An arch with two openings
Skull Arch


"With red sandstone dominating the scene, the landscape varies from open flats to steep-walled cliffs." - Arches Wilderness Recommendation, 1974

Although there is no federally designated wilderness within Arches National Park, most of the park is recommended wilderness. According to National Park Service Wilderness Management Policies, recommended wilderness is managed as designated until it is either officially designated, or removed from consideration, both of which require an Act of Congress.

It is important to recognize that within wilderness, humans have existed for thousands of years. We respectfully acknowledge that Arches National Park, its recommended wilderness, and nonwilderness areas are on the ancestral homeland of bands of the Ute and Paiute, the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, and Sioux people. As a migratory route, this land is also traditionally and ceremonially important to many other peoples.

We recognize that our management of public land, including wilderness areas, should be informed by the traditional knowledge held by these groups. Wilderness character includes five tangible qualities, including the value of cultural and historical connections to a landscape.

Night skies with city glow in the background
The glow of nearby Moab impacts the night skies and naturalness quality of wilderness character.

NPS/Neal Herbert

In close proximity

The nearby town of Moab is a major tourist destination and serves as a hub for a wide range of recreational activities in the surrounding region - including those at Arches National Park. Developed areas, including trails and overlooks, can become extremely crowded during the busy seasons. Since 2010, the park has received more that 1 million visitors each year. The park's high season for visitation is from March to October, but visitors can be seen during all months of the year.

Once one steps away from the crowded areas and into the recommended wilderness, visitation drops off dramatically. These areas have incredible opportunities for solitude, but access often requires navigation skills and off trail travel on durable surfaces. Backpackers may see more wildlife tracks than other hikers' footprints; groups rappelling through canyons are often greeted with silence.

Backcountry vs. wilderness

Arches has both backcountry and wilderness, but how are they different? Sometimes these words are used interchangeably, but there are distinct differences. As stated in the 1988 Backcountry Management Plan, all lands and waters within the boundaries of Arches National Park will be considered as backcountry with the exception of highly-developed trail systems (i.e. The Windows, Park Avenue, Delicate Arch Viewpoint, etc.) that originate from two-wheel-drive roads or overlooks, and two-wheel-drive corridors designated for general use by all categories of passenger vehicles. Four-wheel-drive roads such as Salt Valley, Cache Valley, and Willow Springs are included within the backcountry definition.

The recommended wilderness area within Arches are "more or less defined by park roads." Wilderness boundaries are set back either 300 ft from the centerlines of major roads and 150 feet from the centerline of other roads, including four-wheel-drive roads. The wilderness boundary is set back 25 feet from the centerlines of the Landscape Arch Trail, Pine Tree Arch Trail and the western half of the Delicate Arch Trail, to provide for a higher standard of maintenance on these trails because of heavy use and erosion potential. The total acreage for recommended wilderness is 73,310 acres, over 96% of the park’s total area. The park follows the Wilderness Act of 1964 for guidance on wilderness management and preserving wilderness character.

Rock formations with mountains in the background
Petrified Dunes

NPS/Neal Herbert

Wilderness character

Arches National Park recommended wilderness contains distinctive landscapes that are products of multiple geologic processes including salt tectonics, sedimentation, folding and faulting, erosion, and salt dissolution operating over hundreds of millions of years. Diverse geologic formations, landforms, and soils shape patterns in the distribution and abundance of plants and animals. Plants and animals of the park experience extreme variations in temperature and moisture, as well as very intense sunlight. Notable wildlife includes mule deer, coyotes, kit foxes, raptors such as golden eagles, peregrine falcons, and burrowing owls, desert bighorn sheep, and the seldom seen bobcat and mountain lion. Cultural resources in the park span at least 13,000 years of human occupation and activity. Historic resources include those left by explorers, miners, ranchers and the Civilian Conservation Corps. There are six sites in Arches National Park that have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places, including a segment of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail.

Arches National Park recommended wilderness is natural, untrammeled, undeveloped and provides outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive, unconfined recreation. It also contains numerous cultural, historic, geologic, paleontological, scientific values. These five essential qualities of wilderness character form the foundational setting from which a broad spectrum of wilderness values is derived.

A person canyoneers over a ledge in Fiery Furnace
Canyoneering is one way to experience the wilderness area within Arches

NPS/Neal Herbert

Experiencing wilderness

Even if a visitor never sets foot in the wilderness, exposure to the sights and sounds of this spectacular landscape are nonetheless valuable. For those who do immerse themselves in this remote and rugged environment, the recommended wilderness offers a variety of different opportunities for solitude and self-discovery.

Visitors to the wilderness can test their skills and be challenged by backpacking in Courthouse Wash, canyoneering in Lost Spring Canyon, climbing in the Courthouse Towers area, or exploring in Fiery Furnace.

For those who do not wish to venture as far, intangible qualities of wilderness—connection, inspiration, relaxation—can be felt during sunrise at Delicate Arch, sunset at La Sal Mountain Viewpoint, or under impressive night skies.

Last updated: April 16, 2024

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PO Box 907
Moab, UT 84532


435 719-2299

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