How to See Arches, Dead Horse Point and Canyonlands in a Day

Americans these days live very busy lives and generally have less time for leisure pursuits. Frequent quick getaways of one to two nights away from home are more the norm now than extended vacations. Unless you’re retired, Americans are more strapped for time than ever in the history of the country. For this reason it’s important to plan ahead to get the most out of the time you do have.

As tour guides we plan in great detail to maximize our guests experience since it may be their only opportunity to see the places we visit. We know how to see the parks with limited time without feeling rushed.

In the coming weeks we’ll be posting articles on ways to visit our parks and other popular destinations when time is limited. We’ll start with Moab since it’s one of our most popular destinations in Utah for its adventure and scenery. The nearby scenic attractions of Dead Horse Point State Park, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks are major points of interest that draw visitors from all parts of the globe. Most of the tours we take to Moab have only a day to see the three parks, here’s what we do that we think will work for you and still allow time for spending time to enjoy Moab and its other points of interest and adventures.

Arches National Park

Start Early! – Arches National Park is the busier park of the three and requires more time to visit, so hit it first. We leave before the crowd starts forming, and it will! We start with an early breakfast, or you could simply take something with you to eat on the way. We depart at 7:15 (or earlier if you choose) which will get you to the gate around 7:30ish depending on what side of town you’re on. Leaving just 15-20 minutes later can make a big difference especially on weekends. This is a big deal if you intend to hike to Delicate Arch.

If you are planning a hike to Delicate Arch, go there first before it gets busy and before the heat kicks in during the summer months. I won’t describe the hikes in this article but will link information in the content. The hike generally takes 1.5 -2 hours. If you are not hiking to Delicate Arch you can still see it from the lower parking lot from a distance. This will require less time and the parking lot isn’t as busy. From Delicate Arch we stay on the north end of the park and follow the road to Devil’s Garden with optional stops for short walks to the Fiery Furnace, Skyline Arch, Broken Arch or Sand Dune Arch. The road ends at the Devil’s Garden parking lot, which is where the trailhead is located for the hike to Landscape Arch (1.5 hours).

Next we go to the Windows Section to see Double Arch, North and South Windows and Turret Arch. Allow 1.5 hours here, which is plenty of time to walk the trails and see the arches. This parking lot often fills up, you may end up circling more than once on busy days.

The last section of Arches we visit is Balanced Rock and Park Avenue. These are small parking lots that can be trouble spots on busy days. If you do not intend to hike Delicate Arch, hit these two spots first then the windows section before proceeding to Landscape Arch. There is a one-mile hike at Park Avenue that goes between the Park Avenue parking lot to the Courthouse Towers parking lot that’s a nice option if not hiking the longer trails mentioned above. If you go on all the hikes you will mostly likely leave the park after 1:00 or later.

Lunch – Rather than going to Moab for lunch, pack a lunch with you for a picnic at Dead Horse Point where there are plenty of picnic tables, or stop at the Moab Giants Dinosuar Park Cafe for a T-Rex Monster Burger! Moab Giants is located at the junction of US-191 and UT-313 about 22 mile from Dead Horse Point State Park, our next stop.

Dead Horse Point State Park

The 22 mile drive to Dead Horse Point from the junction quickly climbs to the top of a mesa that offers spectacular views of the surrounding red rock canyons, bluffs and mesas of Moab. Plan on 30-45 minutes at Dead Horse Point if not taking the longer hikes from the visitors center. If packing a picnic lunch there are several picnic tables along the road to the parking lot. Click here to learn more about Dead Horse Point and the story behind the name.

Canyonlands Island In The Sky

The Canyonlands visitors center is located 14 miles from Dead Horse Point, which is where we make our first stop to see the Shafer Trail. From the visitors center walk across the road and hike down to the rim where you’ll be treated with spectacular views of the Shafer Trail and canyon below, La Sal Mountains to the east and Dead Horse Point.

Next, go to Mesa Arch for a short relatively easy half-mile (1 mile out and back) hike to the rim where the arch is located. If the parking lot is full I keep going and stop here on the way back. I never pass it up if there’s an available spot.

Proceed to Upheavel Dome for a more moderate 1.5 miles out and back hike to a site that is believed to be either a meteor impact crater or salt dome.

