Distance: 0.75 miles (loop)
Best time of year: Spring, Fall
The Mesa Arch Trail is an easy and welcoming loop that brings visitors to a jaw-dropping view of a massive canyon crowned with a large arch to peer through. Anyone visiting the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park should do this hike.
The 0.75 mile loop begins at the accessible trailhead. This post was written going clockwise, but feel free to try it either way.
Just a short distance from the parking lot, you’ll enter a juniper forest, ripe with high desert scents and smells. The trail bobs up and down where plenty of cryptobiotic soil can be found both along and away from the trails. For this reason, please stay on the trail and do not damage the microbial life.
Soon a small staircase leads you upward where large cairns will lead you across some slickrock. In the distance, you’ll see a massive canyon dropping down below a sandy area below. The trail winds down the rocks through the soft sand and leads you down to the extraordinary Mesa Arch.
Below a rocky desert gorge drops down below, extending into the labyrinths of Canyonlands, the massive canyon blending into the distance like just another massive canyon making up the complex of mazes. Above the top of the canyon, where you’re standing, Mesa Arch forms a forbidden gateway into the abyss. Catch it at sunrise and the gateway glows with an intensity of warm colors that have to be seen to be believed.
To head back to the trailhead, either head back the way you came or complete the loop.
The loop climbs up some stairs along slickrock and then continues through more junipers and sand. A moderate set of steps continue to bring you upward until you reach the top of the rise. Here you get a terrific vantage point of distance canyons to the west. The trail drops down to the parking lot from here and rounds out the loop.
From Moab, head north on Highway 191 for 11 miles. Turn left onto Highway 313 (you should see signs for it). Follow this road as it climbs into Canyonlands National Park’s Island in the Sky District for 27.5 miles. The signed trailhead should then be on your left.