Delicate Arch Hike – Arches National Park, UT
By Lynn Bremner
UPDATE: Planning to visit Arches from April 3 to October 3, 2022? You’ll need to make a timed entry reservation in advance to enter the park. Visit Arches National Park website for more details.
One hundred yards to go along the Delicate Arch Trail — I leaned into the rock wall behind me to take in the scenery and to photograph the breathtaking view. It was overcast and a brilliant slice of rainbow peeked through the gray clouds. It was August and I was hiking with a friend. Our goal was to see the Arch at sunset.
The wind picked up as we continued along the ledge. The gusts kept us cool, but also kept us reaching for our hats as they threatened to sail off! The last leg of the trail to the arch is cut into a rock wall with a steep drop off along the left side. It was fairly wide, but my fear of heights kept me on the right side leaning into the wall. I asked another hiker how much farther we had to go to arrive at the arch. Recognizing the look on my face he said, “Don’t worry. It’s not that bad and only a short distance ahead. I’m afraid of heights too.” Encouraged, I continued on and worked my way around the corner. When the arch came into view I stopped in my tracks. It was breathtaking.
Poised on the far side of a natural amphitheatre, Delicate Arch is a grand sight to see. Maybe it was the stormy sky or the rainbow in the distance, but it felt like I was on top of the world and somehow closer to heaven. My eyes scanned the landscape as I took in the scene in front of me. As time slowly ticked by I became lost in the moment. It was so peaceful there. It was a place where you could detach from the noise around you and just be still.
I set up my tripod across from the arch and took a few photos. My hiking partner Abbie decided to explore the amphitheater. She got some great photos of the arch from the side. Behind the arch there is a steep drop off and from the side you can see how delicate it really is. It’s incredible to imagine how time and the elements have shaped this natural phenomenon.
Quite a few people were spread out along the top portion of the amphitheater. At first glace the natural bowl seemed quite steep, but as I moved to a different angle I could see that it was easy to navigate and safe enough for families with kids to sit in, and take in the views. Hikers lined up to have their photos taken under the arch.
The sky never cleared for a sunset shot, but we were satisfied with the photos we were able to capture. After spending about 30 minutes photographing the arch, we packed up the equipment and started back towards the trail. We both turned around one last time to look at it. What an amazing place. As I engraved the image into my memory, I turned back towards the trail. Maybe my mind was on the arch and the experience of seeing it in person, because I hardly noticed the steep drop offs along the rock ledge on the return route.
The arch itself is amazing, but I think it was the combined experience of the hike, the natural amphitheater, and views from all directions that made Delicate Arch an unforgettable experience for me. The hike was strenuous at times and there are steep drop offs, but only for a short portion along the trail. The effort is well worth it if you are physically able to make the journey to the top. It was one of the highlights of my trip.
Facts about Delicate Arch …
Formed of Entrada sandstone, the fin was gradually worn down through the process of erosion, and Delicate Arch was created. Its distinct shape sets it apart from other arches in the park. The arch is 65-feet high and free-standing, which makes it the most widely-recognized landmark in Arches National Park according to Wikipedia. It is depicted on Utah license plates and was featured on a commemorative stamp in 1996.
If you go …
Be sure to take plenty of water and to allow enough time to hike up and back. It took me at least 45 minutes and I was moving at a fast pace. Plan on two to three hours for a round trip hike. It’s up hill for a majority of the trail to the Arch. You’ll get a good workout on the ascent. There were a lot of families up there with older kids who were able to make the hike. I would not recommend it for families with young kids due to the strenuous nature of the hike and the steep drop offs without railings. There are restrooms at the trailhead and parking is hard to find, so you may have to park down the road if the lot is full. It is recommended that you hike the trail in the cooler hours of the early morning or late in the day during the summer months due to high temperatures.
Starting Point: Wolfe Ranch parking area
Length: 3 miles (4.8 km) round trip
Time: 2 to 3 hours
Elevation change: 480 feet (146 meters)
Take at least 1 quart (1 liter) of water per person! There is no shade. Open slickrock with some exposure to heights. The first half-mile is a wide, well-defined trail. Upon reaching the slickrock, follow the rock cairns. The trail climbs gradually and levels out toward the top of this rock face. Just before you get to Delicate Arch, the trail goes along a rock ledge for about 200 yards. Carefully consider weather conditions (summer heat or winter ice) and your own health and fitness before beginning this hike. Rangers frequently rescue people who underestimated the trail’s difficulty.
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