Photographing Mesa Arch is a bucket list item for many photographers. While the hike is simple enough, trying to find Mesa Arch at Canyonlands National Park in the dark can prove problematic. In light of that, I wanted to write this post to help you as you journey to photograph Mesa Arch for yourself! Finding Mesa Arch in the dark is possible when you follow these pointers (and learn what NOT to do!).
Finding Mesa Arch During the Day is Fairly Simple, but in the dark it gets a lot harder to navigate.
The hike to Mesa Arch at Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park during the day is pretty straightforward and easy to follow. It is a .6 mile loop and is highly trafficked. That said, when I hiked with my husband, son, and daughters for sunrise, the entire landscape shifted and we found the hike difficult to navigate. We got lost several times and almost turned around. Thankfully, we kept going. As we left Mesa Arch after the sunrise, I decided to take photographs of the trail to help fellow photographers prepare for their journey to Mesa Arch at Canyonlands National Park!
When we hiked to Mesa Arch in the dark to photograph the sunrise, the hike from the parking lot was pretty straightforward and easy. I used my cell phone flashlight to illuminate the path and we had no trouble ascending the trail.
Then, we hit a section where the path seemed to end. Confused, we shone our flashlight around trying to see where the path continued.
Everything went well on our hike until we hit this clearing
Then we hit the above clearing. In the dark, and with limited flashlight coverage, we had no idea which way to go. As I heard the hike to Mesa Arch was a loop, I supposed it didn’t matter, and so we headed towards the left and then pretty much straight forward.
As we continued forward, we hit a steep drop off (I took a photo of it from down below after sunrise). We could see a few camera lights way off in the distance and Mesa Arch but no way to get there. When I shone my flashlight down, it was a steep drop off. My nine-year old daughter started crying. Surely, we weren’t supposed to go straight down to get to the arch. We decided to retrace our steps back to the clearing.
To find Mesa Arch in the dark, when you hit the clearing, go right
We discovered that going right led us to a pathway that was better marked that we could follow. If you look at the above photograph, you can see a trail off in the distance between the trees.
Going through the trees to the right led us to this path. (This photo was taken as we were heading back to our car, however, you would do down this path towards Mesa Arch.)
To get to Mesa Arch, parts of the hiking trail are made up of slick rock
Navigating this section in the dark proved to be harder than I thought. As there was slick rock, it was hard to determine which part of the hike was the trail.
After the slick rock section, the trail curves around to the right.
Sadly, we didn’t know that and in the dark ended up climbing down this section of slick rock as shown above.
Look for cairns to help guide your way
While difficult to see in the dark, if you can shine your flashlight, you will see cairns (stacks of rocks) left by other hikers to help guide your way.
When you see the cairns, you will know you are on the right path.
The hiking path continues down more slick rock until you finally arrive at your destination. (Again, this photograph was taken while hiking back to our car, but it leads down to the arch.)
Arriving at Mesa Arch before sunrise it totally worth it!
Although we had trouble hiking to Mesa Arch in the dark, we eventually found it! It was worth navigating the slick rock and sketchy pathways to see this wonder! If you can hike to Mesa Arch the day before, it will make your journey easier. That said, hiking to Mesa Arch in the dark is totally possible and worth the trip!
I hope you have enjoyed learning more about how to find Mesa Arch in the dark at Canyonlands National Park and that you get to visit this amazing park for yourself! If not, at least you can see it through my photos! Thanks for reading and sharing my adventures with me! Happy travels!
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