Delicate arch hike arches national park moab utah

Delicate Arch Hike: A Must-Do On Any Visit To Arches National Park

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For some reason, I insisted on doing the Delicate Arch hike.

“It’s only, like, three miles I said.”

“It won’t be that bad.”  HA!  Good one, me.  Good one.

Spoiler alert: It’s worse than you think.  Not bad enough to not do it, but go in prepared.  Bring water.  Maybe a snack.  And water.

There are quite a few arches to choose from and I was set on seeing Delicate Arch, so see Delicate Arch we did.  After an early morning start, we started the not so tough hike, then all of a sudden we were on this huge, flat rock for what felt like two hours.

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I have no idea how long it actually took.  Too long.  But, like everything else I shouldn’t complain about, it was totally worth it.  I might even do it again.  Maybe.

This was the main hike we did at Arches.  I think after this, we weren’t too focused on seeing more Arches, but more on food, because, well, food.  I would love to go back and explore more of it though, maybe go a little more prepared.

Some hikes require specific permits, which I did not have.  Nor was I prepared for.  I should work on that.

See?  Totally worth it.

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I’ve now done the Delicate Arch hike three times, and I’ll probably do it again.  While I will say it isn’t my number one hike in Utah, it’s a must-do and I think everyone that can do it should as part of a Utah road trip.  It’s not the easiest hike out there, but the view of Delicate Arch at the end is certainly worth that steep Slickrock climb.

I always forget how difficult this hike is for me, but I’ll still keep doing it.  If you’re having a hard time, don’t be afraid to slow down and take little breaks.  It’s not a race and those breaks will really help you get to the top.

The trail is pretty easy to follow but can get a little confusing on the Slickrock section.  There are cairns to mark the trail, so just make sure you keep following those.  At the beginning of the trail, there is the Wolfe Ranch and you can see some petroglyphs here.

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The trail starts out doing a little up and down over packed dirt and rainbow-colored cliffs before the steep Slickrock climb starts.  This is the longest section of the trail and feels like it takes forever and it might, but it’s worth it.  Once you get to the top of that section, to the left you’ll see a little area where the rock is higher.  Go through there.  There are cairns to help you figure out where to go through.

After passing through that part, you’ll be in a little bowl of sorts walking on loose sand.  The trail will go up on the right after a little bit, but don’t go up too soon.  If you do, no worries.  You’ll just have to backtrack a little bit to get back down and go up a little later.

This is where you may run into issues if you’re afraid of heights.  It’s no Hidden Canyon ledge, but the last time I did the Delicate Arch hike, we saw a guy that was having a very hard time getting past this part.  The trail is 2-3 feet wide with a rock wall up on one side and a drop off on the other.

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Make sure you climb up to the little arch on your way just before the ledge starts.  It’s got a great view of Delicate Arch.  It can be a little tricky to get up to, so if you don’t feel comfortable with rock scrambling, I would probably skip it.  Shortly after this, you’ll round the corner to the most majestic view in Arches National Park.

Delicate Arch is on the far edge of the bowl, which is surprisingly steep, so watch your footing here, especially in the winter.  You’ll see people lined up all around the bowl admiring the view and another line of people waiting to take their picture under it.  If you want pictures of Delicate Arch without people in it, you need to be quick and patient.  Or good at Photoshop.

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How long is the Delicate Arch hike?

The hike to Delicate Arch is three miles round-trip with 480 feet of elevation gain.  It doesn’t sound too bad, but it’s pretty steep.  There aren’t really any difficult rock scrambling areas, so that’s good, but the Slickrock area is pretty steep and feels like it takes forever.  But remember, IT’S WORTH IT!  Just stop and rest if you need to, no shame in that.  I do it all the time.

I would plan 2-3 hours for the whole Delicate Arch hike.  Of course, this will all depend on how fast you walk and how often you stop for breaks and pictures.

Where is the Delicate Arch Trail?

The Delicate Arch trailhead is at the Wolfe Ranch stop.  There is the Lower Delicate Arch viewpoint, but that’s not where you want to go.  I mean, you should still check it out, but that’s not what you want for the hike all the way up to Delicate Arch.  You’ll be looking for the Upper Delicate Arch trail.  There is a good-sized parking area with a bathroom.

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What is the best time to hike to Delicate Arch?

If you want to see it with fewer people, I would recommend hiking to Delicate Arch at sunrise.  The lighting isn’t as great but I think it’s worth it to not have the crowds there.  If you want that primo lighting, you’ll want to go at sunset.  Buuuut then you’ll probably be sharing the view with 100 other people, so it really comes down to better lighting or fewer people.  No matter when you go, I would recommend getting there before 10AM or after 3PM.

As for the best time of year to hike to Delicate Arch, I would say fall.  It’s not as windy, hot, or cold, but spring would also be good.  Winter can be icy or snowy, so if you do go in the winter, be careful.  That will just depend on current and recent weather.  In the summer it’s going to be hot AF, so if you are going then, I would highly recommend going in the morning since that’s when it’s coolest out.  The evening is ok, too, but it’s usually still pretty hot then.

Spring: Anytime, but it may be windy and a little cool, so bring layers.

Summer: Hot.  So hot.  Try and go early in the morning for cooler temperatures and fewer people.

Fall: Great!  Not really a bad time to go, but October is my favorite month to visit Utah.

Winter: Really good for fewer people, but the trail can be snowy and icy depending on current and recent weather conditions.  Definitely dress in layers.

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What to bring on the Delicate Arch Hike

Hiking poles – These will be helpful on longer hikes that are on the steeper side.  They’ll be good if you have bad knees for when you’re going downhill and will give you something to lean on going up the hills.

Snacks – These are more important for long hikes, but you never know when you’ll get hungry!  I like EPIC bars (kind of like beef jerky but different), Sahale nut mix things, and Moon Cheese.  There’s always the good old Clif Bars and trail mix, too.

Water bottle – It’ll be hot and humid and you’ll need to stay hydrated.  A Hydro Flask will keep your water ice cold all day long.

Sunscreen – If you plan on being outside, you’ll want sunscreen.  I like the Neutrogena a lot, but if you’ll be visiting a beach soon, you’ll want a reef-safe sunscreen.

Hat – You’ll want some kind of hat to keep the sun out of your eyes.  A baseball hat should be fine but a bucket hat or sun hat could help keep the sun off your neck.

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Sunglasses – This is a must, especially with the strong desert sun.  Sunglasses are best paired with a hat on those really bright days.

Light Jacket – Because you just never know.  This might not be as important in, say, July, but in the spring or fall it’s good to have.  I usually use my rain jacket for this.

Headlamp – I tend to carry my headlamp around all the time when we’re hiking.  I would recommend this if you’re hiking at sunrise or sunset.  This isn’t the exact one I have, but it’s similar and if I needed to replace mine, I’d probably get this one.

Other great hikes near Moab:

Have you done the Delicate Arch hike?  What did you think of it?  Do you want to do it?

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