Arches in Arches NP

Moab, UT

Earlier this week, while David and Karen were on a ranger-led hike through the Fiery Furnace (we did that hike during our last visit), we decided to check out a few arches we had not yet visited.  We drove in to Arches NP and parked at the trailhead for the Sand Dune Arch.

This arch is very popular as it is a very short “hike” from the parking area and the trail leads through an interesting short slot area.

The Sand Dune Arch is not very large compared to many others in the park, but it is beautiful with the sun shining on the colorful rocks surrounding it.

From the Sand Dune Arch,  a half mile hike across a flat plain takes you to the next arch, The Broken Arch.

The trail leads right through this arch, so you get to see it from two distinctly different perspectives.

We continued on the trail knowing that it makes a loop going through the park campground.  In the distance we could see another arch that was not named our the park map from two years ago but is now.  It looked to be miles away from where we were, but turned out to only be about a half mile away.

A short trail led about 300 yards to what turned out to be the Tapestry Arch.

We returned to the main trail and looped through the campground into a short but interesting area through a couple of cool slots.

Last week we stopped in the Arches NP visitor center and asked a ranger if there were any interesting things to see that were away from the usual sites filled with people.  One of his suggestions was a visit to the Eye of the Whale Arch, accessible only by a four wheel drive vehicle or by a two mile hike up a rough dirt road.  The road is too rough for most visitors and not rough enough for the hard core “Jeepers” who frequent the area so not many people visit this arch.

To get to the arch we turned on to a dirt road right across from the parking area for the Balanced Rock.  This is a well-maintained dirt road for the first few miles that will eventually exit the park and take you to the main highway (191) that goes through Moab.  About a mile up that road we turned right on to another dirt road, one that is not maintained and is marked for four-wheel drive vehicles only.

We agree with the necessity of a four-wheel drive high clearance vehicle, as this road is a bit rough.  After about two miles we came to a small parking area with the Eye of a Whale Arch in the distance.  The ranger was correct about the infrequency of visitors to this arch as we had the entire place to ourselves.

A short easy trail leads right up to the base of the arch.  The ranger had told us that the arch does not look like an eye from this side, so we decided to hike through it to get the better vantage point.

The climb up into the arch was pretty easy, but the climb down the other side required a bit of crab walking down the slick rock.

The ranger was definitely correct, as from the other side the arch does have a resemblance to an eye (complete with an eyebrow), although we couldn’t see the resemblance to a whale.

After exploring the rocks around the arch we returned to the Jeep and headed back down the road.  Pictures never adequately show the twists and turns of the terrain, but the three pictures below may give an idea as to what we drove through.

Winding through the sand

Climbing sharply up . . .

. . . then sharply back down


Returning back to the maintained dirt road, we turned right and headed west toward where the road exits the national park property.  Along the way we could see the Eye of the Whale Arch to our north.  From this distance we could see a slight resemblance to a whale.

Signs for this road state that four-wheel high clearance is “recommended.”  We would change that to “needed” as it was quite rough in a number of spots.  Four miles to the west we passed a sign indicating the boundary of the national park.  There is no entrance station here so if you are willing to drive eight miles over some rough terrain you can avoid the entrance fee for Arches!

We were on this road because the ranger had told us about a display of dinosaur tracks by the road on public land just outside the park boundary.

Three toed tracks made by human sized dinosaurs millions of years ago were clearly visible in the rock.

The dinosaur track is on the right


The road continues for about four miles beyond the dinosaur foot prints before reaching Hwy. 191.  The land is managed by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and is traversed by numerous mountain bike trails.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Arches in Arches NP

  1. Sue says:

    Love these pictures guys, especially the dinosaur feet. The one with the blue socks was remarkably well preserved. Thanks for showing us accurate pictures of the road, it looks like fun!

  2. I squinted at the Eye of the Whale Arch and can’t even pretend to see a whale. 😉

  3. Becky says:

    Looks like a great time at Arches. We love Moab’s national parks. Looking forward to trying some of your off-road recommendation next time we are there.

    • placestheygo says:

      You and Andrew will really enjoy the roads we did. Of course, Moab is full of Jeep trails but they are mainly for the hard core, brave people willing to get banged up with their vehicles all tricked out. We do the “calmer” roads.

  4. pmbweaver says:

    Never heard of the Eye of the Whale Arch. Looks like a good one.
    Now really…that road looks horrible! Your poor Jeep must be screaming from pain.
    Cool dinosaur prints. No way I would have wanted to live with those monsters.

