How to spend a winter day in Arches National Park

Nestled just a few miles outside Moab, UT, Arches National Park will see upwards of 2 million people in 2020. But on an initially cold and snowy Wednesday morning, I nearly had the National Park to myself.

I was up by 6 am to get to the park for a lovely sunrise. However, low-hanging fog and chilly temps tossed that idea out the window. But, as every photographer must, I adapted and made the best of it.

Turret Arch and Double Arch

As I drove into the park, the light was fighting to be seen through the clouds surrounding my Prius. Twenty minutes later, I was pulling into Turret Arch and the Windows parking lot, still shrouded in the eery semi-light, semi-dark environment.

The walk up to the arch, maybe a half-mile at best, was icy, and I hadn’t changed into boots — so I moved slowly, making sure I didn’t become the first ice victim of the day.

The conditions, though, turned out to be pretty favorable, and because I was alone, I didn’t have anyone ruining shots for me. So, after taking enough at Turret Arch, I headed to the Windows – both North and South – and checked them out. Since coming back, I’ve seen different angles and shots, which would have been fantastic, but the snow would have made them a bit more challenging.

Utah Arches National Park Turret Arch Utah Arches National Park South Window Utah Arches National Park South Window Utah Arches National Park North Window

In the same parking lot is Double Arch. After quickly warming up in the car, I headed to the structurally impressive arch, which isn’t more than a quarter of a mile walk. But, again, I was the only one there for the first 20 minutes or so. Usually, this place would have dozens and dozens of people in it. But this morning, I had it all to myself (and it means no need to photoshop people out of it).

Utah Arches National Park Double Arch Utah Arches National Park Double Arch Utah Arches National Park Double Arch

Fiery Furnace

The Fiery Furnace is a labyrinth of slot canyons, among other things, in Arches. Due to this, hiking in it is by permit only (and I believe it’s ranger-led, too), ensuring no one gets lost. With the snow dusting, it made for a pretty cool contrast. I did not have a permit, so I only made a quick pitstop.

Utah Arches National Park Fiery Furnace

Sandstone Arch and Broken Arch

By 10 am, I had arrived at Sandstone Arch – a place I had been when I was 5 years old – but I didn’t remember at all. I wasn’t even sure what the appropriate route was. Eventually, I found it and enjoyed the solitude of the arch. This was a 5-minute walk from the parking lot, entirely flat.

Utah Arches National Park Sandstone Arch Utah Arches National Park Sandstone Arch

The walk to Broken Arch, maybe a mile long, was empty and mostly underwhelming. I had no idea what I was heading towards. Was this arch completely broken? Had something fallen off? I think part of it fell off, but still not fully sure.

Utah Arches National Park Broken Arch

Landscape Arch and Double-O Arch

The nice part about Arches, at least in winter when it’s less crowded, is how close everything is. Sandstone Arch is only a mile from Landscape and Double-O, which helps reduce drive time. Once I had a quick snack and filled my backpack, I headed out. In all, it’s approximately four-miles round trip. One mile out to Landscape Arch and then another mile or so to Double-O.

This took a little bit longer in the snow, but the sights were well worth it to have the land covered in white.

Landscape Arch is tremendous due to its sheer size. And then the Double-O arch is ridiculously pretty, especially in the snow and glow of the sun.

Utah Arches National Park Landscape Arch Utah Arches National Park Double O Arch Utah Arches National Park

Delicate Arch

This is the gem of the park. Delicate Arch may be one of the most photographed landmarks in National Park history. It’s iconic for sunset, and that’s exactly what I did.

At three miles round trip, you’ll break a sweat walking up, but it’s hardly a tiresome hike at all.

During the crowded months, this place would be swarming, turning your image into something closer to Times Square than the middle of nature. However, on this day, I had no complaints about who was in my photo.

As the sun slowly made its way to the horizon, the two dozen or so people who were present were given a helluva sunset.

Utah Arches National Park Delicate Arch Utah Arches National Park Delicate Arch Sunset Utah Arches National Park Delicate Arch Sunset

The walk down the hill was quick, hitting the parking lot just as darkness took over the park. Overall, I had been in Arches for nearly 12 hours, seeing millions of years of erosion.

The lesson of the Arches trip

I cannot fathom going there in the summer months as great as Arches is. There is one way in and one way out, meaning the traffic jams would be worse than miserable. There are no long hikes, and most of the parking lots can hardly hold more than 30 cars. For anyone reading this, I would highly recommend going during the winter and, for the love of God, stay away from holiday weekends.

I understand that this isn’t plausible for everyone, but if you have to go during the summer months, get there before sunrise and get the top-of-the-list spots out of the way early on.

Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.

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