The 36-mile road inside Arches National Park is a drive chock full of towering red rock walls and spectacular rock arches. The designer of this amazing road knew what he was doing putting the mother-load of arches at the end of the asphalt. Like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow there is a hike at the end of this road that is full of stunning rock arches carved by time and water. This is the Devils Garden Primitive Loop trail of Arches National Park.
Most visitors attracted to this park come to see the Delicate Arch and the Landscape Arch. The 306′ wide Landscape Arch is the longest arch in the park and as such is the big draw of The Devils Garden area, but those who leave this area only seeing that arch have missed out on seeing what nature is really capable of. There are 9 other arches of varying sizes to see in The Devils Garden area and arches aren’t the only red rock formations worth finding along the Devils Garden Primitive Loop trail. Want to find all 10 arches and experience this desert environment in a way that few people who come here challenge themselves with? Then read on and I will reveal the way.
Stats for the Devils Garden Primitive Loop
Trailhead: Devil’s Garden Trailhead
Distance: 8-miles with all possible spurs.
Total Elevation Gain: 1,500′
Type: Large Loop with Four Spurs
First off this trail is no mystery as it is on the park’s map and most of it is well signed, but most visitors seem to be intimidated by its remote 5 miles (closer to 8 miles total with all the spurs). This is a high desert environment and can be a challenge for those not acclimated, but if you have enough water and take it at your pace it should be doable by anyone in marginally good shape and of any age.
Finding the Trailhead
Once arriving at The Devils Garden parking area at the end of the main road in Arches National Park (pretty much the only paved road in the park) make your way towards the north side of the area where the bathrooms are. These are the only facilities on this loop so take the opportunity to utilize these well-placed facilities. There are also fountains here. You should make sure you have plenty of water. In winter months a gallon should be more than enough, but in the summer you might need as much as 3-4 gallons. It really depends on your body’s needs and how you have acclimated to this climate.
Hiking the Devils Garden Primitive Loop Trip Report
When we were well prepared we set out on our adventure and headed north on the wide path. There was a large throng of visitors heading towards the Landscape Arch so we just filed in line. It is just over a quarter of a mile along the path to the first junction for the spur to the Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch. Up to this junction, the trail traverses between two rock fins and is fairly flat.
We turned right at the junction and descend down a very steep, but short and paved path to the next spur. Taking a right again we made the short walk to the viewing area where Tunnel Arch (#1) can be seen on the rock wall to the south. Tunnel Arch might be the least impressive arch in the park so it is a good way to start the adventure… everything from here is much better.
Pine Tree Arch
We turned back and made the few steps back to the spur and continued straight towards Pine Tree Arch. Pine Tree arch (#2) is obviously named so because of the pine tree at its entry. There are a few arches in Arches National Park that allow visitors to walk straight through them. Pine Tree Arch is one of them so we walked through the arch and took in the views on the other side. It is a nice small arch and worth the little effort it takes to get here.
We then turned back and returned to the main path to continue on to the Landscape Arch. The remainder of the path to Landscape Arch is an undulating paved path. I don’t love paved paths, but this one feels like it is well placed in the environment and the sheer number of visitors dictates that it be asphalt to reduce erosion so I’m okay with it. Just over 1 mile from the parking area, with the added spurs, we arrived at the massive Landscape Arch (#3). Its size is impressive, but visitors aren’t allowed to get very close.
In 1991 a massive slab of the arch over 70′ long broke away from the arch and crashed into the earth below. Four years later another piece nearly 50′ long broke off and later that year a 30′ section. So for understandable reasons the park doesn’t allow visitors to hike underneath this one any longer. It is thought that this particular arch isn’t long for this world so for all of you thinking about going, stop thinking and go! Even if the crowds are nearly unbearable.
Continuing onto The Devils Garden Primitive Loop
Once we had taken in the grandeur of the Landscape Arch we left the asphalt behind and headed onto the Primitive Loop trail. Just before reaching Landscape Arch there is a noticeable trail on the right with a sign letting visitors know that this is the Devils Garden Primitive Loop Trail. We decided to go clockwise so this is where we returned to the asphalt later in our journey, but for now, we went to the very end of the asphalt and continued onto the Primitive Loop there.
The trail immediately becomes a slanted piece of slick rock. This is a very intimidating section for visitors. We slowly made our way up the large slab of rock, other intrepid hikers cheering us on. It is very odd. I have never hiked a trail where fellow hikers cheered each other on so much. It may have just been that we got with the right group of people. Halfway up the slab we really noticed that the thick crowd that had been with us to the Landscape Arch had thinned and only a few remained.
I found out after our visit that this section recently had an arch standing just to the left of the path that completely collapsed in 2008. Missed out on that one.
Once at the top of the slick rock slab, the path levels out and the hunt for cairns begins. This is still a well-traveled trail, and for the most part easy to follow, but given the fragile nature of this ecosystem we wanted to stick to the intended trail. At about 1.5 miles on the trail, we arrived at the intersection for the Navajo and Partition Arches spurs. We headed left on the spurs.
The spur to Partition and Navajo
Shortly after the turn, the spur trail splits into two trails. The left trail leads to the aptly named Partition Arch because it is a part of a rock fin that is located between the fins with Landscape Arch and Navajo Arch. To the right is the Navajo Arch. We chose left first, but the hike to both arches are relatively flat and about the same distance. Both spurs together will add less than 1-mile of easy trails onto the journey.
Partition Arch (#4) with its smaller un-named neighbor frames one of the best views in all of Arches National Park. We headed through the arch to a short sloping ledge to take in the full panorama.
