Outbound Collective logo

Watch the Sunrise at Mesa Arch

Moab, Utah



0.7 miles

Elevation Gain

65 ft

Route Type



Added by Chase Dekker

Any nature lover or photographer would be foolish to miss the sunrise from Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. As the sun ascends from beyond the Rockies, a golden glow illuminates the canyons and towers below while the bottom of the arch becomes fiery red.

The sun rises in every location every day (not counting winter in the poles), but few places can rival the pure magical essence that a sunrise at Mesa Arch offers. For years, nature enthusiasts and photographers have travelled to the remote desert region of Utah to witness the astonishing rock formations that make up Moab (the area including Arches and Canyonlands National Park). Through the arch, you get sweeping views of what once was a massive inland ocean, the Colorado river, and the La Sal mountain range which sits on the Utah/Colorado border. If planning to visit this area, waking up well before the crack of dawn to venture out to Mesa Arch is worth every minute of sleep you will forfeit.

To get to Mesa Arch, the drive is fairly simple and straight forward. Most of you visiting will most likely be staying in the town of Moab. From Moab, drive west along US-191 for 11 miles till you see the turnoff sign for Canyonlands National Park. Turn left and proceed along the road for around 27 miles till you reach the Mesa Arch Trailhead parking lot on your lefthand side. Most likely you will be attempting this drive in the dark as you head out there before sunrise, so make sure to keep watch for the small sign and your odometer. Park in the lot where there is a bathroom on the far right side and the trailhead is located right in the middle of the lot. For most folks, this drive takes about 45 minutes, so make sure to give yourself plenty of time in case you miss a turn!

Proceed along the trail, which will take you up a small hill and then down to the arch. The hike is only about a third of a mile long so it shouldn't take longer than 10 minutes to get to the arch. If you arrive well before sunrise, which is always recommended, you get rewarded with some of the darkest night skies anywhere in North America. Whip out your camera and tripod and photograph the arch with the stars and milky way above, before the real show.

Chances are you going to have to share the limited amount of space in front of the arch as it is a very popular photography destination, so the earlier you arrive the better. If you are the lucky and brave soul who ventured out to the arch first, make sure to find a spot and angle you want to photograph the arch for the initial emergence of the sun over the horizon. If visiting in winter, the sun will rise to the South (right side of the arch), while in summer the sun will rise to the North (left side of the arch). Any season is good, but summer may be the least desirable out of the year. Besides insane desert temperatures, regularly entering the triple digits, you will get more crowds and dealing with a hoard of tripods and nature watchers can be quite the hassle. If visiting between late fall and early spring, expect nice and mild conditions with far fewer crowds. If visiting in the dead of winter, mainly between December through mid-February, you may be lucky enough to have some snow across the landscape.

Whenever month you choose to visit, it is always smart to arrive at least 45 minutes before sunrise to secure your spot and get setup (if you're photographing). When the sun rises, you will get an initial chance to photograph the sun starburst. Take some shots and move positions for the next starburst when the sun reaches the bottom of the arch. Usually after the second starburst, the majority of the crowds will clear, but you should not. The sunrise lasts for quite some time and the underside of the arch will stay illuminated for roughly 2 hours after the sun comes out. Not to mention, you may get a chance to have the whole place to yourself and the stillness and quietness of the desert will surround you.

As tempting as it may seem, do not walk across the arch. For one reason, which to most would seem fairly obvious, it's dangerous. The arch hangs over a sheer 850 foot drop, which would be a long way to fall. On top of that, the arch is extremely delicate and every person that walks across causes the sandstone to crumble just a little bit. Although it may not collapse during this lifetime, it will eventually fall, so enjoy it from below so it lasts for centuries to come!

So set your alarms early, get your cameras ready, and prepare yourself to witness one of the most magnificent sunrises anywhere on the planet!

Read More

Download the Outbound mobile app

Find adventures and camping on the go, share photos, use GPX tracks, and download maps for offline use.

Get the app


Easy Parking
Family Friendly

Watch the Sunrise at Mesa Arch Reviews

Have you done this adventure? Be the first to leave a review!

Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!


Night Photography at Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch

Hike the Aztec Butte Trail

Catch a Sunset at Green River Overlook

Hike to Murphy Point

Syncline Loop in Canyonlands NP