Delicate Arch - Bernd Thaller via Flickr

How to Plan an Arches National Park Stargazing Trip in 2020

In Stargazing Guide by Valerie StimacLeave a Comment

If you’re looking for breathtaking night sky views and daytime vistas, there’s nowhere quite like Arches National Park. It’s immediately obvious what makes this natural wonderland worth protecting – and that includes the sky at night. This is part of why Arches is one of the best national parks for stargazing, and many people plan Arches stargazing trips each year.

I had the chance to visit Arches National Park as part of a trip to Moab in February 2020. It was bitterly cold in a classic desert winter way, but also a crowd-free way to visit one of the nation’s most popular national parks.

If you want to go stargazing in Arches and need the all the details, you’ve come to the right place. This Arches National Park stargazing guide gives you everything you need to know to plan an Arches stargazing trip and discover the wonders of the natural world – in space and here on earth.

Note: Due to the novel coronavirus, National Parks vary in opening hours and access. Be sure to check if the park you want to visit is open before planning a trip.

Featured photo credit: Bernd Thaller via Flickr

How to Get to Arches National Park

Arches National Park is located outside of Moab, Utah, in southern Utah. IT is close to other great stargazing destinations like Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park.

There is a small regional airport near Moab, though most people will make the 3-hour drive from Salt Lake City or visit Arches as part of a Utah/Southwestern U.S. road trip. It’s easy to string together a great road trip itinerary connecting Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef, as well as Bryce Canyon, Zion, and even the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona.

How to Go Stargazing in Arches National Park

Arches is one of Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks – and one of the many incredible stargazing destinations in southern Utah. In fact, Arches is one big stargazing spot!

Where to Go Stargazing in Arches National Park

In July 2019, Arches National Park was officially certified as a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association; that means there are great dark skies above the whole national park!

In terms of choosing a stargazing spot, the further you can be in the park from the lights of Moab and passing cars on Arches Scenic Drive. Here are the easy-access spots that the National Park Service suggests for stargazing in Arches:

  1. Balanced Rock Picnic Area
  2. The Windows
  3. Garden of Eden Viewpoint
  4. Panorama Point

Here are some other areas I recommend stargazing based on my experience:

  1. Near Devil’s Garden Campground
  2. Devil’s Garden Trail toward Landscape Arch
  3. Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint
  4. Upper Park Avenue Trailhead
  5. La Sal Mountains Viewpoint
  6. Petrified Dunes Viewpoint

However you can theoretically stargaze anywhere in the park if you’re able to safely reach and return from that point. Be sure to pack red lights and water even for a night hike, and stay on marked trails.

Also, don’t discount stargazing spots outside but near Arches National Park. You could also visit the aforementioned Canyonlands or Dead Horse Point – or explore the expansive Bureau of Land Management protected lands all around the area.

Where to Stay Near Arches National Park

Devils Garden Campground Trail - NPS/Chris Wonderly

Arches National Park is arguably one of the easiest great stargazing national parks to find accommodation. There are a number of hotels in nearby Moab and countless campgrounds in the area.

Hotels near Arches National Park

There are many hotels in Moab, near Arches National Park. It’s a short drive from Moab to the entrance to Arches National Park, so you won’t have to stay up even later to have a more comfortable night of sleep.

There are a combination of hotels in Moab, from 2-star to 4-star options and independent hotels to major international hotel chains. Here are some of the hotels in Moab:

  • The Gonzo Inn – Inspired by Hunter S. Thompson, this quirky condo-style hotel offers everything you need for a stay in Moab. The Gonzo Inn is right in the heart of Moab and offers a more budget-friendly option. From $178/night, book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
  • Moab Springs Ranch – Located on the north end of ‘downtown,’ Moab Springs Ranch is a historic Moab hotel that offer rooms and bungalows. Book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
  • Hyatt Place Moab – I stayed here during my own stargazing trip to Arches and Moab. It’s a great option along the main road with spacious rooms and plenty of amenities. From $279/night, book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
  • Hoodoo Moab, Curio Collection by Hilton – This gorgeous new property elevates the offering in Moab as the first 4-star hotel in town. Definitely a splurge – but also splurge-worthy. From $308/night, book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.

Note: These are starting room prices and can vary wildly based on the season and tourism demand.

