The Tunnel in Arches

Looking out of the west end of The Tunnel, Arches National Park, Utah
Looking out of the west end of The Tunnel

Last fall, en route back across the country, we took an unexpected side-trek to Arches National Park.  I’d been reading about off-the-beaten-path arches in Arches, so our first hike was off-trail down Courthouse Wash to The Tunnel.  As features in Arches go, this one was discovered fairly recently – it was first reported in 1979.  It’s unique in that the feature is too long to be a typical “arch,” yet what else can you call a natural tunnel through the slickrock?

Quick Stats

Round Trip Length: 3.5 miles Trail Type: Lollipop loop or Out & back Elevation Change: 348ft. Pets: No Fees: $30/vehicle

Inside of The Tunnel

The trailhead for The Tunnel is on the north side of Courthouse Wash.  There is a small pulloff on the west side of the road.  On a warm day, the pulloff will be filled to capacity and beyond with hikers heading down Lower Courthouse Wash.  While I’m sure it’s a great hike, that wasn’t our destination on a chilly morning in November.  Instead of taking the social trails on the east side of the road and downstream down Courthouse Wash, we took a social trail on the west side of the road that led down to Courthouse Wash and headed upstream.

The social trail from the pulloff to Upper Courthouse Wash, Arches National Park, Utah
The social trail from the pulloff to Upper Courthouse Wash

Upper Courthouse Wash heads around a sandstone fin (on some maps called “The Great Wall”).  Here social trails strike right out of the wash to head north.  You probably don’t want to take these quite yet, though the social trails that parallel the wash may be easier to hike than the sandy wash bottom.

Walking cross-country (on a social trail) rather than taking the side-wash route, Arches National Park, Utah
Walking cross-country (on a social trail) rather than taking the side-wash route

You have two routes to choose from when getting to The Tunnel.  First, you can walk up Upper Courthouse Wash to the place where a major side-wash enters from the right (north) in a profusion of cottonwood trees.  Follow this side-wash up and you’ll eventually run across The Tunnel.  This was how we exited The Tunnel area, intent on other adventures.  The way we walked to The Tunnel was cross-country, picking up one of the many social trails that headed north around one or two stone fins.  This eventually dropped us into the side-wash a short distance below The Tunnel.

Entering the side-wash from the cross-country route, Arches National Park, Utah
Entering the side-wash from the cross-country route

From a distance, The Tunnel is difficult or impossible to pick out.  It’s just an innocent-looking pock in one of several sandstone fins.  It’s easier to see the sandstone hoodoo on the slickrock directly below The Tunnel.  So when you see the hoodoo, you know you’ve arrived!

Approaching the hooodoo.  The Tunnel is the dark hole on the far right of the fin.  Arches National Park, Utah
Approaching the hooodoo. The Tunnel is the dark hole on the far right of the fin

Getting up to the hoodoo is easy enough; just a slickrock scramble.  Getting up to the Tunnel is a bit more complicated.  With good boots, plenty of slickrock-scrambling experience, and a hand to pull me up from above, I was able to scramble up to it.  But that slickrock is steep!  I’ve seen pictures online of people pulling up their companions using a rope.  That would have been useful for a few members of the group with less-grippy shoes and/or shortness of stature.  Taller people have an easier time with this… which is why the 5’5” and 6’ member of my group got up and I didn’t without a helping hand.

The Tunnel is more visible in this photo from beyond the hoodoo - the slickrock is deceptively steep.  Arches National Park, Utah
The Tunnel is more visible in this photo from beyond the hoodoo – the slickrock is deceptively steep

Inside of the tunnel is just fascinating.  It’s about 4ft. wide, less than 5ft. wide in most places, and 53ft. long.  You’re literally bent over walking through a sandstone fin.  How cool is that?

