Delicate Arch Hike, Arches National Park
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The most iconic arch in the park, Delicate Arch soars over 50 foot tall and is instantly recognizable from its appearance on Utah licence plates.
The Delicate Arch hike is one of our favorite in Arches and the arch itself is magnificent. For those of you planning a trip to Arches National Park we wanted to share our experience and tips for hiking the Delicate Arch trail.
A symbol of Utah, the 52 foot tall Delicate Arch is the largest free standing arch in Arches National Park. Delicate Arch sits atop a natural rock ampitheater from which there are sweeping views across the park.
Instantly recognizable from its appearance on Utah licence places, the Delicate Arch trail is one of the most popular and best hikes in Arches National Park.
The Delicate Arch Trail
The Delicate Arch trail is 3 miles in total out and back with over 500 foot elevation gain along the way. The trail also includes stops at the Wolfe Ranch cabin, a petroglyph panel and the picturesque Frame Arch.
- Hike length: 5 miles each way, 3 miles total round trip
- Hike difficultly: the hike is classed as difficult according to the National Parks Service classification
- Elevation gain: 500 feet
- Notable sights on the Delicate Arch trail: Frame Arch, Wolfe Ranch cabin, petroglyph wall panel
The Delicate Arch trail starts from the Wolfe Ranch Parking lot which is 13km from the park entrance.
The early part of the trail is well defined. It is mostly flat and relatively easy with some rolling hills.
The trail passes by Wolfe Ranch, a modest one room cabin which sits on what was once a cattle ranch. John Wesley Wolfe settled in the area around Salt Wash in the late 1800’s and built the cabin for his daughter, Flora. The family moved to nearby Moab before returning to Ohio.
Delicate Arch Trail
After Wolfe Ranch the trail passes over Salt Wash and then follows a well defined path with a very gradual climb.
The Delicate Arch trail then becomes more challenging. There is a moderately steep but very manageable climb over sandstone slip rock. Make sure to stop and take in the views as they are incredible from this section!
Hiking Delicate Arch tip: the slip rock section can be difficult to navigate in rain or ice as the surface of the rock is slippery. There is no shade and it can get unbearably hot on summer days.
The trail then flattens out and passes through dessert terrain dotted with large rocks and trees.
This part of the trail is marked by cairns and the occasional sign indicating which way to go. The trail is surrounded by amazing sandstone rock which is fascinating to see.
Hiking Delicate Arch trail: It’s rare to have the Delicate Arch trail to yourself meaning it is usually easy to follow the hikers up ahead.
The final section of the trail is a narrow path which meanders around a rock ledge and one side of the path has a sheer drop. It’s wide enough to easily navigate but make sure to stick close to the rock wall and watch your footing.
As you round the final bend on the path the magnificent Delicate Arch suddenly appears. Seeing the arch for the first time is truly breath taking.
Delicate Arch is clearly visible from the end of the path but standing under the arch will require a short walk along the top rim of what resembles a sloping amphitheatre of rock.
Hiking Delicate Arch tip We loved the view and the photos from the tiered rocks at the end of the path so, although many do, don’t feel like you have to continue over along the rim.
When you are finished admiring Delicate Arch and the amazing park views then begin to follow the same trail back down towards Wolfe Ranch. At the start of the return trail keep an eye out for Frame Arch nestled in the rock. It’s easy to miss but, as the name suggests, Frame Arch provides the perfect frame to photograph Delicate Arch.
When you get as far as Wolfe Ranch, take a short detour around the Petroglyph Interpretative Trail. The 10 minute trail leads to a panel of rock art which includes depictions of dogs, big horn sheep and horses. It is typical of Ute Indian art and is beleived to have been carved between 1650 and 1850.
Best time to hike to Delicate Arch
Sunset is the most popular time to visit Delicate Arch for a few reasons:
- The arch is in the shade earlier in the day. Sunlight only illuminates the arch later in afternoon.
- Evening temperatures are a little more manageable in summer. A sunset hike avoids the midday sun and high temperatures on a trail where there is little cover or shade.
- Delicate Arch is often at its most beautiful in the evening when pinks and purples illuminate the sky.
Don’t linger too long after sunset or you will end up hiking down to the parking lot in the dark. Make sure to bring a head torch in case you need it to help with the walk back down.
Delicate Arch tip: the Delicate Arch parking lot can fill up at popular times – there were plenty of spaces when we last visited on a November afternoon but summer sunsets can attract hundreds of hikers. There is additional parking at the Delicate Arch viewpoint lots but this will add two miles to your hike.
