Saturday, July 12, 2014

Devils Garden Primitive Loop at Arches National Park

Hike: Devils Garden Primitive Loop at Arches National Park
Hike Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous (sand and slick rock, not necessarily elevation gain)
Hike Distance (Round Trip): 7.2 - 8.1 miles (different websites report different distances; including all side trails to arches)
Time (Round Trip): 4-6 hours
Elevation: 1204 feet (total round trip elevation gain)

We spent 2 1/2 days in the Moab area, giving ourselves some time to explore both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. I will be writing 3 separate posts about our hikes in those parks: 1) Devils Garden Primitive Loop in Arches; 2) Neck Spring Trail Loop in Canyonlands; 3) Delicate Arch in Arches. We went on smaller hikes and stopped at several vista points in both parks, so I'll mention those as well. 

Our morning drive into the park was really pretty. With the red rocks, morning and late evening are the best times of day to really appreciate their colors. 

We began the Devils Garden Primitive Loop trail at the Devils Garden Trailhead (which has bathrooms) at about 7:15am. It gets really hot at Arches in the summertime, so we wanted to get the hike done by early afternoon. I am also glad we started early because we beat a lot of the crowds. I think many people don't hike the whole loop but instead only hike to Pine Tree Arch and Landscape Arch (1.6 miles round trip), so that section of the trail was really crowded. 

We took the loop clockwise. I can see pros and cons to hiking the loop both ways, but ultimately I am glad we hiked it clockwise. The primitive part of the loop (second half for us) can be accessed shortly before Landscape Arch, if you want to go counter clockwise. If you do, then you will encounter several slick rock scrambles that you will be going up instead of down (this is a good thing, much easier to go up). However, unless you start the primitive loop section at like 5:30am, you will be hitting the majority of the arches when the rest of the Disneyland visitors are reaching them as well. I am definitely glad we got to see the arches before the swarms of people arrived, so because of that, I suggest hiking the loop clockwise (if you are leaving will be crowded either way if you leave after 9am or so.)

Going clockwise, we saw Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch, Landscape Arch, Partition Arch (I think my favorite...but loved Pine Tree as well), Navajo Arch (this one was ruined by too many people with tripods trying to get the same picture of a not-that-spectacular arch), Double O Arch, and Private Arch. We also took the side trip out to Dark Angel and came back to take the primitive trail right past Double O Arch. 

The first section of the trail is very well maintained and easy to follow. Below is an example of what the trail looks like, and the turn off for Pine Tree and Tunnel Arches. Make sure you take the short detour to the right to at least see Pine Tree Arch. After those arches, we came back to this point and headed toward Landscape and Double O Arch (the left trail in the picture below).

Pine Tree Arch 

Pine Tree Arch

Nature's Artwork

Sage against the red rock is one of my favorite color combinations.

Landscape Arch is 290 feet long and only about 6 feet wide in the thinnest section. Pretty incredible that it can stay as it is! Back in 1991, a section of it fell off and visitors captured videos and pictures of it. Since then, a small trail leading right up under the arch has been closed off. 

Shortly after Landscape Arch, we weren't exactly sure where the trail was until we realized the only way was up...right up a narrow fin of rock. 

Yup...that's the trail!

We took a trail off to the left for Partition and Navajo Arches. 

My fave!

Partition Arch

The trail continues along another narrow fin towards Double O Arch. I'm scared of heights but this wasn't so bad when there weren't many people out there. I wouldn't have wanted to be out on it with a bunch of other people though!

Follow the cairns! I have so much fun following the trails out west, when basically all you have to do is seek out the beautiful cairns showing you the way.

Double O Arch in the background

Double O Arch

There are a couple trails that head off away from Double O Arch. You can see Dark Angel from there, so follow the trail heading out in that direction. We stopped and had a great snack close by Dark Angel with views of Double O Arch from behind.

We took the same trail back towards Double O Arch and then veered left to continue on the Primitive Loop trail. It was a little trickier to stay on this trail. We actually had to help some sort of eagle scout troop find their way back to the trail. I think the key is just staying focused, and it's not that hard to keep watching for the cairns. And yes, if the cairns look like they are taking you up and over a fin that definitely doesn't seem passable or safe, that is the trail. And it was passable and (mostly) safe. I highly recommend good hiking shoes though for hiking this section of the trail. Nothing that will slip down on the slick rock. 

Doing the primitive section of the trail last is the way to go, but it is a bit of a sandy slog. It's a fairly long trail and the sand makes every step harder. However, we saw maybe two people after we helped the eagle scouts. It was quiet and beautiful and we did manage to find a couple of shady spots for water breaks. Bring plenty of water, go early, and make sure you see all of the arches. I can't imagine coming to Arches National Park and not doing this hike! It's the best way to see a ton of arches in one half day.