Do you ever find yourselves looking in awe at folks that are hiking death defying trails through iconic mountain ranges around the world? But wait…you quickly realize that extreme hiking or even contemplating the thought of hiking 10+ miles in a day just isn’t something you are prepared for. It’s ok, you won’t be the first or last person to think like this. This is exactly how we generally feel because although we love exploring the great outdoors, the reality is, the way we travel means that we don’t have the time or the fitness level to experience this. During our recent visit to Utah, we decided to experience the Delicate Arch hike in Arches National Park…a trail that would certainly take us beyond our comfort level but one that would lead to an incredibly rewarding experience.
Whether you are an avid hiker or simply someone that enjoys to explore the outdoors, we are confident that the Delicate Arch hiking trail is one that everyone should consider conquering. I am not going to lie and tell you it’s a breeze because it’s far from it. But what I will say is that once you accomplish this epic hiking trail, the view from the summit is beyond incredible and well worth the effort.
The beauty of Arches is that there are a number of hikes available that lead to epic natural landmarks and each one is relatively easy to complete. The most challenging of the hikes is undoubtedly Delicate Arch but we would argue that this is one of the most worthwhile experiences anywhere in the world.
You can’t compare hiking trails in Arches National Park to those in the Himalayas or Alps but one thing is for sure, anyone visiting Arches can experience the inherent beauty without having to go through a serious training regime before visiting.
Best Hikes in Arches National Park
During our recent trip from Denver to Moab, we decided to visit Arches National Park and experience the best of this breathtaking natural landscape on foot. You can explore Arches by road tripping throughout the park but there is nothing quite like parking your vehicle and hiking to a collection of natural attractions that are honestly unlike anywhere else in the world.
We have been fortunate to visit a number of amazing national parks across the US but there is something quite magical about Arches, especially if you visit during the golden hour. The vibrant red sandstone that epitomizes Arches National Park is a sight to behold but again, there is nothing quite like experiencing all of this on foot. Arches is home to a myriad of hiking trails, many of which are short and easy while others are a little more challenging yet equally rewarding.
Let’s take a look at why the Delicate Arch hiking trail is one that will make you inspired to visit Arches National Park during your next visit to Utah. And remember…you can accomplish this hike despite the verbiage in the guidebooks that may convince you otherwise, regardless of your hiking caliber!
Delicate Arch Hike – Useful Information
- Distance – 3 Miles (and 480ft climb)
- Duration – 2 to 3 Hours
- Difficulty – Moderate
A 3 mile round-trip hike may not seem much but when you add a 480 feet climb along with some rough terrain, it’s quite the challenge even for experienced hikers. However, this is a hiking trail that everyone can experience because you can take your time and enjoy every part of the trail on the journey to the top.
I would consider this to be a “moderate” difficulty hiking trail simply because of the steep gradient en route to the summit. The trail itself has a few tricky spots but overall, if the overhead conditions (in other words, it’s not raining or snowing) are in your favor, this is a trail that most individuals should be able to accomplish. I will add the caveat that unfortunately, this is not a trail accessible for wheelchairs because of the uneven surface.
Here are a couple of top tips you should consider before venturing out on the hike:
- Leave Early – If you are looking for the best time to experience the hike to Delicate Arch, I would recommend setting off early in the morning in time for the golden hour. But more than just being able to take epic photos of the landmark itself, an early morning hike is going to allow you to avoid the heat of the day because ALL of this hike is wide open without any form of cover to protect you from the searing heat which is prevalent in this part of Utah.
- Take Plenty of Water – You will frequently read that hikers should take at least 1 liter of water on this trail. This is exactly what we took and by the time we returned, 3 hours after starting, we had gone through all of this water. Plus…we visited on a perfect day, the temperature was around 65 degrees and with plenty of cloud to frequently cover the sun.
- Don’t Forget Your Camera – It goes without saying that once you reach the summit of this trail, you will want to spend some time admiring Delicate Arch “up close and personal”. Although you may be fearing the trail, you can certainly take your DSLR on this trail without worrying that it will impact your ability to climb to the top. Those epic shots that you capture once you arrive at Delicate Arch will definitely be worth the effort.
The Journey to the Top
Ok, so you have decided to take the plunge and hike to Delicate Arch. The journey starts out at Wolfe Ranch and if you arrive early enough, you will find a parking spot which will give you direct access to the trailhead.