Hiking to Delicate Arch by Season
- Summer: Temperatures often exceed 100oF and the Delicate Arch trail is very exposed. There are limited opportunities to find shade. Start the hike either early or late in summer to avoid the peak temperatures in the middle of the day. Make sure to bring plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat to protect from the sun. In summer months, you will need to bring at least 1.5 to 2 liters of water per person on the hike.
- Winter: The Delicate Arch trail can be icy in the winter and there are warning signs indicating the increased difficulty of the trail at these times. It is essential to wear shoes with a strong grip or pick up some over the shoe traction for your sneakers. We used Yaktrax Ice grips and found them amazing. Layer up and make sure to keep well wrapped up from the cold. Remember to add some extra layers for kids in carriers as they’re not running around and can get very cold. For more on Arches National Park in winter, click here
- Spring and Fall: Spring and Fall are the most popular months in Arches with moderate temperatures and nice hiking conditions on the Delicate Arch trail.
Hiking Delicate Arch tip: we last visited Arches National Park in late November and experienced the trail with ice and snow. The cooler temperatures make for a pleasant hike but the icy paths make the final part of the trail more challenging.
Hiking Delicate Arch: the essentials
- Water: the Delicate Arch trail is a three mile round trip with limited shade so bring lots of water in the summer. We last hiked in late November when temperatures were just above freezing and we drank a small bottle of water each. In summer months, you will need at least 1.5 to 2 liters per person.
- Summer accessories: sunscreen and a hat to protect from the sun
- Winter accessories: layers of clothing, a warm hat and a good jacket. Good hiking shoes/boots or Yaktrax on sneakers for grip.
- Snacks: the hike takes a couple of hours return so pack some snacks if you need them
- Facilities: rest rooms and trash cans are located in the parking lot for Delicate Arch trail.
- Parking: the Delicate Arch trail begins at the Wolfe Ranch parking lot where there are just under 200 parking spots. Once these are full, you have to wait until a space becomes available or try the additional parking at the Delicate Arch viewpoint lots – this will add two miles to your hike. Sunset and mid morning are particularly busy times at Delicate Arch.
The Delicate Arch Viewpoints
If you decide to skip the hike to Delicate Arch it is still possible to see the arch. There are two viewpoints, Lower Delicate Arch viewpoint and Higher Delicate Arch viewpoint, both of which offer a glimpse of Delicate Arch in the distance and require a much shorter walk.
The viewpoints are accessed by driving past the parking lot for the Delicate Arch trail and continuing along the road until you see the signs. The two viewpoints share a parking lot.
The Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint is a 100 yard walk from the car park while the Upper viewpoint is 0.5 mile walk with stairs.
Hiking Delicate Arch tip: the viewpoints are a nice option if you can’t make the Delicate Arch trail but the arch is very far in the distance.
Hiking Delicate Arch with kids
We’ve also hiked to Delicate Arch with kids and met many more families along the trail. Delicate Arch is a great trail with kids and but we can’t emphasise enough how important it is to take care and maintain concentration, especially on the final path and at the viewpoint.
If you are hiking with younger kids we recommend:
- Hiking backpack for toddlers: our two year old can manage to walk about one mile in total so a hiking backpack was essential for this three mile round trip. As well as the distance, a backpack is great for the more challenging parts of the trail when we weren’t comfortable with him walking solo. We use an Osprey Poco AG Plus and find it invaluable for hikes.
- Baby carrier for infants: we use a soft carrier for our 8 month old as she likes to hang out up front and it offers more support for younger babies who might nap on the longer trails. We use an Ergo Baby 360 and switch to facing in when it’s windy or cold.
Alternative hikes in Arches National Park
Arches National Park is one of our favorite parks to visit and we love exploring it trails. Some great alternatives or hikes in addition to Delicate Arch are:
- Devils Garden: Devils Garden is a mix of easy and challenging. It is a relatively flat 1 mile hike leads to the incredible Landscape Arch, the biggest arch in any of the US Parks and the fifth biggest in the world. The beautiful Pine Tree Arch is a short and mostly flat hike off the Landscape Arch trail and the detour also offers views of Tunnel Arch. For more of a challenge, continue on to Double O Arch and the surrounding arches (Pine Tree, Tunnel, Navajo and Partition Arch) and return via the difficult Primitive Trail.
- Windows and Double Arch: a beautiful and easy hike with well defined paths and short climbs.
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