Fiery Furnace is one of the areas of Arches National Park in Utah. The sandstone formations are a continuation of what is seen in Devil’s Garden within the park, but Fiery Furnace is a limited Access area and the trails are more challenging to hike as well. A special access pass is required to hike the area and the trail requires more scrambling than any other in the park.
Hiking Fiery Furnace was an other-worldly experience. It quickly took me away from the mundane and transported me to a place that was both magical and transcendant. As we approached the towering sandstone monoliths, orange hued sandstone interspaced with white stone, the land looked like the jumble of broken and fractured stones that it is. The bowing of the plateau that gave rise to the perfect caldron for arch formation that is Arches National Park is clearly visible here. The fractures run in mostly parallel lines, with erosion creating passages, sometimes narrow, between the walls on either side.
The trail is only partially improved – half of the time we are scrambling over rocks while the other half is a sandy trail. We came to an arch very quickly – the appropriately named Walk Through Arch. It is only 9 feet high and 8 feet wide, but it was a neat little arch to walk through. Just past it is Crawl Through Arch. While technically an arch, it is more of a hole to me. I didn’t crawl through but my teenagers did.
The trail doubles back and was a bit of a jumbled maze. The passage narrows down repeatedly and we passed through slot-canyon-like narrow gaps between steep walls. I had to turn sideways several times and bend over to clear the rocks along the way – claustrophobic, but not as narrow as the almost-too-narrow Spooky Canyon. It was an a great adventure and we were careful not to injure ourselves.
Abruptly, we come out of one narrow canyon and up on our left is Skull Arch. This double arch resembles two eye sockets glaring down at us with a prominent stone forehead. The openings were only about 40 feet or so, but it was a distinctive arch.
We continued along, and came to an area where the sunlight lit the stone in front us with golden light. The narrow stone fins that are so distinctive to Arches National Park and are the raw material that enables arch formation is clearly visible here. The spires are many times longer and taller than they are thick. It is amazing that they stand at all, let alone in such profusion.
We squeeze along between two fins and soon are walking on a narrow path with a drop off on one side and a high cliff on the other. We were being careful to make sure our feet were placed on solid footing as we traversed this area, then suddenly, surprise! A narrow arch appears above our heads in the narrow confines between the stone fins. Aptly named Surprise Arch, rumor has it that it was discovered when someone camped in this alcove after dark and didn’t see the arch until sunrise the next morning. Regardless, the arch was impressive. It reminded me of a smaller version of Landscape Arch, and we marveled at it as we sat about on the smooth stone underneath it.
Nearing the End
Not long after that, we come to a place requiring a steep descent down smooth slickrock. It would have been a real challenge, but moki steps have been carved in the rock and a bit of railing has been put in place to assist in the descent. It was still a bit of a vertigo inducing experience. The trail continues the descent, and we passed underneath a large rock that was leaning against a cliff – the rock will slide off this place someday, but for now, it was fun to walk under it.
Fiery Furnace was a very memorable hike. A mixture of sight-seeing and light canyoneering, it was a lot of fun for my teenagers – the old folks enjoyed it as well!
The hike is 3-4 miles long, and requires a good bit of scrambling up and down boulders. The passages get narrow enough that I had to turn sideways and I also had to bend over a couple of times to get through. The trail also wends its way along spots that have drop-offs – not high by Utah standards, but higher than you will want to fall. Please be aware if you are afraid of heights.
With a name like the Fiery Furnace, you can expect that it gets very hot in the summer. Pack plenty of water with you and bring a hat and sunglasses. Keep to the trail as is required by the NPS – you will be required to watch a short video in the visitor’s center that makes these cautions as well as others.
How to get a Permit
You have three options for getting a permit and seeing Fiery Furnace, all of which have limited quantities so I recommend you start planning early.
The first is to reserve your own pass for $6 ($3 for children). I would do this on my next trip so that I could make my way at my own speed, but it will mean navigating the maze-like area on your own. While it is easy to get lost in your mind here, you don’t want to get literally lost here. One good idea is to use GPS to find your way. This article has good GPS-related directions. Please note that at times GPS may not work well due to being obstructed by the rock walls.
One downside of the passes is that they have to be retrieved at the visitors center up to seven days in advance of the hike and all hikers must be present when the permit is issued. These permits sell out in the busy season.
Second, the National Park Service offers guided tours with a park ranger. This option is probably the best overall choice for first-time visitors or those who want to be careful and adventurous. Costing $16 per person, they can be reserved ahead of time and you will have a ranger to lead your group. The only downside is that these groups will be a bit larger than is probably optimal. Go to the NPS Arches site for information.
Finally, you can hire a third-party guide to take you through the Fiery Furnace. This is the option we did since I was too late to get any passes via the first two options. The advantages of this option is that you likely can wait a bit longer since these groups have passes pre-reserved. Second, you will be in a smaller group than the one led by the park service. The only downside is the increased cost – it costs a lot more to do this since you are paying for the guide. We chose Deep Desert Expeditions and had a great trip.
Fiery Furnace is located in Arches National Park in Eastern Utah. Located near Moab, Utah, there are a myriad of other activities to be had in the vicinity, including Canyonlands National Park and many areas to explore on public lands. Moab is also a mountain biking Mecca and has world class jeep trails as well, including Hell’s Revenge. While Moab can be a destination unto itself, with Salt Lake City being the nearest major airport, I recommend seeing Arches as part of a road trip loop through Utah.
I’ve posted a gallery of hi-res pictures from our trip here.
For more useful information, you should read my article on Arches National Park.
To see some of the things to do in Utah, with good pictures and useful details, go here.