One of the things Greg and I love the most about national park vacations is getting to do something unusual, something out of our ordinary daily routine. Often, that includes waking up early or staying up extra late to watch sunrise or sunset. We’ve made a point of it since our trip to Haleakala National Park on Maui.
Our 2021 Utah Road trip to Arches and Canyonlands National Park was no exception. Before we left, we scoured the travel blogs for the best places to watch sunrises and sunsets in the Moab area. On our first night, we caught a terrific sunset in Arches National Park — one of our favorites in all of our park travels.
Today we’re sharing our pre-trip research in a handy guide to all-things sunset in Arches National Park.
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When to Arrive for Sunset in Arches National Park
Catching sunset at Arches National Park takes a little extra planning and persistence. The park continues to be one of the busiest of the Utah Big 5. While the park service continues to debate a reservations and shuttle system to ease parking challenges, visitors need to plan for large crowds and wait times.
When we were in Moab, the park temporarily closed the gates for several hours in the afternoon. Don’t get caught in a long line of traffic waiting for a parking spot at sunset. We recommend spending some time elsewhere in Moab and then returning to the park after 3 PM for easier entrance and parking.
What to Bring
Assuming your goal for sunset is to capture some great photos and enjoy the landscape, it goes without saying that you’ll want to bring a good camera and tripod. If you need some additional national park photography tips, check out our series with National Park Patch Lady Sandra Ramos!
Other things to bring:
- A blanket and extra layers — even in the summer months, temperatures drop quickly as the sun goes down.
- A sturdy camp chair
- Board games, playing cards or a national park trivia — In Arches you may need to stake out your spot for sunset an hour or more ahead. Our travel-size cribbage board is never too far away before sunset.
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The 5 Places to Watch Sunset in Arches National Park
1. Delicate Arch
The overwhelming favorite spot for sunset in Arches National Park is Delicate Arch. It’s one of the most photographed spots in the entire National Park Service and the spotlight of almost all the tourism advertising in Utah. And while we certainly added to the list here, sunset at Delicate Arch comes with some caveats.
First, if a quiet, undisturbed sunset experience is what you’re after, Delicate Arch is NOT for you. On most days of the year, a few hundred people make the trek out to the arch for sunset. Expect lots of cameras and lots of tourists. Expect to wait for a parking spot. Expect a heavily trafficked out and back trail. Expect other humans crawling on and under the arch (and potentially into your perfect sunset photo.)
I know, we sound snobby and a little jaded. But until the National Park Service can find an equitable solution to the issues of overcrowding, sunsets in places like Delicate Arch are more challenging. We actually recommend hiking out in the early morning. The crowds tend to be a bit smaller and trend more towards the dedicated hikers.
Just consider this a fair notice. If you know the situation you’re heading into, then by all means, we think it’s a great spot.
But just know it’s not the only spot for sunset in Arches. The rest of the spots on this list are just as beautiful and far less crowded.
Location: Wolfe Ranch Parking Area
Distance: 3 mile out and back hike to the arch.
2. Balanced Rock
We checked out Balanced Rock for our first sunset spot in the park. The iconic overview offers some brilliant backdrops for sunset photos. The rock formations here catch the light in pretty spectacular ways just before sunset and there’s lots of space to spread out along the loop trail.
During some conditions, you may also catch the glow off the La Sal Mountains in the distance behind Balanced Rock.
Location: Balanced Rock Trailhead Parking Area
Distance: 0.3 miles
3. Fiery Furnace
While you’ll need to arrange a permit from the National Park Service to get there, the word from the locals is that one of the best spots for sunset in Arches National Park is Fiery Furnace. This remote, hike-in-only area of the park gets its name from the reddish glow of the rocks at sunset. The 2-mile hike is challenging, not recommended for children under 5, and requires strong navigational skills – GPS won’t help you among the towering spires and winding slot canyons out here.
Just know where you’re heading and make a solid plan for getting back out safely before dark.
Location: Fiery Furnace Parking Area
Distance: 2-mile loop hike
4. Broken Arch
If you’re staying in the Devil’s Garden Campground in Arches National Park, one of the best options for sunset leaves right from the campground loop. Our recommendation for sunset from the campground is the Broken Arch trail, departing from Site 40, out approximately 1.7 miles to Broken Arch.
Even though Broken Arch is one of the least visited front country arches in the park, it was one of our favorites. Most visitors see the name “broken” and assume the arch has already deteriorated. In fact, it’s still connected by a thin, precarious rock, with a notch out of it–giving it the name “broken.” What we love most about Broken Arch is how close you’ll get to it. The trail leads right under the formation, offering some unique views and stunning perspective at sunset.
Not staying in the campground? You can still reach Broken Arch via the Sand Dune Arch Trailhead. You’ll walk a bit farther, but with the chance to catch the afternoon glow throughout the surrounding area.
Location: depart from Devil’s Garden Campground or Sand Dune Arch Trailhead
Distance: 1-3 miles depending on departure
5. Courthouse Towers & Park Avenue
Our final pick for a great spot for sunset is the Courthouse Towers and Park Avenue area. It’s hard to beat the late evening glow from these monumental formations. Park in either the Park Avenue trailhead or the parking area at Courthouse Towers and then get out on foot. You might not see the sun hitting the horizon from all areas, but you’ll still have a chance to watch the light change on the monoliths. The nearby La Sal Mountain Overlook is another great spot if the two parking areas for Park Avenue are already full.
Location: Park Avenue Parking Area or Courthouse Towers Parking Area
Distance: 1 mile
Stay for the night skies!
If you’re already in the park for sunset, we recommend staying a bit longer for the night skies. Arches National Park and nearby Moab has some of the most famous night skies in Utah. In 2019, the park was certified as an International Dark Sky Park. Some of our favorite spots for stargazing in the park include:
- Panorama Point
- Balanced Rock
- The Windows Arch Trail
- Garden of Eden