Camping in and near Arches

There is only one campground in Arches National Park: Devil’s Garden Campground at the far end of Arches Scenic Drive and Devil’s Garden Road. During the peak season between March 1st and October 31st, you must reserve a campsite in advance on Recreation.gov. In the rest of the year, campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

If Devil’s Garden Campground is full (which it is almost every night during the peak summer months), you will have to stay outside Arches National Park. However, the local tourism agency Discover Moab has excellent resources about campgrounds in the greater Moab region:

Things to Do in Arches During the Day

What to See in Arches National Park

As you might guess, Arches National Park is best known for its fabulous arch rock formations! There are hundreds of arches in the park, and it’s easy to spend several days hiking to and viewing them. Here are some of the most popular and well-known Arches to visit:

  • Delicate Arch – The most recognizable arch in Arches, you can view Delicate Arch at a distance from a lower viewpoint or as part of a longer, popular hike.
  • Landscape Arch – Located in the Devil’s Garden area, Landscape Arch is a delicate rock formation you can view as part of an easy hike.
  • Turret Arch & The Windows – A series of trails connect these arches, some of the ones you can get the closest to while exploring Arches.
  • Double Arch – Not far from The Windows and Turret Arch, Double Arch is another picturesque vista you can reach on a short hike.

There are also other famous rock formations, including Balanced Rock, the Fiery Furnace, the Courthouse Towers, and Devils Garden. As you plan your trip, check out details on the NPS page about Places to Go in Arches.

What to Do in Arches National Park

Park Avenue in Arches National Park

In addition to stargazing, there are plenty of other things to do in Arches to pass the daylight hours.

  • While it causes environmental author Edward Abbey* to roll over in his grave, auto touring is the most common way visitors experience Arches National Park. You can stop at a series of parking areas with great viewpoints all with minimal physical effort.
  • If you want to stretch your legs a bit more, hiking is the name of the game in Arches National Park – it’s a hiker’s wonderland! According to AllTrails, there are 22 hiking trails in Arches National Park, ranging from 0.6 to 28.3 miles long!
  • Rock climbing and Canyoneering are popular activities for those looking to escape the crowds and get up close and personal with the rock formations; there are specific rules, regulations, and permits for these activities to minimize impact on the environment.
  • Cycling the park roads has become increasingly popular – it’s a challenging activity, not a leisurely one!

*Abbey spent time as a park ranger in Arches in the late 1950s; his book Desert Solitaire is an inspiring account of life in the wilds of southern Utah and raises pertinent questions about environmentalism and protecting this region.

Other FAQ about Stargazing in Arches National Park

Balanced Rock - Bernd Thaller via Flickr
Photo credit: Bernd Thaller via Flickr

Is Arches National Park open at night?

Arches National Park is open 24/7/365 – every day, all day! So yes, Arches National Park is open at night and you can go stargazing there even if you are not camping in the park.

Can you see the Milky Way while stargazing in Arches? When?

Delicate Arch - NPS/Jacob W. Frank

Absolutely, you can see the Milky Way when stargazing in Arches, as evidenced by the photos in this post. Since Arches is located in the northern hemisphere, the best time to see the Milky Way is during the summer season. The Milky Way core is visible above the horizon between April and October each year; it rises earlier in the night as the year goes on.

When is the best time to go stargazing in Arches?

The best time of year for stargazing in Arches depends on a balance of three factors: cloud cover, precipitation, and tourism.

  • September is the clearest month of the year in the Arches region, but it is also the region with the highest average precipitation.
  • June is generally dry and clear, but the beginning of the peak tourism season which may increase light pollution
  • January is free of crowds and clear – but also very cold, so bundle up!

Is there a dark sky festival in Arches? Are there guided night tours? 

There are no big dark sky festivals in Arches National Park, but you can attend ranger-led star parties from time to time. Be sure to check the Arches NPS stargazing page for details.

Similarly, there are no official guided tours in Arches, but as just mentioned, you can attend ranger-led programs on specific nights, or go stargazing on your own any night in Arches!

Do you have other questions about stargazing in Arches? Let us know in the comments! 

About the Author
Valerie Stimac

Valerie Stimac

Valerie is the founder and editor of Space Tourism Guide. She decided to start the site after realizing how many friends and family had never seen the Milky Way, and that space tourism was going to unlock the next great travel destination: space!

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