Walking toward the eastern end of The Tunnel, Arches National Park, Utah
Walking toward the eastern end of The Tunnel

We explored both ends of The Tunnel, but my favorite was taking photos of the nearby sandstone cliffs framed in the south exit to The Tunnel.  The hoodoo looks pretty cool from up here, too.

The hoodoo down below The Tunnel, Arches National Park, Utah
The hoodoo down below

When we tired of scrambling through The Tunnel, we hiked back down the side-wash to Upper Courthouse Wash.  Our next destination was Ring Arch on the south side of Upper Courthouse Wash… but more on that in another post!

Courthouse Wash near where the side-wash empties into it, Arches National Park, Utah
Courthouse Wash near where the side-wash empties into it

Round Trip Length: About 3.5 miles, depending on your route

Elevation Gain: About 348ft. (4,111ft. to 4,242ft.)

Facilities: None

Fees: $30/vehicle to enter Arches National Park; valid 7 days.  America the Beautiful and Southeast Utah Park Passes are accepted.

Trail Notes: The entirety of this hike is off-trail.  You should be very used to hiking in washes and across the desert backcountry before attempting to hike it.  A rope might be helpful to haul children/small adults up into The Tunnel.  Don’t try this in the summer, when it’s blazing hot out.  Courthouse Wash may have water in it after rains.  Use caution after rain, as Courthouse Wash is susceptible to flash flooding.

At the western end of The Tunnel, Arches National Park, Utah
At the western end of The Tunnel

Trail ★

Road ★

Signs ★

Scenery ★

Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this? ★

Overall Rating: ★

Looking down the side-wash toward Courthouse Wash, Arches National Park, Utah
Looking down the side-wash toward Courthouse Wash

GPS Coordinates for The Tunnel

Ring Arch beginning: 38.6492833°, -109.5982833° (N38° 38.957′ W109° 35.897′ / 38°38’57.4200″, -109°35’53.8200″) (4,089ft.) (0.0)

Enter Wash: 38.6478333°, -109.6068000° (N38° 38.870′ W109° 36.408′ / 38°38’52.2000″, -109°36’24.4800″) (4,088ft.) (0.50)

The Tunnel: 38.6592667°, -109.6071667° (N38° 39.556′ W109° 36.430′ / 38°39’33.3600″, -109°36’25.8000″) (4,246ft.) (1.84)

Wash to The Tunnel/Courthouse Wash Junction: 38.6528500°, -109.6128333° (N38° 39.171′ W109° 36.770′ / 38°39’10.2600″, -109°36’46.2000″) (4,225ft.) (2.75)

End: 38.6492667°, -109.5982833° (N38° 38.956′ W109° 35.897′ / 38°38’57.3600″, -109°35’53.8200″) (4,107ft.) (5.09)

Cliffs outside of the west end of The Tunnel, Arches National Park, Utah
Cliffs outside of the west end of The Tunnel

Due to the sensitive nature of the area, I am not uploading a GPX file to the Tunnel.  My apologies for any inconvenience this might cause.

Sign marking Courthouse Wash with views back toward Park Avenue, Arches National Park, Utah
Sign marking Courthouse Wash with views back toward Park Avenue

Getting to The Tunnel Trailhead

From the entrance to Arches National Park at US-191, drive 5.4 miles through the entrance station, past the visitor center, up the hill, and past the two parking areas for Park Avenue.  Just after crossing Courthouse Wash, park in the pulloff on the west (left) side of the road.

Map and elevation profile for my route to The Tunnel - the upper line is the cross-country route while the lower line is the route up Courthouse Wash and the side wash.  Arches National Park, Utah
Map and elevation profile for my route to The Tunnel – the upper line is the cross-country route while the lower line is the route up Courthouse Wash and the side wash

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This Week’s Featured Product!

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3 thoughts on “The Tunnel in Arches

  1. Angee

    This is a fun hike. I think I enjoyed Ring more than this one. Would love to hear about more “unknown” Arches arches hikes.

  2. Pingback: Trip Overview: Death Valley and Beyond - Anne's Travels