new attractions.   

Gypsy tells you the best places to stop for pictures, animal sightings, sunrise/sunset views, and what each hike offers.  You will not miss any highlights of the park if you have the Gypsy Guide.   Honestly, Gypsy is priceless and makes our National Parks trips exponentially better.  

arches national park

4 Easy Ways to Avoid Crowds at Arches

There are a few ways to avoid the crowds and keep your sanity at Arches National Park.

At first, some of these suggestions might seem like a bit of a hassle. But if you’ve ever searched for a parking place midday at a popular trailhead, you are probably willing to try a few easy changes.

  • Arrive before Sunrise
  • Hike Longer or Difficult Trails
  • Eat Dinner in the Park
  • Visit Less Popular Spots
view on devils garden trail arches national park

Arrive Early for Sunrise: A Great Way to Avoid Crowds at Arches  

Sunrises require commitment and dedication and most people aren’t willing or able to get their family up extra early on vacation. You’ll have a lot more parking options and solitude if you can arrive before the sun rises.

On our first visit to Arches, we arrived early to ensure that we could get into the park and it was a great way to miss the crowds.

Most early morning Arches National Park visitors are either photographers or other dedicated and determined travelers like you who just want to see this amazing spot without the hoards of daytime visitors.

As we entered the park around 7 am, the sun was rising and we were treated to many great views of the sandstone formations which make this area so popular.  

We stopped at several formations to take pics before heading to hike the longest trail in Arches, Devils Garden.  

balanced rock arches national park
Balanced Rock in Arches National Park

Hike a Longer Trail to Avoid Crowds at Arches

A great way to avoid crowds at National Parks is to spend time on less traveled trails.

Hiking a more difficult or longer trail will allow you to avoid the crowds in Arches since most people are not able or inclined to hike them.  Many visitors walk a mile or two but will not commit to longer mileage or more complex rated trails.

If you are physically able, consider tackling the moderate or difficult-rated trails with longer mileage at Arches to avoid the crowds.

After reading about the longest trail in the park, the 7.8-mile Devil’s Garden Primitive Loop, I knew most visitors would avoid this trail despite the opportunity to see eight arches up close on a single hike.

We aren’t the usual National Park visitors since we usually spent a week or more at each park. Therefore, we don’t have the rushed vacation mindset and usually spent several partial days exploring each park. Plus, we like hiking and I was interested in the challenge of Devils Garden Primitive Loop.

Devils Garden Primitive Loop Trail 

If you don’t want to hike the full 7.8-mile Devil’s Garden primitive loop, you can visit the first three arches without even walking a mile or climbing any rocks.  Landscape Arch is within this first section and definitely worth the short walk.

landscape arch arches national park
Landscape Arch

However, the crowds at the first three arches, which are much closer to parking lots, vastly outnumbered the total number of hikers we saw on the remaining six miles of primitive trail.   I estimate we saw a dozen people on the primitive section of the trail but hundreds of people on the first section of the trail.  

The majority of National Park visitors don’t venture more than a mile from their car. So if you take a longer or more difficult trail at Arches, you’ll avoid most of the crowds once you get off the beaten path.

For complete hiking details including short, easy and family-friendly recommendations check out Complete Hiking Guide to Arches National Park: Trail Recommendations for Beginner to Advanced.

courthouse tower at arches national park
Courthouse Towers at Arches National Park

Eat Dinner in the Park

This tip might sound silly but pack a picnic dinner and take the “second shift” to avoid the crowds at Arches.

If you want to eat out in Moab, have a leisurely lunch in one of the area’s restaurants and then pack a light dinner or snacks for an evening in the park. When everyone else is leaving the park after a long day, you’ll have to share the best spots with a lot fewer people.

Keep in mind, that Delicate Arch is a popular sunset destination so it might still be pretty crowded. Consider hiking the 0.7-mile trail to the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint instead. It provides a different perspective of one of the most popular arches in Utah.

In peak season (April until October), you do not need a timed entry reservation to visit Arches after 5 pm.

