Best Hikes for Kids in Arches National Park

Arches National Park is one of my all-time favorite national parks. I love it for sentimental reasons — it’s the first national park my then-boyfriend/now-husband took me to when we were “just friends” 13 years ago. And I love it for its otherworldly, natural sandstone formations. The geological arches, spires and monoliths here are utterly amazing — there’s nothing like this landscape anywhere else in the world. Oh, and I also love Arches National Park because it’s two miles from downtown Moab, a favorite spring and fall destination for all its awesome camping, biking and hiking opportunities.

Famous Delicate Arch

But some of Moab’s best and most popular hiking trails are actually found inside Arches National Park, home to more than 2,000 cataloged arches that range from a 3-foot opening (the smallest a proper “arch” can be) to 300-foot-long Landscape Arch. The marked trails run the gamut from easy nature walks that bring you up close and personal with picturesque rock formations to maze-like labyrinths that require hiking permits. Here are my favorite hikes for kids:

Delicate Arch: Moderately Strenuous Hike for School-age Kids (3 miles round trip)

On our most recent family trip to Moab last weekend, we took the kids on the Delicate Arch trail to see the arch made famous on Utah’s license plates. The last time my husband and I tackled this hike was in 1997; I was thrilled to introduce my 8- and 10-year-olds to this quintessential Arches trail. It’s three miles long round trip, and it took our family 70 minutes on the way up to the arch, and 45 minutes back down.

Follow the cairns to Delicate Arch.

The trail is quite busy — or at least it was mid-day on a Friday in early May. We had to hover in the car in the Wolfe Ranch parking area for about 5 minutes before someone pulled out to give us a spot to park. We felt comfortable hiking around noon because it wasn’t too hot a day at all; in late spring, summer and early fall, I definitely recommend hiking early morning to avoid the blasted desert heat. Bring plenty of water along on  your hike.

The beginning of the Delicate Arch trail is well marked, with a few switchbacks to start. Then it opens up to slickrock, and you have to follow the cairns (stacked rocks) and/or the other people ahead of you. Views along the way are fabulous, particularly of the snow-capped La Sal mountains in the distance. We also spotted lots of cactus, colorful desert flowers and lizards scooting about.

About 200 yards from your destination, Delicate Arch, you’ll need to traverse a rock ledge (not too scary at all); you’ll also spot a small arch on your right, and if you scramble up to it, you can see Delicate Arch in the distance. It’s worth this little side view, as it’s a cool spot to snap some photos (see below).

Guidebooks say to hike to Delicate Arch at sunset; that’s what my husband did 13 years ago, and we found that dozens and dozens of (mostly Japanese) tourists had read the same guidebooks. It was packed up there at the main viewing and picture-taking spot as the sun set. I recommend taking the kids first thing in the morning in an attempt to avoid crowds, even if the light is prettier in the early evening.

Petroglyphs at the base of the Delicate Arch hiking trail.

Don’t miss the nifty petroglyphs at the base of the Delicate Arch trail; we walked the short distance to view them after we’d already hiked to the arch, but you might consider doing this first if you think your kids will be tuckered out afterwards. These are very cool, well preserved examples of rock art, even if they aren’t “ancient”; they are believed to have been carved into the sandstone in between 1650 and 1850 A.D.

Devil’s Garden with Primitive Loop: Long Hike for Tweens and Teens (7.2 miles)

This is another hike my husband and I did way before we had kids; I don’t think my children could handle it yet, but it’s on our agenda for when they both reach middle- or high school. It’s the longest of the maintained trails in Arches National Park, and it takes a few hours to navigate the loop. What’s cool is that you come across eight different arches along the way — sights that you can’t view unless you embark on the hike. So, it’s rewarding. There’s some scrambling and rocky ledges, so it’s not for the un-sure-footed; but it’s definitely worth the time and energy. I felt proud of myself when I completed the hike, so your tweens and teens should, too!

Balanced  Rock: Easy Trail for Preschoolers and even Toddlers (.3 mile)

Balanced Rock is huge; see the little people to the right of its base?

You can see Balanced Rock, seemingly precariously perched on top of a sandstone formation, from the pull-out parking lot and even from the (great) picnic area across the road. But if you want to check out the nifty geological wonder up close, take the short wheelchair-accessible loop trail around its base. This is a nice place for even the littlest hikers to stretch their legs and appreciate the outdoors.

Delicate Arch Viewpoints: Easy Hike (100 yards) for Preschoolers or Moderate Hike (.5 mile) for School-Age Kids

If your kids aren’t quite old or skilled enough to make the three-mile round-trip hike to Delicate Arch I describe above, you still can view the famous arch by hiking one of two short trails. The Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint trail is paved and wheel-chair accessible; the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint trail involves a rocky climb to the top of a nearby ridge. We did the latter with our kids two years ago — when they were 6 and 8 — and they got sweaty (and complained mildly) on the way up. But the  incline is short, so there is instant gratification.

View pretty desert plant life on hikes throughout Arches National Park, like this Indian Paintbrush.

