Valley of Fire State Park can get crowded on weekends, and the short trails described in the day use visitor map are often congested. For the hiker willing to put in a little effort, it can be easy to leave the crowds behind. The Natural Arches Trail is a great place to do just that. Not included on the handout map, the trail is seldom used and offers a wonderful journey into the park's web of canyons and through colorful rock formations.
The parking lot is on the north side of the main park road just west of a large wash between the road to "the cabins" and Elephant Rock. Park in the gravel lot, look for the tiny trailhead marker near the road, and head down into the wash. This trail is not marked anywhere along the way, but it is easy to follow as it just follows the main wash the entire way. Small side canyons can be a little confusing, but a wrong turn quickly dead ends. Walking on the canyon's soft pink/white sand floor requires a bit more effort, but the lack of significant vertical rise makes up for that. Watch for wildflowers along the way; it is always a wonder to see these delicate plants survive in sand and with such little water.
The wide wash narrows considerably after about a mile, and there are three small rock scrambles to navigate. With each turn of the canyon the shapes and colors of the rock continue to amaze. Keep an eye open for arches, as there are several along the route. The largest arch, for which the trail was named, succumbed to erosion and collapsed several years ago, but the main features of this trail remain: extreme solitude and incredible desert beauty. The hiker can turn back anywhere on the route, but there is a huge balancing rock at 2.4 miles that offers shade and a natural turning point.
Note: there is little shade on this hike, so an early start and plenty of water are very important.