Exploring Canyonlands And A Hike On The Mesa Arch Trail

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The first time I went to Island in the Sky in Canyonlands, I knew I liked it, but what I didn’t know was that I missed a whole lot of it.  I also learned that I like Island in the Sky a lot more than The Needles. 

This trip though, I knew there was another road and I was going to see it all.  When we got there we headed towards Upheaval Dome first.

The turnoff is about halfway down the main road, just after the trailhead for Mesa Arch.  It’s only about five miles to Upheaval Dome and there are a few trails along this road.  Aztec Butte and Whale Rock are two of them.

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I would recommend Whale Rock for a quick hike (one-mile round-trip) with good views of Upheaval Dome and the canyons around you. They’re good choices with just one day in Canyonlands.

After that, we went to the Green River Overlook and I loved it!  There was only one other person there, so we basically had it to ourselves.  It was a little breezy, so we didn’t spend tons of time there, but I did get to learn a lot about the canyon and formations below.

From there we could see the Orange Cliffs, named by John Wesley Powell (Lake Powell), Cleopatra’s Chair, Glen Canyon, the Maze district, and White Rim Road

And that’s just what I remember, there was so much more.  It’s such a good view.  I can’t wait to drive the White Rim Road someday to actually be able to be down in the canyon.


Our experience on the Mesa Arch Trail

From here, we went to the main overlook and finished off the afternoon with a hike out to Mesa Arch, the most bucket list worthy sight in the park. Or at least the most popular. 

There were a couple other people on the trail that took their sweet time in front of the arch, but after they left, it was just us. 

I would highly recommend a visit to Canyonlands in February. The hike to Mesa Arch is nice and short and can be done in less than an hour if you don’t hang around at the arch too long. 

The trail is well marked with cairns and forms a loop, but you can go in and out the same way if you’d like.

If you want a good sunrise hike, consider Mesa Arch.  It will be really busy then since that’s usually the best time to see it, but it’s also really cool at sunset and there will probably be fewer people there at that time. 

The Mesa Arch Trail is just a loop and can be done in either direction. It’s an easy trail and easy to follow. Some of it is slick rock and some of it is sand. There are a few stairs on the trail, too.

It’s nice and short so it doesn’t take too long to do. I’ve hiked here twice and did the loop counter clockwise both times.

The trail itself isn’t thrilling but at the arch you get sprawling views of canyons below and the La Sal Mountains off in the distance. It really is one of the best views in Utah.


Final thoughts on visiting Canyonlands

(Keep reading for all the Mesa Arch deets). Overall, Canyonlands is really growing on me and I like Island in the Sky a lot more than I initially thought. 

I will definitely be back to do more of the hikes that I finally know exist.  After my first trip, I didn’t know of any hikes there other than Mesa arch. 

I just missed all the signs somehow.  If I could figure out how to insert a facepalm emoji, I would here, so just picture that. 

Plus, on the way up there are a few cool rock art sites like Intestine Man and Bartlett rock art.  There is so much cool rock art in Moab.

Anyways, definitely don’t skip Canyonlands on your trip to Moab.  I think it usually gets overlooked by nearby Arches by almost 810,000 visitors.  

If you have a little more time (or are heading from Moab to Monument Valley) make a stop in the Needles District and check out Newspaper Rock. 

Either way, try to make it to Canyonlands if you’re in the area and don’t skip the Mesa Arch trail.  It really is a great stop on a Utah road trip.


Mesa Arch etiquette

I will say, while there were only a couple people at Mesa Arch with us, they weren’t very considerate when it came to where they were.

They just kind of lingered directly in front of Mesa Arch which made getting pictures very difficult.

Don’t be like them. I’m not saying you can’t get close to it but if you do, just be aware of other people enjoying Mesa Arch with you and don’t linger in the way.

It’s a busy and popular trail and everyone wants pictures with Mesa Arch and of Mesa Arch so be considerate of everyone around you.

Island in the Sky canyonlands national park

National Park Goodies


Where is the Mesa Arch Trailhead?

The Mesa Arch Trailhead is 6.1 miles from the Island in the Sky Visitor Center and will be on the left just before the turn to Upheaval Dome.

It’s about 40 minutes from Moab, 1 hour 15 minutes from the Devil’s Garden Campground, and 30 minutes from Dead Horse Point State Park.

It’s well marked and there is a whole parking lot there, though it’s not huge so if you plan to hike to Mesa Arch at sunrise, get there early.


How long is the Mesa Arch Trail?

The Mesa Arch Trail is just 0.7 miles long and a loop so you can do it either way and get different scenery the whole time.

Is the Mesa Arch hike difficult?

Nope! It’s an easy trail with minimal elevation gain, only 88 feet. It’s not paved and has a few stairs but it’s easy to follow.


Is the Mesa Arch hike worth it?

