Out of the hundreds of arches in Arches National Park, the Delicate Arch should be at the top of your list of places to visit. It is, after all, the center of attention on all Utah license plates.
Standing 46 feet high and 32 feet wide, this off-worldly landform is something you’ll have to see to believe! Surrounded by a sea of orange stone, it’s easy to see why the Delicate Arch is so famous.
That said, there are a few things you should know before you plan your visit to this popular trail. We offer our best tips on what to expect, when to go, how to plan your trip and more.
Don’t leave home without your own: Lonely Planet USA’s National Parks (Travel Guide)
The Hike to Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch Trail Map & Location
HOW TO USE THIS MAP: Above you’ll find a map of our highlights for hiking to the Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. Click on the top left of the map to find separate layers marking the route and points of interest. You can hide and show different layers, or click icons on the map to see the names of places we mention in this travel guide. “Star” the map to save it to your own Google Maps, or open the map in a new window for a larger version.
The trailhead to the Delicate Arch Trail starts at the Wolfe Ranch parking lot, near one of the more historical sights in the park. It is located about 13 miles from the Arches National Park visitors center on the Arches Scenic Drive.
There is a large parking area at Wolfe Ranch, so getting to the trailhead shouldn’t be an issue. Also starting from the parking lot is the Petroglyph Interpretive Trail, a short detour off the main trail that stretches only 0.2 miles and passes traditional Native American rock art.
Most visitors to Arches National Park stay in the nearby town of Moab and combine the hiking and scenic drives on offer to experience the best of the park.
Know Before Hiking to Delicate Arch
Nearly every visitor to Arches National Park will have the Delicate Arch on their itinerary. It is one of the best Arches National Park hikes and should not be missed. But before you hit the trailhead, there are several factors you need to weigh.
Firstly, the only way to get to Delicate Arch is by hiking. It is not possible to see it from the parking lot and does not have drive-up access.
General Overview of the Delicate Arch Trail:
- Length: 3 miles return trip (1.5 miles each way)
- Hike Time: 2 to 3 hours on average
- Elevation: 480 feet of gain
- Difficulty: Rated as difficult by NPS due to slippery rock and extreme heat
The Delicate Arch Trail is considered one of the more strenuous hikes in the park, not due to its length, but because of the slick rock, steep inclines, and full exposure to the sun.
That said, we found this hike to be on the moderate side. The parts of the trail that offer the most difficulty are the steep climb and exposed rock drop before the arch. If you get vertigo, you may struggle while moving around the bowl, so keep that in mind.
Otherwise, it’s a straightforward hike. The steep climb is a steady grade up and there is plenty of space for people to rest as needed along the way.
Be prepared to sweat in temperatures over 100 degrees, especially if you travel to Utah during the summer months.
The trail is not marked like your typical hike. Rather than having a clear path, there are piles of rocks called cairns that will guide you up to the Delicate Arch.
If you’re unable to make the hike, there are several other options to view the arch from, such as the Lower and Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoints. You can find more information on both of these at the end of this guide.
Make sure you carry lots of water! It is always smart to carry a reusable water bottle or two while hiking. Here are the best travel water bottles on the market.
Who Should Hike the Delicate Arch Trail?
Hiking 1.5 miles one way may not sound like a whole lot, but getting to the Delicate Arch is easier said than done.
Every year, park rangers have to rescue people who underestimate the trail, so it’s important to know if hiking the Delicate Arch Trail is right for you.
Those who are disabled or can’t maintain a good balance should rethink hiking the Delicate Arch Trail. With the path leading up slick rock, it’s not possible for those with wheelchairs or strollers to make their way along the route.
Alternatively, you can check out the views from the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint.
If you are looking for something fun to do at night we suggest the Moab Dinner Cruise with Sound and Light Show.
