Beginner’s Trail Guide: Sunset Hike at Dead Horse Point State Park

sunset over deadhorse point state park

Arches National Park may get all the love for sunsets in Moab, but I’d much rather watch the sun go down over the jaw-dropping canyons of Dead Horse Point State Park.

The cheery name has just about as cheerful of a story behind it, but don’t let that keep you from going! The west side of the Rim Trail has a bunch of gorgeous overlooks or you can watch the sunset from the main overlook at Dead Horse Point. This is the most beginner-friendly option, not because the Rim Trail is particularly demanding – it’s just hard to keep track of at times!

How do I get there?

Dead Horse Point is a 40-minute drive outside of Moab, but in the busy spring season (the best time to go, weather-wise) it could take you a bit longer. We arrived in town around 5 p.m., quickly grabbed dinner to go from the food trucks downtown, and headed right back out to Dead Horse to make the 7:40 p.m. sunset.

The drive is easy to do with any car. The entire way is paved, and the only obstacle you may encounter are the free range cattle – just make sure to obey speed limits and be prepared to stop!

If you stay to watch the entire sunset, you will be driving back in the dark and there are absolutely no streetlights. If you’re uncomfortable driving at night, just leave at least 30 minutes before sunset and you’ll be fine. The overlook for the sunset itself is right at the parking lot, so there’s no hiking back in the dark.

Where do I go?

There’s only one road through the park, which makes it pretty difficult to get lost. The road dead ends at the parking lot at the Dead Horse Point overlook, so it’s also difficult to miss that. The West Rim Trail leaves from this parking lot.

The trail is harder to find, however, because it’s not particularly well-marked. The sidewalk to the overlook and the beginning of the trail is kind of hidden behind the bathroom. Follow the sidewalk to the bathroom, keep walking past the bathroom, and on the right you’ll see the overlook as well as the trail that takes you along the western rim of the canyon.

There are these handy signs periodically along the trail!

What is the trail like?

If you’re just sticking to the overlook, the path around it is completely paved. The West Rim trail is mostly sandy dirt or slick rock. Slick rock isn’t actually slick unless it’s raining; it’s just what people call the red rock you’re walking on top of.

The Rim Trail itself is very flat, so it’s beginner-friendly from an effort standpoint. But, it requires a lot of work and paying close attention to stay on the trail. In the desert, everything is the same orange color. It’s pretty, but harder to keep track of the trail. It’s not as obvious as hiking in the woods where it’s easy to tell where the brown strip of dirt is taking you.

This is as “hilly” as it gets. But as you can tell, it’s not super easy to see where the trail leads. This was about as obvious as it got.

There aren’t signs pointing you along the trail (except at the overlook points), so you have to look for little piles of rocks called cairns to tell you where to go:

what is a cairn desert beginner friendly moab hiking dead horse point state park
I’m pointing down at a cairn. Beyond it, in the upper right-hand corner, you can see another one (just barely). That’s how you tell where to go on several parts of the trail.

Fortunately, you’re not far from the road or a parking lot at any point, so it’s hard to get *too* lost. If you wander off the trail, you’ll either end up at the edge of the canyon rim or on the road.

We hiked for about 1.5 miles total without getting lost, but for a first-timer, it could be a little intimidating. You can always just stick to the overlook!

What should I wear and bring?

Tons of water! This goes without saying any time you’re in Moab, even if the weather isn’t that hot. There’s a fountain to fill up your water bottle at the visitor’s center (you’ll pass it on the way to the overlook) if you’re running out by the time you get to the park.

The wind in Moab makes it deceptively cold – even when it’s in the upper 50s, I’m pretty bundled up. Once the sun starts going down, it cools off very quickly. I wore winter running tights and a long-sleeved, toasty fleece to hike and added a beanie and my puffy jacket to watch the sunset.

I wore trail running sneakers, which were totally fine for the trail. You’re in the desert, so it’s obviously pretty dry. It’s very fashionable in Moab to wear Chacos or Tevas or some other outdoorsy sandals, but they just aren’t for me. If you like them, get after it!

For more information on what you should bring hiking no matter what trail you’re on, read my previous post here.

Is it crowded?

In the spring, which is my favorite time to go, we shared the sunset with about 20 other people. That may sound like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to Arches National Park. I still felt like I could enjoy the park’s solitude and natural beauty even though we weren’t totally alone. It definitely felt less touristy and crowded than Arches, and very few people were hiking the rim trail before sunset.

The crowds are comparable to Canyonlands, which is just down the road. We’ve also done sunset there and it’s another great option!

Anything else I should know?

Hiking around the western side of the rim is the more scenic side, but the eastern side (even if you just go to the other side of the parking lot) also has stunning views of the La Sal Mountains.

I didn’t see a single animal the entire time we were in the park, but it’s surrounded by open range, so you’ll likely see some cattle on your drive back to the main highway that takes you back to Moab. Rattlesnakes live in the desert, so always keep an eye out for where you’re stepping (just in case!) and don’t go digging in any rock piles.

sunset over deadhorse point state park
Sun setting over the canyon, as seen from the main overlook on the West Rim.

Published by Laura Cardon

Laura Cardon moved to Colorado as an adult and quickly realized how difficult it was to get started exploring the outdoors in a state full of experts. She founded Outdoor Beginner in 2014 to fill the gap in beginner-friendly content for camping, hiking, skiing, and other outdoor activities. In addition to Outdoor Beginner, she coaches beginner trail runners and works at Runners Roost in Golden, Colorado, where she lives with her spouse and toddler.

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