Navajo Arch (#5) is in complete contrast to the Partition Arch. This arch, although relatively next door to the Partition Arch, is dark, secluded and cut off. We walked through the arch to find a nook in the large sandstone formation. It almost feels like a cave, only with open air above the rock walls that rise on all sides. It is a baby slot canyon.
Continuing towards Double O Arch
We then made our way back to the main junction of the Devils Garden Primitive Loop trail and turned left following the signs towards Double O Arch. The trail then led us through a very desert environment with cactus and sand for another half mile. At 3 miles on the trails, we were led to a rock fin rising up out of the earth. There is a sign here for Double O Arch pointing us towards the fin itself and indeed the top of the fin is the trail. We scrambled up the moderately angled rock fin 8′ or so in hight and then proceeded north along the top of the thin fin.
Crossing the Narrow Rock Fin
For those with vertigo, this 1/4 mile section will be difficult. At one point the top of the fin which is now the trail for the Devils Garden Primitive Loop narrows to only a few feet wide with an estimated 15′ drop on the left and a much more fatal drop to the right. However, those who brave this section are rewarded with full 360-degree panoramic views of this amazingly eroded rocky world.
Once at the north end of the fin, we found a set of cairns leading off the fin to the left. The descent off the fin is almost as steep and high as the way on.
After a short distance, we found another short spur to the right. This one led to an overlook of Black Arch (#6). This is unfortunately as close as the trail allows for Black Arch which is still very far away. We then returned the few steps back to the intersection and continued on the trail to Double O Arch.
Double O Arch
The next half mile of the trail skirts the inside edge of rocks rising on the left. This section has a lot of desert juniper trees. We then found ourselves once again on the top of a rocky fin with our first views of Double O arch to the left. Following the descending rock fin, we eventually dismounted the formation on the left via steps that are carved into the steep rock. The path continues through the sand to the bottom of the Double O Arch formation (approx. 3.75 miles total hiking). This section is fairly straightforward as the formation can be seen, but there is a small spur off the left side of the main Devils Garden Primitive Loop trail to the formation.
The Double O Arch (#7 & #8 arches) is one of my favorites in the park. It is two arches stacked one on top the other inside a single rock fin. We climbed inside the lower arch and then on to the ledge on the other side. This path leads to a small overlook on the other side that gives the best views of the formation. While we were there we also saw another hiker climb into the top arch. It looked extremely difficult and given the remote nature of the location, I wouldn’t recommend doing that.
Dark Angel Monolith Spur
Once taking in the grandeur of these unique arches we returned to the main trail and continued to the left. Almost immediately we found the junction for the spur to the Dark Angel monolith. We headed left towards the Dark Angel formation.
The Dark Angel formation isn’t an arch, but rather a lone, towering 150′ high sentry made up of rock with dark red deposits. The spur is just over half a mile and relatively flat but extremely exposed. Gone are the rock fins and all that is left for shade are the small juniper trees. Dark Angel itself is one of the last formations inside the park that visitors are allowed to rope climb. Jennifer and I were lucky enough to arrive when a few climbers were attempting the ascent.
Returning to the Devils Garden Primitive Loop Trail
After watching the climbers for a while, we returned to the intersection near Double O and took a left back onto the Devils Garden Primitive Loop trail (5 miles total). Here the trail is far less traveled and more narrow than the one to Double O. We only saw a hand full of people for the remainder of the loop. The trail quickly descends a ridge to the ravine below. The trail is less rocky and has a lot more shrubbery than the rest of the loop. Again this section is less traveled so keeping an eye on the cairns is very important.
Top Story Window Arch
As the trail approached its northernmost point a small arch can be seen at the top of a rock fin on the left. I later found out that this is known as Top Story Window (#9). The trail takes a sharp right turn as it crosses over the wash area. When we were here there was a large pool of water here, but the creek bed was dry everywhere else.
Private Arch Spur
Shortly after that and about 5.5 miles on the trail, we found the turnoff to Private Arch. There is a sign here and the spur is just over a 1/4 of a mile to the right and up a small hill. Once we had made it to the top of the trail, we turned left and Private Arch (#10) revealed itself seemingly out of nowhere. It is a large secluded arch for sure. We did find a family there having lunch on the other side of the arch. We made our way down and through it before returning to the trail and then taking a left to hike up the slick rock to the top. This perch allows for stunning views back over the multitude of fins that make up the Devils Garden.
Finishing the Devils Garden Primitive Loop
We then returned to the intersection with the Loop and continued clockwise. While there are no more arches to be seen on the remainder of this hike I found that the terrain skirting the northeastern side of the Garden to be challenging and stunning. The trail crosses over several rock fins clinging to the sloped edges. I would say this is the most difficult section on the loop trail. We ran across a lady in her late 70s slowly crossing over the sharp ridges and looking like she was having the time of her life… so it can be done by almost anyone with the determination to get it done. I hope to be like her when I am that age.
After crossing over the last fin the trail descended into a wash at about 7 miles. We followed the wash for a short distance and then found the trail leading through the trees and onto the sand to the right. We almost missed the sign here so be careful not to as I can only imagine where the wash would lead.
The trail then undulates for another 1/2 mile through sand-covered terrain with overlooks of the rock fins and the La Sal Mountains before reaching the paved path that we had started out on near Landscape Arch. From there it was another 1/2 mile back to the parking lot.
Bring lots of water. This is a desert trail with a lot of exposure to the sun.
Stay on the designated trail at all times. This area is covered in Biological Crust that is easily and irrevocably damaged by stray hikers.
If possible go in the shoulder seasons (Spring/Fall), the summers are far too hot and the winters get very cold.
Book Arches’ Devils Garden Campground early (6-months to the day in advance) to stay in the park and get an early start on the hike.
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