Having a good set of hiking poles can help out so much! Our recommendations for the Best Hiking Poles
Best Time To Visit & When to Go
Whether you’re planning to visit for the best photo ops or just want the personal satisfaction of completing the hike, we want to help take the guesswork out of the planning for you.
Delicate Arch Sunset
Sunset is the most popular time to visit Delicate Arch. It’s also the best time to photograph the arch. This means you can expect it to be the most crowded too.
We can’t deny that you’ll experience beautiful warm light on the arch as the sun sets, making for gorgeous photos, but it is possible to enjoy the arch at other times of the day too.
Keep in mind that if you visit for sunset, you’ll be hiking out from the Arch in the dark, so be sure you plan accordingly and have a headlamp with you.
Delicate Arch Sunrise
Opposite of sunset, sunrise at Delicate Arch is also popular. You won’t get the illuminated glow that sunset provides, but the sun rises right behind the arch giving skilled photographers a chance to play with a different light scenario.
You’ll need to get an early start, meaning you’ll want to pack a headlamp and warm layers. It might be hot while the sun is up but a desert is a cold place without the sun.
Best Seasons for Visiting Delicate Arch
The Delicate Arch is a spot that can be visited year-round but weather conditions will vary. No matter what season you arrive in Arches National Park, you’re still bound to find a handful of tourists hiking up to the arch.
During the summer months, you best be prepared to sweat. Being in the desert with practically no shade, backpackers will be fully exposed to the sun while hiking the Delicate Arch Trail.
One may think that traveling to Arches National Park during winter is a great way to beat the heat, but it also brings its own challenges. With icy conditions, the slick rocks leading up the trail can be dangerous.
The best time of the year to hike the Delicate Arch Trail is either during the spring or fall. We did it in mid-October. With mild temperatures and no fear of slippery rocks, you’ll be able to enjoy all the beauty of the trail with ease.
The Moab area is filled with many things to and one we suggest is joining a Daytime Jet Boat Tour on the Colorado River.
Looking for more information on what the weather may be like when visiting Arches National Park? Best time to visit Arches National Park
What To Bring on the Hike
The Delicate Arch Trail is not a hike that you should simply hop out of the car and start. You’ll need to make sure you’re prepared before you start your journey.
Footwear with proper grip is necessary before you attempt the Delicate Arch Hike. We hiked the trail in our Chaco sandals (made for outdoor adventures) but be sure to leave the flip-flops in the car. We saw others hiking in trail runners and hiking shoes.
Parts of this hike are slippery and steep. You may want to bring a pair of hiking poles with you to assist in the climbing.
Sun protection is necessary to stay safe, so make sure you have a hat and sunblock. With temperatures rising over 100 degrees in the summer months, drinking plenty of water is also essential.
Our Recommended Essentials List for the Delicate Arch hike:
- Day pack to carry snacks, water & camera gear
- Water bottles or water bladder
- Minimum of 2 liters of water per person
- High energy snacks like trail mix or Clif bars
- Hat & sunglasses
- Long sleeve sunshirt (we love these!)
- Shoes with good tread (Chacos, trail runners or hiking shoes)
- Blister kit – at least some moleskin or tape for hot spots
- Headlamp & layers if hiking for sunset or sunrise
- Patience – sorry, it’s going to be crowded
Looking for more advice on what to pack for hiking? Have a look at 40 Hiking Essentials: The Ultimate Hiking Packing List.
Having a good pair of socks are a must while hiking this trail in Arches National Park! Here’s everything you need to know about finding the best pair of hiking socks that suits your adventure.
What to Expect on the Delicate Arch Hike
Start at the Wolfe Ranch Cabin
The beginning of the trail starts at Wolfe Ranch, the historic homestead of John Wesley Wolfe. There is a small cabin in the area where visitors can catch a glimpse of what the first settlers in the area would have experienced when they settled here.
The Delicate Arch Trailhead is easily found from the parking lot and is marked with an informative sign.
