10 Incredible Landscape Photography Locations Near Moab, Utah
The American Southwest has inspired landscape photographers for decades with its rich colours, unique patterns, and surreal formations. Moab, in southern Utah, is one of the best starting points to explore the region and has some of the best landscape photography locations in Utah.
This small city is surrounded by exceptional desert landscapes that merit days, if not weeks, of dedicated exploration. Below, I’ve listed 10 incredible locations to visit and photograph on a road trip through the region.
1. Arches National Park – Windows Section
Arches National Park’s proximity to Moab and its famous rock formations, recognizable to photographers and non-photographers alike, makes it immensely popular. The Windows Section of the park is no exception. This place is an absolute highlight of the Moab region.
As you approach the area on the park road, I recommend stopping to appreciate the huge rocks in the Garden of Eden. These monoliths are wonderful in their own right, but the view of the La Sal Mountains at sunset from the Garden is even more phenomenal.
The Windows Section is blessed with the huge arches that the park is known for. Turret Arch, Double Arch, and the North and South Windows are excellent features to explore during both golden hours when the rock turns a rich red colour.
I especially recommend sunrise, when the day’s first rays shine through the North Window, bathing Turret Arch in beautiful colour. These rocks are huge, so I recommend packing wide-angle and mid-range zoom lenses.
2. Canyonlands – Island in the Sky
Those interested in eroded landscapes reminiscent of the Grand Canyon should visit the “Island in the Sky” section of Canyonlands National Park. The park road travels south from the entrance along a mesa, “The Island”, with views to the east and west of eroded land made by the weaving Green and Colorado Rivers.
Grand View Point Overlook and Buck Canyon Overlook right off of the road are both stunning. The latter works well during sunrise and sunset. But my favourite viewpoint is Green River Overlook.
As implied in the name, the elevated view looks down into the canyons and mesas carved by the Green River through its meander. I recommend visiting this location during sunset and packing a telephoto lens to capture the distant details of this landscape.
Read more: How to Take Landscapes with a Telephoto Lens
3. Canyonlands – The Needles
While the exploration of Canyonland’s “Island in the Sky” is more of a car-centric experience, “The Needles” is for adventurers and hikers. This section of the park requires a long drive and detour from the highway, so there are far fewer visitors than during a visit to Canyonlands.
These “needles” are huge rock monoliths that have been eroded into vertical spires through nature’s erosive forces.
There are a number of short and long hikes through The Needles. I recommend combining two hikes in one big loop to take in the best sections.
Start by hiking south about 5 or so miles to the 150-foot tall Druid Arch, which if it weren’t so far from the road would be one of the most iconic landmarks in all of the Southwest. On the return, take the trail heading west to Chester Park, a wonderful flat grassland surrounded by “needle” rocks. Follow the Chester Park Trail’s eastern portion north back to the trailhead.
There are campsites at Chester Park to catch sunrise and sunset from this remote location.
4. Dead Horse Point State Park
Dead Horse Point is a Utah state park that shares much in common with Canyonland’s “Island in the Sky.” Visitors can expect incredible panoramic views of the Colorado river as it weaves around the desert from an elevated mesa.
The views are primarily south-facing so either golden hour will suffice, though the location is far more known for sunrise. When the sun begins to rise from the east, it casts a beautiful glow on the tiered cliffs to the west.
I recommend bringing a wide-angle lens for this location as the views are quite expansive. Make sure to pack a headlamp to find your way around the pre-dawn landscape – and be careful with your footing!
Look for an interesting foreground to fill out the picture. With enough planning, you should be able to spot several interesting rocks and small trees that serve this purpose well.
5. Marlboro Point
The drive to Marlboro Point is not recognized on any national park map because it lies outside of national park boundaries. The road to the Point lies between Island in the Sky Road to the west and Highway 313 to the east and requires a high-clearance, four-wheel SUV as it traverses some sandy portions and slick rock surfaces.
Though not a long distance from the highway, visitors should plan carefully when embarking to this remote location.
The viewpoint itself is becoming increasingly popular with landscape photographers and for good reason – its “Island in the Sky” type vista is perfect at both sunrise and sunset and provides more solitude than the vistas at Canyonlands National Park proper.
Visible here are huge spires relatively close to the rim that rise up from the canyon below and catch the sun rays far before it fills the canyon floor during sunrise.
