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Why I’m in Love with the Delicate Arch Trail in Arches National Park

A woman standing below Delicate Arch after hiking the Delicate Arch Trail

Delicate Arch Trail is one of my favorite trails in America’s national parks and one of the best hikes in Arches National Park.

My favorite aspect of the hike to Delicate Arch is you don’t see it until the very end of the trip. It keeps you wondering and leaves you absolutely shocked when you round the final corner and see it for the first time.

I’ve been wanting to write about the Delicate Arch hike ever since my cross-country road trip in 2014. When my friends and I decided to go to Arches National Park on our Southwest Roadtrip, I couldn’t wait to hike to Delicate Arch again.

If you have to choose one of the amazing hikes in Arches National Park, make it this one to one of Utah’s most recognizable landmarks.

Here’s everything you should know to be prepared to hike the Delicate Arch Trail.

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Delicate Arch Trail Overview

A trail sign on the Delicate Arch Trail
Unsplash Photo

Distance: 3 miles (4.8 km) round-trip

Elevation Change: 480 feet (146 m)

Time: Allow 2-3 hours to complete this hike.

Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous

Start/end: Wolfe Ranch parking area

Parking for Delicate Arch

The Delicate Arch trailhead is located at Wolfe Ranch. In peak season (March to October), this can fill up quickly. If the parking area is full, you’ll need to park at the Delicate Arch viewpoint and hike back one mile on the Park Road back to the trailhead. This increases your hike distance to 5 miles roundtrip.

Delicate Arch Trail Description

After leaving the parking lot, the trail ascends on steep slick rock. Here, you’ll look for cairns and trail signs to guide the way. Then, follow the Delicate Arch Trail along a sandstone fin until you reach Delicate Arch.

PRO TIP: There is absolutely no shade on this trail. It is extremely important to carry at least 2 liters of water per person. It doesn’t matter if you’re hiking in the middle of the day in the summer or early morning in winter. The sun will be out and you will need to ensure you are hydrated.

No permit is required for hiking to Delicate Arch. It is illegal to climb Delicate Arch and any named arch in Arches National Park. No pets are allowed on the Delicate Arch Trail.

Delicate Arch Hike Map

How Was Delicate Arch Formed?

Delicate Arch, like many of the natural formations in Arches National Park, is made of sandstone. This type of rock is easily eroded by wind and water. The rock used to be a sandstone fin, a tall and thin rock wall. You’ll see a great example of this as you hike the Delicate Arch Trail.

Eventually, weathering and erosion caused the middle of the arch to disappear. This usually happens when water seeps through cracks in the rock and begins to dissolve the sandstone. This arch is particularly famous for its shape and because it’s standing alone.

Freestanding arch and with mountains in the background

Facts about Delicate Arch

  • Delicate Arch is 52 feet (16 meters) tall.
  • Many think Delicate Arch’s shape is similar to a pair of cowboy trousers. For this reason, it has many nicknames: “The Chaps”, “Bloomers Arch”, and “Old Maids Bloomers” are just a few of the funny monikers given to the arch.
  • This arch is one of Utah’s most famous landmarks and appears on its license plate, welcome sign, and commemorative stamp.
  • In 1996, when the Olympics were held in Salt Lake City, the Olympic Torch passed through Delicate Arch.
Petroglyphs on a rock face
The Parks Expert | Petroglyphs at Wolfe Ranch

When to Hike to Delicate Arch

Since there is no shade on the hike to Delicate Arch, I strongly recommend hiking early in the morning or later in the evening. Avoid hiking in the middle of the day when the sun is at its strongest.

In terms of weather, morning is the coolest time for hiking Delicate Arch.

Furthermore, the trail to Delicate Arch is far less crowded earlier in the morning. Both times I’ve hiked this trail, I’ve started by 8 a.m. and had the arch to myself for 15-20 minutes in between groups of hikers.

It’s said that from mid-afternoon to sunset is the best lighting if you’re interested in photography. Some also hike out at night to view the stars. For this, definitely bring layers and a headlamp/flashlight.

Do You Have to Hike the Delicate Arch Trail to See Delicate Arch?

Delicate Arch viewed from Delicate Arch viewpoint
You can barely see Delicate Arch in this photo taken from the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint

Not at all! If you want to see the most famous arch in Arches National Park, there are two viewpoints. You’ll be much farther away, but you will be able to see the arch and take photos.

Continue on the Park Road beyond Wolfe Ranch where the Delicate Arch trailhead begins. At the end of the road, there’s a parking lot called Delicate Arch Viewpoint. Here, you’ll find two viewing areas.