During our April visit, the sun didn’t set until around 8 pm which means we had plenty of daylight remaining to explore the park. Plus in the summer months, evening hikes are generally cooler than those in the midday sun.

hike over rock fin devils garden arches national park

Visit Less Popular Spots to Avoid Crowds

Arches National Park covers 120 square miles and some areas are more popular during certain times of the day.

To avoid crowds, I’d recommend going arriving early to check out the most popular spots like Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch and the Windows area.

After a morning of exploration, leave those overcrowded spots and spend your day off the beaten path in the beauty surrounding Moab before heading back into the National pack for an evening hike at Arches.

Off the Beaten Path Hikes at Arches National Park

The best way to get off the beaten path at Arches is to check out the less popular hikes like Sand Dune Arch, Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint or Tower Arch. They are equally beautiful and much less crowded than the main areas of the park. For more hiking ideas, check out the Ultimate Guide to Hiking at Arches.

It is also important to remember, that the same conditions exist for many miles around the park. So keep an open mind when exploring Southern Utah. The Moab area is home to thousands of arches and they are not restricted to the Arches’ boundary lines. Other equally beautiful Utah options include Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument or Red Canyon.

Alternatives to Arches in Moab

If Arches National Park is too crowded, then consider a few alternatives in Moab for hiking or arch viewing are:

  • Canyonlands National Park
    • Island in the Sky division is nearby with great hiking and cool breezes
    • a half-day is plenty of time to explore Canyonlands (longer hikes will obviously require more time)
    • National Park Passes are accepted
  • Dead Horse State Park
    • similar views and hiking to nearby Canyonlands
    • National Park Passes are not accepted; entrance is $25 per vehicle for 48 hours
  • Free Public Land Hiking Trails
    • Corona Arch
    • Bow Tie Arch
  • Scenic Drives
    • Hwy 128 – lots of scenic turnouts and hikes
    • Hwy 279 (Potash Rd) – dinosaur tracks, petroglyphs, roadside informational boards at the still functioning Potash plant, nearly constant Colorado River views, canyoneering, numerous offroad and hiking trail (including Corona & Bow Tie Arches)
colorado river view from schafer canyon road near moab and arches
  • Beginner OHV trails – advised following dry weather for confident drivers in high clearance 4WD vehicles
    • Schafer Canyon Road
      • begins where the blacktop ends on Potash Road (hwy 279)
      • sweeping scenic views
      • some narrow hairpin turns and uneven terrain
      • ends in Canyonland National Park
schafer canyon rd in moab
  • Gemini Bridges
      • popular shared-use trail system – primarily mountain biking and OHV
      • optional short hike to Gemini Bridges
      • possible in 2wd high clearance vehicle in dry conditions

How you can help reduce crowding at Arches National Park?

All Americans should visit our national parks. But we are part of the overcrowding and nightmares that NPS employees face every summer.

  • Read and follow all of the rules.
  • Carpool. You’ll save entrance fees and there will be more parking places available for others.
  • Consider cycling to the park. Moab has a great bike path from town to Arches. Prepare for a serious uphill climb at the park entrance.
  • Only park in designated spaces.
  • Don’t block traffic.
  • Stay on designated roadways to prevent vegetation damage.
  • Be a nice person. NPS employees are just doing their job so don’t take out your frustration on them.

How to avoid crowds at Arches? 

In conclusion, Arches National Park is chaotic but with some planning, you can avoid the crowds. However, the beauty is definitely worth the crowds.   I would recommend going during off-peak times and choosing your activities wisely to avoid the crowds at Arches.   If you are physically able, I’d also recommend finding solitude by hiking the Devil’s Garden Primitive Loop trail.  

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6 Comments

  1. Martha Whitfield says:

    Loved the blog, when I have more time, want to read some of the others I might have missed or read again. So glad you two get to enjoy the amazing beauty of this world God made. We have been to Arches on Photo trips. Would love to hike your trail while maybe still able to.

  2. Lorrie Moss says:

    Great job on the website. It is well written & easy to navigate. Kudos!

  3. Love your blog. I can almost hear it in your voice. 🙂 Beauiful pictures.

    1. Thanks for continuing to read. Hopefully, you guys can start road-tripping out west in a couple of years with the boys.

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