Taking Sunset Photos in Arches National Park, Winter

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To take a great picture of a sunset, you need more than just an orange ball dropping below the horizon.  You need something in the foreground that takes this once-a-day miracle and turns it into something truly spectacular.  I’d argue that there’s no better place on earth to find interesting foregrounds than at Arches National Park.  And there’s probably no better place for taking sunset photos in Arches, than at the Windows area of the park.  So, I spent a couple of evenings there, on my winter trip to Arches, in January.

Location

Arches National Park is located north of Moab, Utah.  From Moab, drive north 4.5 miles on US 191 to the park entrance, then take the park’s scenic road for another 10 miles, and turn right onto Windows Road.  Drive to the end of the road, where a parking area provides access to the North and South Windows, Turret Arch, and other features.

My Visit

Before we get to the Windows area of Arches National Park, let’s talk about the drive along the way.

Driving through Arches National Park during the hour before sunset is absolutely beautiful.  You’ll see rock walls lit up beautifully by the sun.  I took this picture along the park’s scenic road, just beyond the Courthouse Towers.

After Balanced Rock, take the turn onto Windows Road but don’t go all the way to the windows, just yet.

Garden of Eden, just before Sunset

You’ll find some truly great rock formations at the Garden of Eden, about halfway out Windows Road.  I didn’t have a whole lot of luck finding west-facing sunset views at this location…

… but there were plenty of formations to the north and east, which were nicely lit, about an hour before sunset.

The Windows area of Arches National Park can fill up quickly. If you can’t find a parking spot, I’d suggest retreating to the Garden of Eden area for the sunset.

Continuing on towards The Windows…

… there are some great opportunities to photograph the Windows area along the road.  You’ll have to get lucky and find a good turnout, and possibly walk a short distance in order to line up a good shot.  I have a feeling I could do even better than this photo if I had spent more time searching for a better location.

Sunset Photos in Arches: The Windows

But as I mentioned, The Windows area is definitely your best bet for sunset photos in Arches.

The Windows area is named for the North and South Windows — two beautiful arches that are practically side-by-side in the same mountain.  From the parking area, you’ll have a nice view of the North Window — and generally speaking, it’s the easier of the two to photograph.

The trail leaves the parking lot and walks right up to the North Window.  Not only can you walk directly under the arch…

… you can climb through it, and down the other side.  Look very closely and you should be able to spot a pathway to a viewpoint on the cliff, directly behind the North Window.  If you’re lucky, nobody else has figured out that it’s there, and you’ll be able to have this spot all to yourself.  If you find the exact spot, you can line up a shot of Turret Arch (that weird formation in the distance) perfectly centered inside the North Window.

You can almost do the same trick with Turret Arch.  Hike up and through the arch, then continue on the ridge behind it.  I tried to find the perfect spot where one of the Windows lined up through Turret Arch, but this is as close as I could get.  The truth is, I didn’t think much of this photo when I took it.  The sun had set, and the brilliant light was gone, and I figured the best photos of the day were behind me.  But after I got home, I noticed the softness of the image, the motion in the clouds, and the subtle colors that lingered in the sky.  It became one of my favorite photos of the trip.

Back over at the Windows, I took another good shot of Turret arch, long after the sun had set.  Did you notice all the snow on the ground?  Did I mention that I was taking sunset photos in Arches in January?  That’s why there’s something missing from all of these photos – people.  Sure, there were a few other people around when I took these sunset photos, but it wasn’t crowded, and most of the time, I could get the shot I wanted.  It’s just one reason why I think January is the best time to visit Arches National Park.

On the walk back to the car, I took one more nice shot of the colorful sky, with some sandstone formations in the foreground.

Balanced Rock

And on the drive back to Moab, I stopped again, to capture the stunning silhouette of Balanced Rock against the orange sky.

Do you have a favorite spot for taking sunset photos in Arches National Park?  I’d love to hear about it.  Spill your secrets in the comments below.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a look at the drive around Arches National Park in the snow…

… and another clip, showing Arches just before sunset:

The Bottom Line

Don’t leave Arches National Park before sunset.  You’ll get the best pictures by waiting for the sunset at just the right place.  I’d suggest The Windows area of the park for a nice view in all directions.  As a backup, stop at the Garden of Eden and check it out.

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