The iconic hike to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park is definitely a “destination hike” that is not to be missed. If you are capable of the steady climb and the moderate distance (and the heat isn’t too bad), then this trail is the perfect way to see this famous arch (rather than just checking out the pictures of it on the Utah License Plates)!
Whether or not you are an experienced hiker or just extra motivated by being in Arches National Park, we think this trail is one that you’ll love.
PARKING AND TRAILHEAD FOR THE DELICATE ARCH TRAIL
Map of the Delicate Arch Trail parking area, courtesy of the National Park Service
The parking area for the Delicate Arch Trail is easy to find. After heading in on the Park Road, continue for about 12 miles. Take a right onto Delicate Arch Road and continue 1.2 miles until you get to the large parking area near Wolfe Ranch. This is not the end of Delicate Arch Road-that is still about a mile away.
If you are camping in the park at the Devils Garden Campground, Delicate Arch Road is a straight shot (about six miles south of the campground) and will be on your left side. The nice thing about staying in the campground is that you have a much shorter path to this hike, which does get busy.
- Directions from the main park entrance to the Delicate Arch Trail (this will take about 25 to 30 minutes with traffic, which will impact you unless you are traveling in the very early morning).
- Directions from the Devils Garden Campground to the Delicate Arch Trail (this will take about 15 minutes-traffic is not usually an issue heading south).
The parking lot is very large, with spaces for nearly 200 vehicles. Don’t let this lull you into laziness and make you think that you can sleep in-this parking lot gets busy early in the day. Since this is such a sought-after hike, the parking lot tends to fill up by 8:30 am or so each morning (on busy days).
The trail takes roughly 1.5 hours to hike, which means that people will be coming off the trail very regularly. About two parking spots a minute will open up, so just wait your turn and you’ll likely be able to find a place to park. If it is really crowded, just come back later in the evening or early the next morning, as sunrise or sunset at Delicate Arch is particularly incredible.
PREPARATION FOR THE DELICATE ARCH HIKE (PLEASE READ THIS!)
First of all, it would be irresponsible of us to miss mentioning the heat. If you are hiking here when it is warm out (which can happen during any time of the year, but is mainly a problem between April and October), you need to bring plenty of water with you. We saw plenty of people who struggled when we hiked it in June and only had small bottle of water with them. In fact, when we returned, the park ranger was refusing access to the trail to anyone who didn’t have at least one liter of water with them! We’ve been on a lot of trails, and this was the first time we saw hikers turned away due to a lack of preparedness!
Second, this trail is exposed for nearly the entire trail, particularly when you are heading uphill. The heat combined with the uphill climb can prove to be too much for some, so be sure to bring a hat and some excellent sunscreen with you.
THE HIKE TO DELICATE ARCH
Map of the Delicate Arch Trail, courtesy of the National Park Service
The trail starts from the east side of the parking lot. After a few hundred feet, there is a short 0.1-mile diversion to Wolfe Ranch (which will be discussed later on in this blog). Shortly after the Wolfe Ranch spur rejoins the main trail, you’ll cross the salt wash by passing over a short bridge. Depending on the time of year, the salt wash may be dry. If it contains water, it’s fun to look in here for small aquatic wildlife-something that you don’t typically see in this part of Utah!
The hike is flat for the first half-mile, at which point the trail starts to climb a slick-rock incline marked by cairns (small rockpiles). While one the slickrock there really isn’t a clear path like many other hikes. Rather, just follow the cairns up the rock.
The slickrock incline is steady and lasts for about 0.35 miles before turning to the north. Here the trail still climbs (but slowly) and travels through a sandy path that includes some shade (if you find it). This is a great place to take a break if needed, though the end of the trails isn’t too far away!
At the 1.2-mile point, the trail narrows. On the right side is a steep wall, and the left side is a drop-off. While it’s not a sheer cliff, you will likely get injured if you fall down, so be careful and keep an eye on your children. When we went, we had kids as young as 8 years old and never worried about them, but it is still a bit precarious.
After hiking for another quarter-mile you’ll reach the amphitheater. This is not a man-made amphitheater, but you’ll think it is when you see it. It perfectly surrounds the Delicate Arch area.
During much of the day, especially if you are here in the morning or evening, you’ll find plenty of shade up here. The location of that shade varies by time of day, of course, but it’s likely that you’ll find some respite from the sun.
The amphitheater is sloped (hence the name), but just be sure to take care when walking on it, as it can be slick.
Delicate Arch doesn’t appear quite as delicate as nearby Landscape Arch (found at the northern end of the Park Road), but it still looks to be perched in a precarious position. Though it will fall someday, it isn’t likely to fall while you are here, so be sure to snap a picture while in front of it. You’ll likely have to wait in a short line, but it goes pretty fast since most just take a quick photo and let the next group in line do the same without too much delay.