There are loads of other family-friendly hikes in Arches National Park. You’ll receive a map and visitor guide when you enter the park ($10/vehicle for 7 days), with many details. You can also ask for suggestions on the best hike for your family in the fabulous visitor center. The rangers here know the park like the backs of their hands, and they are chock full of knowledge to help you plan your time in Arches National Park.

Be sure to ask about the parks’ Junior Ranger Program — my daughter loves working on the activity books and earning a certificate and badge at every national park or national monument we visit. It’s a great way for kids to learn about the geology and history, flora and fauna in the parks — and have fun doing it!

Here are some more favorite photos from our hike to Delicate Arch last week:

15 Comments on "Best Hikes for Kids in Arches National Park"

  1. Delicate Arch will always be a classic in the area. Some of my favorites in the Moab area are in Canyonlands National Park. Every year, my hubby and I do a backpacking trip to Devil’s Kitchen–one of the wildest, most amazing and remote places I have ever been!

  2. Couldn’t agree more! Arches has some of the best diversity of hikes of any national park! Our four-year-old handled the one to Delicate Arch just fine, but our top favorite wasn’t even a hike at all, but just a short walk: Double Arch. The kids loved climbing on the stone! My only tip: do your hiking early in the day!

  3. We love Arches and have done the hikes you mention. I just want to echo your advice to BRING WATER because my 11-year-old daughter really suffered in the heat there last August.
    In the past, we have combined a visit to Moab with our time in Telluride and elsewhere in SW Colorado. On Day 3 of our almost-year-long round-the-world trip, we put in to the river about 25 miles outside of Moab and rafted toward Arches, camping overnight along the way. Oh, the wonderful memories you’ve stirred! Thanks! (If you’re interested, here are some pics and stories from that far-off Arches time at http://away-together.com/2009/08/22/transitioning-in-telluride/)

  4. Oh my gosh, those photos are tremendous. Like Amber, I especially love the Canyonlands, but whooo! Don’t forget your hats, water and sunblock. Such an amazing part of our country.

  5. Thank you for your informative post!

    Arches holds a very special place for me as I remember visiting with my parents as a little girl.

    I will be taking the boys to Moab next week but unfortunately, we will have to stay out of Arches because of our puppy!

    Looks like we’ll head to Negro Bill Canyon, Fisher Towers or Dead Horse Point, not a bad alternative.

    We really just want to escape this horrible weather and get out in the rocks.

    Do you know of any great trails in the rocks for kids and dogs?

  6. Such an informative review. Isn’t it great that you can now do this as a family. The Delicate Arch Trail must have been fun to explore. Wonderful shots.

  7. Moscow hotels | May 15, 2010 at 11:18 am | Reply

    Visiting Arches National Park is my and my family dream.
    It is a pity that get USA visa is extremely difficult.
    But we do not lose hope :-)))
    Thanks for nice topic.
    Bookmarked you site just now.

  8. Thanks for the comments, guys!

    Amber, on our next trip to So. Utah we definitely want to go to Canyonlands — haven’t been yet.

    Amy – Will need to check out Double O next time.

    Jillian – I like Negro Bill Canyon trail a lot, but it’s like a highway: super busy. May be tough w/ a puppy? Otherwise, here are a couple links to investigate other trails:
    http://www.discovermoab.com/hiking.htm
    http://www.discovermoab.com/pdf/hike.pdf

  9. love the pics!

  10. This post reminded me of going on hikes with my family as a child around Colorado. I have never been to Arches National Park, but will put it on my list. I love sandstone rock formations. There is just something about them. Red Rocks even impresses me after so many years of going to concerts there.

  11. Great information (and photos) about family hikes in Arches National Park! Arches is one of the most accessible National Parks and has some fascinating geology.

    We love Arches too! We recently did an app as well as a book on the geology of Arches National Park. Your readers may be interested in them:

    http://www.tasagraphicarts.com/arches.html
    http://www.tasagraphicarts.com/archesbookcd.html

  12. My husband and I did Arches and the Delicate Arch hike pre-kids. You are right, it is perfect for tweens and teens but a bit much for young kids. Great pictures!

  13. There are plenty of good trails for kids in Arches. I think the Windows Area is best because there is a lot to see from short trails. There are some good pictures on this site: http://www.hikespeak.com/trails/window-arch-hike-arches/

    Overall this is a great park for kids. Plenty of wonder!

  14. Thanks for this post! I’m heading there with the kids in a few days and we will only have a couple hours available. It was so nice getting the detailed descriptions of some of the trails.

  15. I loved the delicate arch trail. Actually I went in mid-october and there was almost no one on the trail, I think I crossed 3 groups in my almost 4 hours there. Also the “make sure you have plenty of water because the sun is hot” signs seemed a little out of place since there was snow on the ground and I was wearing a light jacket. I was very surprised to find out how BIG the delicate arch is and how narrow the path is at times. Getting to right under the Arch gave me a little vertigo, but WOW, what a sight!! A must do for anyone in the canyons part of the US.

    <3

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