Yellow Van Travels

Sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park

One of the things I love to do while traveling is catch the sunrise at some awesome place. Depending on the time of year this can make for an early morning, but an awesome experience. I had read in the Chimani Canyonlands app that Mesa Arch was THE place to see the sunrise because of the incredible way the arch lit up during the early golden hour. So of course I had to go.

title card: Sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park


How to Get There

Canyonlands is far larger and far less busy then Arches, but Mesa Arch is still a place many people want to see, especially at sunrise. Therefore, if you want to get a good view you need to get there early. We got an ok spot, but certainly not one of the prime locations, and we were probably 10 or 15 minutes before sunrise. This means if you are staying in the Moab area you will have to leave at least an hour before the predicted sunrise time.

It takes about half an hour to get to the Canyonlands Island in the Sky entrance and then you have a way to go inside the park. You enter on Island in the Sky Road which turns into Grandview Point Road in the park. You’ll reach the Mesa Arch parking lot just before the turn for Upheaval Dome. It will be on your left. It will be dark if you are going for sunrise, so be sure and watch for the signs or you might miss it.

The parking lot is a good size, but you might not get a spot if you are too late during a popular time of year. From the lot you will take a short trail to get to the arch. The trail is a loop so you can go either left or right. We took the right side to the arch and the left side back to the parking lot so that we would see the whole thing.

What You Will See

Mesa Arch is very cool arch because it is breaking away from a cliff, leaving a sheer drop underneath it. The main attraction for coming to see it at sunrise is that it will glow when the rising sun hits it. And it is quite a spectacular site. The best place to take pictures is right in front of the arch looking through it, but you can see the glow best from the right hand side. We were too late to get a center spot so this is where we ended up.

Ben looking out over Canyonlands
When we were there we saw many other photographers, most of whom packed in around the arch. There were also a number of people there just to catch the sunrise.
All the Photographers in front of Mesa Arch
If you go for sunrise this will likely be your first view of Canyonlands, and it is a great one. As the world lightens, spires of rock loom out of the darkness and you see the gashes in the earth materialize. Then the sun breaks above the horizon in one swift moment and Mesa Arch lights up with a spectacular glow.

Canyonlands rock towers in the sunrise
Mesa Arch glowing in the sunrise
Ben and Meagan at Mesa Arch
Panorama above Mesa Arch

Sum Up

If you can drag yourself out of bed early, this is one of the prettiest sights in Canyonlands. It provides a unique type of sunrise. Mesa Arch is very easy to get to, which makes it great for families, provided they are early risers. Because you will be coming in early before the ticket booth opens, make sure you go back to the visitor’s center when it opens and pay your entrance fee.