On our second day in Colorado, we hopped right over to Utah to hike Towers Arches. For countless reasons, it remains the toughest hike we have ever done. In fact, when I’ve finished sharing our spring desert adventures in Colorado and Utah, I owe you guys a post on tips for hiking at Arches National Park.
The drive to Arches from Grand Junction was almost 2 hours, so we made a few stops along the way to admire the desert terrain. It definitely gets more beautiful the further you get from Grand Junction, and the closer to Utah.
This was at a visitors’ center we stopped at in hopes of getting batteries for the replacement Bluetooth Keyboard I got, so I could work on my novel. Unfortunately, no batteries for me, but man the view was impressive!
And not to worry, I got my batteries at the next gas station a mile or so up the road, so I could race through the last 10,000 words of The Moreau Witches.
The Winding Roads
I wrote for the rest of the drive, so I didn’t see much else of the desert until we arrived at Arches National Park. We had a good long hour wait in the sun to soak up the view, as there was a long line to get in.
Once inside, we took the long, winding mountain road that would take us 25 miles up to Tower Arches, an alleged 3.5-mile hike at the very end of the road. Along the way, we skipped over the famous Delicate Arches, and other trails like the Devil’s Garden, to make it to Tower Arches. We did, however, make a few stops along the way to check out the view.
Also, on a random note, the car looked pretty darn cool. Hyundai owes me money for this ad-worthy picture of its awesomeness. Don’t you think?
Unfortunately, the low-profile tires are a terrible idea for going off-roading, which was necessary to access the Tower Arches trail. So when we left the winding mountain roads for the dirt roads, we were crawling between 15 – 25 MPH for 7.2 miles through the Salt Valley. Sounds like great fun, doesn’t it?
Plot twist: It was not. But somehow we made it, and managed to squeeze our way in beside someone’s Jetta who couldn’t make it up the rest of the road, either. It was Jeep territory after this.
Yes, that is a gigantic rock in the middle of the dirt road. And yes, off-road enthusiasts drove their Jeeps right over it — no trouble.
The Hike Begins: The Dirt Road
The drive behind us, we could finally appreciate the Arches National Park desert on foot. We followed what we were expecting to be the last of the dirt road for a mile or so, before coming upon the official visitors’ parking and the Klondike Bluffs.
Along the way, we came across gnarled trees, cacti, and lots of lots of sand.
But no matter how far we walked, that elusive visitors’ lot never seemed to appear. Finally, I took out the map again to see if we had made a wrong turn. Indeed, we had. We had taken the first left instead of the second.
In any case, we had planned to hike the full loop and a circle was a circle no matter where you started from, so we kept on walking.
In time, we would find why even though several Jeeps flew by us, we only chanced upon about three other people on foot who took the same route we did. No one else seemed interested in the lofty goal of going the full loop.
The Hike Continues: The Detour
When we finally arrived at the footpath for the trail, we were excited. We had made it! — or so we thought. I pulled out the map again, and that’s when we realised that the 3.5 mile estimate was just from where we stood to the visitors’ parking lot. The entire loop was a whopping 7.5 mile hike in the desert.
At this point, we were ecstatic to know we would have taken such a long hike at the end of it all. Neither Tristan nor I had ever walked such a long trail before.
As we started out, we saw an elderly couple coming from the left. “Have you seen the Tower Arches yet?” they asked us.
“No, but we’re about to!” Tristan answered, for we could already see it some ways ahead.
“Ha!” the old man said.
“Good luck getting to it!” his wife added. “It won’t be easy to find. Try not to get lost, and be careful!”
As they were coming from the left, and a stampede of footsteps pointed in that direction, we went left as well. After hiking for a mile and a quarter, I started to have my doubts. The footsteps had disappeared, and there were no arches in sight.
To my left and right all I saw was rock and more rocks. “We must be going the wrong way!” I asserted. “Where’s the map?”
Tristan handed it to me and then climbed up to higher ground to see if he could spot the trail. He couldn’t, though he did seem to enjoy himself up there.