  5. Gay says:

    We have done that same road several times…you can actually get to Tower Arch from there as well. Beautiful picture of Sand Arch…we did that same hike with Pam and Vic last May when they stopped in Portal for a few days.

    • placestheygo says:

      We actually did Tower Arch two years ago and then were planning to come down the Jeep road but our friends weren’t able to get up the first section of the road out from arch with their Grand Jeep Cherokee. I guess it doesn’t have the same gearing we had. So we had turn around and come back the the other way. Coming across Willow Flats was interesting. Thanks goodness for all the slickrock because the rest of the road was gone.

  6. Laurel says:

    The Eye of the Whale Arch is very cool. I’d like to do it if our truck can handle the road. (That’s always my question!) I love the Sand Dune Arch hike, along with all of the other arches on that trail. We hiked it several years ago when we stayed in the campground. Thanks for transporting me back into the red rock beauty.

  7. LuAnn says:

    We we decide to explore Utah, I may have to ask you to rank the hikes and arches for us. I can’t imagine how long it will take us to get through everything you two have seen. Great photos of some interesting arches.

    • placestheygo says:

      There is so much to see across southern Utah, for sure. Two years ago we spent three months here. We did the Zion area for March, Moab in April, and Capital Reef/Bryce in May. We then went to Bluff at the end of May/beginning of June. The weather was perfect in each and we missed the crowds. This year we aren’t staying as long and there is still more to explore. We just love Utah. We’ll certainly help with your planning:)

  8. I picked up your hint on the jeep, so i enticed Steve to read all your Utah adventures. Let’s see what happens.
    I enjoyed the ride and the Eye of the Whale that I can’t still figure out is very cool.

    • placestheygo says:

      Good idea, MonaLiza!! Our Jeep is not a tricked out model with big tires. Ours is a standard model Sport Jeep Wrangler that does the roads we enjoy exploring but still rides very nicely on the road. The four door hard top with removable panels also allows for a quiet ride but the option of a convertible feeling if wanted.

      We struggled with finding a whale, as well:)

  9. Nancy says:

    The dino prints! I wish we saw those. Soooooo coooool!
    As for the eye. I see it! I really do see the resemblance to a whale’s eye.
    Glad to see you are having fun! Retirement is fabulous!

  10. Sherry says:

    We had to do such a rush trip at Arches that we didn’t have time to get tickets for the Fiery Furnace which we really wanted to do. But we did get to see the Sand Arch and others in the vicinity of the road. Boy that is some road. You are definitely selling me on getting jeep. Seems I’m not the only one. Perhaps Jeep needs to give you a commission! Your beautiful pictures of the arches make it seem as though you had them all completely to yourselves. Love the Dino print. Are you sure it’s the one on the right?

    • placestheygo says:

      Sherry, you will have to make sure you do the Fiery Furnace hike on your next visit. It is such a good time and so informative.

      Glad that we have you thinking about the Jeep:) It sure is a handy vehicle when in the west.

      We have been pretty lucky with all our hikes and haven’t seen too many crowds. April is usually less crowded. May really brings out the people.

  11. Very cool to find a place in Arches that is not packed with people! Sure wish we had a jeep for Utah!

    • placestheygo says:

      Lisa, you and Hans will be able to drive all the roads we did with your truck. You won’t have any problems. April seems to be the best time to visit Moab. It has warmed enough but the tourist haven’t gotten here yet. I understand this year is more crowded because the temps have been much higher than usual this winter.

  12. Erin says:

    I can see a resemblance to the sperm whale in that rock formation. I always enjoy your hikes, but perhaps more so the ones we can’t access because we don’t have 4-wheel drive. We might have to reconsider our tow wheel at some point.

  13. Janna says:

    I like the eye of the whale and I like the no people aspect! Sand Island was full last night–of course it is the weekend!

  14. Jodee Gravel says:

    Sand Dune Arch looks sort of like Fist Bump Arch in that picture. They’re all amazing and so beautiful! Great recommendation from the ranger to find an arch all to yourself – and dino tracks too!! Definitely could see the whale from the distance 🙂

  15. harleyhawk43 says:

    Great post. We were just there less than 2 weeks ago and did the Devil’s Garden also. Go to if you want to compare notes. We are in the S.L.C. area now, preparing to go to Elko Nevada, I think you said your friends were going to Capital Reef. Tell them it was very cold and snowy there last week (18 degrees one night.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s