6. Goblin Valley State Park
Another gem in Utah’s state park system, Goblin Valley is one of the most surreal and bizarre places in Southern Utah.
Located north of Hanksville and west of Moab, this little park contains countless hoodoos and other contorted rock formations. The erosive forces in the desert have carved the Entrada Sandstone that makes up the rock. Visitors can walk around and between these rocks, letting their imaginations run wild.
There are a number of trails through the park, but most people roam about aimlessly.
Having scouted the park for the better part of an afternoon, I found the southeastern section to be the most photogenic. The hoodoos here are more contorted and interesting. In addition, because this section is further from the car lot, human footprints are less visible.
As with many locations in the Southwest, the details and color in the rock are most evident during the golden hours. In fact, I recommend shooting well into the blue hour with a wide angle and mid-range zoom lens to capture the beauty of this place.
Read more: How to Photograph the Blue Hour
7. Factory Butte
Factory Butte is a favourite for landscape photographers that is becoming increasingly popular as more images of it appear online.
This majestic formation is massive and a prominent landmark off Highway 24. Dirt roads circle the entire butte and there is no singular viewpoint.
Some photographers have opted to shoot the badlands that encircle the butte and place them in the foreground of their images. Others have focused more on isolating the butte from its surroundings. Anything from wide-angle to telephoto lenses will generate solid images.
This is also a great location for aerial photography because the land is highly textured, and the butte is so prominent.
8. Capitol Reef – Highway 24
Though it is located about two and a half hours west of Moab, I highly recommend visiting the wonderful and underrated Capitol Reef National Park. Despite its national park status, it sees a fraction of the visitors that Arches and Canyonlands see.
Highway 24 traverses the park and serves as the trailhead for numerous hikes to arches, canyons, mountains, and historic Mormon sites. For the purposes of landscape photography, there are too many individual vistas and landmarks to highlight so I will focus on three: Pectols Pyramid, Fluted Wall, and The Castle.
Pectols Pyramid is a huge triangular rock that is best observed from the Rim Overlook Trail. Take the trail less than a half a mile up to where it crests, revealing the Pyramid to the south.
Back on Highway 24, drive west to the pull-off for Panorama Point. This elevated vista has a gorgeous view of the Fluted Wall to the north – a massive wall of grooved rock. I found the badlands at the base of the Wall to be highly photogenic during late afternoon light.
The Castle is another protruding rock visible from the highway known for its layered appearance. Pull off from the highway near the Park Visitor Center and look for compositions integrating Sulphur Creek in the foreground. This location is perfect for sunset.
9. Capitol Reef – Cathedral Valley
The highlight of Capitol Reef National Park is one of its least visited locations. Most visitors, deterred by the 58-mile bumpy backroad that requires a creek crossing at one end, neglect this magical place. This is terribly unfortunate as the valley contains massive sandstone monoliths rising thousands of feet high from the valley floor, appearing like gothic cathedrals in the desert.
Two monoliths in particular, Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon, attract the most attention for their imposing appearance and mythical names.
For landscape photographers, sunrise is by far the best time to photograph them, as the early morning rays bake the rock in warm light.
I recommend hiking off-trail to some of the hillsides to obtain an elevated perspective and employ an extra-long telephoto lens to compress the rocks with the cliff backdrop. Also, while in the Valley, don’t forget to enjoy the view from Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook, another sunrise location featuring beautifully eroded rock walls.
10. Little Egypt
Located off Highway 95, Little Egypt is a bit off the beaten path for visitors to Moab, but I highly recommend visiting because you are fairly guaranteed to find solitude.
The hoodoos here aren’t as numerous as those in Goblin Valley but they are located in a valley with a backdrop of huge, wonderful mountains that are sometimes snow-covered in the winter. Here, the sandstone that once formed a continuous wall has been eroded and broken down into the little formations seen today.
Take time to explore this small area and observe the rocks from all sides, finding interesting patterns and shapes. Because the rocks face east, I recommend shooting this location either at sunrise or early morning for the best light.
Moab, Utah, is in proximity to some of the finest desert landscapes in the Southwest. The sheer number of parks around this small city is quite extraordinary.
I recommend visiting either in the early spring or late fall to avoid the summer heat and crowds. The locations profiled here are easily accessible for those willing to drive an hour or two to reach these remarkable destinations.
Even if you have never travelled to Utah before, I recommend considering the Moab region as a starting point for a diverse taste of what the Southwest has to offer.