Mesa Arch is an easy to visit landmark in the Island in the Sky region of Canyonlands National Park. This pothole arch spans across the mesa’s edge, framing a scenic canyon vista. A 0.7-mile loop trail brings you right up to Mesa Arch, one of the park’s most popular points of interest.
A nature guide is available at the trailhead, and can be used to learn more about park vegetation and geology. The guide is quick to remind you to stay on the trail, a point you will see repeated through Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. This is because stray footsteps can damage the cryptogamic soil just off trail. This black crust on the ground forms the foundation for desert ecosystems. The vital mixture of lichens, moss, fungus and algae prevents soil erosion and helps support larger plants.
Just beyond the parking lot, the trail comes to a Y. Both routes lead to Mesa Arch, and the loop is equally enjoyable in both directions. As you hike, keep and eye on the edge of the mesa for sneak peaks of the iconic arch.
The trail ends in front of an elegant stone that spans fifty feet across the top of a 500-foot vertical cliff. Mesa Arch is classified as a pothole arch because it was formed by surface water that pooled on the sandstone behind the arch, slowly eroding the rock. The result is an arch that dangles across the mesa’s edge.
Geology aside, the arch provides the frame for a stunning Utah landscape. Along the mesa to the east is another arch, named Washing Woman Arch. Below the mesa is the prominent white rim of spectacular canyons carved by the Colorado River. Rounding out the view, the snow-capped peaks of the La Sal Mountains meet the sky at the horizon.
The arch is beautiful any time of day, but if you end up here around sunrise or sunset, you will likely be in for a beautiful show. After leaving the arch, complete the loop to return to the trailhead for a 0.7-mile hike with 75 feet of elevation. On the way back, you will have a nice view of Aztec Butte rising above the mesa beyond the parking lot.
To get to the trailhead: From the Island in the Sky Visitor Center, drive south for 6.3 miles and turn left into the parking area for Mesa Arch. If you reach the intersection with Upheaval Dome Road, you have gone too far.
Trailhead address: Grand View Point Road, Canyonlands National Park, Moab, UT 84532
Trailhead coordinates: 38.389084, -109.868143 (38° 23′ 20.70″N 109° 52′ 05.31″W)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding Utah trails and campgrounds.
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