Explore America / Explore The Outdoors

Hike to Moonshine Arch near Vernal, Utah

Moonshine is an interesting name for an arch. I like it. Maybe it’s because moonshine reminds me of rural northwest Georgia where my dad grew up. Moonshine Arch near Vernal, Utah, got on my radar a couple of years ago when I started exploring the area in and around Dinosaur National Monument. The sandstone Moonshine Arch is 85 feet long and 40 feet high at its peak window point.

I stopped on my last road trip from Heber City, Utah, to Denver, Colorado, to finally hike to Moonshine Arch. It’s only 8 miles north of Vernal. Print or screen shot these directions from Uintah County Travel and Tourism. Even the dirt road you’re supposed to take off of Flaming Gorge-Uintas Scenic Byway is hard to spot. I veered left onto that road, crossed over a small wash, drove for about a half mile, turned left and followed Moonshine Arch signs. From that left, it’s about a half mile to where a fence line follows a gulch. There’s a semi-parking lot there. When I arrived there were a few other cars, so I knew I was in the right spot. If you have a high clearance vehicle you could drive the gulch. I hiked. It’s only about a mile to the arch.

You are in full sun on this hike. Wear sunscreen and sun protection. Take more water than you think you need. The arid desert can be deceiving. You’ll be thankful to have water. The road “Y”s about a tenth of a mile into the hike. Go right and follow the trail as it turns to sand in a sagebrush channel.

It’s the second “Y” in the trail that confused me. I first went left for about a tenth of a mile and saw a sign for Moonshine Arch point in the direction I had just hiked from. I turned around and took the right fork. When I checked my compass from that point, I knew I was heading in the right direction. Plus, the right fork heads into the slickrock.

The sand and dirt road transitions into slickrock on a short, steep climb. Once at the top, you’re on slickrock and about halfway to the arch. This is where you start to get a vista view of the surrounding landscape. Hiking on the slickrock is a nice change from the sandy section of the trail you’ve just hiked. When I came up on a “Moonshine Arch Recreation Area” brown sign I knew I was on the right trail.

Shortly after that brown sign, the trail turns to the right, or north. If you get confused on this sand covered slickrock trail, just look for tire tracks and footprints. Those will let you know you’re going the right way. At the top of the short incline, you get your first glimpse of Moonshine Arch. As you get closer and then underneath the arch, you see how big it is.

There was a family resting in the shade of the sandstone arch and alcove, so I decided to climb up what I call the root route. Right behind the arch is a narrow rock channel filled with tree roots and rocks you can scramble up. Once through it, you’re treated to a neat view of Moonshine Arch and a panoramic view of the area. There’s a big crack in the slickrock. I followed that up to get even with the top of Moonshine Arch, staying away from the edge of course.

I hiked and scrambled back down the same route and got Moonshine Arch to myself. I really enjoyed exploring the alcove and striations in the sandstone. My favorite view of the arch is from back up in the alcove.

I spent about 30 minutes exploring and enjoying Moonshine Arch and the shade before hiking the mile back to my car. I actually spent more time at the arch than it took me to hike to it. This is an out-and-back hike so I retraced my steps over the slickrock and through sand. It’s a family-friendly hike, just make sure you have plenty of water.

Author Jennifer Broome is an avid hiker. Check out her blog on Sound of Silence Trail in Dinosaur National Park for another hike near Vernal.