Arches National Park

How bad are the crowds at Arches? Friends and I are headed out that way and one of them really wants to see Arches. I am not too concerned with COVID but being surrounded by a bunch of Joe Schmoes and their families from across the country isn’t my ideal way of getting an escape to admire nature. Lastly, if we do end up going to Arches are there any good backpack camping options nearby? Thanks!

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I was there Spring of 2018 and it was pure chaos. Honestly a really overwhelming amount of people akin to Disneyland. Arches seems to be mostly open which means crowds could be heavy right now. The link below is the National Park explaining their response to COVID

https://www.nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/conditions.htm

I went in fall and it wasn’t terrible. Some trails obviously had more people there than others, but even at delicate arch which was one of the more popular hikes was not crowded feeling, however we did encounter others along the trail obviously. I noticed right now that lines have been a bit longer since things are just reopening, so maybe wait for fall for crowds to regulate.

We were there Spring 2019 and yes, it was crowded (think it was spring break for Utah schools!) Essential to make campground reservations as soon as they open up. Hiking was a mixed bag. Delicate Arch during the Golden hour was nuts but still worth it (post photo editing does wonders to make it look like no one was there!)

We were there in July of 2017. It was very crowded during the popular times, but we went early- 7 am, and avoided the crowds and heat.
Also, evenings are less crowded.
Moab UT was always crowded.

Go in the evening. This time of year it’s hot as hell during the day, but the early evenings are really nice, not to mention the lighting is lovely.

We tent camped in July and it is the reason we now have a trailer! It was excruciating to stay in a tent…like a blast furnace. The hot wind did not cool us off at all.

That being said…Green River State park is a driveable distance to Arches and is shaded and has the water to cool the air somewhat. We preferred that as our base of operations to the Moab area the last trip.

Regardless of what you do, Arches is an amazing place!

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There are so many wonderful things to see and experience outside of the national parks around Arches and Moab. And there is the best dispersed camping in the USA I would say. Look for MTB trails in the area, mostly BLM land and then look for camping sites.

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I’ve been there three times and avoided the crowds by using the following strategy.

  1. Camp nearby at Goose Island Campground or Grandstaff Campground.
  2. Download a digital map or print out a paper map before arriving.
  3. Arrive before daylight and enter the park before it actually opens. This is why you need a digital or printed map before you enter.
  4. Drive directly to see the Delicate Arch at sunrise. Don’t stop to see other sites, you can see them on the way back. Then visit Devil’s Garden. Then work your way backwards toward the entrance.

Most of the crowds drive into the park and see the sites sequentially. By seeing the sites in reverse you can avoid most of the crowds. After 10am, the park does get busy. The last time I visited my friend and I used this strategy and had the Delicate Arch all to ourselves for about 30 minutes.

If you enjoy backpacking, there are sites and arches that are rarely visited.

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We were there in mid April, 2017. Couldn’t find anyplace to camp, and ended up staying at Red Cliffs Lodge (at $180/night); it’s a really nice place, though, and enjoyed it (if it’s in your price range)! That said, there are plenty of camping spots available along the Colorado, in the Canyonlands area, and commercial campgrounds in Moab. However, it was a mob scene! There are plenty of trails where you can escape the crowds, but even parking our rig was a challenge. Arches is magnificent, and definitely worth experiencing; just be prepared to experience it with others.

PS: Southern Utah can be pretty hot in the summer, so you might want to plan your trip for fall or spring when the temperatures are more moderate.