Mesa Arch sunrise: all you want to know!
Welcome to this article about the Mesa Arch sunrise in which I’ll tell you all about how to to capture this beautiful phenomenon. When planning my four week USA road trip and googling pictures of must-sees in Utah, I quickly stumbled upon a gorgeous picture of the sun rising behind an arch. I figured this picture was taken in Arches National Park, but some further research learned me that it was actually taken in Canyonlands National Park. Instantly I knew that I needed to go to this park. And see this sunrise for myself. Maybe even attempt to get a shot like that while seeing the Mesa Arch at sunrise.
With the simple steps below that basically have nothing to do with photography itself, you will make a big step towards getting this awesome shot yourself and capturing the sunrise at Mesa Arch yourself. Anyone can do this, you don’t need to be a photographer. I am most certainly not and just tried a little to capture the Mesa sunrise. Here’s how I did it!
How to capture Mesa Arch sunrise in five simple steps
1. Book a flight to Salt Lake City, Denver or any other city that you can rent a car from. Then take the drive to Moab and find yourself a place to sleep.
2. Go to the Moab Visitors Center to inquire about sunrise time. The people behind the counter will most likely discourage you to drive all the way to Canyonlands to see the sunrise at Mesa Arch when you’re there in spring or summer. According to the gentleman I spoke to “I would never get the pictures I was looking for because the sun wasn’t high enough for that, rather go to Dead Horse State Park instead.” Don’t believe them, I’ve heard of people listening to this and they missed out on what I think was my prettiest sunrise ever.
3. Try to drive to Canyonlands when it’s still light to explore the route. I didn’t have time and ended up driving there in pitch dark, the roads around Moab aren’t lighted and there were no other cars out back when I visited. I missed the exit twice and it caused midnight stress and arguments while driving. So some exploration in advance may come in handy.
4. Wake up early! It’s about a 45-60 minute drive to Mesa Arch parking lot from Moab and from there another 15 minute walk to the arch. In my case the sun would rise just before 06.00 am, which meant I got up at 03.30, took off at 04.00 and got to Mesa Arch at about 05.00 am. I wanted to be sure I was in time as it would be a once in a lifetime for me.
5. When at the parking lot, put on your headlights and walk. You will not be the only one and not be the first one. The real photographers have gotten up way before you and have beaten you on the best spot. However, don’t be discouraged because there’s plenty of space for about 10 people at least without being in each other’s way. Summers are most busy so you may want to arrive super early.
By then you have arrived at Mesa Arch and if you haven’t been to this spot before to explore it a bit, you will have no clue what’s in the dark. Once the sun starts rising and the world starts lighting up, you will experience the grandeur of the vistas opening up behind Mesa Arch. Sunrise at Mesa Arch is just pure magic!
Oh and there’s one bonus piece of advice: enjoy it! Don’t watch the sunrise at Mesa Arch just through your lens but also take the time to really enjoy it. You won’t be sorry, this is a moment that will last in your memory forever!
Four things not do when going to see sunrise at Mesa Arch
1. Be late. I was about the 6th or 7th person to arrive at Mesa Arch, by the time I left and the sun had completely risen, there were about five times as much visitors. Most of them were too late. Too bad for them. Some even asked me if they could have some of my pictures.
2. Let yourself get discouraged by people saying it’s not the sunrise you will expect. If you keep expectations low, you will be surprised, just like I was.
3. Stand in front of any of the “professional” photographers. They will get really annoyed because unlike you, they have been waiting for this moment for their whole lives and they actually know that they just get one shot to capture that one moment they have been dreaming for ever since they were born. I would get annoyed if I were them, too.
4. Be patient. You will be there early and most likely will have to wait another hour. When the sun rises, it still takes a while to get the orange glow on the arch. In the beginning I thought “is this it?” but once the glow started … I couldn’t stop taking pics.
Now start planning your trip, make sure you are going to Canyonlands and enjoy the magic!
Conclusion and disclaimer
I hope you found this simple guide on how to catch the sunrise in Canyonlands at Mesa Arch useful. Feel free to ask if you have any questions. Note that this article was first posted in 2013 and updated in 20121.
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Nina in Holland
Very pretty photos!
Loved the sunrise photos through the arch.
Great photos, thank you 🙂
Definitely worth the effort, the light and image is stunning!
thanks Noel – happy to hear your comment!
Haha….what a great blog. Still haven’t been to arches, but the drill is the same in pokhara, nepal. At the first light we too thought…is this it? But then the sun break through and light up the mountains…beautifull. best sunrise i ve ever seen.
How much time on average the light is right to give that orange glow?
Maybe about 15 minutes only. It gets more and more intense as the sun rises, but I remember it was not very long … enjoy your visit though!
Love this: and thank you for it.
“3. Stand in front of any of the “professional” photographers. They will get really annoyed because unlike you, they have been waiting for this moment for their whole lives and they actually know that they just get one shot to capture that one moment they have been dreaming for ever since they were born.”
Hope they are listening 🙂
I hope to too 😉