Sunrise Hike at Devil’s Garden, Arches National Park

Who wants to sleep in and enjoy lazy mornings whilst on vacation?! Meeeeee! Hmmm, well we had had several days of doing just that and they were blissful. But we had yet to do anything resembling a ‘real’ hike so decided to give the 7 mile Devil’s Garden hike in Arches National Park (ANP) a go.

John had read that we should try and be at the first arch for sunrise (thanks a lot, John). Which, in October, is a pretty decent 7:35am. But it’s a mile hike to get to the arch. And we were staying on the other side of Moab from the park entrance. And the trailhead is at the very end of the ANP road. So we decided to leave home at 5:45am, giving us at least an hour to drive to the trailhead, then 30 minutes to get to the arch and set up for sunrise. If you’re thinking this is waaaaaay too much time for all of these things, you’d be right. There was, of course, no traffic, so we got into the park and to the end of the road by 6:30am. We knew it would be a bit chilly but had neglected to look at the forecast, and I was also remembering how I’d made everyone over-dress for the Delicate Arch sunset hike. So we underdressed. And when it’s 33F and pitch black, it would be fair to say we massively regretted it had some regrets. With hindsight, I would have brought some sweat pants to go over my cropped leggings and a blanket scarf.

A dark and cold start to Devil’s Garden hike!

So there we are, at the trailhead, at least an hour to go before sunrise. And did I mention it was freezing and still so, so dark. We were, of course, the only car in the parking lot. We took some time (37 seconds) to admire the stars and crescent moon before jumping back into the warmth of the car and waiting til 7am.

Then off we set. The sky had lightened enough so that we could at least make out the trail and each other.

A jogger ran past us at the start. Mental. The path was paved but gravelly and it took us all of 15 minutes to reach Landscape Arch. Which still left us with 20 minutes until sunrise. Don’t be like us, cold and miserable and wishing we’d stayed in bed for another 45 minutes. Having a face off with a massive raven who hates you.

Waiting for sunrise, being yelled at by a big black bird

Be the couple who arrived just as the sun rose and bathed the arch in the most glorious of rosy red hues. Hate them hate them hate them

Landscape Arch before sunrise
Landscape Arch pre-sunrise
Landscape Arch at sunrise
Landscape Arch 2 minutes after sunrise

Wow, my negativity melted away and all was right with the world.

Until we went to continue on to the next set of arches. This was called the ‘main trail’. I already knew to expect the ‘primitive trail’ halfway through the hike. But had foolishly assumed the main trail would at least be that; a trail. If I’d done my homework and read the article that I linked at the top of the page, I would have read this ….

Double O Arch – This trail to Double O Arch is difficult as it steeply climbs up and on the sandstone fins. Footing is rocky; there are narrow ledges with steep drop-offs. Hikers must use their hands and feet to scramble and climb. Though strenuous, the out-and-back hike to Double O Arch (4.2 mi/6.8 km roundtrip) is popular and offers incredible views.

And at least have been somewhat prepared for the adventure to come. Instead of being perpetually baffled and repeating, ‘Surely this isn’t the path?’ ad infinitum. Poor Anne and John.

Trail to Double O Arch
This is the ‘main trail’!
And this is the main trail!
This is a path, apparently!

Ok, it was A LOT of fun. But I was glad to see the sign (above) that at least let us know we were on the right path. We decided to detour to Partition Arch first.

Approach to Partition Arch
Approach to Partition Arch
Partition Arch
Partition Arch signage
Partition Arch and view
Partition Arch, not long after sunrise

What a window. Easily my favorite arch of the trip 🧡

We continued on, admiring the rock squiggles (official terminology) along the way. Also, John and I found a heart-shaped love seat to continue our mock-engagement photos 🤣

Devil's Garden hike
Rock ‘squiggles’
heart shaped seat on Devil's Garden hike
Heart-shaped seat!

Next was Navajo Arch.

approach to Navajo Arch
Approach to Navajo Arch
Navajo Arch
Navajo Arch
John and Anne under Navajo Arch

And then onto Double O. This is when the adventure really began. And the, ‘No, seriously, this can’t be right!’ began again. But there’s no denying the ‘trail’ sign when it points directly up onto the top of this long, stone boulder/wall.

Devil's Garden hike
Anne was almost blown off the top at this point
Devil's Garden hike
Stunning but so windy and cold!
Devil's Garden hike
Devil's Garden hike

It was windy, cold, and exceptionally beautiful.

We managed to lose the trail at one point, and ended up shimmying down a rock face on our bums. John re-found the trail (with a little help from GPS) and we found ourselves at Double O Arch.

Double O Arch
Zoom in and you can see us standing in the smaller O beneath. Photo and edits: @john_biggs

This is the point where you can either double back and re-trace the ‘trail’ back to Landscape Arch or continue on the Primitive Trail. ‘How can anything be worse than what we’ve just done?’ I decided. And I was right. The Primitive Trail certainly had some aspects of rock scrambling, drop-offs and easy-to-get-lost trails. But it was really very similar to what we had just done.

Primitive Trail on Devil's Garden hike
Is it this way?
Primitive Trail on Devil's Garden hike
Primitive Trail on Devil's Garden hike
This was the steepest, slippiest slope we had to go down
Primitive Trail on Devil's Garden hike
We just took our time, leaned into the slope and inched our way down
Fins along Devil's Garden hike
Fantastical fins

There was probably an hour of this sort of terrifying hell fun. Then the next hour was boring and tiring; slogging along in the red sand, either on the flat along a wash or up, up, up the slope. Until we made it back to Landscape Arch and finished off along that gravelly trail. By this point (about 11am), swarms of hikers/families were setting off (we had come across about 3 people on the trail up til then). We were very glad that we’d set off when we did, if only to have the illusion of having this adventure all to ourselves.

In sum, this was the most fun, adventurous and exciting hike I’ve done in some time. It’s not the most strenuous, doesn’t gain huge elevation, and doesn’t really prompt fear of imminent death (I’m looking at you, Angel’s Landing). But I loved following the cairns along the way and climbing up and down the fins and boulders. It was super exhilarating. And the views and arches we saw were stupendous.

Bravo Devil’s Garden. I can see why this is the second most popular attraction of ANP (after the Visitor Center, would you believe).

Find out about our first day of exploring the arches and hiking Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, a day exploring Dead Horse State Park and Canyonlands National Park, and an overview of Moab – how to get there, accommodation, costs etc!

Published by daniditcoucou

Traveling Teacher

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