We thought we were going to Utah for the skiing. That was the original point of our 2018 spring break trip.
But just for something fun and different, I also booked four days in Moab so we could take the kids to Arches National Park. After our trip to Iceland the summer before, our kids came home with a passion for hiking, and I remember Arches being a really kid-friendly place to hike (we had visited years ago for a friend’s wedding).
Psst. This post was originally written in 2018 & has just been updated for 2023!
Arches National Park: The 2 Best (Kid-Friendly) Hikes In Moab, Utah
As it turns out…Park City was amazing, but Moab made our trip. We did day hikes, night hikes, rappelled down 100-foot cliffs(!!!), and saw actual dinosaur tracks. It’s…a wildly good place to take the kids. I can’t recommend it enough.
Here are our two favorite hikes in Arches National Park (and more about the rappelling, dinosaur tracks and our fave hikes outside of the park in a future post).
Before you head to Moab, go buy this book. We came across the Moab hiking edition of Kathy and Craig Copeland’s “Done in a Day” in a local Moab bookstore, and we’re SO glad we did. They’re opinionated and fun, and are a large reason we chose the hikes we did.
Arches National Park Hike #1: Devil’s Garden Loop
If you only have time for one hike, Devil’s Garden Loop is an epic one. It was recommended to us by both locals and the book I referenced above. The trailhead is easy to find — there’s a giant parking lot and bathrooms, and the first part of the trail is, as the Copelands call it, a “pedestrian highway,” yet it remains one of the best hikes in the park (I promise!!).
This well-traveled (almost sidewalk-like) path leads to Landscape Arch, the world’s longest natural arch. From there, the trail becomes more difficult and includes a bit of rock scrambling. Once you reach the main event, the Double-O Arch, you have a choice: come back the way you came via the pedestrian highway, or do the full loop, taking the Primitive Trail. There will be signs posted warning about the difficulty of the Primitive Trail…but once again, I agree with the Copelands:
We took the Primitive Trail back. It was totally worth it. Here are a few highlights from the hike…..
Raines managed to grow out of his hiking boots halfway through the hike. They had been FINE the day before, but suddenly, the poor kid could barely walk. And we were, um, roughly 4 miles into an almost 8 mile hike. (WTF? I mean, really.) But luckily there was a retired couple from Montana passing by, and the gentleman happened to be carrying a large pocket knife (of course he did) and he simply cut a hole in the front of Raines’ shoe.
Our hero. And his wife whipped out this insanely organized first-aid kit for Raines’ poor toe, and Mike and I looked at each other and did one of those telepathic things we do: Become Prepared Like Retired Montana Couple #goals.
A couple of miles into the Primitive Trail we…..got…lost. You’re supposed to follow these little stacks of rocks (cairns, they’re called), and we realized that we’d been hiking for a while without seeing any. We climbed up for a better vantage point and could see other people — obviously we’re saved, right?
But upon further inspection, the 15 other people seemed to be wandering either with a hopeless air or very, very frantic one, which…ya know…neither is good. So, we backtracked back to the last known cairn and tried again.
Pax found it. With Raines hot on his heels. You had to go up and over a rock fin before the cairn was visible, but there it was. “MOM!!! I FOUND IT! CAIRN!! I FOUND IT!!!” his little voice rang and echoed off the rock. Suddenly, heads swiveled toward us. People started coming from all directions. “Don’t lose sight of those boys!” someone cried out.
Which is how Pax and Raines found themselves at the head of a parade. Good thing too. We still had 2 to 3 miles left to hike, and I know Pax was getting tired. But purpose is a funny thing, and with so many lives in his hands (haha), he took his job very seriously. They both did.
We’re finding that the really strenuous hikes — the ones that involve lots of rock scrambling and careful balancing and something more than just walking uphill — our boys can do for hours. I never would’ve guessed that an 8-mile hike would’ve gone as well as it did.
My Wildly Opinionated Guide Of Which Devil’s Garden Arches Are Worth Hiking To
The Devil’s Garden hike takes you past 10 different arches, some of which will require hiking down offshoots (and then coming back to the main trail), which adds more miles to the hike. If you do all of the offshoots and the full loop via Primitive Trail, it’s roughly an 8-mile hike. But if you’re hiking with kids and want to choose carefully…here’s what I wish we’d done.
Offshoot 1 – Tunnel Arch and Pinetree Arch: Skip Tunnel Arch. It’s totally boring. But Pinetree Arch is super-fun and a great place for kids to explore around the arch.
Offshoot 2 – Navajo Arch and Partition Arch: So…we skipped these, but that was a total mistake. Not only are they gorgeous with some seriously amazing views, but they’d be a perfect place to stop for lunch. (We stopped at the Double-O Arch for lunch, but there wasn’t a great place to sit and eat.)
Offshoot 3 – Dark Angel: Most people said it’s underwhelming, and it adds the most miles, so we skipped it.
Offshoot 4 – Private Arch: It’s awesome. And a good place for an afternoon cookie break (especially if you stopped at Navajo or Partition Arch for lunch). However, if you skip Navajo & Partition arches, I’d suggest holding off on lunch until you get to Private Arch. It’s not all that far past Double-O.
Arches National Park Hike #2: Delicate Arch
Gosh, I was so excited for this one. We did the Delicate Arch hike right before sunset, hoping to catch the arch in all of its blazing glory. Which…we did, technically. But instead of sitting there in the solitude, wondering at the marvels of the world…
…yeah, OK. But it was still pretty cool. (Sunrise, I hear, is the time for solitude. Which I can appreciate — 5 a.m. is pre.tee. early for this girl to be on a trail.)
I should also note that the hike up to Delicate Arch was surprisingly tough, and required walking along some cliffs that were VERY NERVE-WRACKING TO DO WITH CHILDREN IN THE DARK. Headlamps were everything. But…despite all of that, we did get to watch the moon rise over the arch, and that was a pretty glorious sight. (I was also able to Photoshop a person or two out of our family arch shot, haha.)
In comparison to our Devil’s Garden experience, however, it didn’t even come close. Devil’s Garden was all our favorite hike by far.
Bonus: The Hiking Gear & Clothes We Took With Us To Moab, Utah
Because I always get a few questions, here’s what we wore while hiking in Arches National Park. The mornings and nights were cold, but when the sun came out (and the crazy wind died down)…it was hot. I always brought three different layers, and then swapped them in/out as needed.
The kids can’t wait to go back. I’m dying to try Fiery Furnace, but permits had to be obtained either in advance, or by showing up at certain times in person, and we just couldn’t get our act together enough. But after doing Devil’s Garden, I think the kids are ready for Fiery Furnace?
Here’s to adventuring with kids! (Especially for you lucky Utah dwellers — what a seriously gorgeous state.)
Oh, hey, Pinners…