Visiting: 24 Hours in Arches National Park, Utah
Updated: Mar 18, 2018
Here are the points of interest and best photography spots in Arches National Park that you can summarize into a one day trip. A relatively small and accessible park, in my opinion, best during winter months because of the low volume, well, lower volume, of tourism.
Cell service will fail you in the park so.....First things first, here is a printable map of Arches National Park. https://www.nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/upload/ARCHmap.pdf
A 3 hour drive from Salt Lake City, a friend and I grabbed coffee, filled the tank, and hit the road at 7:30am. A quick Joe Rogan podcast and we were entering the park at 11am. I must mention this side note, podcasts and road trips go together like... lamb and tuna fish. (Shout out to Rob Schneider) You can only listen to so much music, and podcasts plug you into hours of intelligent (or comedic) conversation where you can learn new insight, ideas, and perspectives. Time can fly, because you literally are a fly on the wall. My favorite by far is "The Joe Rogan Experience". http://podcasts.joerogan.net
When you pay your $25 fee to enter the park, first stop at Main Street.
You can hike down into the canyon and there are multiple left/right canyons to wander through. Something cool to try is echo-location. While among the tall, flat walls, make an abrupt noise and hear the sound waves echo back to you at their different distances.
This layered view point looks like artist inspiration for the Land Before Time, and for whatever reason I can't help but imagine dinosaurs passing by in the distant fields. Insert Jurassic Park theme song...
As you move on, you will drive past and through the massive Courthouse Towers, meander though the Petrified Dunes, and then work your way up the hill. If you have kids with you, avert their attention toward the La Sal mountains to the east. Because among the hoodoos to the west of the road, this guy is standing unapologetically tall. Please call your doctor 10 million years ago. This rock ... needs to chill.
The next parking lot will be Balanced Rock, followed by a fork in the road towards the Windows. In my opinion, Windows is one of the best spots in the entire park. Elevated, every direction you look is something amazing. Plan to spend a couple hours up here. Almost no hiking is required whatsoever, there are actually stairways built into the paths, so also expect a lot of tourists.
Turret Arch from Balanced Rock Parking Lot
Turret Arch is the smallest of the three arches you'll see on the Windows Loop Trail, but it is a distinct castle-like rock formation that includes a spire (hence the name). The views of the north and south Windows from inside the Turret Arch create awesome photo opportunities especially during sunset as the shadows grow and the light turns red. There is a spot under Turret Arch where you can fit 3 arches into one photo.
The Windows are a short walk, and one of the most popular photo spots in the entire park. It's the largest (and safest) archway to stand under for your instagram. Or do as my friend does in this shot, and pretend you are lost in the deepest of thoughts. Who am I? What is life? Do I prefer Easy Mac?
Same Spot, (North Window) Reverse Angle
Double Arch is on the opposite side of the this parking lot, and you will see the trail before you can exit. Double Arch is also a short hike, and almost indescribably massive. There are hundreds of photo spots I could mention, but keep in mind this is a 24 hour summarization of the Park.
At this point, as it was for my friend and I on this trip, it is most likely 3 or 4 pm and you have some decisions to make. Pick one and only one. You can head to Devil's Garden, or to Delicate Arch. Both require some hiking and will take the rest of your day.
On this trip, we chose to view Delicate Arch for the sunset. The hike is 1.8 miles up hill, so bring some water. In peak tourism months, there is a full line of people taking turns underneath the arch. Jump, give a peace sign, turn your back to the camera with arms in the air....whatever. Don't expect a clean (human-less) shot of Delicate Arch unless it is winter.
But first, at the bottom of the hike, there is a quick left immediately after you walk across the bridge to the Wolfe Ranch Petroglyphs. Ute and or Paiute Indians carved these designs after the mid-1600's. I recommend doing this as it will only take 15 minutes of your time.
If you aren't interested in hiking too far, there is a Delicate Arch viewing area from across the canyon. Just continue down the road past the main parking lot. A very short hike and this view offers a very different perspective of the arch, you can really see the erosion pattern, and if you like your space...you will have much more room to yourself on this side.
Since we made the trip on a holiday, Valentines Day, and near freezing temperatures in mid-30's, we anticipated the park would be pretty empty. So sunset at Delicate Arch was the plan all along. We got so lucky as the fog cleared, almost no company up top, and got a firecracker of a sunset.
A little time lapse video of before I converted my camera over to take photos.
Valentine's Day Sunset, 2018, Delicate Arch
After we made the hike down, we headed over to the Devil's Garden campsites (The only campsite Inside the park.) We knew there would be sites available due to how empty the park was, but it is recommended to either reserve sites in advance, or claim your site before noon. The sites cost $25, and be sure to bring your own firewood! They will not have any for sale inside the park. There are only 24 campsites available, otherwise, head out of the park to Moab.
This...is an important bit of information. For whatever reason they don't tell you this online.
Once the sun goes down, if there are no clouds, you will be treated to more stars than E! News.
Check the moon phase, because on a moonless or new moon night, you can watch satellites go by, get a clear glimpse of the Milky Way, and without a doubt, feel your life problems wash away as you realize how tiny you really are.
If you are lucky enough with the weather. It's night photography time. Any of the arches make for a good location to have the galaxy stripe through. Or many rock formations act as beautiful foreground objects and/or silhouette shapes.
We unfortunately had clouds rolling through all night, as you can see here,
blurred and glowing orange from the ambient light of our campfire.
We still headed out to Double Arch to have some fun. Be prepared to see some eyes glaring at you from the light of your headlamps and flashlights. It can really freak you out until you discover it's deer...or potentially a savage bunny.
We used the light of a headlamp to paint the rock faces of double arch.
Double Arch with a the White Balance set to cool tones for a blue-ish sky with silhouettes
Better luck next time with the night sky....
And that, ladies and gentlemen, will wrap up a one day trip at Arches National Park.
We woke up, packed up the tents, french pressed some coffee, made some bacon, and were back in Salt Lake City by noon the following day.
Greg Harlow is a traveling photographer and videographer residing in Salt Lake City, Utah. Web: gregharlowmedia.com
P: (605) 430-9769
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