The trail closest to the Arches National Park
entrance, and therefore one of the most popular in the area, is the one mile route along Park Avenue
, a short canyon framed by red sandstone fins and pinnacles - mostly sheer, straight cliffs to the east, and a more uneven escarpment to the west, since the rocks (this section is known as the Courthouse Towers) are split by several side ravines.
The first 250 feet of the path are paved, and wheelchair-accessible, leading to an overlook at the head of the canyon, from where the proper trail descends, briefly quite steeply, then fairly level; down a bushy slope to the rocky streambed, which is followed all the way to an alternative trailhead further along the road. The latter part of the path has good views of the famous Arches landmarks of The Organ, Tower of Babel and the Three Gossips.
Added interest comes from seasonal pools that linger in the usually dry wash for a time after rainfall. The surrounding cliffs are formed of the orange-red Entrada sandstone found all across the park, and although there are no major arches, a few small openings can be seen including one at the base of the northernmost section of the Courthouse Towers. Use of two vehicles would enable one-way hikes, starting from the south as the elevation change is then downhill, but the round trip is neither long nor difficult. Hikers are advised to return the same way rather than make a loop by walking along the road.
LocationArches overview map
Photographs15 views along the Park Avenue Trail
The southern trailhead is along the park road at the upper end of Park Avenue, 3 miles from US 191, while the north end of the path is at another parking area 1.3 miles further, at the base of the isolated formation of The Organ.
The majority of the many people who park at the southern Park Avenue trailhead go only as far as the overlook after 250 feet, though the continuation trail is still very popular. The path descends, initially quite steeply by about 150 feet, down slopes of red sand and boulders, to flatter land beside the exposed rock floor of a dry wash, formed where two minor drainages converge. The vegetation is sparse - a few pine trees and small bushes, with a sprinkling of wildflowers in spring, most of which are withered by summer time. The trail proceeds northwards gently down the canyon, the end of which is already in view ahead. The route is along benches for a while then directly on the streambed, which drops over a few small falls but is otherwise almost flat.
The wash widens as a tributary joins from the west, and has a broad, slickrock floor with occasional potholes that retain water after rainfall. The surrounding cliffs recede, initially on the east side and then to the west as the escarpment of the Courthouse Towers breaks up into several promontories, one topped by the Three Gossips. A sign after nearly one mile indicates the point where the route leaves the wash and links with the northern trailhead, but it is worth walking a little further down the streambed for closer views of the Gossips and of the small corner arch at the north end of the Courthouse Towers. There are plenty of other pinnacles and eroded formations along the hike, and the perspective is constantly changing; even on the return the rocks seem to look different than on the outward journey. The colors of the sandstone are particularly rich in the morning and evening.