The hike to Delicate Arch was probably my least favorite hike I’ve been on thus far. It wasn’t fun. It was in full sun. I was having to make frequent stops to catch my breath because I’m not in the best shape.
All that being said, it was 100% worth it! When I saw the arch for the first time, it was beyond impressive and much bigger than I anticipated.
If you want to find out more about Delicate Arch and the hike to get to it, keep on reading!
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Hiking to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah
Standing at 46 feet tall and 32 feet wide, Delicate Arch is the iconic arch of Utah. It’s one of the most photographed arches in the world, and it was by far my favorite arch in Arches National Park. (Partition Arch was my second favorite!)
While the trail is only 1.5 miles (3 miles roundtrip), it was in no way easy for me. Hiking up a steep rock face is not my definition of fun. And this wasn’t just a small rock face, it was large and felt never-ending. But like I said earlier, it was totally worth it!
- Distance: 3-mile roundtrip
- Type: out and back
- Rating: Moderate (according to most sites), Difficult according to nps.gov
- Elevation at trailhead: 4349′
- Elevation gain: 480′
- Animals allowed: No
- Time: about 2.5 hours, depending on how long you stay at the arch
Getting to the Trailhead
From the Arches National Park Visitor Center, drive about 12 miles then turn right towards Wolfe Ranch. Continue driving about 1.2 miles, then turn left towards Wolfe Ranch and Delicate Arch. This is where you park for the trailhead.
The trailhead has pit toilets and this is also where you can see the Wolfe Ranch and petroglyphs. (You will pass Wolfe Ranch and the turnoff for the petroglyphs at the beginning of the trail leading to Delicate Arch.)
The parking lot was quite crowded, we managed to find a spot at the very back of the lot. We were lucky because I noticed several cars circling the lot and stalking people walking to their cars.
When doing my research about this hike, most people recommended getting to the trailhead early in the morning to get a parking spot and avoid crowds. We arrived in the afternoon. The parking lot was essentially full and the trail was quite crowded.
At the very beginning of the trail is the Wolfe Ranch, featuring a log cabin and corral. After the ranch, to your left is a small loop for the petroglyph interpretive trail. Continue past the ranch and petroglyphs to stay on the trail to see Delicate Arch!
The first part of the trail isn’t too bad, but it soon turns into a giant rock face that you must climb.
This is the part of the trail that will wear you out. It’s in full sun. No shade. And it felt way steeper than it looks. I can’t imagine doing it in the heat of the summer. Fortunately, I was hiking it in October so the sun didn’t drain me like it would have just a few months earlier.
The rock face is very wide but it has cairns to guide you where you need to go. You can also follow the crowd. This is probably the most popular hike in the park, so there will be other people on the trail.
After hiking up the rock face, the trail was much better. Still an incline, but was more of a “hiking trail” than just a giant rock.
Right before you reach Delicate Arch the trail narrows, leaving a somewhat steep drop off on your left and a tall rock fin on your right. You will find a window on your right on this section of the trail. If you climb up to it, you will see your first view of Delicate Arch through the window! (I didn’t climb up to it but now I wish I would have!)
Continue on the trail and eventually, you will round the corner and see the amazing Delicate Arch on your right!
My first thought when seeing the arch was how huge it is. And I was super excited that I could walk right up to it. In the picture below, you will notice there is a bowl between the end of the trail and the arch.
To get to the arch, climb over the small rock ledge/wall (also shown below), then walk along the left side of the bowl.
Since it was late afternoon, the people who were wanting to do sunset & night photography were starting to get in position. I noticed what I will call “photographers row”, people lining up against the wall with their tripods. (See bottom right of the picture below)
The sunset was so beautiful! My plan was to try to photograph the stars after the sun had gone down. I tried several different things on my camera but ultimately ended up quitting. I was having trouble focusing the lens (yes, I was in manual focus) & they all turned out pretty rough looking. It was really dark and cold at this point, nothing I tried was working so I packed up and headed back down the trail.
In hindsight, I probably should have brought a headlamp. I brought a small flashlight, which didn’t put out enough light, so I ended up supplementing with the light on my iPhone. So down the dark trail I went, flashlight in one hand, iPhone in the other.
Tips for Delicate Arch Trail
- If you plan to be there after sunset, bring a headlamp or good flashlight!
- If you will be hiking in the heat, bring plenty of water! The trek up the rock face is no joke.
- Obviously, hiking shoes with good grip/tread. Hiking along the top of the bowl is steep and it is easy to slide.
- If you want to photograph the arch, I suggest a wide-angle and a zoom lens. I had my 24-105mm and it worked perfectly. I was able to get some wide-angle shots but also zoom in on the arch & crop out the masses of people.
I truly hope you get to experience Delicate Arch at some point in your life. It is definitely a bucket list item for American and National Park travel! Hope you enjoyed this post! If you liked it, share it with a friend!
Check out my post on hiking the Narrows for another must-do hike when in Utah!