Just past the turn off for the iconic Delicate Arch is a bent and twisted labyrinth of sandstone fins called the Fiery Furnace. There are no trails, signs, or cairns inside the Furnace and GPS units don’t work well in the tall, narrow canyons. Due to the confusing nature of the landscape and the fragile ecosystems they contain, there are only two ways a person can legally enter this part of Arches – by picking up a Hiking Permit at the Visitor Center (after watching a required orientation video and proving you have navigation equipment and know how to use it) or by joining one of the ranger-led tours held twice a day, generally from March to October (although those dates may change). Additional off-season ranger-led tours may be available depending on the weather and can be purchased in person at the Visitor Center. First time visitors are strongly encouraged to join a ranger-led hike – and even more strongly encouraged to purchase their tickets well in advance of their visit. There are a limited number of spots on each hike and they tend to sell out quickly. If you manage to snag a ticket, meet at the turn-out for the Fiery Furnace 10 minutes before your start time. A ranger will meet you with the group, give you an idea of what to expect on the hike and start the tour.
You’ll get a good primer on the region’s geology and history – especially helpful if you plan to do more traveling around the Colorado Plateau – and then you’ll make your way inside the Furnace itself. While there aren’t any established or marked trails inside the Furnace, the rangers have mapped out a route for their guided hikes so in some places you can clearly see some of the stones have been worn down to an effective use-trail. Right away, you’ll start the trek by scrambling up some boulders, walking through tall, narrow canyons, and ducking under low miniature arches.
Throughout it all, the ranger will point out some of the more interesting rock formations along the way, including huge arches and bridges and eroded spots that will eventually become those huge arches and bridges. And small ones, too – like the aptly named Crawl-through Arch which, yes, you will crawl through.
Since you’re touring the area with a ranger, you don’t really have to worry about paying attention to where you’re headed inside the Furnace. Instead, you can just enjoy the region’s otherworldly landscape up close and personal – since you’ll be squeezing through it, sliding down it, and hopping across big cracks in it.
After one final squeeze through a narrow crack in the boulders, you’ll wrap up your tour in a huge, secluded amphitheater capped off with Surprise Arch overhead.
On my tour, the ranger led a final question and answer session inside the amphitheater and shared his very personal story about coming to Arches as a ranger. He then asked if anyone else in the group wanted to share their favorite National Park and most of us volunteered – it was pretty moving, actually, to be in such a unique place with people from all over the country who loved the Parks so much. Afterward, the ranger will lead you out of the Fiery Furnace and back to the trailhead.
Things to Know:
- Hikers must pick up their permits at least an hour prior to their start time at the Visitor Center
- Meet at the trailhead 10 minutes before your start time
- Children under 5 are not allowed. Children 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult.
- Hikers must be able to squeeze through tight spaces, use their hands and feet to scramble, and bring at least 1 quart of water
- Sturdy hiking shoes are required
- Book a Reservation here
- Watch an NPS video on the guided hike here
Tags: arches national park, Crawl-Through Arch, Fiery Furnace, Flatiron Arch, geology, Skull Arch, Surprise Arch, Walk-Through Bridge