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We Took The Road Less Traveled Into Arches National Park

We Took The Road Less Traveled Into Arches National Park

With approximately 1.5 million annual visitors, you might find yourself waiting in a line to enter Arches National Park. If you only have so much time to spend exploring and taking in the red sandstone rocks, you likely don’t want to spend a single minute stuck in a line.

Today, we’ll share how we avoided the line and took the road less traveled into Arches National Park (although it may not have saved us time). Read on to learn why!

crowd of visitors at Arches
Arches National Park can be crowded during peak seasons.

We Took a ‘Secret’ Off-Road Entrance to Arches National Park

To get in through the “secret” entrance to Arches National Park, use Willow Springs Road. You’ll turn east off Highway 191 onto Willow Springs Road, and after about four miles, the road will end at Balance Rock. Shortly after you enter the road, you’ll come to a large sign marking the park’s boundary.

willow spring arches gate
At the Arches gate on willow springs

Here is a MAP of this route if you are interested in taking it.

Along this route, you will also come to the willow springs dinosaur track site that has a set of preserved dinosaur tracks in the rock.

willow springs road arches national park
Upon entering you will see a sign notating dinosaur tracks

Overall this route was easy for our truck but the route was a slow go in places and we stopped at the dinosaur tracks. Overall it took us about 45 minutes to get in this way, probably longer than the line.

This allows you to bypass the line and the toll booth station. While we understand avoiding the inconvenience of a long line, we don’t recommend skipping out on paying admission fees. Only use this entrance if you have an interagency or annual park pass. We get this pass every year and highly recommend it.

What Kind of Vehicle Can Enter on This Road?

To traverse this road, you need a 4x4 vehicle with high clearance. You may be able to do this route with a high clearance 2x4 but you should be experienced with off-road driving. A sedan or crossover vehicle most likely would not have the clearance for this route.

The deep sandy ruts and loose rocks will do a number on any vehicle not designed for off-roading. It only takes one large rock to puncture your oil pan or high center your vehicle before you’ll need to call a tow truck. The limited cell service may make it difficult to get a tow, and it will cost you a pretty penny.

Also, remember that ATVs, OHVs, and UTVs are not permitted in the national park.

We Renovated A 20 Year-Old Truck Camper Into A Luxury Overland Vehicle
We took our truck but it has 13 inches of clearance and easily traversed the terrain.

About Arches National Park and Moab, Utah

Arches National Park is home to over 2,000 arches cut from the sandstone landscapes. As the wind continues to carve and cut through the rocks, new arches often replace ancient ones that have fallen. You can pretty much see one from any vantage point.

You can easily enjoy Arches National Park by driving the 36-mile round trip scenic route. You’ll have plenty of hiking opportunities, no matter your physical condition or skill level.

Some of the most popular hikes include Delicate Arch, Devil’s Garden Loop, and the Fiery Furnace. However, seeing Landscape Arch, the longest natural arch in the world, has a very long and strenuous 7-mile loop. 

Arches National Park
Have your camera ready when you visit this national park! Every arch is uniquely worthy of a photograph.

While many flock to Moab to visit the national park, it’s also one of the premier spots for off-roading. Much like the hiking trails at Arches, Moab has plenty of trails to offer even novice drivers. As it’s home to some of the roughest and toughest off-roading trails, make sure you do your research to avoid finding yourself in a sticky situation. 

Is It Illegal to Not Use the Main Park Entrance?

While national parks typically have a main park entrance, many also have alternative ones. These entrances are popular options for locals to access parks without worrying about battling crowds. Some national parks even have landing strips or allow seaplanes or boats to access them as well.

national park by seaplane
We visited Katmai national park by seaplane, No entrance gate here!

Using them is typically legal, but visiting the park will require admission. If you don’t have a park or annual interagency pass, you’ll want to stop by the visitor center or ranger station to pay any admission fees. 

standing at arches national park
Take some time to sit, relax, and enjoy the breathtaking views at Arches National Park.

➡ You may have entered the park legally, but are you breaking other national park rules? Find out: 11 National Park Etiquette Rules You’re Probably Breaking

Arches Timed Reservation System

Arches is implementing a new program to try and limit visitation and keep lines down called a timed reservation system. While it was not in effect when we visited they are trying it starting in 2022 and you will need a reservation to get in during the busiest months.