Last stop is Grand View, which is the end of the road. There is a short walk to the main viewing area with a 1.8 miles out and back trail you can take. The views from here are, Grand! Just beyond this point, out of view, is the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers. It’s approximately 45 miles to Moab from here.

If you go directly back to Moab from here you should arrive between 5:00 – 6:00 PM. We occasionally plan a Sunset Hummer tour or  dinner and river laser show at Canyonlands by Day and Night. This itinerary will free up a day for other outdoor adventures such as mountain biking, river rafting, or off-road tour. There are many other points of interest that can be added, I call this day a highlights tour of the most popular sights at the three parks.

It’s important to note that 2020 will not be a normal year at the national parks of the West. We will see fewer buses, fewer international travelers and more Americans staying closer to home taking road trips. As a result we may see smaller crowds on weekdays and larger crowds on weekends and holidays, but it’s hard to predict for sure.

For more information about Arches National Park, Canyonlands, and Dead Horse Point visit these websites.

Arches National Park – https://www.nps.gov/arch/index.htm
Canyonland National Park – https://www.nps.gov/cany/index.htm
Dead Horse Point State Park – https://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/dead-horse/

TitleCategoryAddressDescription
Devils Garden 38.78173092840373, -109.59361942579368

Landscape Arch trailhead. Longest arch in the park. There are trails to several other arches here of various degrees of difficulty.

Skyline Arch 38.77200112983758, -109.59094274978015

There's a short trail to the bottom of the arch.

Sand Dune Arch & Broken Arch Trailhead. 38.764709729402284, -109.5836421025999

Deep sandy trail to Sand Dune Arch.

Fiery Furnance 38.74286118523186, -109.56603654305717

This is a scenic viewpoint, a permit is required for the hike.

Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint 38.733974001786784, -109.50140036691444

Good option for seeing Delicate Arch from a distance if not taking the main Delicate Arch hike

Delicate Arch Trailhead 38.73558503266796, -109.52072961785277 3 miles out and back. Plan on 1.5 - 2 hours here. Rated moderate, the trail is steep going up and exposed to the sun most of the way. Some moderate exposure at the top.
Windows Section 38.68744174320453,-109.53790607041387

Trailheads for Double Arch, Parade of Elephants, North & South Windows, Turret Arch

Balanced Rock 38.701744565108704, -109.56620191844088

Small parking lot. Go here after Park Ave if not taking the Delicate Arch hike

Courthouse Towers 38.637071790058904, -109.600101357113 End of Park Ave hike
La Sal Mountain Viewpoint 38.62637805293783,-109.59118228874966

Include this stop in after Park Ave if not taking the Delicate Arch hike.

Park Avenue 38.62431678733204, -109.59950074894697

A very scenic 1 mile hike between Park Avenue parking lot and Courthouse Towers. See if you can find Nefertiti. 

Arches National Park Visitors Center 38.61641252236107,-109.62042504974983

There's a very informative movie that plays every 30 mins in the auditorium. Exhibits, gift shop, restrooms.

Moab Giants 38.67186993728193,-109.68671773462248

Moab Giants Cafe is a great option for lunch between Arches and Dead Horse Point / Canyonlands. Moderate prices and menu of sandwiches, salads, burgers, and more. 

Dead Horse Point 38.46951172384852,-109.73949979606934

Great views of the the Colorado River 2,000 ft below, Canyonlands, and LaSal Mountains to the east. Contrary to what was portrayed in the movie, this is where Thelma and Louise drove their car into the canyon.

Shafer Trail View from Visitors Center 38.459733412690774,-109.82018038867938

You can drive down to the White Rim Trail on the Shafer Trail. Check it out to see if you dare.

Mesa Arch 38.38927327940059,-109.86831017732968

One of the most photographed and iconic formations at Canyonlands. You've probably seen it on postcards and in brochures. Great place for a family picture. Easy half mile trail each way. 

Upheaval Dome 38.42646862998331,-109.92529896097896

Is it a meteor impact crater or salt dome? Either way, it's worth checking out. Trail is a moderate 1.5 miles out and back hike. 

Grand View 38.31092037812773, -109.85665428014087

End of the road, as far as you can drive, but not as far as you can go. Just past the viewpoint is a 1.5 miles out and back trail. Just beyond the point is where the Green River joins the Colorado.

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