The Devil’s Garden Loop Trail in Arches National Park has some of the park’s most outstanding scenery. Unfortunately for families with smaller kids, it is also one of the most difficult hikes within the park. This doesn’t mean that you need to stay away though; you can easily do a lot of this trail and enjoy some epic scenery along the way.
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This northern-most part of Arches National Park is very beautiful, with many rock formations, including the famous long, tall, narrow “fin” formations. It gives visitors a taste of the exclusive and difficult “Fiery Furnace” hike, which is limited to a very small number of daily hikers.
The Devil’s Garden Loop is actually three separate hikes combined into one:
Landscape Arch Trail
The Landscape Arch spans 306 feet (96m), making it one of the world’s largest stone spans. The hard packed, flat and easy walking path to the arch is only 0.8 miles (1.3km) one way. The trail begins with a walk through a narrow canyon with towering long domes looming overhead on either side.
About halfway to the Landscape Arch is an option to take a short side trail (0.5 miles / 0.8km return) which takes you to see the Pine Tree Arch and the Tunnel Arch. You’re in Arches National Park, so you may as well see all the arches you can, right?
The Tunnel Arch is nice, but won’t be the highlight of your day. On the other hand, the Pine Tree Arch was really beautiful. It wasn’t the arch itself; it was the view through the arch which made it special.
From here, the hike continues north along some beautiful rock formations. The hike remains reasonably easy and eventually comes to the Landscape Arch, one of the largest natural stone arches in the world.
I expected it to be big, but wow, is it ever big! A 60 foot slab of rock fell from the arch in 1991, leading the NPS to block visitors from getting underneath the arch. Not to worry, there are lots of places to stop and enjoy this natural wonder.
Double O Arch Trail
The hiking trail continues past the Landscape Arch and becomes the Double Arch Trail, which the NPS rates as “difficult”. The trail ceases to be hardpacked and transitions to more natural hiking trail conditions.
It soon begins to climb up some slickrock through a narrow, tall canyon. At this stage we were holding onto the kids pretty tightly due to a drop-off on one side.
We only went 0.3 miles (0.6km) before the trail was blocked by some large boulders which needed to be climbed over, with precarious drop-offs on both sides.
People of moderate athletic ability were doing it without much issue, so Celine climbed up and over to assess the danger level. Our kids are great at scrambling over rocks, but we elected to not go any further.
At 3 & 5 years old, our kids listening skills are pretty typical for their age (i.e: not good at all). Without the ability to trust that they would follow through on all the direction we gave them, we couldn’t be certain of a safe passage over these rocks. So, we turned back… better to walk away and live to hike it another day!
We were pretty bummed to have to turn back on the Double O Arch Trail so quickly, but not to be defeated, we tried the Primitive Trail and we’re really glad we did – it was awesome!
The NPS rates this hike as “most difficult” but we were able to hike another 1.3 really enjoyable miles (2km) one-way on this leg before we met up with the really hard parts. Even if you can’t do the whole leg, the section that is family-friendly is really nice.
The Primitive Trail begins just south of the Landscape Arch. It’s not a well-marked trailhead, so keep your eyes open for the sign. The slightly downhill, deep sand trail followed alongside some interesting rock formations on one side, with desert scrub and amazing vistas of distant rock formations on the other.
We saw all kinds of interesting wildlife, including some cute bunnies and even a (non-venomous) Glossy Snake.
After 0.6 miles (1 km) the trail descends sharply and starts following a dry creek bed, which you follow through some really fun and beautiful rock formations. There’s a huge rock which blocks the midday sun near the start of the creekbed, making it a good place to stop for lunch.
Sadly, the trail becomes difficult and dangerous again shortly after this, so we turned back towards the car. We carried the kids back up the hill to save on time.
Distance: The full distance of this loop hike is 7.2 miles / 11.6 km. The path we took which cuts out the dangerous parts totaled 5.4 miles (8.7km) roundtrip.
Elevation Gain: This hike has some very challenging parts to it and can be quite difficult at times. The official elevation gain for this hike is 1,070 feet / 326m, but the portions of the hike we did were 850 feet / 259m.
Difficulty: If you attempt the whole loop, we would rank this trail as difficult. If you avoid the dangerous sections, we’d rank this trail as moderate, if only because of the length.
There are no really hard parts to the section of the trail we did. Our 3 & 5 year old kids easily hiked most of this trail themselves. We did pick them up for a 0.7 mile (1.2km) uphill stretch on the way back to the car. The kids could have hiked this, but they hike uphill so slowly and we wanted to get a couple more walks in before the end of the day (the Sand Dunes Arch and Park Avenue).
Duration: This hike took us 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete. This is a bit faster than our usual pace with the kids, likely due to the fact we carried them for a little bit. Without us carrying them, we’d have likely completed it in 4.5 hours.