The first (Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint) is a very short, flat walk from the parking lot. The next is a moderately-strenuous climb to the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint. The distance is about 1/2 mile. You’ll be separated from Delicate Arch by a small canyon.

If you are physically capable of hiking the Delicate Arch Trail, I strongly recommend it. The view from these viewpoints makes the arch seem small. Especially if you’re looking into the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint, I’d extend the strenuous walking and complete the full hike. You’ll only truly understand the significance of Delicate Arch if you see it up close.

Even if you only have one day in Arches, add this trail to your itinerary.

Delicate Arch Trail Map

How to Get to the Delicate Arch Trailhead

Two women hiking the Delicate Arch Trail

First, you’ll need to be in Moab, Utah. The nearest major airports are located in Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and Denver. From there, rent a car to reach Arches National Park, home to Delicate Arch.

You’ll begin your hike at Wolfe Ranch (so long as the parking lot isn’t full). Arrive as early as possible to guarantee a parking space. The Delicate Arch trailhead is located near the bathrooms.

If the parking lot at Wolfe Ranch is full, you’ll need to park at the Viewpoint Parking area one mile up the road. This will add two miles to your hike, totaling five miles roundtrip.

The Hike to Delicate Arch

Wolfe Ranch on the Delicate Arch Trail

Another outstanding element of the Delicate Arch Trail is everything you get to see along the way.

You begin at Wolfe Ranch, a one-room cabin built by John Wesley Wolfe in 1898. The Wolfe family lived here until 1908 when they moved to Moab so the children could attend school.

A wooden bridge over a small creek

Just beyond here is a short side trail to petroglyphs left behind by Native Americans. These tribes used the blue-green colored Mancos Shale rock nearby for paint during ceremonies while the chert (hard white rock) was used for stone tools.

A paved walkway up a small hill

Next, you’ll cross a bridge over Salt Wash before you begin your ascent.

Red stairs leading up hill

You’ll start by walking up a few switchbacks. They aren’t too steep.

A group of rock cairns stacked in natural holes in a larger rock face

These lead you to the slick rock, the most difficult part of the hike.

In winter, this can be extremely icy, so use caution. In summer, the sun beats down on hikers the hardest here. Use cairns and trail markers to find your way.

Two hikers on the Delicate Arch Trail

Beyond the slick rock, you’ll continue following the trail along a sandstone fin. There are drop-offs to the side, but they aren’t too steep.

You’ll continue on this fin, ascending very gradually until you come face-to-face with Delicate Arch. The video below was taken at the end of the Delicate Arch Trail as we approached the arch.

A paved path hugs the side of a rockface

If you’re lucky, you’ll arrive and have Delicate Arch to yourself. Or, perhaps there will only be one group in front of you and you can take turns taking photos.

We arrived with no one around and were followed by a very friendly couple from Texas. They were extremely concerned about our lack of gloves, but when we mentioned that we live in Alaska they came around and accepted it.

When I hiked the Delicate Arch Trail in 2014, Allison and I arrived with only one other person at the arch. It was another twenty minutes or so before another group showed up.

Both times, we passed a lot of hikers on the trail on the way back and returned to a parking lot that was nearly full. I cannot stress enough how important it is to begin your hike to Delicate Arch as early as possible!

Delicate Arch perched above a large rock bowl

The trail back to the parking lot is entirely downhill. Be sure to use caution on the potentially slippery rock.

When passing others on the sandstone fin, step to the side against the rock wall (not the side with drop-offs) and let each other pass.

A hiker on the Delicate Arch Trail arrives at Delicate Arch

Things to Know Before You Visit Arches National Park

The sun shines through Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, one of the US national parks
Unsplash Photo

Park Hours

Arches National Park is open 24 hours a day. In fact, it’s one of the best national parks for stargazing!

The Arches National Park Visitor Center, however, is not open 24/7. If you’re hoping for a national parks passport stamp or a junior ranger activity book, be sure to plan ahead and visit when the center is open. It’s located at the entrance to the park, so you can’t miss it.

For the most up-to-date hours, check the official website. Hours change seasonally.

Three female hikers pose in front of Delicate Arch

Reservation System

In an important 2022 update, Arches National Park now requires timed entry tickets. This is enforced between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. Outside these hours, anyone can enter the park.

While the tickets are free, there is a $2 processing fee charged by Recreation.gov. You can book as early as three months in advance. A limited number of tickets are released at 6 p.m. each night as well, valid for the following day only.

