Looking for a guide on how to do the Tower Arch hike? Read on for details!
Arches National Park is one of the most visited and famous of the National Parks. Yet, even with all that popularity, there are some hidden gems that few visitors reach. The Tower Arch hike is one of those hidden gem hiking trails in Arches National Park, and boy is it ever worth a little extra effort to get there.
We’re talking fun, scrambling climbs, dramatic red valleys, cool rock formations, sand dunes, and – of course – a stunning arch.
Note that Tower Arch is named for the stone “tower” sitting just behind the arch. You can see it rising above the rest of the rocks on the left in the above picture!
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A Quick Look at Hiking the Tower Arch Trail
- Distance: 2.4 miles, round trip
- Type of hike: Out and back
- Difficulty: Moderately strenuous
- Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes – about 1 hour hiking and half an hour enjoying the arch/exploring the area. I was going at a pretty good pace on this hike.
- Elevation Gain: 600 feet
How to Get to Tower Arch Trailhead
Tower Arch is in the Northwest corner of Arches National Park, in the Klondike Bluffs section of the park. It is a bit removed from the main area; from the park entrance, it is about a 40 minute drive. From the other destinations in the northern section of the park – such as Devil’s Garden or Skyline Arch – it is a 15-20 minute drive.
To get to the Tower Arch trailhead, you will turn left on Salt Valley Road, which is just before Skyline Arch on the main Arches National Park Road.
The road is definitely accessible by a standard car (I drove a minivan), but it does have some “washboard” sections. You’ll be on this road for 7 miles.
Finally, to reach the trailhead you will need to take a final left turn. However, here you have two options.
The purple arrow shows the main trailhead, and the one that you will go to if you type in “Tower Arch Trailhead” into your navigation. This is, pretty obviously, the parking lot and trailhead I started from. This parking lot is quite a bit farther from Tower Arch.
Alternatively, if you have a study, off-roading 4×4 vehicle, you would be able to turn at Herdina Park road and drive to the parking lot at the blue arrow. This road is much rougher and not well-maintained, but it does take you to an alternate trailhead that is much closer to the arch, with a much easier hike.
As I parked at the main trailhead off Klondike Bluffs road, the trail from there to Tower Arch is the one I will be describing in the rest of the post.
Starting the Tower Arch Hike
The parking lot features plenty of parking, some informational placards, and vault toilets. The toilets were in good shape and you’ll want to use them if you have any hint of need, as this is a moderately long hike.
The Tower Arch hike begins with a decently steep section. You’ll ascend around 200 feet on an enjoyable rocky trail that feels a bit scrambling. I had a lot of fun on this ¼ mile section, but you can get off trail if you don’t watch for the cairns (stone piles) marking the path. It’s not hard to get back on track, but you’ll have extra scrambling to do so.
Note: Tower Arch is almost completely unshaded, and does feature some steep sections of hiking. If you’re visiting during the summer, I would highly recommend you do this hike in the early morning or later in the evening, not in the middle of the day.
Continuing on the Tower Arch Hike
Once you climb this ridge you are rewarded with spectacular views back toward the main area of Arches National Park and with a stunning valley rimmed with intricate red rock formations.
Oh, and you get cell service on this ridge! It’s one of the very few places you get coverage in the whole park.
As you continue hiking to Tower Arch, the next ½ mile or so features a descent into this valley walking on a mix of flat stone and sand. Cairns are again set up to mark the trail for you, but it’s easy to miss them and get off the path, so keep a sharp eye out.
The sandy sections are very distinctive on this part of the Tower Arch hike, as the biological soil crust found throughout Arches National Park makes the sand clump together. This crust serves an important ecological function as it helps retain water for plants and prevent erosion.
If you find you are walking on sand that “breaks” and you leave distinct foot prints, you are off trail and damaging the area. The sandy sections that are part of the main trail will be well worn already.
That said, you will see some footprints on the crust throughout the area as you aren’t the first to get lost (and the crust takes a long time to recover.) Just try to step in previous prints to minimize your impact and get back to the main trail.
This was a relaxing, enjoyable section of the hike. It is downhill and offers shifting perspectives of the surrounding rocks. I really liked getting immersed in these formations.
When you reach the low point of the valley, you will cross a sandy stream bed and begin an ascent of a large sand dune. It’s about 100 feet of elevation over 0.2 miles before you reach rocks and more level hiking again. From this ascent to the end is approximately another ½ mile.
