Tower Arch is a secluded, tough to reach feature located at the far west border of Arches National Park. While visiting this feature you can test your skill on challenging slopes and enjoy scenic views far from the noise and hustle of cars and tourists. Continuing past the arch you will have a pleasant drive down a red sand trail leading out of the park up to the final treat: a line of petrified dinosaur tracks! If you are in the area, this is one trek you shouldn't pass up!! High-Clearance 4x4 required.
Trail Access: The majority of this trail is within the park (fee area). If you plan to visit more than one national park in the span of a year, I highly recommend getting an America the Beautiful card. It's worth every penny. Plan to arrive early in the day to beat the line of tourists. On this trip we headed straight for the Tower Arch trailhead, but I would recommend that you make the full drive through the park to visit the various features visible from the public road. Once you reach the end, turn around and make for the 4x4 trail. You will be looking for Salt Valley Road, about a mile before Sand Dune Arch.
Salt Valley: Exiting the main road leads down into Salt Valley, a stretch of grassland framed by the Klondike Bluffs. This area is a feature in its own right; be sure to bring a camera for the trip! Our visit in May had perfect weather: 70F, partly cloudy skies and an occasional sprinkle of rain. Storms dusted the La Sal Mountains during the entire trip and made for some prime shots.
Trailhead: We stopped at the trailhead to air down our street tires in preparation for deep sand. This proved unnecessary and in hindsight we would have benefitted from the extra clearance from leaving them aired up.
Price of Admission: This trail comes out of the gate swinging. After the initial ascent up a sandy dune we were greeted with rocky ledges and steps. Beyond several tight turns we were greeting by a tall hill that tested the limits of our stock rigs ability to counter gravity. The steps were averaging 14" high and the rig was dragging parts over most of them. Halfway up the hill we made room for a lone jeep who shared our aim at visiting the arch. The jeepers rig sported 4" of suspension lift and 35" tires. The hill was barely a challenge to him.
Step after step we fought the rock. Each small victory added to our excitement as the top of the hill neared. Just a few more ledges and it would be all downhill from here, right? Looking out from the top, our hearts sank.
The trip down would be harder.
Unable to turn around, and fending off thoughts of Sisyphus, we began the slow trek down. Downhill you will have to negotiate with sheer drops up to 3' high and steep, uneven ledges. After two hours, and several new scars on the undercarriage later, we made it to the bottom and continued towards the arch.
Tower Arch: Nestled at the western edge of the park far from prying eyes and human chatter is Tower Arch. The feature is named for the pillar of stone looming over its 92' span. The arch is accessible by a short foot trail leading to its base. On our visit there were several signs warning of falling rocks, and there was indeed recent debris scattered around the arch. This part of the trail is a great spot to hydrate and marvel at the scenery in blissful quiet.
From here the road to the highway would take us out of the park. Dispersed camping is permitted on most Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in the area and there are several good spots to stay between the park and the highway. The route is sandy; easy on dry days but rain could prove difficult without mud tires. Take your time and enjoy the view.
Dinosaur Tracks: A short ways outside the park you will encounter a kiosk marking the location of several dinosaur tracks. The prints date to the Jurassic Period and are representative of two species: sauropods and theropods. Stepping lightly into one of the larger prints and looking out beyond you can get a sense of the size of these creatures. Following the run of tracks is a step back into prehistory.
Here is an excellent spot to stop for lunch and inspect your vehicle. We found our tires had taken same damage from the sharp rocks earlier. Since the trail was smoothing out at this point we put some much needed air back into the tires. It was just as well the highway wasn't far off.
Conclusion: Tower Arch is a moderate off-road challenge far from the chatter and traffic of tourists. You will have an opportunity to test your rig, hike in solitude and visit the distant past. The prints in particular made for a fun conclusion to a trail that proved to be far more than expected in both challenge and in beauty. If you are visiting Moab or Arches National park, this trail is a must see!
Remember that much of the area is wilderness. Pack out any trash and stick to the trail; it is challenge enough to keep you occupied. Be mindful of the natural features and be wary of animals you may encounter. Leave only footprints and take only memories (and photos!).
Trail Rating: 3 out of 5. A lot of features are packed into a 28 mile back country run. Plan on 5-6 hours, and bring a camera.
Difficulty: Easy-to-Moderate. The price of admission is a steep and rocky section requiring high ground clearance and grippy tires. Stock SUVs will find difficulty early on but a bit of skill and some forethought will see you through. The remainder of the trip follows a leisurely sand-filled trail.
Features: Secluded Tower Arch and a collection of dinosaur tracks mark the main features on this trail. The entire trek is a treat however and travelers would do well to bring a camera (did I mention bringing a camera?). The usual precautions should be taken as the area is desert wilderness.
Damage Report: Low ground clearance caused our undercarriage to acquire some new scars. Specifically on the skid plates and spring perches. Sharp rocks early in the trail left the tires with several large scuffs and small tears. More tire height and a slight lift would have negated these issues completely.