Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah
The view from the overlook at Dead Horse Point State Park towers 2,000 feet above the gooseneck bend of the Colorado River and is one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world.
Located near the entrance to Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky), this small park offers awe-inspiring views that were created by millions of years of geologic activity by ancient oceans, freshwater lakes, streams, wind blown sand dunes and igneous activity.
Plants grow very slowly here due to the scarce water and extreme temperatures. Trees 15 feet tall may be hundreds of years old. Most desert animals are nocturnal, active only during cooler evenings and mornings.
The Legend of Dead Horse Point
The legend states that around the turn of the century the point was used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa top. Cowboys herded them across the narrow neck of land and onto the point. The neck was then fenced off with branches and brush. One time, for some unknown reason, horses were left corralled on the waterless point where they died of thirst within view of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below.
Always check the Dead Horse Point State Park website for current fees, hours and conditions.
Distance from Moab: 32 miles (51.5 km)
Directions from Moab: Drive 9 miles (14.5 km) northwest of Moab on US 191 and then 23 miles (37 km) southwest on Utah 313. Driving time to the visitor center from Moab is roughly 45 minutes.
Park Hours: Park open year-round, 6 am to 10 pm.
Visitor Center & Hours: Open year-round, has facilities for the disabled, an information area, exhibits, rest rooms, water, publications and souvenirs. The Visitor Center hours vary by season.
Photographing Dead Horse Point State Park
Low sun angles at sunrise and sunset add tremendous color and depth to the views from Dead Horse Point.
Because of the vast distances seen at the overlooks, morning views often have calm atmospheric conditions and thus have less haze than late day views.
Scattered clouds, and the shadows that they cast, can also add depth to any image. Passing storms often provide extremely dramatic lighting as well
The Dead Horse Point Overlook at the very end of the road offers two panoramic views. Walk along the Rim Trail around the viewpoint to select the scene you want to capture.
View #1 – The Bend
The bend of the Colorado River with the mesa at the center on the southwest is also called the Gooseneck. Use a moderate wide-angle lens to photograph the river bend.
“The bend is best photographed in the early morning, with the sun rising on the left, but sunset is equally beautiful. It’s also a good idea to photograph the bend before sunrise or after sunset to avoid strong shadows and catch the alpenglow. In fact, it’s so awe-inspiring that even mid-day photos can be impressive with a polarizer.” -Laurent Martres, Photographing the Southwest
View #2 – The Canyons and La Sal Mountains
The opposite side offers a view of the canyons with the La Sal Mountains in the background.
Use a zoom lens and any focal length to highlight various parts of this panoramic view. Morning or evening light is essential to capture the depth and contrast of the canyons.
Sunrise and Sunset are equally impressive. Because the Moab area is so packed full of amazing landscapes you’ll have to prioritize your shooting plans. You may not get the chance to shoot both the sunrise and sunset.
Go Early and pick your spot. Dead Horse Point doesn’t get quite as overrun with photographers as Mesa Arch but it’s still pretty popular and the summer months will see some fairly large crowds. With that in mind turn up with plenty of time to scope out the best vantage point. There are countless trees and rocks to choose for your foreground so don’t limit yourself to one location, go and explore to find interesting site lines and objects to place in your foreground.
Go during bad weather. There’s nothing more boring than a cloudless sky when it comes to shooting canyons and mesas. Sure, you want the clean side light from the sun as it rises/sets but it’s the clouds that make things interesting. If you get really lucky there might be thunderstorms and that’s when you’ll get some spectacular atmospherics. So if it’s raining and wet, take a chance and get out there with your rain cover and wait for a break in the clouds and maybe some rainbows. Everything will be wet so the colours will be more saturated and you’ll get deep dark black tones. Just remember to bring a polarizer and a lens cleaning kit.
Be there for Twilight. If you’re there before sunrise or after sunset you’ll get some very interesting light.
PHOTO TIP: The view from the pullout before the main parking lot also provides wonderful views.
We rely on our Camera Gear Checklist to make sure we pack the necessary, and possibly needed, equipment in our camera bag. We recommend the following items for Dead Horse Point photography:
- Lens for landscape
- Camera Backpack
- Circular Polarizer and Neutral Density Filter
- Cleaning Kit
- Remote Shutter Release
- Memory Cards and Batteries
Hiking & Biking Trails
The Dead Horse Point State Park hiking trails offer miles of pet-friendly developed trails, including a paved trail which provides easy access to some of the most scenic views.
Mountain Bikers will love the new Intrepid Trail System at Dead Horse Point. With slickrock sections, looping singletrack, sandy washes, and incredible scenery, the Intrepid Trail System provides a great taste of what Moab mountain biking is all about. This is the perfect ride for families and offers spectacular views of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park.
WHERE TO STAY NEAR DEAD HORSE POINT
Here are the best options for accommodations in Moab, Utah close to Dead Horse Point State Park.
- Purple Sage, Red Rocks Unit – This is our preferred accommodation since it’s walking distance to the Main Street shops and restaurants, it’s newly remodeled and always clean, it has bike storage, laundry, hot tub – and we love having a kitchen to cook our meals to save money!
- Moab Flats – great condos for the same reasons above.
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