The Primitive Trail at Devil’s Garden

Primitive Trail at Devil's Garden

I expected to do the full loop, including the Primitive Trail, when we talked about hiking Devil’s Garden in Arches National Park.  However, the fact that I was just recovering from a knee injury and the trail is listed as “strenuous” meant we’d have to play it by ear and see how I felt after hiking 4-5 miles to Double O Arch.

Heading out from the campground early, we hiked Devil’s Garden Trail and all of the side trails to the various arches in this area including Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch, Partition Arch and Navajo Arch.  A lot of the trail is pretty easy, but there are sections of the trail that climb and crawl over the rock fins making the trail a little more technical.  Luckily, my knee was doing fine with the uphill work and I could manage the downhill stuff as long as I was careful.  By the time we reached Double O Arch and had a quick lunch on the back side I was still feeling pretty good.

I thought for a while if I wanted to push my luck and add the extra couple miles of technical hiking on my knee, but ultimately decided it was worth the risk.  We took the Primitive Loop down through Fin Canyon and into a wash before slogging last mile or so through loose sand adding close to a mile to our return hike.

The signs warn that the trail is difficult to follow and the maps and guides all mark it as strenuous and technical.  The most technical part of the trail is a little route finding across the bare rock.  Even this wasn’t too much of a challenge since rock cairns marking the trail were abundant and, even without them, the trail wear across the rock was fairly obvious.  I consider myself an experienced hiker, so I can understand how some of this might be a little challenging to someone who is not familiar with following a subtle trail, but I wouldn’t consider it strenuous.  Fin Canyon is worth seeing and Private Arch can only be accessed off of the Primitive Trail.

On the way out, we did pass a few people that had chosen to take the Primitive trail into Devil’s Garden instead of out, and they were showing some fatigue from the climb.  It is definitely a more difficult trail in that direction.  If you have the chance to hike Devil’s Garden I would absolutely recommend the Primitive Trail option.  If you are worried about the technicality, hike the main trail up then take the Primitive Loop back, it’s much less of a challenge that way.

Modertator’s Note:

Devil’s Garden Trail is listed as 2.1 miles one-way to Double O Arch.  Hiking all of the side trails to the various arches will double that distance.  You can make this trail what you want it do be depending how much you want to see, but some of the arches can not be seen from the main trail and require you to hike the extra distance if you want to see them at all.

To see everything at Devil’s Garden including the Dark Angel tower, the total hike would be nearly over 9 miles round-trip.


  1. Jack Booth says:

    Great photo and an informative description.

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