Arches National Park
The Delicate Arch hike is the only way to reach this iconic geological marvel, the largest free-standing arch in the park and one of the most famous natural features anywhere in the world
Hiking the Delicate Arch Trail
The Delicate Arch hike leads you through a dramatic and unique landscape of dazzling colours, rock formations and textures. Of all the 2,000 natural stone arches within Arches National Park, this is the largest free-standing arch.
It has become a widely recognised symbol of the state of Utah, as well as being one of the most famous geological features anywhere in the world.
However, the only way to truly appreciate the beauty and grandeur of this sandstone marvel is to hike the Delicate Arch trail through this red-rock wonderland and experience it up close.
Where is Delicate Arch?
Delicate Arch is located in Arches National Park, in eastern Utah, just north of the town of Moab.
Where to park?
There is a dedicated Delicate Arch trailhead parking lot highlighted on this map with an orange ‘P’.
How to get to Delicate Arch?
Whether you approach Arches National Park from the north or south, you will be arriving via U.S. Route 191. The turn-off for the National Park is less than 5 miles north of the centre of Moab which is also a great place to stay during your visit.
Once through the Park entrance, follow the main Arches National Park Road for 11.7 miles and then turn right onto Delicate Arch Road. Follow this road for 1.2 miles when you will see the parking area on your left-hand side.
Delicate Arch Hike Description
The first part of the Delicate Arch hike is nice and easy, along a well-packed gravel/dirt path. Along this section, you will experience some gentle ups and downs but certainly nothing too tough.
After approximately 0.81 miles (1.3 km) the trail to Delicate Arch runs into a fairly steep section of Slickrock, making this section of the trail the most challenging.
As you make your way up the Slickrock, be sure to follow the stone cairns ensuring you keep to the trail. Having said that, there will probably be a stream of other visitors to follow, owing to the fact that Delicate Arch is the number one attraction in Arches National Park.
Once you have made it to the top of the Slickrock, the trail flattens out and you begin to make your way through a landscape of imposing sandstone domes.
Keep your eyes peeled for those trail-guiding stone cairns or fellow hikers up ahead, as the Delicate Arch hike leads you onto the final section of the outbound trail.
Now, the trail leads you along a ledge hugging a wall of sandstone to your right. As you progress, keep looking up to your right as a gap through the rock will appear, known as Twisted Doughnut Arch.
Should you wish to climb up to it, you will grab your first view of Delicate Arch through this perfect ‘picture frame’.
Beyond this point, for approximately 200 metres, the drop-off to the left of the trail increases, so caution is advised, especially if you are hiking with children.
Soon, the rock wall comes to an abrupt end and Delicate Arch comes into sight, sitting on the far side of the Delicate Arch bowl, a deep elongated sandstone crater.
The chances are that you will be sharing the experience with many other visitors, so grab your spot on the rocks and soak in the marvellous spectacle that sits before you.
There are many aspects from which to enjoy views of the Arch, so have a wander around to get a true sense of the location.
Once you have had your fill of the beautiful surroundings, retrace your steps on the pleasant downhill return sector of the Delicate Arch hike.
A couple of short but worthwhile diversions
Almost immediately next to the parking lot sits a small log cabin, known as Wolfe Ranch. Be sure to check this out and read about its intriguing history.
A little further along the trail, a 260-metre diversion leads you to a rock art panel created by the native Ute people, depicting a hunting scene with riders on horseback, that is thought to date from the mid-1600s.
Delicate Arch Hike – Our Thoughts
There is certainly no denying the exquisite nature that you get to experience on the Delicate Arch Trail. But, be under no illusion, this is the most popular attraction in the National Park and the chances are that you will be sharing your experience with many others.
We visited in the late afternoon in early May 2022 and the trail was busy. So, I can only imagine what it must be like in the busier summer months!
If I were to visit again, I would make the effort to get up early and witness the magic of the Delicate Arch sunrise in relative peace.
Important Information – Be Prepared!
- Carry plenty of water – This is especially important if you are hiking during the summer months. Learn how to calculate the right amount of water to bring on a hike.
- Wear comfortable & appropriate footwear – Hiking boots/shoes or trainers are all fine for this trail. However, avoid wearing shoes with open toes, high heels or slippery soles.
- Be careful when crossing the Slickrock – In wet and icy conditions, this rock can be particularly treacherous.
- Cover up during summer months – In the height of summer, daytime temperatures regularly hit 38°C (100°F). With limited shady escapes along the trail, make sure you wear a hat, sunscreen and remain hydrated at all times.
Delicate Arch Hike – Q & As
How long does it take to hike to Delicate Arch?
The Delicate Arch hike time (out and back) should be somewhere between 2 and 3 hours. This includes time to take a break and appreciate the stunning arch and its surroundings.
What is the Delicate Arch hike distance?
The Delicate Arch hike length (out and back) is approximately 3.11 miles (5 km).
How difficult is the Delicate Arch hike?
I would rate this as a moderately challenging hike. The National Park Service, on the other hand, deem it to be a strenuous hike, a rating that I believe to be a bit of a stretch.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a 146 metres (480 feet) elevation change so there is definitely some effort involved. The hike to Delicate Arch is predominantly uphill, making the return portion the far more relaxing section.