“We shouldn’t have followed that couple,” I realised. “We should have gone right, not left! We need to go back. And it’s almost 4PM. We’re losing time.”
So, we had veered 1.25 miles off course, with the seconds to sunset tick-tocking away, in a desert terrain we were not familiar with. And now, we had to hike back.
Hike to the Arches
When we finally made it back to where we had met the elderly couple, I knew we were creeping up to a crisis. If we walked back to the car, the road was sure, but longer, and it would be night-time, or at least twilight, before we made it back. If we kept up our hunt for Tower Arches, the way was shorter, but unsure. We had already gotten lost, with the bloody Arches in clear sight.
While I struggled to mark the trail via the map, Tristan climbed up to higher ground again. He could see where part of the trail led to the arches, but not exactly how to get to it. Even so, we turned right and started to make our way to that elusive trail.
You can tell how focused we were at this point, because I have absolutely no pictures of this part of the hike. Travel blogging went out the window. This was survival.
During our hunt for the trail, we got lost a few more times, but finally heard voices and followed it to safety. It was then that we came across an unofficial guide. When he heard the route we had chosen, his face said it all.
“You did what?” he asked us. “Well, you can hike out of here, but it’s a long walk. Are you sure you want to do that? Maybe you should just look at the arches and turn back.”
“It would be longer to walk back out,” I pointed out.
“True,” he admitted, and then he gave us what vague directions one can give in a desert with no street signs and no markers.
At the Arches
When we finally made it to the majestic Tower Arch, we barely had time to savour what we had risked so much to see. Even so, I scrambled inside, and managed to get a few good pictures — rock-falling warnings, be damned. I had suffered enough already. What was one good knock in the head?
Thankfully, no such thing happened, making the next order of business, finding our way through the desert and to the visitors’ lot.
Can you believe we got lost again?
The Way Out
It started out easy enough, and we were fairly certain we wouldn’t run into any major problems. You can see the steady flow of footsteps, all leading in the same direction. Well, apparently a lot of other people got as lost as we did, because then the footsteps started panning out in all directions and it was no longer clear where to go.
Thereafter, our legendary “lostness” can be illustrated in two videos. It was supposed to be one, but Tristan started recording another halfway into mine, and I stopped mine so I could move away. I hope you enjoy my distress, however well-masked it may or may not have been.
A few minutes after these videos, we were lucky enough to run into a family who had hiked the trail from the visitors’ parking lot, and were headed back that way, so we followed them out. We were so exhausted and eager to get out by then, that none of our 4 cameras resurfaced for that time.
We didn’t even get a picture of the Klondike Bluffs we climbed down. It was entirely made of rock, and maybe about 40 feet of climbing downhill. I almost thought the Dad was joking when he pointed it out, until he started scrambling down with the two kids.
I did, however, find an Instagram picture that about sums up what we scrambled down. That biker is a real daredevil.
After working our way down the bluffs and to the parking lot, we still had another mile and a half of dirt road to make it back to the car. According to our pedometers, we walked 11.86 miles that day, and you can see when most of that took place.
Tristan was so tired at that point that I — the Jamaican who generally refuses to drive on the wrong side of the road in America — made the 25-mile drive back down the mountain, and managed to make it out just before sunset, without killing anyone.
From that day onward, whenever anyone asked us about Arches National Park, we greeted the question with a grunt, rolled eyes, or an angry shout of PLEASE STAY ON THE TRAIL! But I’ll tell you something you probably won’t expect: we can’t wait to go back.
Ericson was unable to take the trip with us, and we still haven’t hiked Zion National Park, so one of these fine days we will gaze upon the Tower Arches and say, “We meet again…”
38 thoughts on “Day 1 in Utah: Hiking the Tower Arches Trail at Arches National Park”
You really made me want to visit Utah with this. It keeps going on and off my radar. And the Hyundai shot is indeed a great shot for an ad. 🙂