3 Days Chasing Sunsets and Sunrises in Arches National Park and Moab, Utah.
Updated: Sep 22, 2022
Use this post to avoid crowds and find the most photogenic sunrise and sunset spots in Arches National Park and Moab, Utah.
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Tips for Hiking in Southern Utah Parks:
1. Hiking in desert landscapes is different from tree-lined, forested trails. Trails in forests carve their way through trees so they are easier to see clearly. In the desert, there is often no vegetation for the trail to cut through so it’s much easier to get lost. Cairns, an intentional pile of stacked rocks, is a way in which trails are often marked in a desert setting. Be sure to watch for them along the hikes in this itinerary, especially the longer hikes with fewer crowds.
2. I also recommend that you download offline trail maps that you can access in areas with no service. Cairns can still be confusing. They aren’t always visible when you need to decide which direction to go. Offline-maps are a good back up option for trail navigation.
Alltrails offers a subscription app service with the option to download trail maps.
Maps.me is a free option that allows you to download an entire region (like Southern Utah), and will include hiking trails and driving roads in that area.
3. No trees also means limited shade on hikes. Bring double the water you think you will need, especially if you are hiking midday or in the summer months.
Canyonlands National Park
I recommend starting your first day of the trip at Canyonlands National Park. This will be an easy day to start with short hikes to warm you up for longer hikes in Arches National Park. Canyonlands also is a significantly less crowded park than Arches.
There are three short hikes I recommend exploring in Canyonlands:
1. The Mesa Arch Trail.
A quick .5 mile out and back trail to a large Arch. There are often people lined up to take pictures under it, so go early to try to beat the crowds.
2. The Grand Viewpoint Trail.
A 2-mile out-and-back trail along the rim of a canyon. There is almost no elevation gain but there are expansive views on both sides throughout the entire hike. The end of the trail is an ideal spot to sit and have a snack or lunch before turning around and coming back.
3. Upheaval Dome 1st and 2nd Overlook.
A 1-mile out and back to the 1st overlook or 2 miles out and back to see both the 1st and 2nd overlook. This trail does have a big incline to reach the overlooks, but it’s a quick climb. You are rewarded with views of a large crater, thought to be formed either by a meteor or a cracked salt dome.
Following the Canyonlands visit, my friends and I ate an early dinner in Moab. It worked well to eat early to beat the dinner crowds but also to go to sleep early for a pre-sunrise wake up the following day. See Where to Eat for dining suggestions in Moab.
Arches National Park Sunrise and Sunset
Arches National Park now trying a timed entry ticket system during its busy season. See here for more information.
To do justice to Arches National Park, be sure to prioritize viewing sunrises and sunsets in the park. The dramatic arch shapes and red rock formations create magical moments when the sky lights them up in the morning and evening.
For your first day in Arches I recommend arriving at the park early start the Devil’s Garden Loop Trail for a sunrise viewing. The full trail, including the primitive portion, is a 7.2 mile loop trail with 1,100 feet in elevation gain. There are seven arches to see along this trail if you take all of the side trails in addition to the main loop. While it doesn’t have any long elevation climbs, the hike is very up and down. There is a decent amount of scrambling required, so hiking poles aren’t helpful.
Start clockwise to see the majority of the arches in the first half of the hike, to see Partition Arch at sunrise and to hit one of the more challenging scrambling spots in an easier position. Once you hit the primitive portion of the trail it can be hard to follow. Look for cairns and use a downloaded map to avoid getting lost.
There are many advantages to sunrise hikes in National Parks–you will have the trail almost to yourself, you are able to watch daybreak as you hike in a spectacular setting, you never have to worry about full parking lots, you avoid hiking in midday heat, and you get to watch breathtaking sunrises!**
My friends and I started the hike from the trailhead about an hour before sunrise. Be sure to bring a headlamp! Our goal was to arrive at Partition Arch for sunrise and starting an hour before sunrise worked perfectly. Note that with this schedule you hike by Landscape Arch when it is still relatively dark. The trail does loop back around to the well-known Landscape Arch on the way back, so you will be able to see it in full daylight later. Depending on the time of the year, the sun will rise directly through Partition Arch. We sat and enjoyed the sunrise here for a while.
There are numerous side trail options that split off the main trail. These side trails take you to more arches and rock formations:
1. The Navajo Arch trail is next after Partition Arch. This arch is worth seeing. It is a thick arch at ground level that is hidden amongst the rocks.
2. The Double O Arch trail is the next option for a side trail and is a must see. It is two arches stacked on top of each other.
3. Dark Angel–If you want to skip any of the side trails, Dark Angel may be less interesting than others. This side trail leads to a pinnacle rock formation, not an arch.
4. Private Arch–As you start looping back on the primitive trail there is a side trail to the Private Arch. It is a simple thick arch, but there is a decent chance you will have it completely to yourself so it is fun to see.
After this hike we went back to our lodging to avoid the midday heat and to rest before going back out for sunset.
That evening head back into Arches National Park for sunset viewing. I’d recommend going to the Windows section of the park for sunset viewing. Delicate Arch and Balanced Rock are also popular spots for sunset viewing. In the Windows section, if you want to relax and watch the sunset for a while, go to the North Window and climb through the window. Hike to a viewpoint on a cliff directly behind the North Window. From this vantage point you are able to sit and watch the sunset through the North Window with views of Turret Arch in the distance.
After the sun went down we walked around the Turret Arch area for more stunning views.
