Dave and I visit Arches National Park near Moab, Utah at various times throughout year. Each season has its advantages and disadvantages to explore and enjoy the park.
Winter is the off-season at Arches. Read why we feel this is the perfect time to plan a trip.
If you’ve ever been to Arches during the summer or a holiday weekend, you know it gets crowded. You experience lines of cars to enter the park. The parking lots at the various points of interest are full and you must drive around and around until a space opens up. In the winter, it’s a completely different experience. Many times you have the parking lot to yourself!
You can find absolute quiet in the park during the winter. There are trails where you won’t see another person for hours. You can hear the birds sing, a raven’s wings cut through the air, the wind blowing and your own breathing.
The one downfall to this is there are no ranger-led hikes or campfire talks in the winter.
Taking photographs of the formations and arches in the park requires patience for the majority of the year. You wait at each arch while everyone takes their turn to snap a selfie or photograph.
The most popular areas where people can scramble around the arches, like the Windows Section and Turret Arch, you may never get a photo without people in the shot. During the winter, there are areas where you could have hours to photograph in complete solitude. It’s pure bliss! We scored photos of these areas without people this past winter, yay!
The one exception to this is Delicate Arch, especially at sunset. This is a popular destination for tourists and photographers so you still need patience and courtesy to get your token photo standing under the arch. Once the magical moment of sunset arrives, everyone cooperates and moves away from the arch so photos may be taken without people in the shot.
Walking around Arches during the summer is best in the morning or late afternoon due to the heat of the day. Most points of interest and hiking trails have little or no refuge from the sun. In the winter you can enjoy a full day in the park without sweating and heat exhaustion. It’s still important to stay hydrated and wear sunscreen.
For example, the hike to Delicate Arch is 3 miles round trip. During the summer it can be brutal as hikers often endure triple-digit temperatures while hiking uphill across sun-soaked red sandstone. In the winter, the daytime temperature is often a dry and sunny 40 or 50 degrees. Most of the hike is fully exposed to the sun, so with a jacket, the hiking weather is pleasant.
On the flip side, you may encounter ice, snow and mud in shady areas of the park. Darkness falls earlier at Arches National Park in the winter, which may limit the time you spend hiking and sightseeing.
Arches National Park is located at 4,085 – 5,653 feet above sea level so it gets cold in the winter, even if the sun is out. Take warm winter clothing and dress in layers so you’ll actually want to get out of the car when you get to the trailhead. Hiking boots should be warm and waterproof. No one wants soggy feet!
Most hiking trails remain open year-round. After a snowfall, popular trails like Delicate Arch and Devil’s Garden quickly become slippery from packed snow and ice and may require traction devices and trekking poles. Drifting snow can cover trail markers, making even “easy” trails harder to follow. You can see updated photographs of trail conditions at the visitor center.
Snow does fall in Arches National Park in the winter, but it rarely stays on the ground for more than 2 or 3 days. Photographers enjoy the varied landscape: one day there is a contrast of snow on redrock; and the next day the sun melts the snow and blue skies complement the sandstone formations.
The park puts on a show at sunrise and sunset. The colors are vibrant and the light creates a spectacular glow on the red rocks that cannot be missed.
A photograph isn’t about an object, it’s about light on an object. The Arches National Park website has a table with features listed indicating whether morning or late afternoon provides the best light for photography. For example, Turret Arch through the North Window at sunrise is spectacular, but does require a bit of scrambling over boulders.
Delicate Arch at sunset might be the most famous image to photograph in the park, and it’s difficult to compete for real estate along the edge of the bowl with hundreds of other spectators and photographers. During the winter the numbers are drastically reduced, making the experience relaxing and enjoyable.
The colder the air, the better the color. Cold air is clearer and there are often ice crystals in the air that cause light to diffract. You get vibrant, colorful pictures. Sunrise and sunset are the coldest part of the day.
Arches National Park is internationally recognized as one of the best places for stargazing because of its remote location, accessibility, altitude and clear skies. The slogan “Half the Park is After Dark” encourages visiting at night to simply Look up!
On a clear night, the sky is literally filled with stars. Areas off the main park road with few obstructions of the sky are best. The farther north you drive, away from the lights of Moab, the darker the sky will be.
Try stargazing at these areas:
Bonus: lodging in nearby Moab during the winter is readily available and affordable. There are no lines at the local restaurants and shops along Main Street.
Once you visit Arches National Park in the Winter, you will never again visit during the summer, and maybe avoid spring and fall as well.
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:
Read why we feel the US National Park Pass is a good deal.
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