Feel free to spend some time exploring this hut which has a rich history associated with John Wesley Wolfe who settled here in 1888. But of course, you could be forgiven for having little interest in exploring this hut given the real reason you are likely here is to venture out on the trail.
The start of the trail is along a gravel path as you cross a bridge and start the initial ascent. The first part is actually pretty steep but it’s a fairly short distance before it flattens out and you head towards the iconic climb. As you gaze towards the summit, you cannot help but see hundreds of fellow hikers ahead of you (or even some that are already returning from the top). Stay focused and take each step at a time because the trail progressively gets more difficult.
After heading down and back up through a valley, the real challenge begins as you head off the gravel path and on to the slick, bare rock slope. If there is any precipitation around, this is not going to be a fun experience but on a fine day, it’s all about taking your time and making your way up the slope.
Once you reach the top of the bare slope, you are around half way to Delicate Arch. The second half of the hike is less strenuous in terms of a climb but it’s more difficult terrain with a sandy/rocky trail all the way to the summit.
As you approach the final section of the hiking trail, you could be forgiven for thinking that you have likely faced the toughest part of the hike. However, depending on you personal fear of heights will likely determine just how challenging this final part is. Renowned as being a relatively narrow ledge, the final 200 meters are along a ledge with no barrier on one side and the rock face on the other side.
To be fair, it’s really not all that narrow as hikers can pass on either side without a real fear of getting too close to the edge. But one look over the edge may put the fear inside you, especially if you don’t do well with heights. As you make the final turn at the top of the ledge…you realize that you have reached the summit and all that effort was worth it.
So…let’s find out exactly what you can experience once you take those final steps along the rock ledge.
Delicate Arch Viewpoint
As you gaze over the landscape, you will realize that Delicate Arch sits on the edge of a sandstone bowl with steep edges around the side. Whether you choose to stay at the top of the hiking trail or hop over the wall to wander over to the Arch for a closer look, this is entirely personal preference. Heather stayed at the top of the trail and I ventured over to get a closer shot of Delicate Arch.
At an elevation over 4,600 feet and standing at 52 feet tall, Delicate Arch is probably the most iconic landmark not only in Arches National Park but also the state of Utah. This geological formation is a real sight to behold and it’s no surprise to hear that people from all corners of the globe make their way to this part of Utah to see this one landmark. In terms of the opening inside the arch, this measures 46 feet high and 32 feet wide, making this the largest free-standing arch throughout the national park.
Capture all of the selfies you want in front of Delicate Arch but PLEASE be careful because this is still a dangerous part of the hike where you need to watch every step you take.
If you are fortunate to visit during the golden hour, you will likely be rewarded with some breathtaking shots of not only the Arch but also the epic panoramic views across Arches National Park. The view from Delicate Arch across the park is incredible and don’t let anyone try to convince you that this hike isn’t worth the effort.
You did the hard part and saw the pièce de résistance inside Arches National Park but now you need to head back down. Don’t allow yourself to get too complacent because going downhill can be just as challenging in many regards as the climb up to the top. Be particularly careful as you walk back down the ledge and a fairly steep series of steps before you start back along the sandy trail.
After spending around 30 minutes at Delicate Arch, our journey back to Wolfe Ranch was certainly much quicker than the hike to the top. However, when we arrived at the bare rock face, we decided to take some time and admire the gorgeous scenery looking back down the rock. I’m sure folks just starting out on their hike were envious of us just as we were when we started our adventure 3 hours prior.
Be careful and you will easily make your way back to the parking lot where you can enjoy a much needed restroom break and grab something to eat before exploring more of Arches National Park.
The hike to Delicate Arch is one of the more challenging inside Arches National Park but I would argue that it’s the most rewarding. The effort you put in will certainly be rewarded by awe-inspiring views across this geological phenomenon. Choosing the right day in terms of weather is definitely something we strongly recommend because if you are stranded half way into this hike when it starts raining, this can lead to a tricky descent on extremely slick rock.
Delicate Arch has been a bucket list item for quite a while and having visited Arches previously, we decided this trip was going to be the time to conquer our fears and complete this trail. Heather was particularly nervous but she was able to overcome this fear and complete this epic hike. It probably took us a little over 3 hours, in addition to stopping for 30 minutes and the summit but on reflection, it was worth every bit of energy we exerted on this hike.
If you are planning a trip to Arches, we 100% recommend adding the Delicate Arch hiking trail to your itinerary…you will not regret it!