This spring we took our seven year old on a camping trip to Utah during her spring break from school. One of our favorite places turned out to be Arches National Park. The trails were exciting for both our daughter and us, the views unbeatable, and in March the weather was gorgeous! Based on that trip here are some tips for making your own trip to Arches National Park a success.
If you are camping – Stay in the Park!
To stay in the park you will have to plan ahead. Campsites can fill up as early as six months in advance but are easy to reserve online here. I promise, pre-planning for this is worth it. Our campsite was large and gave us a great place to park our car right in the heart of the park. This made it easy to stop for lunch or dinner without having to go into town if we didn’t want to because the line to get into the park can get long during the main part of the day! Also the rock fin behind our site provided some of our daughter’s favorite entertainment while we relaxed.
Things to know: There are bathrooms but no showers in the park. At the visitor center you can get a list of recommended places to snag a shower in town. We ended up showering at the aquatic center one day and the facilities were very nice. When we come back to Moab in the future we plan on taking some time to actually swim with the family at the center.
This is the desert – days are warm but evenings are cool and night time can be cold. We were tent camping but had a propane powered tent heater that we turned on for about 15 minutes before crawling into bed for the night and for about 15 minutes before getting out in the morning. We also used sleeping bags designed for temperatures down to zero degrees and all cuddled up together. If you go in summer you may not have as cool of nights, but honestly we stayed plenty warm with some advanced preparation and were rewarded with gorgeous hiking weather all day long.
Enjoy the visitor center and sign up for the Junior Ranger Program on your first day at the park.
Arches has a really nice visitor center and I would always recommend stopping at the visitor center first when you go to any National Park. The National Park System has a Junior Ranger program in place that is great for kids from 4-12 year old. You simply stop at the visitor center information desk and ask for details on that park’s program. Most parks have a booklet of various activities children need to complete based on age during their visit. When you finish your activities you can return to the visitor center to be sworn in by a ranger as a Junior Park Ranger and receive a really neat badge to go with. Our daughter loved this at all of our stopping points on this trip. It was a great way to get her to really learn about the park we were in from the ecology to the history of each place.
Drink LOTS of water!
This is the desert and it can be surprisingly dehydrating. My husband and I both carried water in our packs and my daughter has a small Camelbak that she has started carrying her own water in as well. Fill up any time you see a water station because you won’t find many sources out on the trail.
If It Rains Don’t Leave The Park
Our first day as we entered the park it was pouring rain. The ranger who greeted us at the entrance station said that people were expressing disappointment about the rain but to remember we were entering a desert location that sees only 9 inches of rain on average PER YEAR and that if we just waited a short bit we would get to see a beautiful part of the park that many people didn’t get to see. He was right too! On our first hike in the park – the often overlooked Park Avenue trail – we got to see water splashing down over the canyon areas in great little waterfalls everywhere we went that by the next day were completely gone!
Be Aware of Drop Offs and Vertical Climbs
The National Parks do a great job of ranking trails and being honest about their difficulty. Make sure to pick up a trail map at the visitor center! The number one hazard we found in this park was drop offs on many trails. You will be rock scrambling from time to time to enjoy some of the most rewarding views in this park. It is worth it and our kiddo handled it just fine but you will want to keep your child in eyesight and remind them to stay away from edges as you hike!
Dress In Layers
We were visiting over spring break and definitely ran into spring like weather on this trip. Our mornings were cool and often called for leggings and light jackets but by afternoon we were glad to be able to strip down to something cooler. Layers are the key to comfort on almost any hiking adventure and without the ability to change her clothing items our kiddo would have definitely become whiny and uncomfortable.
Our Favorite Hikes:
This was our very first hike in the park. It has parking along the main road not far from the park’s entrance and is an out and back trail meaning you will come back the same way you went out. It takes you down a series of steps into the most beautiful canyon section of the park. If it rains during your trip make sure to head to this trail to see all the little waterfalls that develop from the running water. This would be good for kids of any age, although the climb up the stairs back to the parking is a bit tiring. While the trail is two miles if you go all the way out and back, the joy is that at any point you can simply turn around and start your trek back to parking with a different view than the one that you came down with. This is a great introduction to the park and a good way to safely test your equipment (water packs, clothing, endurance of your kiddos) and shouldn’t be missed by any family!
Oh the iconic Delicate Arch! I won’t lie, the climb to this arch is a workout so you will want to give yourself plenty of time and remember it is okay to stop for water and snacks along the way. My seven year old loved the ledge walk towards the end of the trail but we did remind her to stay near the wall – a drop off the ledge could be deadly – and she felt brave and confident by the time we reached our Delicate Arch destination. Once you round the bend and see the arch, you will realize the hike was worth it. There were plenty of other people there when we arrived but everyone was friendly about taking turns getting photos under the arch and there were great places to sit and snack and take in the views. We went to this arch near sunset – a very popular time – but since we wanted to be sure we weren’t hiking in the dark we left well before the sun actually hit the horizon. If you start in the evening I would suggest a headlamp or good flashlight just to be safe if you get caught in dim light on the way down. At the base of this trail you can also see hieroglyphics and an old homestead!
Devils Garden Trail to Landscape Arch, Navajo, Partition, and Double O Arch
This trail took us several hours one morning on our trip and it was worth every minute! Fill all the way up on water and snacks before heading out. The beginning of this trail is flat and easy, winding through rocks and other neat features. It is gravel and accessible by even the youngest hikers all the way to Landscape Arch. This is a great turnaround point for the less daring or younger hikers. You will have had fun and seen a breathtaking arch. We chose to keep going but at this point the terrain becomes much more steep with rock scrambling and drop offs. The key to doing this with our seven year old was to go slow and use our own best judgement of her abilities as parents. My husband often went ahead to find the best route or make sure that footing was acceptable, and then my daughter followed with me holding my breath behind and telling myself to trust my husband’s strong parental instincts. The reward for all of this was an amazing hike with views like nothing I have ever seen. The desert landscape unfolds around you and the mountains in the distance on the return hike are truly breathtaking!
Other trails worth mentioning: Sand Dune Arch – a great place for kids who like to play and dig in the sand, The Windows Section – a great way to easily view a lot of arches quickly and safely if you have very young hikers with you!
On our next trip we would love to do a guided tour of the Fiery Furnace lead by the park rangers but this was not up and running at the time we went.
Planning to visit more than one National Park this year? I recommend purchasing an annual America the Beautiful Park Pass here!
Have you been to Arches National Park? What was your favorite part? Have questions about visiting the park – Ask them Below!