While Arches National Park is known for its outstanding geologic features, it also contains irreplaceable cultural resources and sensitive high-desert ecosystems. The park’s backcountry is mostly rough terrain, inaccessible by established trails with very limited water sources.
Fewer than 1 percent of visitors to Arches stay in the backcountry overnight, but the number of permits issued each year is increasing even faster than overall visitation (from 101 backpacking permits issued in 2006 to 483 in 2015). Staff attention has been focused on visitation along roads and trails, and our ability to closely monitor backcountry resources over the past 10 years has been limited.
We recently revised the park's backcountry management plan in order to better preserve and protect the rich, interconnected, and sensitive desert ecosystems and other extraordinary resources of Arches’ backcountry. The specific objectives and desired conditions include:
Avoid or minimize impacts to sensitive wildlife, vegetation, and water resources. Avoid or minimize soil disturbance and social trails.
Protect sensitive cultural resources.
Provide a range of experiences and guidance for a variety of backcountry users. Ensure overnight backcountry users are out of sight of roads, trails, and key observation points.
Ensure overnight backcountry users can experience solitude.
Establish overnight backcountry use levels that will allow staff to monitor resources and manage permits.
Charge a permit fee to fund staff who will provide visitor information and monitor backcountry overnight use.
These amendments will be in place until we complete a comprehensive visitor-use management planning process. You can provide comments and suggestions about backpacking in the park when you pick up your permit at the visitor center. Your comments will help us with future planning.
Under the 1988 backcountry management plan, the group size limit was 12 people per permit. The new limit of seven people matches the policy at nearby Canyonlands National Park. It allows for more enjoyable backcountry experiences (including solitude), and reduces campsite impacts to an acceptable level. (Larger groups can cause more resource damage than smaller groups, particularly in at-large camping zones.)