If you want to experience true wilderness in Arches National Park hike in Fiery Furnace. It’s a maze of towering sandstone walls of endless canyons filled with fins, unique rock formations, unmarked arches, and dead ends. You likely won’t see anyone else, especially if you hike in winter. It is not for the novice hiker. There is only one trail marked by 20 small arrows, which can be tough to find. It is very easy to get turned around when you are deep inside Fiery Furnace. Arches does offer ranger-guided hikes with reservations (required in advance). You can also go self-guided with a permit.
Know Before You Go:
Permit required – Only 56 permits are issued per day. You must get permit at least 2 days in advance on recreation.gov.
Book in advance – Reservation/permit has to be booked at least 2 days in advance. If visiting during peak summer months, especially holiday weekends, book well in advance.
Required viewing – You must watch a video in visitor center to learn about Fiery Furnace’s dangers and precious cryptobiotic crust, which is a living soil precious to the arid environment. If you walk on it, the soil may never recover. You will not be given a permit until you watch it. Must have permit on you while hiking. Rangers do patrol.
Be Prepared – Take more water than you think you need, especially in hot weather. Have layers as canyons can be cool even in summer. Have snacks and a first-aid kit.
Limited Cell Service and GPS – You’ll likely have cell service from the parking lot. Text or call someone before you start your hike to let them know location and ETA back to lot. Any kind of cell or GPS signal is very sketchy in much of Fiery Furnace.
Unofficial “Trail” is approximately 2 miles long. Follow the arrows.
Only hike on bare rock or in sandy drainages. Keep off sand dunes and cryptobiotic crust.
Get off the “trail” to explore canyons and search for unmarked arches. We only saw one arch from the “trail” and only saw it because we happened to turn around in the right spot.
Follow Leave No Trace principles. Whatever you pack in, pack it out.
Hiking Fiery Furnace has been on my bucket list for a long time. I took one of my best friend’s sons for his first visit to Moab and spent two days exploring Arches National Park and the Island in the Sky unit of Canyonsland. We based at Moab Spring Ranch. For our compete itinerary read Two Days in Moab. This hike was on Day 2. Carson has hiked with me multiple times and is a strong hiker. Both of us were excited to explore this area of Arches.
It was just before noon when we went right and started on the trail paralleling to the fence line. It was a beautiful day and we stopped a couple of times to take in the view of Fiery Furnace with the snow covered La Sal Mountain in the distance. We scrambled a little in our descent and as we got closer to the wash, we saw our first arrow followed by a second arrow pointing to the left into Fiery Furnace. As we walked in the sandy wash, we agreed to stay within sight and earshot of each other at all times.
We followed the route to arrow 3 and through a short scramble section. At arrow 4, instead of continuing to the right, we took a left walking next to a huge sand dune and lots of really interesting rock formations. We retraced our steps and continued on the trail passing arrows 5 and 6. Shortly after arrow 6, we hiked through a really cool twisted tree.
Near arrow 7 we saw a sign dead end. We hiked a little ways into that canyon that quickly narrows. We decided to explore more in this area. As we turned to enter another canyon, we saw our first unmarked arch. I’ll share a few pictures, but not sharing the exact location so you can search for it if you do this hike. A big part of the fun in Fiery Furnace is exploring and discovering on your own. We walked through the arch to the end of canyon. Carson scrambled up higher and found a cool tunnel like feature while I headed to a small alcove to look through a hole.
We walked back to the “trail” that looked like we had to go through an extremely narrow passageway. While I was laughing at Carson trying to shimmy his way through it, I found a pathway climbing up some boulders. Neither way was easy. We went through our first big narrow passage that opened up to snow covered rocks we had seen in the distance earlier.
The trail has been pretty easy to follow so far and continued through this stretch. What we figured out was if trail was easy to navigate the markers are farther apart. As we found out later, if there are multiple ways to go, the trail markers are closer together. We continued on fairly flat terrain and saw another dead end sign near marker 8. We decided to explore a series of narrow canyons. The first one has a boulder stuck up high near the top the narrow walls. In the second one, Carson climbed up and found our second unmarked arch. This one is not noticeable from the entrance of canyon. You have to scramble up. It’s worth the quick effort.
Arrows 8 and 9 are very close today. Arrow 9 is on slick rock and points to a path going up. The slick rock section starts mellow but quickly turns into the hardest section of our hike because you scramble, jump, and go through tight squeezes where you are suspending yourself as you shimmy with your legs on one side and behind on the other. It can be intimidating and unnerving because you don’t know what your next obstacle is going to be. Arrow 11 is the halfway point through the slick rock. To the right of it you walk along a narrow ledge then scramble through boulders as the passageway gets narrow and narrower to a point where you have to go sideways and you’ll see the arrow on the wall.
When it opens up, you’re at arrow 13. It was also easy to spot the next arrow next to an intriguing tree. Carson happened to turn around and spotted an arch. It was the only one we spotted on the trail.
This would be our first “uh, oh” moment as every way we went seemed to end in either a big drop off or gnarly terrain. Both of us went through an opening, but retreated back only to go down another canyon or passageway. We probably spent a good 15 minutes searching for the right way. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW – SCROLL PAST NEXT SET OF PICTURES.
Starting to get a little anxious because I knew how much sunlight we had left I went back to the opening thinking it had to be the way. Carson went through to search for arrows. I slowly spun around scanning for an arrow only to see it right in front of my face on the left side of the opening. I climbed through and joined Carson. We had a great view of Balanced Rock. From we hiked down the slick rock, through a very narrow passageway followed by a slightly wider one where you’ll find another arrow.
At arrow 17, we went up a slick rock wall followed by more scrambling. When we found our 18th arrow, we got lost again. I’m going to blame the views because they are really incredible in this area. Because we headed up a wrong canyon, we walked back to the arrow to start again. That’s when we saw another arch.
Figuring the arrows had to be close because it was a confusing area, we slowly started looking around and I spotted the next arrow on a canyon wall. We had explored in one direction along that wall, but not the other…which turned out to be the correct way going through another narrow passageway. When it opened up there was a sign for a possible dead end, but we opted to not explore that one. We followed what was arrow 20 to a set of narrow stone stairs with a handrail near the steepest part at the bottom. After spending a good 20 minutes looking for the way out, we laughed as we made our way down the stairs.
From there we did a little more scrambling down slick rock and were in the home stretch. There was a pole that we thought was missing an arrow and the trail was pretty distinct. We must have missed a turnoff because back at the parking lot there is a trail that goes across the scrub brush field. Instead we scrambled down to the wash and climbed back up the trail we initially climbed down.
Bucket list hike checked off for me! Both of us said we’d hike Fiery Furnace again. We think we counted correctly but it’s possible we didn’t.
If you’re a first-timer like we were, I’d suggest hiking it like we did following the arrows with plenty of off-shoot explorations. We spent four hours in Fiery Furnace with a good 40-45 minutes of that trying to figure out which way to go in two canyon-filled spots.
Jennifer has visited Moab multiple times. For this trip, itinerary and to see where we stayed, read posts 2 Days in Moab and Moab Springs Ranch. Jennifer has also hiked to Delicate Arch multiple times. Read post on why you should hike Delicate Arch in winter to find out why that’s the best time to do that popular hike.