How to Get There: Our Lonely Planet guide said to get to Arches NP by 7am in order to beat the crowds and to guarantee a parking spo. I asked our campground attendant his opinion and he agreed. Apparently, if you wait until 8:30ish, the lineups to enter the park can be over an hour long.
We got to the front gate of the park at 7:00 and were able to drive straight through – literally… there were no staff working yet. We had an annual national park pass, so we just kept driving; everyone without a pass needs to go to the Arches National Park Visitor Center to pay.
The Devil’s Garden is located at the most northern part of the park and is a 30 minute drive from the park gates. It has a huge parking lot; we got there at 7:30 to find it around 10% full. When we got back to the parking lot at 12:30pm, it was completely full with many cars just doing loops waiting for someone to leave.
Devil’s Garden Trail Highlights
There are many arches you can see on this hike, but two arches really stood out:
- The Landscape Arch is one of the biggest natural stone arches in the world. And it is huge! Due to recent instability in the arch (part of it fell), visitors are not allowed anywhere near the bottom of the arch, but don’t dispair, there are many great viewpoints of this magnificent arch.
- The Pine Tree Arch is one of the arches you see early in this hike. The arch is nice, but nothing special. It’s the view through it which is pretty amazing. We got here early in the morning and the ground is a deep, soft sand. There weren’t many human footprints yet, so the kids had a great time looking at all the animal tracks in the sand.
The scenery of the rock formations within Arches National Park are excellent on this hike, both from an up-close perspective and off in the distance. There are also snow covered mountains (in April at least) off in the distance which adds yet another layer of beauty.
Despite being in a harsh desert environment, when we did the hike in April there were lots of beautiful wildflowers.
Hiking Devil’s Garden with Kids
- As mentioned above, there were sections of this hike which we felt were too dangerous for our kids, and we’re usually pretty game to try risky things with them.
- There are bathrooms at the trailhead. The main trail to Landscape Arch is really busy, so you’ll have difficulty finding a private place to pee. Your best bet to find a place to go is on the less-traveled Primitive Trail; you’ll have a lot of isolation and bigger trees to duck behind.
- There is a water station next to the bathrooms. Fill every single water bottle you have as there is little relief from the blazing Utah sun on this hike. The NPS recommends you bring at least 1 quart (1L) of water for every 2 miles (3.2km) you plan to hike. Hydration packs are a great way to transport large quantities of water for the family.
- The trail to Landscape Arch is a well maintained, hard packed gravel trail. The rest of the trails are either in deep sand or on sliprock. You can get by with normal shoes or hiking shoes, but not flip-flops.
- There isn’t much tree cover on this hike, so you need to be prepared for full sun exposure for the duration of the hike. Bring sun hats, lots of water and sunscreen.
- This trail is not stroller accessible, but we saw tons of parents carrying their small kids on the trail in a carrier.
- No dogs are allowed on Devil’s Garden Trail.
- Despite the harsh desert environment, we saw a decent amount of wildlife. We saw several bunnies, chipmunks, swallows, a glossy snake, lots of lizards and a stinkbug (a large beetle which will spray you with a noxious fluid if you bother it).
- At the beginning, the trail is lined with decorative rocks on either side of the trail. It’s virtually impossible to keep kids off these rocks, which will slow everyone down.
- Near the beginning of the Landscape Arch Trail, there is a narrow canyon filled with a small slope of deep sand. Kids won’t be able to resist running up and down it as many times as you let them.
- Stop and empty your kid’s shoes often as they will likely be filled with sand.
- We know this is hard, but do your best to keep your kids on the trail. The soil around the trail is actually alive; a biological crust made up of many tiny organisms, which make water and nutrients available to the nearby plants. One step on these organisms will endanger all the larger plants nearby.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
There’s a bit of shade and some potential spots to stop for a break around Landscape Arch, but you may be forced away by the crowds. We thought there were lots of good spots to stop along the counter-clockwise leg of this hike.
We stopped for lunch on the dry creek bed portion of this leg behind a giant rock, which threw a huge shadow over us and the dead log we sat on. There is also a picnic area complete with tables near the entrance to the parking area.
- The sun can get intense in southern Utah, so bring more water than you think you will need.
- As mentioned, there are several spots on this hike which we felt were too dangerous for our family.
What to Bring
Other Hikes in Arches National Park
Arches National Park has many fun and interesting trails for families to enjoy. A few others we enjoyed during our visit include hiking the Delicate Arch Trail and many easy hikes in Arches NP to the different arches.
For more hikes nearby, Canyonlands National Park also has some fun and interesting trails for families to enjoy. A few other family-friendly hikes we enjoyed during our visit included those we share in our post on hiking in Canyonlands National Park with kids and hiking the Slickrock trail with kids.
Moab’s National Parks with Kids
Moab, Utah is a great base for exploring Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. For more things to do, family friendly hotels and campgrounds, visit our Arches National Park with Kids post.
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