Yes! If you want to avoid the sunrise crowds though, doing it mid-day or for sunset could help with that. I really enjoyed the trail but it’s not my favorite Canyonlands hike.

When is the best time to visit Mesa Arch?

I feel like the only bad time too go to Mesa Arch is mid-day in the summer just because it’s so hot.

Mesa Arch at sunrise is definitely the busiest and most popular but we went at sunset and I really enjoyed that.

I’ve also been in the middle of the day and liked it then, too. I’ve been there in the summer (we got lucky and it wasn’t scorching) and winter.

Fall is my personal favorite time in the Moab area so I would say go then, but winter was also really enjoyable.


Is hiking to Mesa Arch at sunrise worth it?

I’m going to go against every single person that’s ever been to Mesa Arch and say no. With a caveat.

If it’s your dream to see Mesa Arch at sunrise or you want those Mesa Arch sunrise pics, then don’t let me stop you. I’m sure it’s beautiful and you’ll be glad you went.

But hear me out on why I don’t think it’s worth going to Mesa Arch at sunrise.

  • Unless you’re camping in Canyonlands, you have to get up SO EARLY! Sunrise at Mesa Arch in July (when most people visit) is 6 AM, give or take. From Moab, even without traffic, it’s a 50 minute drive. Most people say get there 90 minutes before sunrise for a good spot since most people get there an hour before. This means you would have to leave Moab by 3:40 AM.
  • I think all Mesa Arch sunrise photos look exactly the same. I can’t think of one that stands out to me as unique or interesting or different. (I just Google Image’d it to make sure and my mind isn’t changed).
  • It’s busy! I would expect 30+ other photographers all set up to snap the same pictures. Some probably won’t stay long but if you do go then, hang around after they all start to leave.
  • Also keep in mind, I am not a sunrise gal. There are few things I want to wake up at 3 AM for and Mesa Arch is not one of them. Is it a cool arch? Yeah. Do I think think it’s worth getting up that early for? No.
  • I would be more willing to say Mesa Arch at sunrise is worth it in the winter though since you would get 1.5-2 more hours of sleep. AND yoou might get to see it snowy!

Canyonlands and Mesa Arch Hike FAQs

How long is Mesa Arch in Canyonlands? Mesa Arch is 27 feet long with a 1200 foot drop below.

Can you walk on Mesa Arch? Negative, ghostrider! You cannot walk on Mesa Arch even though it’s extremely easy to get on top of.

There are signs saying not to walk on it and that needs to be respected. Plus, it’s dangerous. While were at it, don’t sit on the edge of the cliffs here (or anywhere) either.

And be careful where you step near cliff edges when you’re taking pictures, especially if you’re backing up.

Is Delicate Arch or Mesa Arch better? I have too go with Delicate Arch. It’s much more impressive. And while the backdrop of Mesa Arch is great, I think Delicate Arch is cooler.

What is behind Mesa Arch? Buck Canyon, La Sal Mountains, Monster Tower, Washer Woman Arch, and Airport Tower can be seen behind Mesa Arch.


Other hikes in Canyonlands

There are actually a ton of hikes in Canyonlands, way more than I realized on my first few visits. I’m just talking about Island in the Sky hikes here but The Needles and The Maze districts are great for backpacking.

Two of the best hikes in Canyonlands, I think, are to White Rim Overlook and Murphy Point Overlook. They’re both pretty easy and were way less busy than the Mesa Arch trail, which is still worth doing.

A few other options include Aztec Butte and Upheaval Dome for easy/moderate hikes, and the Syncline Loop or Gooseberry Canyon for strenuous hikes.

Moab tours


Where to stay in Moab

Moab Under Canvas – Staying here is how I ended up moving out west! This is a glamping resort just outside of Moab, right by the turn off too Canyonlands.

Quality Inn – This is on the far end of Moab (away from Canyoonlands) but still close to town, though you will have to drive downtown. It’s nice enough but not fancy. I’d stay here again.

Lazy Lizard Hostel – If you’re on a major budget and want less than no frills, this is it. We spent a couple weeks here one winter and have stayed a couple of other times. They have dorms, private rooms, and cabins.

Sleep Inn – This is my favorite place we stayed in Moab because it’s right downtown. It’s fairly new so it’s nice but not like, 5 star nice. Some rooms have kitchen facilities if you want to cook for yourself.

Camping in Canyonlands

The Willow Flat Campground is the only campground in Island in the Sky and it’s open year-round. It has 12 first come, first serve sites that fill up quickly in the summer and fall.

There are toilets, picnic tables, and fire pits but no drinking water or other amenities so be sure to come prepared. This is the closest place to stay too Mesa Arch.


Other Canyonlands posts you may like

Have you been to Canyonlands?  What was your favorite hike there?   Did you go to Mesa Arch?

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