In 2017 we met a fellow Park Chaser in the campground at Denali National Park. Like us, he was making his way through his list of national parks and happy to share all about his adventures. When we asked if he had a favorite park so far (which is always a hard question for us to answer), he mentioned Canyonlands National Park in Utah. In particular, he mentioned catching sunrise at Mesa Arch as one of his lifechanging park moments.
Like most of our chats about #parkchasing, it left a big impression–and another destination to add to our travel bucket list.
In April 2021, we finally checked off Canyonlands National Park and a hike to Mesa Arch.
While we didn’t make it for sunrise, the destination certainly didn’t disappoint.
Here’s our hiking recap:
Table of Contents
About the Mesa Arch Trail
Mesa Arch is an out-and-back hike in Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah. A front-country hike in the Island in the Sky area, it’s one of the most accessible for hikers of different abilities and most popular hikes in the park.
Distance and Difficulty
The Mesa Arch hike is a 0.5 mile lollipop loop hike rated as Easy by the National Park Service. The trail is well-traveled, relatively flat, and well-marked. Even though it’s not the most strenuous or remote, the view of Canyonlands’ most iconic arch is worth the 15-30 minutes it takes to hike the trail.
The trail for Mesa Arch departs from the Mesa Arch Trailhead. From the Island in the Sky visitor’s center, travel 6.3 miles to the well-marked trailhead parking area. The pullout is immediately off to the left side of the road and has a vault toilet and approximately 35 parking spaces.
Indigenous Roots at Mesa Arch
As part of our commitment to a more Diverse NPS, Park Chasers wants to acknowledge that the lands we now enjoy were once the home of many different indigenous communities.
According to the National Park Service (nps.gov):
“Canyonlands has been home to people for over 10,000 years. Traditions and ways of life developed and changed as cultures interacted with each other and the landscape. People moved and migrated. They communicated stories and passed on knowledge. Canyonlands is a living, dynamic cultural landscape that many still call home today. .”
The lands around Mesa Arch and Canyonlands National Park once belonged to members of the:
Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians
Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah
Pueblo of Acoma
Pueblo of Isleta
Pueblo of Jemez
Pueblo of Laguna
Pueblo of Nambé
Pueblo of Picuris
Pueblo of Pojoaque
Pueblo of San Felipe
Pueblo of Sandia
Pueblo of Santa Ana
Pueblo of Santa Clara
Pueblo of Taos
Pueblo of Tesuque
Pueblo of Zia
Pueblo of Zuni
San Juan Southern Paiute
Southern Ute Indian Tribe
Ute Indian Tribe of Uintah and Ouray Reservation
Ute Mountain Ute Tribe
What You'll See at Mesa Arch
From the trailhead, hike a short distance up to the top of the bluff. From here you’ll travel another quarter mile downward on the slick rock toward Mesa Arch. The Arch sits immediately on the edge of Buck Canyon. As you look through the arch, you’ll see a 1,200 foot drop off into the canyon below.
During our April visit, the snow-capped La Sal Mountains were also visible through the arch.
When to Hike to Mesa Arch
Sunrise is by far the most iconic time to hike to Mesa Arch. Catching the sun rising between the horizon and the arch might be one of the most popular photographs in the NPS (and certainly in Utah).
We arrived at the arch around 10 AM, too late for sunrise, but in time to get a view of the area and to take our turn getting our photo taken in front of the arch.
Just remember to be respectful near the arch. Everyone’s there to take the same photo, so it’s helpful to form a queue and be patient. Don’t climb on the arch and watch the rim–it’s a long way down out the other side!