The Fiery Furnace, it’s a great name for an even better trail. It’s a bit like a maze for adults (and kids will love it too!). Imagine a hiking trail where you have to continuously find the arrows to show you the way. Imagine this in a rabbit warren of canyons, cliffs, narrow spaces and boulders to climb up, amongst some of the most unique rock formations we’ve ever seen. Then you’ll get the Fiery Furnace.
Don’t let the safety warnings and the internet info about difficulty put you off, the Fiery Furnace is one of the most fun trails we’ve ever done. The Parks Service have done an amazing job in keeping the place pristine and with as little human impact as possible by limiting the number of people who can hike it each day.
The result is an adventurous trail in a spectacular and uncrowded environment.
The Fiery Furnace is not about views and it requires some scrambling, getting lost and becoming completely disorientated, all things that would normally make us nervous but it turned out to be one of our favourite trails in the US - and that’s saying something!
Why did we love this so much? Well, because it brought the kid out in us.
Here’s what to expect and why we love it.
Why we loved it - the concept of the Fiery Furnace
With little directional signage in what feels like a natural maze and a set amount of people allowed in each day, Parks have created a fabulous adventure.
The Visitor Centre talks about wanting to preserve the Fiery Furnace in its natural condition by minimising trail markings and any human influence to ensure the place is kept wild. All things we are totally on board with and it just so happens that this decision has also made it a really unique place to explore.
If you have adventurous kids and want to take them on a walk that will keep them entertained for hours - this is the place to go. We met a few families with kids who absolutely loved finding the arrows and then climbing up walls and overcoming obstacles to find the path.
Getting lost usually leads you to somewhere unique and only adds to the fun.
What to expect
The Fiery Furnace has one designated trail but you are free to explore more of the area as long as you stick to the rules. The two mile loop trail weaves through a dense maze of canyons, arches, sandy wash and cliffs of beautiful orange sandstone.
Don’t be put off by the fear of getting lost. We’d heard about people taking six hours to find their way out - even the ranger we spoke to said he took five hours on the first try! We didn’t see anyone take more than two and a half hours (unless they actively chose to) and we did it in 1 hour 45 - an achievement we’re pretty proud of for a couple who are really bad at navigation and orienteering! We never use maps, compasses or anything other than signs to navigate!
In fact we went in expecting to be one of the ones that took six hours and so rushed through a bit, had we known it wasn’t as hard as we thought, we would have spent more time taking it all in.
If you want a bit of help, All Trails have a decent amount of information and GPS info to help with the route. Essentially the trail heads south, then east, north and then back in a semi-triangle. You’ll get glimpses of the car park throughout the trail, so you should be able to guess which direction to go in.
Even with this, just embrace the loss of control! Getting lost only adds to the fun and leads you to new places to explore. We hope this is a concept that we find in other places in the world because we had way more fun than we originally thought we would (having in truth been a bit scared by the ranger talk).
The Fiery Furnace Permit
Firstly, you need a permit. They are sold at the Visitor Centre and cost $6 USD per person (on top of the entrance fee to Arches National Park) and you’ll be required to watch this safety video before you do your hike. The permits can sell out well in advanced as there are only 75 permits sold per day. We’d recommend buying them as soon as you arrive in Moab (as a guide we visited in March and had to wait three days for a permit to become available).
You can go on a ranger led group hike which costs slightly more but in low-season, the ranger walks only go once per week (they are a lot more frequent in high season) so it may not suit your dates.
If you are up for a little adventure we recommend going on your own. Whilst the ranger tour would be informative, it would remove the fun of trying to find your way through this amazing natural maze.
The safety video outlines the rules for your visit, some of which include only walking on rock or sandy wash (to protect the fragile biological soil), pack everything out with you including human waste (the visitor centre sells special bags for this if the need arises!) and don’t join any other groups or the ranger led tour (keeping the quiet wild nature of the place intact).
The rangers will also talk to you beforehand and in all honesty we felt, try and put you off going independently. They advise that anyone entering the Fiery Furnace for the first time should join one of the ranger led walks but if you still want to go they will sell you the permit.