At this point, make sure you look to your left to see the Marching Men formation – I thought it was pretty cool.
The final stretch leads you through a narrower passage between rock fins, letting you cool off in some shade as you finish your hike to Tower Arch.
As you approach the finish line of the Tower Arch hike, be sure to watch to your right for a bonus arch – Parallel Arch! Parallel Arch is a great example of the beauty that Arches National Park has to offer, and on most hikes it would be the star of the show.
Parallel arch is a beautiful example of an arch in the process of formation. It features a “pot-hole”(a feature of early arch formation where a hole forms in the ‘roof’ of the rock) and two… well… parallel arches in the process of emerging from the rock.
It is quite arresting and worth taking a minute to admire. But unfortunately for Parallel Arch, it happens to exist right next to Tower Arch and so it gets overshadowed by its cooler older brother.
Sidenote: If you look at Google or Alltrails they do show Parallel Arch on their maps, but in the wrong spot. I am confident that where I was (the red marker) is the correct spot, but Google has it marked a little ways away. (see map below).
I hunted around for 15 minutes in the area they had marked for this “other” Parallel Arch but could not find anything other than some cool rock fins in a curved shape.
Arriving at Tower Arch
Just a bit past Parallel Arch you will find the stunning Tower Arch. The tower itself rises dramatically over this massive arch, and you’ll spot the tower first and it will guide you the last steps. This rock pillar is capped with lighter colored rock and so it really pops when the sun is shining on it.
Trees and other rock formations give you a shifting view of the arch until you are greeted with a view of its full majesty.
Go up and explore underneath the arch. It looks only moderately sized in your first view, but when you get close you realize just how large it is.
And the space behind the arch creates dramatic angles and great views of the tower.
I loved my time here. The Tower Arch made me feel both calm and a little small. The area is absolutely silent, and I enjoyed just sitting and listening to the sounds of my breathing and the few sounds of nature around me. It also offers a great view out to the west – I imagine it would be gorgeous at sunset.
When you’ve had your fill of this beautiful place, simply retrace your steps and enjoy some fresh perspectives of the valley on the hike out. Note that the long valley segment will now be uphill, but I didn’t find it too bad.
>>Want to do another epic, off the beaten path hike in Arches? Check out my detailed guide to hiking in the Fiery Furnace!
Some Practical Information
Hours: Arches National Park is open 24/7/365. You can come into the park day or night to enjoy this beautiful space.
Cost: $30 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days. Or you can purchase an America the Beuatiful Pass, commonly known as the National Parks Pass, for $80 for the whole year and gets you into all parks and monuments in the National Parks system. If you’re going to visit even 3 national parks, monuments or forests in a year, it’s definitely worth buying the annual pass!
Timed Entry: There is currently no timed entry or reservation system in use at Arches National Park. You can enter the park whenever you want.
A few other things to note:
- While you can walk under the arch, it is forbidden to climb or walk on the arches
- No drones are allowed anywhere in Arches National Park
- While pets are allowed on park roads, in parking lots, and in campsites, no pets are allowed on any of the trails in Arches National Park.
Where to Stay When Visiting Arches
There are no hotels inside the national park – Moab is the closest city and where most people stay in a visit to Arches. I should note that despite being in a very rural area, the hotels in Moab are all fairly expensive.
There are many options for places to stay in Moab, but these are a few standouts:
Bowen Motel: This is the most budget-friendly hotel in Moab and despite being a motel, it has great reviews. Beds are comfortable, rooms and clean, and staff is helpful. Check availability for the Bowen Motel here!
Aarchway Inn: This hotel is a great option if you are traveling with family, as the hotel offers several types of rooms with extra beds and a private kitchenette, perfect for traveling with kids, or even a larger group. There’s also a pool, hot tub, playground, and picnic tables on-site. Check availability for the Aarchway Inn here!
Hoodoo Moab: This is one of the most upscale hotels in Moab. The design is chic and the rooms are very comfortable and well-decorated. Plus, the views over the mountains are fantastic! Check availability for the Hoodoo Moab here!
There is one campground inside Arches National Park – the Devil’s Garden Campground. There are also numerous camping sites available in and around Moab.
