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Hiking Arches National Park: Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch has to be Utah’s most recognizable landmarks.  It’s the first thing we saw on the road sign when we crossed into the state. And it’s certainly one of the most photographed sites in all of the National Park Service.  

Hiking to Delicate Arch ranks on travel bucket lists up with the likes of Yosemite Falls and the Statue of Liberty.

To say we’d been waiting for a LONG time for our chance to see it for ourselves would be an understatement. 

But as we’re learned in the extra-busy travel year, we weren’t the only ones looking forward to our hike to Delicate Arch.  Arches continues to see record numbers of visitors, often needed to temporarily close the park entrance to curb overcrowding and parking headaches.  And almost all of the visitors are also seeking to check off Delicate Arch.

Even with our careful planning and an early morning departure, it was still one of the most heavily trafficked hikes we’ve ever been on in a national park.  And that was in the off-season. 

Knowing when to go and what to expect when you visit Delicate Arch can certainly help improve your experience of seeing one of the most popular

Here’s our hiking report:

Table of Contents

Park Chasers at Delicate Arch
Par Chasers at Delicate Arch - April 2021

About Delicate Arch

The hike to the world’s most famous arch begins from the Wolfe Ranch Parking area.  For the best trail conditions and the fewest crowds, we recommend hiking as early in the day as possible or visiting Delicate Arch at sunset.

If you don’t wish to hike the trail, you can also visit the Delicate Arch Viewpoint. From this overlook you can see the arch from a distance, or hike a short 5-minute accessible trail to the arch viewing area.

For everyone else, pack plenty of water and a sturdy pair of shoes.

Distance and Difficulty

Delicate Arch out-and-back:  3 miles, moderate, heavily trafficked trail.

The Trailhead

From the park entrance, drive 11 miles north on the main road until you see the turn for Delicate Arch/Wolfe Ranch.  Turn right and drive 1.2 miles to the parking area on the left.  We arrived at the trial head in April by 8 AM and still needed to wait for parking. 

If the lot is full, travel on to the Delicate Arch Viewpoint parking area and walk back to the trailhead.

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Park Chasers Delicate Arch

Indigenous Roots at Delicate Arch

As part of our commitment to a more Diverse NPS, Park Chasers wants to acknowledge that the lands we now enjoy were once the home of many different indigenous communities.

According to the National Park Service (nps.gov):

“What is now Arches National Park was a ceremonial area for people who lived and farmed in the Moab valley. Moab is the only major crossing of the Colorado River for hundreds of miles, so this area saw extensive travel and trade, making it an important cultural feature for all tribes on a regional scale.”

The lands around Delicate Arch and Arches National Park once belonged to members of the:

  • Pueblo of Zuni (or A:shiwi),
  • the Hopi Tribe,
  • the Southern Ute Indian Tribe,
  • Ute Indian Tribe-Uintah and Ouray,
  • the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, and
  • the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians.

To learn more about native communities in the area – visit Native Lands.

To learn more about our commitment to greater diversity, inclusion, and access to public lands visit DiverseNPS.

Delicate Arch Trailhead
Delicate Arch is one of the most popular trails in the National Park Service. Expect plenty of hikers on your route.
View from the Delicate Arch Trail

What You'll See at Delicate Arch

From the Delicate Arch parking area, walk several hundred feet to your first major landmark on the trail – The historic remains for Wolfe Ranch.

Settled in 1888, the home gives a good idea of the harsh living early European settlers found when the arrived on the Colorado Plateau. 

Continue over a short bridge and you’ll find evidence of other residents in the area via a Ute petroglyph panel. 

At the time we departed, the trailhead was already starting to crowd up, so we opted to catch these stopping points on the way back from Delicate Arch.  Either way, it was fun to imagine these historic residents of Arches living with the now world-famous Delicate Arch right in their backyard.

Continue on the trail following the crowds and the cairns.  Much of the trail is on slickrock, so best to take it slow.  As you approach Delicate Arch, the trail narrows for about 200 feet on a ledge.  It requires single-file passing as fellow hikers descend from the arch and should be approached with caution.

Wolfe Ranch at Delicate Arch
Ute Petroglyphs Delicate Arch
Ute Petroglyphs along the Delicate Arch trail
The ledge at Delicate Arch
The ledge at Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch Slickrock
Much of the trail is open slickrock. Sturdy shoes are a must on this hike.

At the end of the ledge, you’ll turn a corner to the right and finally see the full view of Delicate Arch.  There’s a large area to space out and spend a few moments enjoying the view.  

While it’s possible to get closer to the arch, the National Park Service prohibits climbing on or near it.  During our visit, we were treated to a classic Moab windstorm which deterred us from hiking any further.  That wasn’t the case with many of the other hikers there–one of the downsides of the popularity of Delicate Arch. Plan for some creative photography to crop out the distractions and and be prepared for hikers who might not be using the best judgement.

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When to Hike to Delicate Arch

There’s really not a time of day to hike to Delicate Arch where you can expect a lot of solitude.  The parking lots fill quickly in the morning and will be busy until after sunset.  Given the traffic, we recommend visiting the Delicate Arch area at sunrise or just before sunset.

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Other Things to See in Arches National Park

After visiting Delicate Arch, check out some of our other recommendations for hiking, activities and scenic stops in the park: 

THE PARK CHASERS

THE PARK CHASERS

Greg & Amy
Chasing a visit to all 400+ units in the NPS
Current Count: 101/423

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