Delicate Arch and Dead Horse Point State Park
Plan to arrive at Arches National Park before sunrise again. I recommend starting the Delicate Arch 3-mile out-and-back hike in the dark. Delicate Arch is such a famous attraction that even a pre-sunrise start may not completely eliminate crowds. Starting in the dark minimizes the crowds as much as possible though. The early morning hiking group is also more likely to be respectful of watching the sunrise and photographing the arch without having people line up for their individual photos under the arch. We were able to enjoy a quiet, peaceful hour watching the sunrise and photographing the arch before the larger crowds came in.
Delicate Arch actually photographs better at sunset than at sunrise and most visitors know this. Sunset causes the red rock to glow the vibrant red that you often see in pictures. We chose to prioritize fewer crowds and planned a sunrise hike instead.
Our goal was to arrive at the Arch at least a half an hour before sunrise, so we started the hike an hour and a half before sunrise. Be sure to bring a headlamp again. It is an out-and-back trail so you will be able to see the rest of the trail in daylight on your way back after sunrise. The trail can be hard to navigate in complete darkness, so offline maps are helpful. The elevation gain on this trail is only 600 feet but it is relatively straight uphill for the first half of the hike.
On your way back down, as you near the parking lot, take the short side trail to see petroglyphs of horses carved into rock between A.D. 1650 and 1850.
After Delicate Arch I’d recommend going back to the Windows Section to explore any areas you didn’t see during sunset the night before. We went back to spend time at Double Arch, which should not be missed.
We also stopped by Balanced Rock and walked the short, 5-minute trail around it.
In the afternoon you can avoid hiking in the midday heat and avoid crowds in the parks. A few options for afternoon activities are:
Shop at the local boutiques and art stores in Moab. See the Shopping section for more information
Rent UTV’s or take a UTV tour for an off-road adventure in the sand. High Point Hummer and ATV offers numerous tour and rental options.
Go mountain biking! Moab is famous for its world-class mountain biking trails. There are numerous places in town that rent mountain bikes. They can help recommend beginner trails. Poison Spider offers bike rentals and shuttle options for transport to and from trails.
That evening we drove to Dead Horse Point State Park (about 45 minutes from Moab) to watch the sunset there. Drive all the way to the end of the park and park near the Dead Horse Point Viewpoint. Then wander around to find a comfortable spot on the rocks to watch the show! There were other locals who brought folding chairs and snacks for watching the sunset too.
We had debated if this stop was worth the extra driving or not, but it absolutely was. The sunset and view were a relaxing way to spend the evening.
Build an Itinerary with a Moab Stop
This itinerary works well as a stand-alone long weekend trip. After Moab, we continued on to Lake Powell, Zion and Bryce National Parks, and then ended at Grand Staircase Escalante, and Capitol Reef National Park. If you want to plan a longer 2-week Utah road trip with all of the stops mentioned above, read this post on how to build the full itinerary.
Lodging in Moab
There are many hotels, home rentals and campsites in and around Moab. We rented a non-mobile RV through OK RV Park. They handle all the maintenance for the RV and the space was all that we needed for crashing every night and for prepping trail snacks and lunches.
Advanced Bookings for a Moab Trip
Lodging options and campsites fill up months in advance in the high season (spring and fall).
What to Wear and Pack for a Moab Trip
What to Wear
Hiking boots or hiking shoes
What to Pack
A daypack for hiking. The Arc'teryx Index 15 is my favorite.
A headlamp for pre-dawn sunrise hikes
Where to Eat in Moab
An Italian restaurant that specializes in Neapolitan wood fired pizzas. They make their mozzarella fresh in house and make traditional Neapolitan pizza dough. They have a large outdoor patio and a fun, friendly and helpful staff.
A Moab classic, located in the town’s former jailhouse, they serve classic American breakfast dishes as well as their famous Swedish pancakes with lingonberries.
Authentic, fresh Thai food with a cute patio area for dining and friendly service.
Moab Food Truck Park
A food truck park located in the center of town. We unfortunately were never able to eat here. More options were available for lunch and late afternoon dining than for dinner. It looked like a fun, fast-casual, outdoor dining option, where everyone in your group could pick which truck to order from.
A modern coffee shop restaurant with traditional breakfast and lunch menu items (eggs, sandwiches and salads). They also offer vegetarian options, tacos, charcuterie and a deep fried PB&J.
A microbrewery and restaurant that brews ales, stouts and pilsners and serves steaks, burgers, pastas and salads. This brewery has the largest indoor seating area in Moab however outdoor dining is not available.
For a perfect chicken sandwich, with a side of a donut, visit Doughbird! It's a perfect fast-casual option for a post-hike meal. They also offer chicken platters and a wide selection of coffee drinks.
Shopping in Moab
There are numerous shops on Main Street in Moab that sell everything from local artists’ work, to western clothing. It's easy to walk up and down Main street to explore them. Below are my favorites.
This modern art gallery and store focuses on local paintings, photography, prints, jewelry, souvenirs and home goods made by local artists. Of all the stores we visited, this one had the most unique art and souvenirs.
A clothing and accessory store that also sells fun outdoor themed souvenirs and gifts.
A good stop for t-shirts, tank tops, hats, scarves and jewelry all with modern designs. Most of their t-shirts represent the local parks and attractions.
Getting Around Moab
To follow this itinerary you need to rent a car or drive with your own car. The Moab town itself is walkable, but to go anywhere else you will need a car.
When to Go to Arches National Park and Moab
We visited Moab in late October. Visiting in the spring and fall avoids the summer desert heat, but it is high season for the area. It’s possible to visit year round but many of the restaurants and stores close for the winter, and hiking trails can be more difficult or inaccessible depending on snow and ice conditions. March through May and September and October are the most popular months.
Trip Dates: October 2020
Article Updated: January 2021
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