The hike back goes a bit quicker than the hike up, and you’ll find the downhill on the slick rock to be a breeze compared to your way out. As you approach the end of the trail, be sure to check out the petroglyphs that are carved into the rock just before you cross the bridge.
The entire trail is about 3.0 miles long (round-trip), and when it’s all said and done you will have completed 610 feet of climbing during your hike. While that is the equivalent of over 60 flights, if you take it at a moderate pace it will go by quickly.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO HIKE TO DELICATE ARCH?
Hiking time can be difficult to estimate, as it depends on the skill of the hiker and the weather. However, the average time that you can count on for a Delicate Arch hiking time is about 1.5 to 2 hours (allow about 2 hours if you want to spend some time in the amphitheater, and perhaps a bit more if you want to get a picture in front of the arch.
DELICATE ARCH HISTORY
While the 52-foot Delicate Arch (made of Entrada Sandstone) is likely the most famous arch in the park, it wasn’t part of the original park boundary that was set when Arches National Monument was established in 1929. It wasn’t until 1938 until it was included in the boundary.
Since this natural arch is so beautiful and also fragile, the National Park Service explored reinforcing the arch. A variety of materials were explored, but due to the delay tactics of then Park Superintendent Bates Wilson, the research was never taken seriously and measures to stabilize the arch were abandoned.
Wolfe Ranch is a small cabin that was created in 1898 and occupied by John Wesley Wolfe for approximately 10 years. Here they built a dam and used the ranch to take care of a small herd of cattle.
ALTERNATE WAYS OF SEEING DELICATE ARCH
Map of the Delicate Arch Viewpoint Trail, courtesy of the National Park Service
If you are not quite in the mood for the full hike to Delicate Arch, you have a few options. Instead of parking at the Delicate Arch parking area, continue another mile to the end of Delicate Arch Road. From here, there are two ways of seeing the arch:
- The Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint is only about two hundred feet east of the parking area. The trail is a little more than a hundred yards away and ends at an overlook that allows you to see the arch from a distance of a little over a mile. If this is all you have the time or energy for, it’s worth time to make the stop. Don’t expect to get a terrific view, though, as this a very crowded spot.
- If you have a bit more energy, then head to the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint via the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint trail. This is a 0.7-mile (round-trip) hike the ends with a view a little over one-half mile from Delicate Arch. There is a small amount of elevation gain (approximately 150 feet), with most of it happening in a short distance. The hike isn’t difficult, but it is exposed, required a bit of effort and can be crowded (though not quite a busy as the Lower Viewpoint).
Whether your go to the Upper or Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint, we recommend that you bring a pair of binoculars or a good zoom lens on the camera so that you can see the arch the best!
THINGS TO DO NEAR THE DELICATE ARCH TRAIL
If you’ve gone this far into Arches National Park, it’s likely that you are here to spend some time in the park and enjoy the scenery (and not just here for seeing the arch). There are a couple other “must dos” in this area of the park that we highly recommend:
- Perhaps the most unique trail in the park is the Fiery Furnace Trail. You simply won’t believe this hike. After obtaining a reservation (which can be made online), you meet up with a ranger at a designated time. You and the others in the party are then guided into an abyss of tall rock with many arches and amazing stops along the way. This wasn’t too challenging and our kids loved the hike.
- About 6 miles north of Delicate Arch Road is the Devils Garden Area, which includes the 1.9-mile (round-trip) hike to Landscape Arch, Navajo and Partition Arches. You can also take the 7.8-mile (round-trip) hike to Double O Arch and Private Arch.
- About 5 miles north of the Delicate Arch Trail is the Sand Dune Arch Trail. This is an easy 0.4-mile (round-trip) that has a great view of the Sand Dune Arch.
There are a bunch of other trails in the park that we also recommend in our blog on the Best Hikes in Arches National Park.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON ARCHES NATIONAL PARK AND THE SURROUNDING AREA FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- We mentioned it earlier, but our Arches National Park itinerary is great for helping you plan your trip to this amazing park. If you are also heading to other parks in Utah, then check out our Utah National Parks itinerary, which contains all the information for the five Utah National Parks.
- We also have several other blogs on the area that may be of interest, including the Best Hikes in Arches National Park, the Best Hikes in Moab, Hiking the Landscape Arch Trail and Hiking the Fiery Furnace Trail.
- Be sure to check out our extensive collection of National Park posters, including our Delicate Arch poster.
- If you are looking for something original, then check out how we can take a photo that YOU send to us and turn it into a custom, vintage-style travel poster. You won’t believe how perfect of a travel memory this is! If you want to remember your trips forever, this is a perfect way to do so.