For the most part, the national park itineraries we put together leave very little space for spontaneous stops. We like to research the “best of the best” in each park and then pack in as much as we can. But occasionally, we’ll finish a hike early or decide to shuffle around scenic drives and end up with some extra time in a park. That’s how we stumbled onto the Broken Arch Trail in Arches National Park and discovered one of our favorite spots in the park.
To us, Broken Arch felt a bit like that middle child who can’t ever seem to snag the credit or attention it’s due. Not one of the travel resources we checked out prior to our visit recommended the trail. It’s listed on the park newspaper list for hikes, but the brief description doesn’t nearly do justice to the up close arch experience and stunning canyon setting we found along the trail.
Even the location of the trailhead–sandwiched on the main park road between stops for the far more famous Delicate Arch and Devil’s Garden–only adds to the chances that unsuspecting travelers whizz right past the parking area never giving Broken Arch a second glance.
And although Broken Arch definitely doesn’t appear on the Utah welcome signs, we think it’s still one of the best kept secrets in Arches National Park and a must-do hike on your next visit.
It definitely made the list of “What We Wish We Knew Before Visiting Arches” and will continue to be one of our top recommendations for anyone looking to avoid the crowds when visiting the park.
Here’s our hiking report for Broken Arch:
Table of Contents
About the Broken Arch Trail
There are two different hiking options to Broken Arch. One departs from the Devil’s Garden Campground and the other from the Sand Dune Arch parking area. The directions included below are from the Sand Dune Arch parking area. Both hiking routes are easy to moderate hiking and well-suited for hikers of all skill levels.
Distance and Difficulty
Both trail options to Broken Arch are hard-packed with little or no elevation gain.
To Sand Dune Arch: 0.2 miles (one way)
To Broken Arch: 0.8 miles (one way)
Full Loop through the Devil’s Garden Campground: about 2.5 miles
To locate the trailhead, enter the main park road and travel 16.1 miles for the Sand Dune Arch parking area. The pullout is immediately off to the right side of the road and has a vault toilet and approximately 30 parking spaces. If there is no parking in this lot, continue on to the Devil’s Garden Campground visitor parking area and hike the trail from that direction.
Indigenous Roots at Broken Arch
As part of our commitment to a more Diverse NPS, Park Chasers wants to acknowledge that the lands we now enjoy were once the home of many different indigenous communities.
According to the National Park Service (nps.gov):
“What is now Arches National Park was a ceremonial area for people who lived and farmed in the Moab valley. Moab is the only major crossing of the Colorado River for hundreds of miles, so this area saw extensive travel and trade, making it an important cultural feature for all tribes on a regional scale.”
The lands around Broken Arch and Arches National Park once belonged to members of the:
- Pueblo of Zuni (or A:shiwi),
- the Hopi Tribe,
- the Southern Ute Indian Tribe,
- Ute Indian Tribe-Uintah and Ouray,
- the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, and
- the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians.
To learn more about native communities in the area and how these lands were in some cases stolen from their inhabitants – visit Native Lands.
To learn more about our commitment to greater diversity, inclusion, and access to public lands visit DiverseNPS.
What You'll See at Broken Arch
From the Sand Dune Arch parking area, hike a short distance to the fork for the Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch. Turn right here for a quick glimpse at Sand Dune Arch before you depart for the longer trail.
Sand Dune Arch is tucked in a bank of stone fins and gives visitors a chance to touch and feel the formations. Just be cautious to bring sunglasses and a face covering if there’s any amount of wind when you visit — the deep sand here can blow up quickly.
After visiting Sand Dune Arch, continue back out to the main trail and on towards Broken Arch. You’ll pass through a large open meadow area with terrific views of the plants and bacteria-filled soil crust that call Arches home. Stay on the trail here and watch small children carefully — any amount of foot traffic on the delicate soil in these areas can cause permanent damage.
As you approach the other side of the meadow, you’ll reach another fork in the trail. To the right, you’ll find Broken Arch and the trail leading to Devil’s Garden Campground. The hike can be completed clockwise, but we highly recommend the counter-clockwise route and to see Broken Arch first.
As you continue to the arch, you’ll take a short scramble up underneath the arch and then carry on the trail on the other side. From here, you’ll have views of Devil’s Garden area including Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch. There’s a small spur hike off to Tapestry Arch up ahead as well.
The trail then leads directly through Devil’s Garden campground. Stop here to use the flush toilets and fill up water bottles, before continuing back on the loop for the rest of the hike. You’ll rejoin the trail in the outer (southern) loop of the campground. Turn around as you depart the campground for terrific views of the Devil’s Garden area.
The next leg of the trail was some of our favorite hiking we encountered in all of Arches National Park. Immediately after the campground, you’ll scramble up a short rock face and follow cairns into a gorgeous area of rock “fins”. The rock formations here tower so far overhead it’s like entering in a small slot canyon. The distance is only a few hundred yards, but it offers some shade and a unique landscape we didn’t find anywhere else in the park. In the distance, it’s possible to see the snow-capped La Sal Mountains from here as well.
At the end of the canyon, you’ll reach the open meadow area again – take the fork to the right back towards the Sand Dune Arch parking area.
When to Hike the Broken Arch Trail
The Broken Arch trailhead shares a parking area with the more popular Sand Dune Arch, so expect quite a few cars and visitors in the first stage of the trailhead. As you quickly separate at the fork is when where you can expect a bit more solitude. The trail offers limited shade throughout the day, so prepare with plenty of water, sunscreen, and decent hiking hat.
Given the overall traffic in the park, we recommend visiting Broken Arch just before sunrise or sunset. The evening glow in the area is top notch.