Tom’s Experience Hiking to Delicate Arch:
The classic Delicate Arch, in Arches National Park, is Utah’s most recognizable rock formation and with good reason. It appears on the Utah license plates and the 2002 winter Olympic torch passed under the arch on its way to Salt Lake for the Olympic games. The arch is really beautiful and the hike to the arch is pretty fun as well. The downside of this hike is that everyone wants to stop and see the arch. We had a difficult time finding a parking space in the parking lot and even the over flow parking was full. I think this is a pretty standard problem and the best times to go are in the morning or evening when the crowds aren’t nearly as heavy. This is a better time to visit the arch anyways since you might be able to get a picture of the arch without so many people in the foreground.
The trail is pretty straight forward and well-marked. There are cairns to lead you when there is no trail since most of the hike is along sandstone rock. It is also very steep so make sure you bring plenty of water because there isn’t much shade. The hike is about 3.2 miles long and there is trail information and an outhouse at the trail-head but no running water.
There is one bridge that crosses over some mud, an old pioneer ranching house and some petroglyphs just off of the trail. They are all worth the small side trip to go and visit them. The ranch house still has some of its old homemade furniture that is deteriorating. You can look through the door but it is blocked from entering. The petroglyphs, made by Ute Indians, are also blocked from getting too close. There is a large fine for anyone who tries to carve or paint on any of the stone faces on this hike.
Near the end of the hike there is an arch you can stand in off to the right of the trail that provides a good view of Delicate Arch. This other arch is up above the trail to the right and is easy to see but not as easy to get to. Look for it as you hit narrow rock ledge that drops steeply off to the left just before you reach Delicate Arch. The last little bit of the trail is on a narrow rock ledge that is about 4 to 5 feet wide. It is perfectly safe but small children should be watched carefully, and if you are scared of heights this portion of the trail might be difficult for you. Just remember, it doesn’t last very long and you can practically smell the arch, its so close.
After the narrow ledge, the trail ends in an amphitheater where you are able to sit and take photos of the arch. This is where it gets really crowded as people sit and watch the light play off the arch. If you go in the fall or spring you can see snow in the distant mountains behind the arch. The amphitheater is a great place to sit and rest from the steep hike up to the arch. The arch towers 80 feet above the amphitheater and you can walk under and around the arch. However, when we were at the amphitheater, there were lots of people standing under the arch for long periods of time making it very difficult to photograph just the arch. Make sure you get up early or stay late to get the arch to yourself. No rock climbing is allowed on the arch.
Edward Abbey, noted naturalist and author, wrote this: “There are several ways of looking at Delicate Arch. Depending on your preconceptions you may see the eroded remnants of a sandstone fin, a giant engagement ring cemented in rock, a bow-legged pair of petrified cowboy chaps, a triumphal arch for a procession of angels, an illogical freak, a happening…. If Delicate Arch has any significance it lies, I will venture, in the power of the odd and unexpected to startle the senses and surprise the mind out of their ruts of habit, to compel us into a reawakened awareness of the wonderful-that which is full of wonder.”
Trail-head Info: Arches National Park is just outside of Moab, Utah. As you enter the park the ranger should give you a map with directions to the arch. You are looking for the Wolfe Ranch turnoff and the parking lot is marked with a sign. The park entrance fee is $15 and pets are not allowed on any of the Arches National Park Trails.
Wolfe Ranch Parking Lot = 38.735348,-109.520463
Delicate Arch = 38.74363,-109.499304
Please comment on you favorite part of hiking to Delicate Arch or if you enjoy any other nearby adventures. Also don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter to get updates about new adventures by entering your e-mail at the top of the page.