Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park: An Easy Hike to an Iconic View
Hiked on Tuesday, September 23, 2014; reviewed November 7, 2014
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The view looking under Mesa Arch at sunrise is one of the iconic vistas in the desert southwest. But the view, in my opinion is still wonderful any time of day. Getting that sunrise shot means usually means getting there early in order to secure a good spot and get set-up. But you can still get a nice shot at sunrise even without arriving at O-dark-thirty, just be cognizant of the folks who have been there for over an hour and try not to get in the way of their equipment. As long as everyone is patient and polite, then everyone can enjoy the moment and get the shot that they want.
During our September 2014 trip, I visited Mesa Arch twice, first on a glorious, blue-sky early afternoon then the following morning for sunrise. My wife, sister-in-law and I spent an afternoon in Canyonlands Island in the Sky just taking in the views and doing a couple of short hikes. One of our first stops was Mesa Arch, as mentioned, a classic sunrise photo op, but a great view any time of day. We walked the short loop trail to the arch, going counterclockwise. I stopped and took in the views as the trail started to climb over the small hill. The colorful hills were too far away to make a great image, but I liked the single line of puffy white clouds in the otherwise clear blue sky. I enjoyed the vista for a moment the scurried on up the hill to catch the girls.
We went on around the trail to the arch and the view was just spectacular. I’ve been toying with the idea of trying the sunrise shot here during this trip, but the cloud cover we have had so far would most likely have meant a washout in terms of getting the desired orange glow on the underside of the arch. But the weather is supposed to be clear for the next couple of days and seeing the arch again is getting me thinking that perhaps I’ll give it a shot tomorrow morning. So I spent a little time looking around the arch for what might be a good location for getting that sunrise glow. But even now at nearly 1:00 in the afternoon, the view is still amazing.
The trail is well marked and easy to navigate, at least during the day light hours. We completed the 0.7 mile loop in a little less than 30 minutes, including the time enjoying the views at the Arch.
Getting to Mesa Arch for the sunrise view is a bit more of a challenge. The trail is the same, but now the hike is in the dark. I went the clockwise route this time and the trail is easy to for most of the length to the arch but it easy to get off the track closer to the arch. Just take your time and pay attention. A flashlight or headlamp is a requirement for this early morning hike. The usual advice is to arrive at the arch about an hour before sunrise in order to secure good vantage point. I was there a little over an hour before the 7:07 sunrise and there were two photographers already in place at the arch. By the time the show started, there were probably 15 to 20 tripods set up and another 15 to 20 folks milling about shooting hand-held. The good news was that there was a nice sunrise (not overcast this morning) so we got the glow under the arch. I ended up sticking around a while after everyone else had left and I think I get the best shot of the morning nearly an hour after sunrise. There was still light under the arch and nice color out on the formations in the canyon below. I guess you never know what you might see at any given time in the National Parks.