Last updated: July 31, 2023
Backpacking at Arches
The park’s backcountry is mostly rough terrain, inaccessible by established trails with very limited water sources. While Arches National Park is known for its outstanding geologic features, it also contains irreplaceable cultural resources and sensitive high desert ecosystems.
Water is rarely available in the backcountry; plan to carry all you need. Primary safety considerations include steep terrain, loose rock, lightning, flash floods, and dehydration. You must know and comply with all regulations.
You must have a permit for all overnight stays in the backcountry. Backpacking permits are no longer issued at Arches Visitor Center. We now issue permits in person at the Backcountry Permit Office two miles south of Moab up to seven days before the trip start date. Each permit is limited to seven people, three nights per campsite, for a total of seven nights. Permits cost $7 per person.
Backcountry Permit Office
Open Weekdays (Monday-Friday)
8 am-12 pm and 1-4 pm MT except federal holidays
NPS Backcountry Permit Office
2282 SW Resource Blvd.
Moab, UT, 84532
Note: The Backcountry Permit Office may close when rangers are needed to respond to emergency search and rescue efforts in the park.
Backcountry Use Requirements
- All backcountry use and vehicle access is at your own risk. Plan ahead and prepare for backcountry conditions. Some routes are not trails and are unmarked.
- You must have a landfill safe commercial toilet bag system, such as Wag Bag or Restop II. All solid human waste must be packed out of the backcountry. Do not dispose of these bags in toilets.
- Courthouse Wash is an active flowing drainage with unpredictable flow. Take caution when travelling in a wash during flood conditions.
- You are responsible for knowing and abiding by all park rules and regulations including those outlined on your backcountry permit:
- Wood campfires are not allowed.
- You must store food securely to prevent animals from gaining access to it. You must pack out all trash.
- Swimming, bathing, or immersing human bodies is only allowed in water sources with a continuous supply of water.
- You must keep all camping activities within campsite boundaries at designated campsites and within the boundaries of at-large zones. You must vacate campsites by 10 am.
- All natural plants, objects, and cultural artifacts are protected and must be left where they are found. Touching rock art and drawing graffiti is not allowed.
- Pets, discharging firearms, hunting, and feeding wildlife are prohibited.
We cannot guarantee your safety. Safety remains your responsibility.
Check the weather. Get forecast information before beginning your trip, and observe changing weather conditions. Desert temperatures can soar above 100°F (37°C) in the summer, making strenuous exercise difficult. We recommend drinking at least one gallon (4 L) of water per day during the summer. Late summer monsoons bring violent storm cells which bring lightning, hail, rain, slippery rock surfaces, hypothermia, and often cause flash floods. Flash floods can also occur during blue skies when heavy rains hit the Book Cliffs. Winter temperatures often drop below 32°F (0°C), and significant ice can persist on north-facing slopes. Temperatures may range 50 degrees in a 24-hour period.
Lightning is a serious concern during a thunderstorm. Rock overhangs and shallow caves are not safe places to hide. Consider returning to your vehicle as soon as a storm approaches. If your hair begins to stand on end, remove large metal objects (such as internal frame backpacks) and squat down low, covering your ears with your hands.
It is often easier to climb up slickrock than to get back down. Sandstone crumbles easily and is slippery when wet or icy. Numerous accidents and rescues as well as several deaths have occurred due to careless climbing. Consider your routes carefully and use common sense.
Do not feed wildlife; your food does not meet their nutritional needs and might encourage animals to linger near roads where they might be injured or killed. Hand-fed animals can bite and may carry diseases such as rabies. Help keep wild animals wild—don't feed them.
Scorpions, rattlesnakes, black widow spiders, cone-nosed kissing bugs and other desert creatures make their homes here. Watch out for them and give them the right-of way. Place your hands and feet carefully, particularly in dark or damp places. Check clothing, tents, and shoes for unwanted visitors. Leave everything you find undisturbed.
Do your homework and know your route(s). Ask rangers at the backcountry permit office for information on campsite and zone access, or contact us by email.
Be prepared to self-rescue. Know what to do in emergency situations—including injury treatment, evacuations, unplanned overnights, or responding to rapid changes in weather. Ask yourself, "If my leader gets hurt, does my group have the ability to continue and get help?" Cell phone service is limited in the park. If a phone is available, call 911. Be prepared to tell the dispatcher where you are so you can direct assistance to your location. Park staff, if available, will provide assistance to the limit of their abilities; however, help may not arrive on scene for several hours.
NPS Backcountry Permit Office
2282 SW Resource Blvd.