According to Kaitlyn Thomas a Public Affairs Specialist for Arches; “The NPS is implementing this system as a temporary pilot to determine if timed entry will help better manage traffic and congestion during the peak season”

Keep this in mind if you choose to use the back entrance as you may still need to have a reservation. Learn more at the national park website.

Will You Get in Trouble if You Don’t Pay the Entrance Fee?

You won’t always have someone checking if you paid after you pass through a fee station at a national park. Park rangers are incredibly busy and typically don’t have time to question every visitor. However, just because you won’t get caught doesn’t mean you should break the rules.

We had the America the Beautiful annual pass, which covered our admission. So whether we used the main park entrance at Arches or not, we weren’t shorting the National Park Service.

Arches National Park
If you want national parks to retain their beauty, don’t skip out on paying the entrance fees.

If you plan to use one of the non-main entrances, we strongly suggest purchasing an annual pass. This helps avoid any potential trouble and financially supports the National Park System and maintains the lands.

Did You Know? Supporting the National Park System also helps protect and maintain national monuments.

Are There Other Secret Entrances into Arches National Park?

Arches National Park lists only one main entrance. While you can access “secret” entrances, they typically require special vehicles and sometimes even experience with off-roading.

There is a second route to get into the park from the north as well. We did not take this route.

Morton's overland truck camper in Utah
You’ll need a capable off-road or overland vehicle if you plan to use any of the alternative entrances to Arches.

Be mindful of the fragile soil crust in the area. Don’t disturb the cryptobiotic soil by off-roading or with foot traffic. You should avoid creating new paths and only use designated roads and trails. 

Is Sneaking Into a National Park Worth It?

An alternative entrance can be worth it if you travel to a national park during peak season. You’ll avoid some large crowds and have more time to explore. You may even see new places that most travelers miss. 

Just keep in mind that alternative routes to visit national parks may require travel on unmaintained routes.

Cait and Tom at Arches National Park
Be sure to lace up your hiking boots for a visit to Arches. The hikes and views are one of a kind.

In addition to Arches, Utah has four other incredible national parks. So, which ones should you visit? Find out here: What Are The Best Utah National Parks?

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Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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Darrell

Saturday 15th of October 2022

Using these entrances is fine and the only way to get to parts of the park in a day (long hike required). These are not interstates going to these areas of the park, few people will take advantage of them.

Kenneth McDonald

Saturday 14th of May 2022

I’m glad you posted this article. It really sickens me to see people degrade posters of info like this saying it is ruining their park. NO IT IS NOT.

Rosemarie Willimann

Wednesday 5th of January 2022

I totally agree with the previous comments. It’s folks like you who destroy all the privacy that locals enjoy. It also spoils the joy of discovery. We also live near a “used to be special and quiet” place that has been ruined by internet bloggers. I am surely not impressed with this type of travel blog!

Darrell

Saturday 15th of October 2022

@Rosemarie Willimann, No, I lived there and there is absolutely nothing wrong with using other entrances to the park (as long as you pay fees) and the rangers are perfectly fine with it I(but they are not particularly upset if you didn't have the opportunity to go by and purchase a pass). Some of the entrances to the park are where you cannot get to with a car driven through the primary entrance. And some of the hikes are difficult to get to through the main entrance and easy through the others.

Joseph

Wednesday 5th of January 2022

You do a disservice to an already overcrowded National Park, and if this leads to a gate on your ‘secret access’, it will be well justified. Arches has become a nightmare of drive-thru tourists, a realization of Edward Abbey’s prophecy. Now we’ll see even more unqualified punters in rental jeeps destroying the environment via your ‘secret’ access. I won’t be surprised to see seasonal access restricted to Glacier NP busses in the near future. Move on, Mortons.

Mortons on the Move

Wednesday 5th of January 2022

We actually spoke with Arches National Park and they did not have any issue with the article. We did add a section about the new timed reservation system. We visited in the winter when this was not in effect.

A local

Monday 3rd of January 2022

Hope you're happy cuz this nifty little secret way into arches that you found and couldn't keep to yourself, is now going to become just as congested as the main entrance. Remind me never to tell you where my fishing hole is.....

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