If you have reservations within the park, such as for camping in Devils Garden or the ranger-guided Fiery Furnace tour, you will not need a timed entry ticket. Tribal members are also excluded and do not need reservations.

The pilot timed entry system is in effect from April 3 to October 3, 2022. Learn more and secure your reservation here.

Two signs directing Delicate Arch Trail hikers to the trail and the parking lot

Entrance Fee

There is a fee to enter Arches National Park. These tickets are valid for 7 days. Prices are $30 per vehicle, $25 per motorcycle, and $15 per pedestrian (on foot or by bicycle).

Why I'm in Love with the Delicate Arch Trail in Arches National Park 1

In order to save money, I would recommend purchasing a national parks pass. These cost $80 and are valid for a full calendar year at all public lands in the United States. After you visit 3 national parks, it’ll have paid for itself. It also makes a great gift for national park enthusiasts!

What to Pack to Hike the Delicate Arch Trail

A collection of items you should pack for a trip to any national park, especially if you plan on hiking.

Packing for a hike in the desert can be tricky. Depending on the time of year, temperatures can range from over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day to 50 degrees once the sun goes down. If you’re visiting in the winter, it may even snow.

Here’s a list of things you may need, with some items varying based on the season you decide to visit.

For more recommendations, read my posts on backpacking and hiking gear and the best daypacks for women.

  • A Reusable Water Bottle: Literally, the most important thing to have in the desert.
  • Moisture-wicking Layers: You’ll want short- and long-sleeve shirts to wear underneath your jacket. In the summer, you may also want a tank top. Choose polyester over cotton.
  • Jacket: I always have a packable down with me on trips. I also love this new jacket I got a few months ago, as it’s very light yet warm. Synthetic is a good alternative to down if you’re worried about rain or snow.
  • Hiking Pants or Shorts: My favorite hiking pants can be found here. As a taller woman, I also love Columbia’s pants because they offer long sizes. Convertible hiking pants that zip off and turn into shorts are a good idea for the unpredictable desert weather.
  • Hat: Depending on the season, you’ll need a winter hat or summer hat.
  • Gloves or Mittens: Gloves are critical if you’re visiting in the winter.
  • Wool Socks: Smartwool is my favorite brand for wool socks. Make sure to get wool so your feet stay warm and dry.
  • Grippers, Spikes, or Crampons: If you plan to hike in the winter, I strongly recommend grippers for a potentially icy experience on Delicate Arch Trail. In February, some of Arche’s trails were closed due to ice. Come prepared and avoid the fall!
  • Camera: I had my trusty Canon Rebel T5i, my Canon Powershot SX620, and a GoPro with me on my most recent trip to Zion.
  • Tripod: If you’re hoping to take decent photos of the slot canyons, sunsets, or wildlife, I’d strongly recommend carrying a tripod with you.
  • Boots: I love my Keens, and will never choose another brand for my everyday boots. In winter, I choose a much warmer pair of Solomon boots.
  • Backpack: I brought my North Face pack, but a friend of mine had a water-resistant Patagonia pack I was extremely jealous of.

Pin Our Delicate Arch Trail Hiking Guide

Have you done the hike to Delicate Arch? Did you love it as much as I did?

The Delicate Arch Trail is one of my favorite trails in America. Here's everything you need to know, including how to find the trailhead and a trail map. | Delicate Arch Trail | Delicate Arch Hike | #delicatearch #archesnationalpark #utah #nationalparks #hiking
The Delicate Arch Trail is one of my favorite trails in America. Here's everything you need to know, including how to find the trailhead and a trail map. | Delicate Arch Trail | Delicate Arch Hike | #delicatearch #archesnationalpark #utah #nationalparks #hiking
The Delicate Arch Trail is one of my favorite trails in America. Here's everything you need to know, including how to find the trailhead and a trail map. | Delicate Arch Trail | Delicate Arch Hike | #delicatearch #archesnationalpark #utah #nationalparks #hiking

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  1. josypheen says:

    What a gooorgeous arch! I have never hiked anywhere quite so barren as this, but I have a feeling the short distance would take ages as I’d have to take a zillion photos! I especially love the look of the arch and all the orange/yellow rocks in the snow.

    You were so lucky to get to visit it when there was no-one there. I always assume these famous landmarks will be swarming with hikers!

    • You have to go early in the morning or else it is absolutely swarming with hikers, you’re not wrong! It truly is one of my favorite hikes. You and I would be the slowest hiking team – I take so many photos!

  2. […] to Do: Landscape Arch, Delicate Arch, Fiery Furnace, Balanced Rock, The Windows, Devils Garden, Park […]

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