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:
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.
Most overnight backcountry users asked staff for guidance on good locations to camp. Designated campsites make site selection easier for visitors, and allow you to enjoy higher quality backcountry experiences. Designated campsites also restrict the impacts of overnight use to predetermined areas.
Eighty-five percent of backpacking permits issued in the past ten years were for the same three areas in the park. These areas were popular because they are easy to reach, resulted in minimal impacts to park resources, and met park regulations (at least ½ mile from and out of sight of all trails and roads). The newly designated sites/zones are in these same areas, which provide unique experiences that represent the exceptional values of the park.
You can hike to other areas of the backcountry on day trips. Areas that are closed to backcountry camping contain sensitive resources or are not desirable for overnight camping. Future planning and assessment will examine overnight use for all areas of the backcountry.
Group size limits support management objectives and desired conditions for the park’s backcountry.
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.)
Fees pay for park employees’ time to provide backpacking information and to monitor backcountry campsites and resources.
We do not issue Commercial Use Authorizations (CUAs) for overnight activities in the park.
Last updated: April 10, 2018