This post was sponsored by Athleta Clothing, but all opinions expressed are our own.
Robin and I are terrible at getting up early. The thought of dragging ourselves out of bed is normally unfathomable, but this time, for Arches National Park, we were prepared to make an exception. It’s no secret that catching the morning glow on the arches is unmissable, and we weren’t about to snooze right through it. Here’s our advice for catching sunrise at Arches National Park, and some of the other tips we picked up while we were planning:
Getting up early in Moab:
Robin and I were staying in Moab for the two days we were in the area, and it was absolutely perfect for getting to Arches (approx 30 minutes). The only other option would be camping or staying in an RV, but I can promise you that in mid-July that would not have been fun.
The temperature at night was consistently above 35 degrees ( >95 degrees F), and if you’re camping, that basically guarantees you a sweaty night with zero sleep. My advice; pay the money for an air-conditioned hotel room or don’t go in the middle of summer.
For sunrise at around 6am, we were up at 4.45am and left by 5am. Much to our surprise, the roads were already starting to fill with cars. The thing about Arches is that if you’re getting up for sunrise and you don’t really want to hike, there are only a couple of spots you can realistically hit. It’s kind of like the popular sunrise spots in Banff; if someone’s up at 5am, you can almost guarantee they’re heading to the same place as you.
The Windows at Arches National Park:
Sure enough, our unexpected convoy of cars all ended up at the same place as us; the Windows. By the time we arrived at around 5.45, there were plenty of photographers lined up in the North Window, and someone had kindly placed a camera doing a timelapse in the centre of the arch. Thank god for photoshop..
So, first piece of advice for Arches is to expect crowds. Don’t go expecting to have the place to yourself – even at sunrise. I’m told that sunset is significantly worse, so a few people might be the best that you can expect.
Shooting at the Windows:
I had 2 shots that I really wanted to get at the windows (as well as actually enjoy the sunrise), and those were:
- Point back through the north window towards Turret Arch
- Shoot sunrise through the North Window.
Shot number one involves a little scrambling, so isn’t recommended for everyone. You’ll also miss the brilliant sunrise, and yes, I was very nearly in danger of missing it as I was so focused on taking my picture. Another reminder to look up occasionally. It was also full of people, so it’s something I think I’d like to try again in Winter with fewer people.
Shot two was really just a bit of fun with my 14mm lens. Still loads of people running around, and it was just great to watch the colours in the clouds. My advice is to wait until the sun actually rises so that you get that beautiful orange glow on the rocks. Lots of photographers took their shots and left well before the sun actually came up and they missed the best bit!
Also, wait a few minutes after the sun comes up because people clear out almost immediately afterwards. It’s only the people there to actually appreciate the sunrise with their own eyes that stay longer.
I should probably mention these incredible arches more than just in passing. They’re arches (rather than bridges), because they’ve been weathered by the blowing sand (generally) and not by a river. It’s astonishing how big these things really are (not like the tiny arch in Valley of Fire that made us chuckle). It’s hard to believe that these things have been here for many thousands of years and I wondered how many thousands of people had been here for sunrises before us.
Not something that’s conventionally photographed in the morning, so it was absolutely empty and worth the quick walk to check out while the crowds were busy elsewhere. The archway looks tiny from the North Window, but it quickly grows to become enormous as you approach it. Turret Arch has its name because of the large turret you can see rising out of the side of it.
Once we felt like we’d got the most out of the Windows section of Arches National Park, we decided to walk around the parking lot and walk to the Double Arch.
Top tip: there are parking spaces on the other side of the parking loop, so move your car closer once you get back from the Windows section. When you’ve had 4 hours sleep, that extra 100m feels like a marathon!
The approach to double arch is a nice, gentle sandy path. I was a little concerned we might bump into a rattlesnake, but the path was easily wide enough to skirt around any suspicious looking bushes.
Getting closer to the Double arch made me realize just how enormous it was (34m). It’s amazing to think that all this was caused naturally. Double Arch was actually formed differently, and was created by pooling water on the top of the rock eroding its way down into the rock. As you get closer, you realize what an incredible feat of nature that was.
For this adventure, I tried out Athleta’s new travel line of clothing and found them to be perfect for a hot, summer road trip. The Side Gather T-Shirt Dress was super comfy and lightweight, and its wrinkle-resistant material meant I could just throw it on without having to worry about creases. It travelled really well and still looked great after all the hours we spent in a hot car.
The Contribution Sandals by Seychelles were also great for short outdoor walks, especially in such hot weather! It was impressive to see how versatile they were – they looked great while walking around the arches and also could handle a few climbs!
I also loved this green Passport Jacket from Athleta, which was a fantastic lightweight windbreaker the next morning when we visited the Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. I would really recommend this as a summer jacket. It was also super easy to throw in my little backpack, and it came out with no wrinkles after being balled up all day.
Climbing up the Arch
After a few photos, I decided to climb up to the bottom of one of the arches for a stunning view of the valley beyond. Totally worth creeping up there, but it definitely took some hands on climbing and grippy shoes. I would not recommend it to everyone.
One thing we noticed was how few people came over to Double Arch after sunrise. Seriously, we were alone for 20 minutes. It’s almost like because the sun wasn’t hitting it (it’s facing the wrong way) people didn’t think it was worth it. Maybe everyone else was a local photographer but I seriously couldn’t believe how nobody else was interested.
Driving back to Moab
After that, the sun was starting to get pretty warm, so we decided it was time to make our way back to our hotel for a well deserved breakfast and nap. At that point, we finally had a chance to see the road we drove in on in the dark. We stopped several times on the way back and couldn’t believe some of the rock formations. Make sure you check out some of these on your way through:
- Balanced Rock
- Courthouse Rock
- The Organ
- Park Avenue
The drive is breathtaking. Seriously. Take some time to stop and appreciate the drive, there are plenty of pull outs.
Aside from getting up for the morning desert glow, an early start is crucial at Arches. Not only will you get the stunning light, you’ll also avoid most of the crowds AND the sweltering heat. We joked that you almost might as well become nocturnal here because most of the day is so unbearably hot. Get up for sunrise and then nap from 10am to 2 or 3pm.
As sunrise is so quick, it’s best to focus on one location. We really felt like this itinerary was the best value for money (so to speak). If you have more days then we definitely recommend hiking to Corona, Delicate or Landscape arches too.
Click here to read more about our Utah Road Trip
But where are the sunrises? I’m currently staying in Moab, Utah and I was hopeful this post would assist in finding the best vantage for a beautiful sunrise in Arches NP. You have beautiful content however I’m having a difficult time with your credibility with the absence of sunrises in your post. It seems your only relevant picture is from Mesa Arch located in Canyonlands NP. Do you have any suggestions other than what sandal I should be hiking in?
Hi Michael, sorry, we just transferred the website over and had an issue with some of the photos transferring. I think we gave some quite specific instructions for a decent sunrise spot at the Windows in Arches NP. This was the only spot that faces in the correct direction, and even though our lack of photos must be frustrating, I would recommend googling “sunrise at the Window Arches NP” for a similar idea. I’ll try and sort out those images in the meantime. Best of luck!
How did you get into the National Park to see the sunrise? It looks like they open after the Sunrise.
Hi LeVell, Arches is open 24 hours a day. You can check here for more details! https://www.nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/hours.htm