Devil’s Garden Campground:
This is a very pretty, 51 site campground. One cool perk is that you are camping right next to small rock formations, where you can climb and explore the rocks. There are several restrooms with flush toilets and convenient water fill stations.
The campground also has an amphitheater with ranger programs in the afternoon, and is within walking distance to Skyline Arch and very close to Devil’s Garden trail.
Reservations are required March 1 – October 31, and open 6 months in advance. Campsites are very popular and regularly sell out fast.
What is The Best Month to Visit Arches National Park?
The summer months are by far the busiest in Arches National Park, and temperatures can soar over 100 degrees, regularly. Spring and fall are somewhat less busier (though school breaks are extremely busy), but the weather becomes much more mild and pleasant. Highs in October are in the mid-70’s, and November highs are in the 50’s and 60’s F.
Winter is by far the lowest season in Arches, and even though it’s in southern Utah, it can get fairly chilly, and sometimes gets some snow. Average highs in January are around 40 degrees F.
Always Practice Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace involves packing out waste, not littering, respecting wildlife, not carving into the rocks, etc. Be mindful of what you are doing and respect nature!
I highly, HIGHLY recommend having some form of offline map downloaded when you visit Arches National Park and do the Tower Arch hike. For remote areas with hiking trails, we usually have downloaded an offline map from Google, as well as a map from Alltrails.
The offline Google map helps us with navigation and driving directions on the roads to the trailhead. Even if you have zero cell service, offline maps will show you your location and give you navigation directions.
We also love using AllTrails when hiking and would highly recommend it! We’ve used it a ton this year, but I would say it was worth the $15 just for our trip to Arches. If you don’t want to use Alltrails, I would again just make sure you have an offline map downloaded of the park.
To download an offline map on Google (in Android):
- Open Maps and have your desired area up on the screen
- Click on your face in the upper right hand corner (to open account options)
- Click on offline maps
- Choose “Select Your Own Map”
- Make sure the selected area includes everywhere you want. For this map, you could zoom to include Arches and Canyonlands in your map and still retain good quality.
- Click download. Now your map is downloaded and will automatically load when you are offline.
My Favorite Hiking Gear
These are a few of my favorite hiking gear or clothing items that I use on hikes all the time:
Hydroflask: Make sure you bring plenty of water on this hike! We always have our hydroflask with us, as it fits 40oz of water and keeps it cold for a really long time. Plus, the flip top lid straw is so convenient!
Good sunscreen: The sun is intense in southern Utah, and so lathering up with sunscreen is important for any hiking day.
This sunscreen is THE BEST. A tube lasts forever, and its not super thick and gloopy, and rubs in extremely easily, and lasts for a long time. I used to only like the aerosal sunscreens because I thought they were so much more convenient, but this sunscreen has me converted.
Sunscreen stick: For faces, we always use this sunscreen stick. It spreads on smoothly and is super handy for getting around all the little contours of the face.
Portable Power Bank: This is an essential piece of gear for any travel day. You’ll certainly take plenty of pictures and videos as you explore the stunning scenery in Arches, and you don’t want your phone to die! This power bank charges 4 times and tells you the exact percentage of power left in the bank.
Athletic Tees: These tees are great for exercising or hiking days. They are slightly boxy, breathable and wickable, making them really comfortable even in hot days. They’re also perfect for days when you want to protect your shoulders from the sun.
Athletic Tanks: These tanks are BOMB! Like the tees, they’re breathable and wickable and don’t cling to my body. They’re not cropped, but not too long either. I always feel great wearing these when we’re hiking. Bonus – they’re also extremely affordable!
Athletic Shorts: I’ve tried out a lot of athletic shorts, and these are my favorite for exercising and hiking! They have a 5 inch inseam (not too short, not too long), zipper pockets, a mesh liner, and are just so dang comfortable. These are the shorts I’m always reaching for first!
Sports Bras: This 3 pack of sports bras is so comfortable and supportive, which is perfect for days full of hitting the trails. After trying a whole bunch of sports bras, these are my favorites!
Final Thoughts on Hiking the Tower Arch Trail
The Tower Arch hike is truly a hidden gem of Arches National Park. It is an off the beaten path hike that offers absolutely incredible views and a really enjoyable hiking experience. The arch is dramatic, beautiful, and peaceful, and the bonus of Parallel Arch and the Marching Men add a lot to this hike.
I hope this guide has given you a good idea of what to expect and inspired you to visit this unique hike.