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Full Moon Hike in Arches National Park

October 24, 2013

I remember when I first moved to the mountains about 5 years ago, a friend who used to live in the area told me that he loved escaping to camp in the nearby desert when the snow first started to fly.  At the time, that notion sounded so foreign and romantic, and it’s something I’ve been meaning to do ever since.  I finally made it happen last weekend, when I joined some friends for a camping trip in Moab, Utah.

Moab itself has been on my list for a long time (both my mental to-visit list and my 30 before 30 list).  It is a small town about 3.5 hours from Vail in the middle of the Utah desert.  A mountain biking mecca, it’s also home to both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

Since I’m not actually a mountain biker (but hope to be by the end of next summer), I went for a solo hike at Klondike Bluffs when we first got to town while my friends took what was apparently an awesome bike ride.

Klondike Bluffs Hike

I quite enjoyed my hike.  This area, with its almost-lunar desert landscape and snow-capped peaks in the distance, is strangely beautiful.  It is also already getting quite chilly at home (28 degrees on my drive to work this morning!), so I was content simply soaking up the desert sun.

Klondike Bluffs Hike

The only drawback to this trail was the abundance of mountain bikers.  I found myself pulling off the trail to let them pass pretty often.  I made about a 2-hour loop by hiking up the Mega Steps trail and down Baby Steps.  I think it was about 6 total miles of mellow hiking.

Klondike Bluffs Hike

There are dinosaur fossils in the area, so I convinced myself that these were dino footprints.  Yes, I know I'm probably wrong.

There are dinosaur fossils in the area, so I convinced myself that these were dino footprints. Yes, I know I’m probably wrong.

Bones along the trail.  Most likely not of the dinosaur variety.

Bones along the trail. Most likely not of the dinosaur variety.

Looking around the area, it was easy to picture this land  years ago when it was being formed.  It was also easy to picture the entire area covered by a prehistoric ocean.

Klondike Bluffs

That hike, however was merely the prelude to the event I was most excited for: a full moon hike in Arches National Park.  After our earlier hike and ride, we grabbed dinner in downtown Moab.  By the time we finished, it was dark and the moon was rising.  Game time.

We entered Arches (and didn’t have to pay an entrance fee because it was so late) and drove another 15 minutes to reach the Delicate Arch trailhead.  Delicate Arch is the arch that is pictured on the Utah license plate and tons of other tourism info about Utah and Moab.  I’m willing to bet that during the day, this trail is absolutely jammed with visitors.  Even starting around 10 p.m., we found a handful of other groups on the trail.  But I’m guessing on a non-full-moon night, we’d have been the only ones there.  The groups we passed were heading down as we were hiking up, so by the time we reached the arch we had it to ourselves.

Arches Full Moon Hike

On the way up, we didn’t even need to turn on our headlamps due to the bright moonlight and mellow, well-marked trail (gotta love National Parks!).

Moonlight Hike

I wasn’t able to truly capture the brilliance of the moonlight with my camera, but in person it was phenomenal.  Hiking through the desert, we could see darker shapes emerge from the night as we passed some pretty awesome geological features.

Full Moon Hike Arches

After hiking for a while (I honestly couldn’t tell you how long, but it was an hour or less), we came around a corner to our first view of Delicate Arch.

Delicate Arch moonlight

Delicate Arch stands in the middle of a natural amphitheater, where we sat for quite a while gazing at the arch, taking photos, making our voices echo in the dark and other shenanigans.  One of my friends was able to manipulate my camera to take some good photos in the dark by playing around with a long exposure time and headlamps as flashes.

Delicate Arch in moonlight

I think these photos came out beautifully, although playing with the light makes it look more like dusk than nighttime with a full moon.

Delicate Arch in moonlight

Delicate Arch in moonlight

I took that last picture using the tricks he taught me.  Yay for learning how to use my own camera.  After spending a while at the arch, we finally made our way back down the trail.  At this point it became a little harder to see and I was glad to have my headlamp lighting the way.

All in all, our full-moon hike was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in a long time.  It got me excited for full-moon skinning and snowshoeing this winter, when the snow makes a moonlit night even brighter.  Have you ever taken a full-moon hike?  Did you love it as much as I did?

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 24, 2013 1:00 pm

    Very cool photos! I did my first moonlight hike like this in Joshua Tree National Park and it was a pretty cool experience. We also played with the light of our headlamps and took interesting photos. Arches- well the Moab area in general- is one of my favorite places on earth! Great post. Thanks for sharing.

    • October 24, 2013 2:48 pm

      Thank you! Though I must give credit for the best of those photos to my friend Matt. I agree that Moab is amazing – I can’t wait to go back and explore some more. And a moonlight hike in Joshua Tree must have been amazing as well – that’s another place I’d love to visit sooner than later!

  2. October 24, 2013 10:34 pm

    I have wanted to visit there – it is so beautiful! I have never been on a full moon hike; another thing for my bucket list! And I’m sure those are totally dinosaur footprints and bones. 🙂

    • October 25, 2013 9:35 am

      It’s definitely worth a visit! In fact, I felt that a weekend in Moab wasn’t nearly enough and hope to make a return trip soon. If you go, I think Delicate Arch is the perfect trail for a moonlight hike, but I’m sure there are others. And thank you for backing up my dino theory – sometimes it’s more fun to not know exactly what you’re looking at so that you can let your imagination run wild 🙂

  3. November 18, 2013 3:12 am

    I absolutely love the Moab area and have been there numerous times. Next time I will make sure to take a moonlight hike to Delicate Arch. Thanks for the idea!

  4. November 18, 2013 6:23 am

    Fantastic! I’m definitely adding this to my must do list for next time I’m in Utah!


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