Delicate Arch is arguably the most iconic image of Utah. It’s on their license plate, state quarter, and probably every other photo of Utah you’ve ever seen. And with good reason… it’s huge! I didn’t really realize just how huge until I was standing under it looking up and realizing that, in the grand scheme of things, I’m pretty insignificant.
So for obvious reasons, Delicate Arch is a must-do during a visit to Arches National Park. It’s a 4 mile (6.4 km) round trip hike and it’s not overly steep, but we spent most of the time walking across giant rock faces in extreme heat. The day we did this hike, it was 102°F (39°C).
And it’s Utah, so it’s dry heat. You could drink a gallon of water and still not be properly hydrated because the air is so dry. We each had 2 Nalgenes and some Gatorade with us, and we finished them by the end of the hike. In fact, we were drinking 5-6 Nalgenes per day each and by 9pm maybe, maybe we’d have to go to the bathroom.
Long story short, it’s hot and dry in Utah in late July. Arches may be a better destination for April or May. But the end of July was when we could go, so we just had to suck it up.
The Delicate Arch trailhead is located 1.2 miles (1.9 km) off the main park road at Wolfe Ranch, which today is little more than a couple old run-down buildings. However, in the early 1900s, Wolfe Ranch was the home of John Wesley Wolfe and family.
The trail to Delicate Arch is basically a walk across the flat red rocks that comprise most of the park. The trail is marked by rock cairns and is not always super obvious, so we had to really keep an eye out to make sure we didn’t stray off course. We could see Delicate Arch way off in the distance even from the parking lot and it was fun to watch it get progressively closer as we hiked. Behind us, the La Sal mountains were visible in the distance.
Delicate Arch eventually disappeared from view as we curved around behind some rocks. At about mile 1.5, we came to Frame Arch. It’s a little bit up off the trail but a fairly easy climb, and Delicate Arch is perfectly framed making for a great photo op!
At last, we reached Delicate Arch. And it is indeed huge. The tiny people in the photos really provide some perspective. Of course everybody wants to get their photo taken under the arch; thankfully everyone was really good about lining up, taking their turn, and moving out of the way. Kind of restored some of my faith in humanity.
After eating lunch on the rock face overlooking the arch, we retraced our steps back to the car, anxious for some air conditioning. Have I mentioned yet that Utah is HOT in late July?
Despite the warning signs everywhere, we saw so many people on the trail with a tiny bottle of water, or even none at all. I was dying of thirst having consumed 2 liters of water during the hike, so I can’t imagine these ill-prepared hikers fared excessively well.
Upon arriving back at Wolfe Ranch, we hopped into the car, blasted the AC, and drove the remaining 1 mile (1.6 km) down the Wolfe Ranch Road to Lower and Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoints; a good alternative if hiking all the way to the arch isn’t for you. At the end of the road we also stopped at Cache Valley Overlook, with views of Cache Valley and Dome Plateau, located outside the park’s eastern boundary.
Exhausted after a long, hot day of hiking, we then headed out of the park and back to our campsite in Dead Horse Point State Park for the night.
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: located off of US Highway 191, 5 miles (8 km) north of Moab, UT
- Fees & passes: $25 per car for a 7-day pass; Interagency Annual Pass accepted
- Camping: Devils Garden Campground; we didn’t stay here, but it’s $25 per night and reservations are necessary
- Hiking: the trail to Delicate Arch departs from the Wolfe Ranch parking lot. It’s a 4 mile (6.4 km) RT hike, and the trail is often not well-marked. It’s also very exposed… there’s no shade so lots of sunscreen and water are a must!
- Other: remember, everyone wants to have their picture taken beneath the arch; please be considerate of this as you take your turn