In researching Arches National Park for our 2021 Utah road trip, we kept seeing notifications and alerts about the incredible night skies. Turns out, stargazing in Arches National Park is one of the most popular activities (and one we’d highly recommend you add to your itinerary!)
In 2019, Arches National Park was designated an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association. That means stargazing in Arches is among some of the best spots in the world, and the park takes active steps to limit light pollution that reduces night sky quality.
During our April road trip, we stayed in the park two evenings for sunset and then waited for the opportunity to test our night sky photography skills. While we’d like to say we had bragging rights to some great night photos in Arches, we’re still honing our skills in that department.
Either way, we had a chance to experience the dizzying views of the Milky Way and the quiet stillness of nighttime in the park. Today we’re posting our guide to great parking spots for stargazing in Arches National Park.
The 5 Best Places for Star Gazing in Arches National Park
#1 - Panorama Point
One of the first spots we stopped for stargazing was Panorama Point. Located in the heart of the park between Balanced Rock and the turn-off for Delicate Arch, sometimes this overlook and picnic area can get passed up. However, it’s one of the common spots to see night sky photographers set up and where stargazing ranger programs are often held.
Perks of this spot: Plenty of parking, good expansive views in all directions, and far enough from the main park road to avoid the light pollution from passing traffic.
Directions: From the park entrance, travel on the main park road for 10.1 miles. The turn off for the point is on the right with a large loop parking area.
#2 - Balanced Rock Parking Area
Balanced Rock is one of the most iconic photos in all of Arches National Park. It’s also a great spot for stargazing. The immediate parking area for Balanced Rock doesn’t have a ton of parking spots and has a lot of headlights passing by. But there’s a much larger picnic area across the main park road (turn-off for Willow Flats) that has ample parking and avoids the headlights. Check out this spot for a great sunset followed by some incredible stargazing.
Directions: From the visitor’s center entrance, follow the main park road for 8.8 miles. The Balanced Rock parking area is on the right of the road; turn off for Willow Flats on the left.
#3 - Devil's Garden Campground
If you’re lucky enough to snag camping reservations at Devil’s Garden Campground, the only campground in Arches National Park, you’re in for some extra-special star gazing. Save the driving in and out of the park and count the stars from the comfort of your campsite.
Directions: From the main park entrance, travel 16 miles on the main park road. Watch for the markers for Devil’s Garden Road. The turn off for the campground will be on the right before you reach the Devil’s Garden trailhead area.
#4 - The Windows Area
Although the Windows area is by far the most visited area of Arches National Park, after dark it’s a great spot to catch the stars. Far enough from the light pollution of Moab, but still closer to the park entrance, there’s plenty of parking at the Windows Area as well.
It’s one of the popular places for sunset as well, so arrive early and stay for night skies.
Directions: Follow the main park road roughly 9 miles in to the turn-off on the right side for Windows Road. Turn and drive an additional 2.4 miles to the trailhead parking areas. Parking is available for both the Windows and for Double Arch.
#5 - Garden of Eden/Owl Rock Viewpoint
If the parking areas at the Windows are full, consider stopping one overlook sooner on the Windows Road at the Garden of Eden Viewpoint. With fewer crowds and a slightly different vantage, you’ll be treated to a quieter stargazing experience. Be sure to pull out away from the traffic so you’re not bothered by the headlights passing on the road.
Directions: Follow the main park road roughly 9 miles to the turn-off on the right side for Windows Road. Drive an additional 1.1 miles to the overlook on the left.
Things to Know Before You Go
If this is your first time planning a star-gazing adventure in a national park, a few tips can help you and your family plan the best experience. Here’s what you need to know:
- Arches National Park is one of the busiest national parks in the entire NPS. While the park is open year-round 24 hours per day, expect long lines and potential park closures if the rangers believe the park has reached capacity. There’s generally not an issue in the late afternoon and evening, but be aware for the rest of your travel plans.
- It takes 20-30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to darkness for peak star viewing. Park away from headlights and dim the brightness of electronics. Then give yourself plenty of time to get the full view of the night sky.
- It’s critical to remain on the trails in Colorado Plateau parks like Arches National Park. The soils here form a biological crust with living creatures working to preserve moisture in the harsh environment. If you do not have the skills or equipment to remain on the trails after dark, stick to roadways and parking areas to avoid damaging the soil.
- Arches National Park hosts several stargazing ranger-led programs. We highly recommend the NPS night sky programs and have attended several during our travels (Badlands and Hawaii Volcanoes were two of our our favorites!) Check with a park ranger at the visitor’s center when you arrive about the current schedule.
What to Pack for Stargazing in Arches National Park
Although your eyes are the only things required for stargazing, we’ve found it helps to pack a few things to make the trip just a bit more enjoyable. Check out the links (affiliate) below to some of our favorite items to bring along on our night photography and stargazing outings:
Red Light Flashlight – As we mentioned above, white light can greatly diminish your ability to see in the dark. Using a red light flashlight or headlamp with red-light settings can improve your night vision substantially on the trail.
Warm Clothes or a Blanket – Even desert parks like Arches can get chilly after dark. We’ve forgotten to pack warmer clothes or a blanket to curl up with. Don’t let your body temperature be the reason you miss out on the best night skies! Our favorite packable travel blanket for star gazing comes from Rumpl.
Night Sky Chart – While we know the basics of the night sky from some of the ranger programs we’ve attended, we always like having a night sky guidebook along. Even basic constellation charts can make an evening of stargazing in the park more interesting.
Binoculars – Since there’s not a lot of room for full-sized telescopes in our camping gear, we tend to improvise while stargazing in the parks. We always carry a pair of good-quality, light-weight binoculars in our camera bag for wildlife viewing. They’re surprisingly helpful at night as well. Not what you’d expect from a high-powered telescope, but worth bringing along if you have them.
Night Photography Equipment – A few years ago we were lucky enough to get some help from National Park Patch Lady Sandra Ramos to put together some guides to night photography in the parks. For more information about what to pack for taking the best night photos, check out our full post “Half the Park is After Dark: How to Take Better National Park Photos at Night.”
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Best Spots for Sunset in Arches
Many of the parking areas and overlooks that are great for night sky viewing are also good spots to watch sunset. If you’re looking for a late-afternoon place to park, have some dinner with a view, and stay for stargazing check out our guide to the 5 Best Places to Watch Sunset in Arches National Park.
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