We love our vests for those hiking days that are cool in the morning and at night. Best Down Vests for Men and Women
Don’t Miss the Ute Indian Petroglyphs
Before you start, or even at the end of the hike, you may also want to take the short side trail and check out the Ute Rock Art along the Petroglyph Interpretive Trail. Stretching only 0.2 miles, this hike is easily done by travelers of all experience levels.
It’s around a 10-minute diversion and possible to visit either on your way to or back from Delicate Arch.
The Ute Indian petroglyph panel was carved sometime between A.D. 1650 and 1850. They are a great example of how history is all around you in this amazing National Park.
When visiting this area or any other area you should help protect the rock art by not touching it.
Want to see more Petroglyphs in Arches National Park and the surrounding area you should join the Moab Scenic Off-Road Petroglyph Adventure.
Do you plan on camping while visiting Arches National Park? If so you need a good sleeping bag and here’s how to Choose the Best Sleeping Bag.
An Easygoing Trail Start
The Delicate Arch Trail is not long but will still take average travelers at least an hour. The first section of the trail is quite simple, with only a slight incline.
The trail is easy to follow, well beaten, and offers you a chance to take in some of the natural beauty that surrounds you.
Don’t be fooled, though, as this easy part ends at the bottom of a steep and slippery climb up to the arch.
Take on the Steep Slickrock Slope
Leading up the side of a steep rock, this is where hikers need to make sure they are wearing the proper footwear. A walking stick will also help travelers find their balance on this slippery rock.
There is no beaten path here, so you’ll want to keep an eye out for and follow the rock cairns that act as trail markers.
The Narrow Path
Afterward, hikers will follow a narrow path between a rock ledge drop-off and a tall rock wall. This path offers a little shade, which is welcome, especially in the heat of summer.
After you pass through this last section, you’ll round a corner and be offered your first views over the bowl and of Delicate Arch.
The Delicate Arch Bowl & First View of Delicate Arch
The photo options here are endless, no matter the time of day you arrive, so be sure to take your time and really absorb the experience.
Also, be sure to explore all the many angels of the Delicate Arch once you reach the top. There are plenty of short climbs around the bowl area that offer different vantage points.
Climbing up to Frame Arch, also known as the twisted doughnut, is the most popular and is a great place to take pictures. Also, keep an eye out for a peek at the distant La Sal Mountains.
Up Close with the Delicate Arch
Upon arriving at Delicate Arch, you’ll need to navigate around the bowl and probably have to join the already formed queue for your chance to get a photo at the base of the arch.
It’s also possible to take up a position on the edge of the bowl to get a photo like the one above. This will take some strategy with angles, to cut out other people, but is another nice option for photos.
The best views often involve an early morning start in Arches National Park. Check out How to Choose the Best Headlamp
The Best Delicate Arch Viewpoints
Even if you’re short on time or unable to hike the Delicate Arch Trail, you can still see the sandstone bridge from a distance.
Arches National Park offers two additional vantage points that will enable you to get a glimpse of the famous arch.
Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint
Just down the road from Wolfe Ranch, you’ll find the start of the Delicate Arch Viewpoint Trail.
The 50-yard trail to the lower viewpoint is easily accessed by hikers of all ages. It offers a short walk with a distant view of the arch.
For those into photography, you need to join the Sunset and Night Photography in Arches National Park.
Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint
If you have a little more time on your hands, be sure to check out the sweeping views from the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint. The trail may be short, but it’s still considered a challenging hike.
Starting from the road past the lower viewpoint, the upper viewpoint is only 0.5 miles long and can be easily completed in 30 minutes.
Although not a long trail, the hike to the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint is quite steep, so be prepared to be short of breath once you reach the top.
But once you come to the end of the trail, the picturesque scenery of the arches and the surrounding desert is nothing short of breathtaking!
Did you know Arches National Park has an area just like the Narrows in Zion National Park? Book your Moab’s Best Kept Secret: Mini Narrows Cool Summer Hike today.
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