The Windows Section of Arches National Park is one of the easiest and most impressive of the whole park. Essentially, it is a single short loop with two small parking areas from which you can see five large arches that are within short walks of each other. It is one of the most heavily trafficked areas in Arches park, so if you are there I the busy summer season, arrive early if you want to see it with fewer visitors or have a measure of solitude.
Due to their popularity and ease of approaching them, the Windows Section arches tend to get filled with people, which can make good photography frustrating. Please be cognizant of other visitors while you are there as they may be waiting for an opportunity to get their picture without you in their shot.
The Windows Section is very popular, and parking can become challenging at busy times. You may have to park once and walk between the two trail heads – it is only about .2 mile extra walking between the two parking areas. If you are there at a time when it is not too crowded, you can drive between the two parking lots to minimize the extra hiking between the two areas.
The first parking area in the Windows Section takes you to the North and South Windows as well as Turret arch and its small companion arch. The North and South Windows appear as a pair of eyes with a nose between them, leading to their earlier name of the Spectacles. You will see this viewpoint best from over near Turret Arch. The trail here is mostly level with a few steps and slopes. Total hiking distance is only about 1 mile.
The first arch you come to is the North Window. This 90 foot wide and 48 feet high arch is well formed and looks like an eye socket from a distance. You can walk right up and stand under the arch – which is a mixed blessing. In busier times, you’ll never get a shot without someone else in it.
To get the most famous view of this arch, which shows Turret arch through the center of the eye, you have to scramble through the arch to the other side and climb up a small cliff. The shot is a must if you are a photographer, but the extra climbing requires care.
Just around the corner from the North Window is the South Window. It is a bit bigger than its neighbor at 115 feet wide and 56 feet tall and looks like a mirror image of the North Window, complete with the eye shape angling in the opposite direction lending to its original name of Spectacles since, when viewed together, they appear as a pair of eyes or eyeglasses. The South Window is a bit harder to walk into, since it is not easily approached but requires a good bit of scrambling to get into it. This is a plus to the photographer – you are a lot less likely to have to deal with tourists in your shot here.
To get the view that shows the two windows appearing as a pair of eyes, look back toward them when you are over by Turret Arch. For those of you who are old enough, they look like E.T. buried to his nose.
Turret Arch is an irregular arch that to me resembles a keyhole in an independent castle-like rock outcropping. While smaller and a bit less dramatic than the Windows, it is still a nice arch. You can easily walk under it, and with a bit of scrambling, you can climb the rock beyond it and view back toward the Windows.
Double Arch is reached by a small parking area a bit more along the loop road from the Windows. You can reach it easily from the Windows parking if you are there and it is busy by cutting across using the existing trail. The trail is .5 miles round-trip from the closer parking and is an easy, flat hike through the desert landscape.
Double Arch is a unique pair of arches that share a single base on one side and are about a 90° angle from each other. The larger one, in front as you approach it, is 144 feet wide and 112 feet high. The smaller one beyond it is 67 feet wide and 86 feet high. Walking under these arches is impressive as they tower over your head. Due to this and its easy access, some folks will prefer this arch to any other in the park.
In the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the boy scout troop at the beginning of the movie approach these arches by horseback and then find a tunnel in one corner where the Cross of Cortez leads Indy on an early adventure. The tunnel does not exist, of course.
Picking one time to see all the arches in the Windows Section is a bit difficult since they orient in different directions. I would plan on something closer to mid-day to see them to optimize the photography for all. Other than Turret Arch, the others face generally to the south, meaning they get sun the majority of the day. If you want to split up your visit for better photography conditions, the windows will be better in the afternoon(but more crowded), Double Arch a bit better in the morning.
As mentioned previously, the most famous picture in the Windows Section is shooting through the North Window toward Turret Arch. That shot can only be had by climbing through the North Window and scrambling up the irregular small cliff on the other side. This particular shot will be better in the morning or midday as the opposite side of the window is being illuminated.
When you approach Turret Arch, it will be in the shadow since if faces generally to the north. You can go through Turret and shoot it from the southern side where it will be lit most of the day. Since it faces more to the northeast, it will be a bit better in the morning if you want to shoot it from the way you approach it, which is a bit more picturesque.
I find these arches pop a bit more if you warm them up a bit. Set your cameras to vibrant color option to get a deeper orange color if you don’t want to do it in post-processing. In the old days, I used Kodachrome film to accomplish the same thing.
If you want to get a picture of the Spectacles – the North and South Windows, with them appearing together with their ‘nose’, look for the shot as you approach Turret arch. That vantage will give you the memorable angle. You can also see them through Turret Arch if you climb through Turret and view back to the north, although the edges are a bit cut-off. Turret Arch can also present an interesting angle if you use a wide-angle lens, or better yet a fisheye, and take a low vantage point.
Read all about all of Arches National Park here.
To see a list of all the arches and natural bridges I have written about, go here.
Utah is a great state for adventure. To read about other sites in Utah, go here.
More ideas for travel is available in my National Parks article.