How to hike the Fiery Furnace without a guide
Now to the hike itself. If you want to follow the arrows and the marked trail head outside the car park and immediately turn right (we nearly went straight which would have taken us in the reverse direction making it much harder to spot the arrows). The trail will weave downwards on a rocky path and begin to go through a sandy wash where the arrows will begin.
There are 20 to find and at first it seems relatively easy. It’s hard to miss the first six or so. You’ll see them in obvious areas and it will start to take you through narrow passageways and over rocks. Then it gets a little trickier to spot every single one (though you still spot most of them). We found that we rarely went more than 10 minutes without seeing one, so if it has been a while we recommend backtracking to the last one you saw. Frequently you can take a slightly different turn and miss the place to go (for instance we missed a gap between two rocks which was the path and kept walking around a wash for 10 minutes!).
You can’t go by footsteps either as everyone gets lost! So the only way to find the trail is to find those arrows.
The trail always sticks to either wash or rock, so don’t veer into areas of vegetation or anywhere that looks like growth is beginning. In this fragile landscape, a footstep can undo decades of growth. At some points you’ll have to do some light acrobatics as the gap between the rocks are too tight and the only way to cross is start climbing! Here you can see Cat taking on one of the moves needed to follow the trail!
If you see a manoeuvre that looks a bit too difficult try and get some height to look further along the trail to see if it is actually that way. There are a couple of points where it would be easy to tackle something more difficult than you need to and find you have to backtrack.
Fiery Furnace Map
Whilst this isn’t an exact map, this is what our Fiery Furnace route looked like. You can see a few areas where we went off course but largely it was straight forward to find the way.
So, how hard is the Fiery Furnace?
This is slightly tricky to answer because everyone is different. We hiked in March so it was cool weather, meaning even if we had spent six hours in there it would have been fine. Six hours in summer would be a wholly different matter.
My belief is from our experience and from talking to lots of people along the way (oops rule breakers!) is that if you are spending longer than around three hours it is most likely because you wanted to be more adventurous than the two mile arrowed trail allows and went exploring different routes.
There were a few points where people went wrong (the longest was for 45 minutes) but in all honesty we didn’t see anyone at all who was point blank stuck. It doesn’t mean it can’t happen but it didn’t seem overly likely, especially if you are fairly cautious and don’t go down any sections that you think you couldn’t get back up if you’ve gone wrong.
Navigation aside there are some sections which require some manoeuvring and scrambling which isn’t always easy but also isn’t ridiculously hard. I can be quite scared of scrambling and have been known to turn back on certain trails, like Peek-a-boo Gulch in Escalante, but I found that the few tricky bits were manageable and even quite fun if I had a helping hand or advice on how to tackle it.
You do need to be very mobile but you don’t need to be a gymnast. There also weren’t many heights which made the scrambling less intimidating.
Overall I’d say that most people who enjoy hiking and don’t mind a bit of scrambling will be fine. We saw some pretty young children who were absolutely loving it and there was a wide range of ages on the trail.
Getting to the Fiery Furnace
The Fiery Furnace is 14 miles into Arches National Park and should take about 25 minutes to get to from the entrance of the park.
It has its own car park and toilets (at the carpark only), and the trail is clearly marked from the northern side of the car park.
Hotels near to Arches National Park
Unless you are camping in Arches National Park (and what fabulous views the camp sites had!) then the best place to stay is in the nearby town of Moab.
We loved Moab, not as much as our beloved Sedona but it wasn’t too far behind. It’s a small town which is surrounded by mountains and has great coffee. What’s not to love?
Hotel Downtown Moab
We stayed in the Hotel Downtown Moab and whilst it had a few issues we thought overall it was great value. The rooms are big, comfy, clean and fairly modern (something we didn’t really experience in this price bracket very often). So we loved it until the wifi didn’t work for our whole stay (although they did refund us $30 for this) and we found some of the staff to be really unfriendly. If it hadn’t been for this we would have given it a fully glowing review.
The place I was actually going to book before it sold out was Expedition Lodge as it had fabulous reviews so you might want to check that one out too.
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Are you planning a trip to Moab? Do you know any trails as unique as the Fiery Furnace? Let us know in the comments below!