America’s Best Desert Day Hikes: Devils Garden Primitive Loop, Arches National Park

Delicate Arch is the most famous sandstone arch in America—it’s on Utah license plates, and signs welcoming drivers to the state. But there are more than 2,000 other arches in the canyon country of Arches National Park, and the Devils Garden loop tours eight of them on a 7.2-mile primitive trail. In Arches, where much can be seen from a car or the short walks to famous landmarks like Delicate Arch and Balanced Rock, the Devils Garden Primitve Loop is unique: It’s a solid day hike with enough mileage and elevation gain (the small ups and downs add up to more than 1,200 feet of cumulative elevation change) to justify packing a lunch.

The primitive loop trail, at the very end of the park’s scenic drive, is a more adventurous extension of the Devils Garden Trail. Hikers follow a rough route over ledges and slickrock slabs, and up and down rocky trails past—or through—the park’s famous arches, including North America’s longest natural arch, 306-foot-long (and only six feet thick in spots) Landscape Arch. The trail weaves past and under seven other large arches, including the Double O, a 71-foot arch sitting above a smaller arch on the same fin of sandstone.

As the trail becomes more primitive, take a detour: Climb up the gradual slope of one of the 100-foot-high sandstone fins to a vantage point and look down—you’ll see dozens of other fins, stacked next to each other like books on a shelf. Adventurous hikers will find plenty of exploring to do, but should consider that, as the old saying goes, “Geologic time includes now.” The famous Landscape Arch, in fact, has lost three separate sections in the past 25 years, massive slabs of sandstone that have peeled off and fallen to the ground below.

The Devils Garden Trailhead is popular, so arrive early to get a parking spot. But the majority of hikers don’t take the primitive loop, where you’ll find some solitude. The light coming through the arches changes with the season, and the time of day a hike for a completely new look with each visit.

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