Is the Delicate Arch hike dangerous?
I would not say that this is a dangerous hike per se but like with all hikes, there are potential dangers. If you visit in the winter months, the Slickrock may be covered in snow and ice, making progress treacherous.
Conversely, experiencing this route in the height of summer, with the sun beating down on the exposed trail, brings its own set of challenges.
My advice is to keep risks to a minimum by visiting in the spring or autumn (fall) in either the morning or late afternoon.
Has anybody died at Delicate Arch?
Yes. There were two Delicate Arch deaths in 2019 when a Californian couple fell into the sandstone bowl immediately adjacent to the arch while hiking. The third member of their party also fell but survived and was airlifted to the hospital.
The story was widely covered including in the Washington Post online. Thankfully, deaths at Delicate Arch are a rare occurrence.
Are dogs allowed at Delicate Arch?
No. Dogs are not allowed on any hiking trails or overlooks within the National Park. Learn more about the pet policy for Arches National Park.
How was Delicate Arch formed?
The formation of Delicate Arch came about as a result of the motion of salt beds underneath the overlying sandstone. This process in conjunction with events on the surface, such as erosion caused by water, ice and wind, washed away or broke off sections of the sandstone creating the arch that stands before you today.
When will Delicate Arch collapse?
How long will Delicate Arch last is a question that can be answered with no real accuracy. In geological timescales, Delicate Arch will exist for barely a second. Do not let this concern you.
Delicate Arch, as with all the Parks arches, will erode and ultimately collapse, within a few thousand years. But, the good news is that replacement arches will continue to be formed from the bedrock in precisely the same way that Delicate Arch was formed.
When is the best time to visit Delicate Arch?
The best time of year to visit is definitely during spring and autumn (fall) when temperatures are more moderate. If you do plan on visiting during the summer months, make sure you hike early in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the baking sun.
The best time of day to enjoy the hike depends on personal preference:
Delicate Arch Sunset
The Delicate Arch sunset is undoubtedly the most popular time to visit, as budding photographers aim to grab that perfect picture of the arch giving off that famous red fiery glow.
The downside is that you will almost certainly be sharing the experience with lots of people, so if crowds are not your thing, it’s probably best to avoid the sunset hike.
Delicate Arch Sunrise
Experiencing Delicate Arch at sunrise is another great time to visit as the rising sun lights up the arch from behind, offering a completely different viewing spectacle for those who don’t mind an early start.
What’s more, the chances are that you will not be complaining about the crowds at this time of day, even in the height of summer.
Can you see Delicate Arch from the road?
It’s difficult to see Delicate Arch from the main road that runs through the park but it is still possible to catch sight of the arch without hiking all the way to it.
Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint
The easiest way is to visit the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint which involves a 100 metre (each way) level walk from where you can view Delicate Arch from approximately 0.62 miles (1 km).
Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint
If you are looking for a closer and less obstructed view, the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint could well be worth that little extra effort. This involves a 600 m (each way) hike and a 35 metre (115 feet) elevation change along the way.
The car park and both viewpoints are highlighted on this map.
Can you hike Delicate Arch at night?
Yes. Arches National Park is typically open 24 hours a day, year-round. So, if you fancy hiking Delicate Arch at night, you go right ahead and do it! Just go prepared.
Can you climb Delicate Arch?
No, is the simple answer. The National Park Service (NPS) has a very clear policy on this matter. Their website reads:
“Climbing, scrambling, walking or standing upon, or rappelling off any named or unnamed arch with an opening greater than three feet is prohibited in the park. This is to promote visitor safety and the opportunity to view natural features undisturbed.”
Can you drive to Delicate Arch?
No. If you want to get up close and personal with Delicate Arch, you will need to undertake the 3-mile (5 km) hike described on this page.
If you are happy viewing the arch from a distance, visiting one of the two dedicated viewpoints should suffice.
Can you hike to Delicate Arch in winter?
Yes. Arches National Park is open pretty much year-round, 24 hours a day. So, if you wish to hike to Delicate Arch in winter, then you go right ahead. Naturally, the trail may be more treacherous owing to snow and ice so make sure you go prepared.
If you do choose to visit in winter, the chances are that you could have the trail all to yourself!
Can you walk under Delicate Arch?
Absolutely! The opening beneath the arch is 14 metres (46 feet) high and 9.75 metres (32 feet) wide. If you are having your photo taken under the arch, just be mindful that there are probably others waiting to do the same. Therefore, once you have taken your photo, move away.
Why is it called Delicate Arch?
The first reference to the term “Delicate” appeared in an article about the Arches National Monument Scientific Expedition in January 1934. Here it was described as “the most delicately chiseled arch in the entire area.”
What made Delicate Arch famous?
It is the largest free-standing arch, out of more than 2000 arches, in the national park. It has also become the most recognised symbol of the state of Utah, even appearing on license plates within the State.
What is the Delicate Arch height?
16 metres (52 feet)
Have you experienced this trail?
If you have, please share your experience with us and our readers. If you have any questions that we have not answered here, please let us know and we will get back to you just as quickly as we can.
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