Travels

Staying Cool in the Fiery Furnace – Arches National Park, Utah

When my family and I visited Arches National Park many years back, we didn’t know that you have to reserve tickets for the Fiery Furnace ranger led hike ahead of time. Like… way ahead of time. This hike generally sells out months in advance. So when we decided to visit Arches last July as destination #1 on our annual family vacation, I reserved our campsite and tour tickets at the same time… in March.

Arches in July is not optimal… something we said after our last visit and proceeded to ignore once again. It’s hot and dry, and no amount of water seems to be enough. However, the name Fiery Furnace is not at all related to the temperature; the name stems from the flaming reddish-orange of the rocks when illuminated by sunlight. Thanks to the giant parallel rock fins that make up much of the Fiery Furnace, there’s a lot of shade and it actually stays quite cool inside.

The Fiery Furnace can be explored in only two ways: on a ranger-led tour or on your own after acquiring a permit. It’s a maze inside, there isn’t a well-marked trail, and it’s very easy to become disoriented. GPS devices don’t work well inside the Furnace. Due to the high amount of iron in the rocks, compasses don’t work well either. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend going on your own unless you have strong navigational skills.

Our ranger-led tour departed from the parking lot at 9:30am and lasted about 2.5 hours as we wove our way through this red rock maze.

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Inside the Furnace
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View from the highest point of our Fiery Furnace hike

Our tour guide was super knowledgeable and provided us with lots of fun facts. She also helped us negotiate the many obstacles along the way, including narrow ledges, steep drop-offs, skinny passageways, large boulders, cracks, and a leap across a 3 foot (1 m) chasm. We all really enjoyed the challenge of navigating these features; some basic balancing, bouldering skills, and general oomph were required, but nothing too crazy. My sister has somewhat of a fear of heights and she didn’t have any problems making it through. The photos below are a pretty good depiction of what to expect.

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In addition to the red rock fins and pinnacles, there are a few arches hidden within the Fiery Furnace, including Walk Through Arch (which you walk through on the tour), Climb Through Arch (which you have the option of climbing through on the tour), Skull Arch, and Surprise Arch (which, when it unexpectedly came into view, I appropriately exclaimed “oh, there’s an arch!” prompting the ranger to explain that this is exactly where the name came from).

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Heading through Walk Through Arch
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Awkwardly wedging myself through Climb Through Arch
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Skull Arch
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Surprise Arch

Much of the red sand in Arches is part of a fragile, living cryptobiotic crust. It may not look like much to the naked eye, but it’s actually a symbiotic community of microorganisms that lives in the top few inches of the sand and provides the stability required to prevent it from eroding or being blown away. The crust is recognized by its bumpy topography and darker color and is easily damaged by walking on it. The trail through Fiery Furnace travels alongside much of this crust, so if you do enter without a ranger please be mindful of your feet!

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Cryptobiotic crust… and some cactus

There were also a few rock potholes in the Furnace, which was a feature I didn’t know anything about prior to this hike. It turns out these potholes are tiny ecosystems that come to life every year with the spring rains and fall dormant when the water disappears. Some creatures are seasonal inhabitants but others lay eggs in the potholes and/or have various special features that allow them to weather the dry season burrowed in any mud that remains on the floor of the pothole. Because of this, it’s important to avoid stepping in potholes, even when they’re dry. I’m glad the ranger took the time to educate us on this, and we now know to walk around these unique features.

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This pothole had a frog living in it!

This was Pat’s first time in Arches, so we spent the remainder of our time here repeating a few of the highlights that my family and I visited back in 2010 (see all of those photos/stories here).

We did, however, squeeze in a few new things: a quick 0.3 mile (0.6 km) hike to Sand Dune Arch, a stop at the historic Wolfe Ranch, and a walk from the campground up to Skyline Arch at sunset.

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Sand Dune Arch
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Wolfe Ranch
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Skyline Arch

Last time we visited we camped outside the park, so staying at Devil’s Garden Campground was new for us as well.

(Spoiler alert: it was gorgeous!)

