Dave and I visit Arches a few times each year and are very familiar with the park. We share this Arches National Park photography tips because taking photos of the various points of interest is an important part of the experience. Our goal is to inform and inspire you to explore and photograph the stunning landscape that will surround you.
Arches National Park, Utah is a few miles north of Moab. The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches, hundreds of stone pinnacles rising into the sky, immense rock fins and large balanced rocks.
There are a variety of things to do at the park. Many visitors enjoy the scenery of red rock formations and arches from the car. Others enjoy family-friendly hikes around the arches. Those who want a bit of quiet away from the crowds will hike the longer and more primitive trails.
Avoid the long lines at the entrance gate and congestion at the parking lots by planning to arrive before 8 am or after 3 pm. Enjoy the park and hiking trails in cooler temperatures in the late afternoon and evening. Evening light is always best for photography as well.
From March through October, the roads, parking lots and trails are crowded and many times filled to capacity. The following holidays and weekends are especially busy:
Easter week & Jeep Safari (date varies: in late March or April)
Memorial Day (last Monday in May)
Labor Day (first Monday in September)
Utah Education Association break (dates vary: usually mid-October)
We recommend visiting Arches National Park in the Winter during the off-season – read our 5 reasons to visit during the winter.
The popular trailhead parking lots like The Windows, Delicate Arch, and Devil’s Garden are usually full between 9 am and 4 pm. Plan to visit these areas early morning or late afternoon. The light at those times is best for photography, and you won’t be hiking in the heat of the day.
When parking lots are full, please remember:
Dave and I like to ‘step off the sidewalk’ to find creative compositions for our photography. At Arches National Park, the land is beautiful, but very fragile. If you step off the trail or away from the pullout, you may damage delicate habitat. When biological soil crust is damaged, it can take centuries to recover. Avoid the soil crust and only walk on slickrock or dirt as you explore.
Don’t forget to purchase the US National Park Pass – it’s a good deal!
We rely on our Camera Gear Checklist to make sure that all necessary, and possibly needed, equipment is packed in our camera bag ready to go. We recommend the following items for Arches National Park photography:
The full 43-mile scenic drive, including the spur roads, takes 2 to 3 hours. Add more time if you plan to do any serious photography or hiking. The road is paved and offers photo opportunities from the pullouts along the road or in the parking lots. Some of the arches and landmarks can be reached by a short walk from the parking lot.
From the parking area follow the wide, paved trail for about 100 yards to the viewpoint of Park Avenue. It’s an impressive view, but to understand why it’s called Park Avenue, you must follow the trail down and walk between the immense sandstone monoliths on either side. The real Park Avenue in New York City is a wide boulevard with soaring skyscrapers on either side.
PHOTO TIP: The best time to photograph Park Avenue is middle to late afternoon when the valley is in shadow and the sun lights up the east wall.
Balanced Rock is located next to the park’s main road. It is a popular feature in the park. The easy .3 mile round trip trail allows you to hike a full loop around this landmark. The impressive fact about this feature is the balanced, upper portion of the rock is as large as three school buses!
Iconic Delicate Arch is usually at the top of the list when visiting Arches National Park. The impressive free-standing arch is a famous geologic wonder. This arch cannot be viewed from the main road and requires a bit of walking to see if from a distance. Walk 100 yards along a level path at Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint to see the arch one mile away. There is an Upper Viewpoint that takes you a little closer, requires walking ½ mile with some stairs.
The trail to see the arch up close is 3 miles roundtrip and climbs 480 feet in elevation. The hike is mostly uphill and takes 1 to 1 ½ hours if you are reasonably fit.
Delicate Arch is a main attraction at Arches for tourists and photographers. When photographing the arch, please practice patience and courtesy. Sunset is the time most photographers choose to line up along the bowl waiting for the magical moment. There could be hundreds of people in the small area during the summer.
Narrow canyons and maze-like fins comprise the Fiery Furnace. Explore the area safely on a 3-hour, ranger-led hike (make reservations in advance). Learn the history of the park as you scramble over slickrock boulders, walk through sandy trails, squeeze between rocks and navigate narrow ledges.
If that sounds too adventurous or you don’t have time, the viewpoint is a short walk from the parking lot. From the Fiery Furnace overlook you see an area thick with fins, spires and arches.
PHOTO TIP: Book a guided tour with a small group (not the National Park Service) that allows time to photograph without the crowds of a large group.
Hike 1.6 miles along the Devil’s Garden Trail to see Landscape Arch. It is longer than a football field and the thinnest part of the archway is 8 feet thick. As you walk along the trail, the arch shows you different perspectives. There used to be a short trail that went under the arch, but falling rock from the underside has made it too dangerous for visitors to walk beneath the arch.
The Devil’s Garden Trail is 7.2 miles round trip, including all spur trails, making it the longest maintained trail at Arches National Park. The largest concentration of significant arches in the world is found in the Devil’s Garden area. Most tourists hike an easy 1 mile to the famous Landscape Arch. There are spur trails to see Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch before arriving at Landscape Arch. Those who want some adventure will continue along the trail that requires climbing up and over long, narrow sections of slickrock, called fins, with steep drop-offs. This section of trail leads to Navajo Arch, Partition Arch and Double O Arch.
The Windows area and arches can be seen from the parking lot, but to appreciate their magnitude, hike inside and around the arches. The easy, 1 mile round trip trail takes you to the North and South Windows, also known as the Spectacles. Walk along the primitive trail from the South Window to the back side to see a more attractive view of these arches. Get here early if you want photos of the arches without people. The Windows area is easily accessible and very popular.
Turret Arch is one of the best places to watch the sun rise and see the light dancing across the rocks. And it’s also a good location to see the brilliant color in the sky as the sun goes down in the evening.
Double Arch consists of two arches that share the same stone foundation. It was formed by downward water erosion instead of side-to-side water erosion like most of the other arches in the park. As you hike to Double Arch look to your left to see the Parade of Elephants, a rock formation that resembles a herd of elephants holding each others’ tails. Enjoy the short, leisurely trail.
On a hot summer day, this is one stop in the park that usually has an area to provide shade, cool sand and fun for kids. The easy hike takes you to a sandy area with many places to explore, play and hide. Do not climb on top of the arch as that’s against park policy.
PHOTO TIP: The sandstone fins are worthy of photographs too, not just the arches. The fins at Sand Dune Arch provide wonderful landscape photos.
On a clear night, linger in the park after dark and look up to see the sky bursting with stars. Arches is recognized as an International Dark Sky Park. The park’s accessibility, remote location, altitude and weather are why they say “Half the Park is After Dark”.
Photographers from around the world come to Arches to photograph the Milky Way.
Good vantage points for stargazing at Arches National Park:
Garden of Eden Viewpoint
We use Airbnb (here’s a $40 coupon) or Hotels.com to rent accommodations that have a kitchen. Cooking our meals saves us quite a bit of money compared to eating out, and it’s much healthier! If we can’t find somewhere to stay with a kitchen, we find places that have a microwave and fridge at the minimum. You would be surprised the meals you can prepare in a microwave. Here are the best options for accommodations in Moab, Utah close to Arches.
We utilize Pinterest to organize the information when researching travel locations. Photo Jeepers has a US National Parks and Arches National Park board where we only pin things we have read and find worthwhile. Use our board to help you plan a trip to Arches or any other US National Park. Save this to your travel and photography boards and share with your friends!
Resources for outdoor adventure we recommend and use:
Watch our Arches National Park video where we share more travel and photography tips about the park.