One of the most iconic hikes in the Arches National Park, the Delicate Arch Hike is one that most folks add to their “must-do” list. And for good reason, the arch is quite magical, it is super well known, many Americans have seen photos of the arch. It also adorns the license plate of Utahans.
So if you are looking to hike the delicate arch trail, we are here to help you in planning your trip. Read along for info, and let us know if you need anything else!
About the Delicate Arch Hike
The Delicate Arch Hike is a moderate 3.2 mile out and back hike from the parking lot to delicate arch and back. It is about a 630 foot elevation gain across the entire round trip. The hike is super popular so you’ll likely encounter lots of people on the hike (depending on the time of day).
In terms of times, early morning tends to be the best in terms of crowds. When we went for sunrise we were the 2nd people to the arch and only saw a few others until much later in the morning.
The NPS considers it a “strenuous/hard” trail. I don’t think it’s as hard as they say (unless you factor in high summer heat), but regardless its certainly not easy. You should definitely be prepared for over 3 miles of hiking up and down hills and on slippery rocks in places.
Delicate Arch Overlook
There is an overlook that is available for the Delicate Arch. It is located about 1 mile down the road from the trailhead and parking lot.
However, I found the Arch overlook viewpoint to be “extremely” lacking in being able to view the delicate arch. Even the closer of the overlooks is still very far away, making it difficult to get a nice view of the arch.
So if you really want to see the arch, your only choice is to take the Delicate Arch Trail.
When To Visit Delicate Arch
The Delicate Arch is a very popular trail all year round.
In terms of times to visit, Spring and Fall then to be the best times to visit in terms of weather. You’ll experience cool mornings and hot afternoons, but definitely pretty reasonable temperatures.
Summer is very busy at Arches National Park as well as very hot on the Delicate Arch Trail. Due to the lack of cover for the trail, you’ll experience direct sun and high temperatures during much of the day. Bring lots of water and be careful of heat exhaustion.
Winter’s bring the least crowds however the most unpredictable weather. Snow or rain is possible during the winter and that can add additional hazards and difficulty for the trail.
Delicate Arch Sunrise or Sunset Hikes
Sunrise and Sunset are both incredibly popular times to visit Delicate Arch.
In my opinion hiking delicate arch at sunrise is the best option. You’ll be hiking the trail as its getting lighter during the hike, and you’ll definitely experience the lesser crowds. Having the arch and trail more to myself during the early morning was a huge benefit.
Sunset has great light, and you’ll get to see the sun setting behind the arch which will add to the dramatic nature of the place. However, that also might make it harder to photograph at points with some backlighting, and you’ll have a great number more people as well.
The Hike to Delicate Arch
The trailhead starts out from the main parking lot next to Wolfe Ranch. The one-room ranch is there at the start of the trail, however it was not open to visitors. The daughter of John Wolfe actually took the first known photo of Delicate Arch.
From here you continue on the mostly gravel trail. The trail here is well marked and actually quite easy to traverse. It’ll certainly get more difficult as the trail continues. You’ll continue up and down small hills around some of the rocky areas of the landscape.
The mid-part of the trail does get a bit more difficult. You’ll have to climb up a few slick rock areas. Just be careful with your foot (especially on the way down) as I almost fell a couple times descending.
The trail at this point gets a bit more difficult to discern as the area opens up. You’ll see small trees and shrubs in this area. Be sure to look out for the cairns (rock piles that mark trails) as well as some of the metal rods and on-occasion one that says “trail” with an arrow.
Pro Tip: If you have a headlamp, the metal trail markers have reflectors on them to help you see them in the dark.
You’ll actually see the trail pass between two rock/tree areas with an arrow that then points to the right. This was the hardest one for us to find in the dark. but search around in the dark for the reflector.
After this point the area will open up further. You’ll see some of the larger smooth rock/dome areas. The middle are will be sandy with small shrubs. The trail becomes a bit trickier to find here (especially in the dark) but the trail goes to the left and then eventually swings back to the right.
From here, the trail will go up a small incline to the back of one of the smooth rock hills. You are not really close to the end of the trail. You’ll now be on a small trail with a drop-off to one side. The trail itself seems scarier in photos and descriptions than it is. It’s about 3-4 feet or so wide at parts and definitely enough to walk on. I didn’t feel scared on this part even in the darkness (actually probably better in the darkness since I didn’t fully grasp the drop).
After this ledge trail. you’ll come around and to the viewing area for the delicate arch.
The delicate arch area is a lot of slick rock with several rocks you can sit on and an “amphitheater” area with some stadium like seating to the far side.
You can definitely get down on the slick rock and get closer to the delicate arch if you prefer and there are a few other viewing areas as well around the arch. Be careful as the rock is really slick and you can definitely hurt yourself.
Bonus: Either before or after the hike. You can make a small detour near the Wolfe Ranch to see some petroglyphs. It’s only a few minutes extra out of your way.
What to Bring
The delicate arch hike does take a couple hours generally so its important to make sure you pack appropriately for the hike.
- Headlamp (if you are hiking sunrise or sunset)
- Water (there is no water on the trail)
- Proper footwear; We recommend good hiking boots or trail shoes. You’ll be traveling over slickrock in places, so you’ll want supportive, grippy shoes.
- Light Jacket
- If you are hiking in the dark. Look for reflector tape on metal trail markers. This will help keep you on the trail when it gets difficult to see cairns and the trail opens up.
- If you are hiking for sunrise, when the trail opens up to a sandy area with shrubs in the middle. It’s easier to follow the trail markers to the left and around and then back right. If you go directly right it might be trickier to find your way. We actually saw a group who went directly right, got lost and took a different climb up the slick rocks which were far more dangerous.
- Try to avoid mid-day if you can for your hike. It’s the hottest part of the day, and honestly the worst for light as well.
- Hiking delicate arch at sunrise is the best in my opinion. Get there early and you can have the arch to yourself for a bit. Or at the very least with only a small group. It allowed us to get great photos without people in them.