Nestled in the heart of the red rock wonderland that is Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, lies a hidden gem for adventurous hikers – the Primitive Loop Trail. This trail, known for its rugged terrain, unique rock formations, and secluded arches, offers a thrilling and awe-inspiring experience for those seeking an off-the-beaten-path adventure.
“Are you insane? I’m not going up there!”
We stood on the soft sand trail of Devils Garden Trail below Landscape Arch, looking towards the hoodoos, spires and butte that sat in the crook of the two forks of Primitive Loop Trail in Arches National Park, Moab, Utah.
The Primitive Loop Trail is not for the faint of heart. With a difficulty rating of “difficult” and a total distance of 7.2 miles (11.6 km) as a loop, this trail is recommended for experienced hikers who are physically fit and up for a challenge. The trailhead can be accessed from the Devils Garden Trailhead, which is also the starting point for the popular Devils Garden Trail.
The adventure begins with a well-marked trail that takes hikers through a landscape of towering red rock formations and expansive vistas. As hikers progress, the trail gradually becomes more rugged, with slickrock slopes, narrow canyons, and uneven terrain. Hikers should be prepared for scrambling over rocks, crossing shallow streams, and navigating through tight crevices.
One of the highlights of the Primitive Loop Trail is the opportunity to discover hidden arches that are not accessible from the main trails. Hikers will come across lesser-known arches such as the Private Arch, Tunnel Arch, and Pine Tree Arch, each with its own unique shape and character. These secluded arches offer a sense of exclusivity and wonder, as hikers can appreciate their delicate formations up close, away from the crowds.
The landscape along the Primitive Loop Trail is nothing short of breathtaking. The towering sandstone fins, the contrasting colors of red and orange rock formations, and the vast expanses of the desert landscape create a surreal and otherworldly ambiance. Hikers will be treated to panoramic vistas that stretch out as far as the eye can see, providing ample opportunities for stunning photographs and moments of awe.
As hikers traverse the trail, they will also be surrounded by the rich flora and fauna of the desert ecosystem. Juniper trees, cacti, and wildflowers dot the landscape, and sightings of desert wildlife such as lizards, rabbits, and birds are common. It’s a chance to appreciate the beauty and resilience of nature in an environment that is unlike any other.
Camping along the Primitive Loop Trail is an unforgettable experience. There are designated campsites along the trail, and hikers can pitch their tents under the starry desert sky, creating lasting memories of a night spent in the wilderness. The quiet solitude of the desert, interrupted only by the sounds of nature, provides a unique and peaceful camping experience that is truly unmatched.
It’s important to note that due to the rugged and remote nature of the Primitive Loop Trail, hikers should come well-prepared. Ample water, food, sunscreen, and appropriate hiking gear are essential. The trail can be challenging and physically demanding, so hikers should be prepared with adequate physical fitness and hiking experience. It’s also crucial to follow Leave No Trace principles and respect the fragile desert environment by staying on designated trails and not disturbing the natural formations.
A slew of people appeared to be walking up the face of the rock, straight up the front of the rock. They were not on the trail, but you could see quite the trail going up the face of the cliff.
In the warm afternoon sun, one group was sitting on the top and edge of the butte. It looked like a great place to take in Landscape, Partition, Navajo, and Black arches without moving your feet. You had to go straight up the side of a cliff almost 40 feet (12m) to get there. Since earlier that day, Moab slick rock had demonstrated its prowess on the soles of my sneakers; I didn’t feel like making that trek up the cliff to see whether they would hold me firmly to the trail.
It couldn’t be that hard. There were kids up there, little kids and more than young adults scurrying up the rock. Having the right equipment for a hike, and knowing its capability, is a crucial part of staying uninjured in the backcountry. This may have been a well-traveled portion of Arches, but an injury here would not get assistance for quite some time. We were more than an hour from the nearest ranger station.
Making a notation in my book, getting to the top of that, the butte is on the schedule for my next trip to Moab. Arches National Park has the most extensive collection of natural arches in a concentrated area compared to anywhere else on the planet. Arches are formed by wind, rain, ice, snow, heat and cold, drilling through protruding sandstone buttes called fins.
Many of the arches are readily accessible by car in short walks. Some, like Landscape Arch, require a less than a mile hike on easy terrain. The most famous arch in the park, Delicate Arch, has a 1 ½ mile (2.4km) hike with a pretty good climb but an easy-to-follow trail. It’s common for families to make that hike with small children.
The national park is one of the most popular in the US. During its peak season, sometimes beginning in April, reservations are required to enter the park. You don’t need a reservation if you go in before 6 AM or after sunset. Get your entry time or campsite reserved at Recreation.gov. The Devils Garden campground is small, and it’s likely that even here in early March, most campsites are booked for weekends across the summer.
This is part of the high desert of the Colorado Plateau; remember to carry one liter of water per hour per person for outdoor activity. Remember that in the dryness of the desert, if you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated.