The short and steep hike to Delicate Arch is a must-do if you’re visiting Arches National Park just north of Moab, Utah.
DELICATE ARCH (ARCHES NATIONAL PARK)
- Trailhead Location: Wolfe Ranch parking area on the northern side of Delicate Arch Road
- (Latitude, Longitude: 38.736069, -109.520643)
- Payoff Factor: 4
- (1 being “A complete waste of time and energy”, 5 being “The payoff is definitely worth the effort“)
- Difficulty Factor: 2 (some sections are extremely steep, but along solid slick rock and minimal sand – be careful on the slick rock after the rare rain shower)
- 1 being your Grandma can do this hike, 5 being you’ll feel like your Grandma when this hike is over)
- Length (Distance): 3.1 miles round-trip
- Length (Time): 1.5 – 2 hours (with 30 minutes to spend at the arch)
- Cumulative Elevation Gain: 714 feet – most coming on the last mile of the trail (4,227 lowest, 4,865 highest)
Perhaps Edward Abbey sums the mysterious beauty of Delicate Arch the most in his book, Desert Solitaire:
A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us—like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness—that out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship. The shock of the real. For a little while we are again able to see, as the child sees, a world of marvels. For a few moments we discover that nothing can be taken for granted, for if this ring of stone is marvelous then all which shaped it is marvelous, and our journey here on earth, able to see and touch and hear in the midst of tangible and mysterious things-in-themselves, is the most strange and daring of all adventures.
Indeed, the grandeur of Delicate Arch will bring you back to the days when you first marveled at a beautiful sight as a child…there’s nothing on earth like this arch, so soak up the beauty and feel like a kid again!
It is highly recommended to make this short trek to catch the setting sun provide a dramatically contrasting orange and red glow on the beautiful arch that frames the picturesque (and often snow-capped) La Sal Mountains in the distance (the primary photo for this report was taken about 10 minutes before sunset).
- Note – there is one caveat that must be mentioned for this hike – no matter what time you go, expect crowds and endless amounts of people wanting their picture made underneath the arch. If you must have your picture taken under the arch, do so swiftly and let others have their turn. We saw one person have a least 10 pictures made over three to four trips under the arch, taking about five minutes each time. If you’re looking for solitude…avoid this hike altogether or make your trip just after sunrise.
- Also, don’t underestimate the difficulty…it is a short hike, but there will be no shade and you will need at least 2 liters of water per person due to the level of exertion and heat. This does not have to be a difficult hike if you come prepared.
The trailhead is very easy to find…head 11.8 miles into the park (from the turn off US Highway 191) and turn right onto Delicate Arch Road. The trailhead will be on your left after 1.2 miles.
The hike begins on the eastern end of the parking lot (just right of the pit toilets) and heads past the Wolfe Ranch which was established in 1898 and vacated about 20 years later (although it would be occupied by other residents until it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975).
After passing the Ranch, you will see a sign for a spur trail that leads to an ancient Ute petroglyph panel which clearly tells a story of a bighorn sheep hunt from horseback. Definitely worth the side trip!
Once you’re back on the main trail, follow the well-defined trail for about 0.4 miles up to the large slab of slick rock and follow the cairns up to the left and through a somewhat sandy section of the trail.
Once you climb back through the sandy section, head along a rock ledge with somewhat steep drop-offs to the left. Don’t worry if you have a severe fear of heights…the trail is at least three feet wide and you have a nice rock wall to balance against on your right side. After an easy 200 yard climb up the rock ledge, you arrive at Delicate Arch. Stay awhile and admire the amazing 52-foot arch that has been made famous by its depiction on the Utah state license plates!
Be careful on the way back down…the trail is very steep and can be hard on your knees…take your time and you will enjoy the quick descent.
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. – Edward Abbey
You may also want to check out Devil’s Garden Primitive Loop in Arches National Park!
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