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Site #34
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Truly the most incredible rainbow I’ve ever seen
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Sunset over the campground

The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: the entrance station is located 5 miles (8 km) north of Moab, Utah off Highway 191
  • Fees and passes: $30/car for a 7 day pass; Interagency Annual Passes accepted
  • Hiking: Fiery Furnace is about 2 miles (3.2 km) if you go on the tour, but can be much longer if you enter on your own with a permit; all the info on the hike and and reservations can be found here
  • Where to stay: Devil’s Garden is the only campground in the park (51 sites, no hookups, reservations necessary most of the year), but there are many camping options ranging from primitive to full hookups in Moab and the surrounding BLM land, and Moab has hotels, cabins, and hostels as well
  • Showers: there are no showers in the park since it’s the desert and water is limited, but public showers are available in Moab; we went to the Lazy Lizard Hostel and were very pleased, but here’s the full list of options
  • Other: I recommend carrying a water bladder rather than water bottles on the Fiery Furnace hike; there are some narrow passageways, and people with water bottles in the side pockets of their backpacks ended up scraping and banging them against the rocks on numerous occasions

25 thoughts on “Staying Cool in the Fiery Furnace – Arches National Park, Utah”

  1. We’re going to be camping near Arches for several days this summer. We weren’t planning to visit since we’ve both been there before and there are other things we want to see/do, but this ranger-led hike looks interesting. The link reveals that everything’s on hold right now, but maybe by the time we get there? We’ll see…

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  2. Isn’t this park just the best! I’ve been several times now, including the tour of Fiery Furnace, and your photos are making me want to go again. This time I’d like to stay at that beautiful campground and go for a sunset hike. That rainbow is out of this world!

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      1. Hard to say. Pretty sure at this point you’re safer on your side of the border. Most people around where I live are being smart, but after all the Memorial Day parties I’m so embarrassed to be an American 🙄

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    1. I always think the same thing when I see photos of Sedona! It looks more red and less orange than Arches is, I think. But either way, you can never go wrong with bright, colorful rocks!

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  3. We visited Arches back in January and the Furnace was closed which was a bummer. Definitely hope to make it back there in the future though as we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Arches! The ranger led tour seems like a good way to go.

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  4. I was planning on going on a road trip to the national parks in Utah this fall. You better believe Arches National Park and Fiery Furnace were on my itinerary. Looks like I’ll have to postpone that trip, but I enjoyed living vicariously through your adventures.

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    1. Ah yes, so many plans being postponed. We’re hoping we can still manage a road trip but who knows what things will be like two months from now. Fortunately mother nature is (hopefully) not going anywhere… hopefully you can make it to the Fiery Furnace one day soon!

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  5. Is there a place more beautiful than the Arches National Park? Having lived in Ireland, where litterary everything is green all year round, for nearly two decades I’m longing to feast my eyes upon different shades and colours. And I have to say that reddish brown looks amazing. Thanks for sharing and happy trails 😊 Aiva

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    1. The contrast of rock and sky is stunning! The only thing that can make it better is some of the other places in Utah that blend red rock with green grass + flowers with blue sky. Do a google image search for Cedar Breaks National Monument and you’ll see what I mean 🙂

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  6. All of the National Parks in Utah are really good, but Bryce and Arches were our favorites – especially the sunset hike to Skyline Arch. And the audio tours by car one can get at the entrance to the Park is certainly worth doing. I guess, in this post, we’ll have to forego seeing one of your great handstands although wedging yourself into that arch was a reasonably good substitute. Another interesting narrative with superb photos.

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    1. I’ve never done an audio tour, I’ll have to look into that next time I’m at a park. I also haven’t been to Bryce since 2005 so I’m well overdue for a return trip. And I agree… both such great parks!

      Alas, there wasn’t really a handstand opportunity on a guided trip… maybe next time. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Technically you don’t *have* to book in advance… they hold a few tickets for day of sales, but they pretty much always sell out (hence our not being able to get tickets last time) and it’s for the afternoon tour only, which is brutal when it’s 100° out. For the morning tour, reservations are mandatory.

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