Mesa Arch Trail

Mesa Arch Trail

Canyonlands National Park

Type: Loop day hike
Distance: 0.7 miles (1.1 km)
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss: 94 feet (29 m)
Date Visited: Thursday, March 29, 2018

After setting up our tent at Willow Flat Campground in Canyonlands National Park, it was time to go hiking! We were in Island in the Sky, the most easily accessible district of the park. The two closest hikes to the campground are Mesa Arch and Aztec Butte. We planned to hike both, and we started with Mesa Arch Trail.

If you’ve ever seen a photo of Canyonlands, odds are it was of Mesa Arch. It’s one of the most photographed spots in the park. The arch is situated on the edge of a cliff, with a view of canyons, mountains, and other rock formations beyond. It’s also a popular place for sunrise photos – time it right and you can frame the sun as it rises through the arch. We weren’t too concerned about getting a sunrise shot, but we still got there early in the morning.

We found a parking spot, and started down the dusty trail. The route is an easy 0.7 mile loop, and it was crowded. Almost immediately, the canyons and snow-capped La Sal Mountains became visible in the distance. We passed several small signs with information about various native plants. I enjoy seeing these on trails, since it helps me learn more about the flora in the area.

Canyonlands: Mesa Arch Trailhead
Mesa Arch Trailhead
Canyonlands: Plant Sign About Littleleaf Mountain Mahogany
One of many signs along the trail that teach visitors about the local flora. This one is about the Littleleaf Mountain Mahogany plant.
Canyonlands: Scenic View on Mesa Arch Trail
Beautiful scenic view along the trail
Canyonlands: First View of Mesa Arch
Our first view of Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch

After 10-15 minutes of hiking, we arrived at the 27 foot long Mesa Arch. It features a wide scenic view into Buck Canyon. I think the arches in Arches National Park are more picturesque (who would’ve thought?), though the view here is striking. From the canyon to the rock formations to the La Sal Mountains, there are so many sights to take in. Mesa Arch frames the canyon landscape beautifully. If you look closely toward the east from Mesa Arch, you can also see Washer Woman Arch.

There was a crowd of people waiting to take a picture with the arch, so we got in line. Unfortunately, there were a few people who didn’t seem to care about the line, and they just walked up to the arch and got their photos. We weren’t too surprised. It’s more likely that you’ll run into visitors who are unfamiliar with hiking etiquette on easy, short, popular trails. This was completely different from the experience we had at the challenging 3.2 mile trail to Delicate Arch.

Canyonlands: Mesa Arch Far View
A friendly reminder to stay off the arches
Canyonlands: Close Look Through Mesa Arch
Close-up look through the arch
Canyonlands: View into Buck Canyon
View into Buck Canyon near Mesa Arch. It’s hard to see, but Washer Woman Arch is located to the left of the canyon. To its right is a tall sandstone tower known as Monster Tower. Behind both is another wider formation called Airport Tower.

Mesa Arch is a “pothole arch” that formed when water on the ground pooled near sandstone, slowly eroding it until it formed a hole. This arch looks different from most of the ones found in Arches NP because those are primarily formed from sandstone fins (there are many fins in Arches NP, but significantly fewer in Canyonlands).

After we finally got our photo with Mesa Arch, we walked around and admired the scenery before continuing on. After a short walk, which included some stone steps and more plant signs, we completed the loop and returned to the parking lot. Near the end, we could see our next destination in the distance: Aztec Butte. While Mesa Arch was a must-see for us, we don’t consider it one of the best hikes in the park. And after hiking it, we were ready for a longer and more challenging hike, with more solitude.

Canyonlands: Mesa Arch Loop Sign
Time to head back on the loop
Canyonlands: Stairs on Mesa Arch Trail
Stairs on Mesa Arch Trail
Canyonlands: Aztec Butte in Distance at Mesa Arch Trailhead
Back at the trailhead. You can see Aztec Butte, our next stop, in the background.

Mesa Arch Trail

Date: Thursday, March 29, 2018
Loop day hike
Total Distance:
0.7 miles (1.1 km)
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss:
94 feet (29 m)
Time: 1 hour, at a leisurely pace including photography
Trail Markings: Wayfinding Cairns
Difficulty: Easy
Crowds: A lot. Everywhere.
Water: None
Highlights: Geological Features, Views, Plants
Directions to Mesa Arch Trailhead: Google Maps Directions
Notes: It can get hot, so bring plenty of water.

Trail Directions

  • 0.0 mi – At the trailhead, go counterclockwise (right path). You could go either direction on the loop though.
  • 0.3 mi – Arrive at Mesa Arch, then continue back on the trail to complete the loop.
  • 0.7 mi – Arrive back at the parking lot




Interactive Map

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