Southwestern US, US National Parks

Iconic Utah – Hiking to Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch is inarguably the most iconic sight in all of Utah. It’s on the license plate, the state quarter, signs all over the state, and numerous other things. But none of these can prepare you for the majesty of the arch itself. The first time I saw it 11 years ago, I was completely in awe.

This was many years before I began this blog and, by the time I sat down to write about it, my memories and photos of the trip were pretty subpar. It was July and it was 102°F (39°C) and we couldn’t possibly drink enough water and gatorade to stay hydrated, despite our best efforts. But that’s about all I remember. Besides the arch itself, obviously.

Well, Pat and I were able to sneak away to Utah for Thanksgiving 2020 for a socially distanced national parks getaway. On the day of our arrival, we headed into Arches for the afternoon. This was Pat’s second trip to the park (we went with my family in 2018) and this time around I was determined to take him to Delicate Arch so he could experience its grandeur with his own two eyes. And with this more recent visit, I decided it’s high time to update this post.

It’s not a long or terribly steep hike to Delicate Arch, but much of the trail involves following cairns across an endless expanse of slickrock. Also it’s the desert so the air is extremely dry, and for much of the year it’s brutally hot. Don’t let the short distance fool you; good shoes and lots of water and electrolytes are key to completing this hike safely.

The “trail”

The trail to Delicate Arch departs from Wolfe Ranch. After circling the parking lot a couple times and semi-stalking a family as they walked back to their car and vacated their spot, we secured parking and set off for the arch. Along with about 200 other people. This trail is a zoo, even in the off-season. I didn’t realize there would be so many people hiking on Thanksgiving.

As we climbed the slickrock, we took time to stop and appreciate the scenery. Some of the best views, in my opinion, are in the final stretch of trail, beginning with the swirling red rock formations. Up to the right is Frame Arch, which earned its name for obvious reasons.

Trail views
Frame Arch handstand (this photo is from my 2010 hike)
Frame Arch
Delicate Arch from Frame Arch

Also, this final section of trail is rather precarious… but in a fun way! Although I suppose its funness (is that a word?) is contingent upon your enjoyment of trails that look like this:

Approaching Delicate Arch

One final curve of this neat and/or frightening trail and we’ve reached Delicate Arch! The arch itself is obviously the highlight, but the entire amphitheater is just a really neat area.

The amphitheater

There were, of course, tons of people here. But on both of my visits, people were very orderly and considerate. There was a line to take photos under the arch and most people (save for one annoyingly clueless family) did their best to stay out of the way and ensure everyone got their photos. It reinforced my faith in humanity’s ability to not completely suck.

Delicate Arch handstand

Oh and also, on either the hike up or down don’t forget to take the little loop at the beginning of the trail, right near the Wolfe Ranch cabin. There are a few petroglyphs on one of the rocks here.

These particular rock carvings were made by the Utes sometime between 1650-1850 AD. We were surprised by this relatively recent date; most of the Native American rock art and other ruins we’ve seen in this area are much older. There is thousands of years of Native American history in the desert southwest, and we are learning about it piece by piece as we visit these various sites. I’m glad that so much of it is preserved and protected so that we can all learn about the people to whom this land originally belonged.

The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: Arches is located off of US Highway 191, 4 miles (6.4 km) north of Moab, Utah; once in the park, follow signs to Wolfe Ranch and Delicate Arch
  • Fees & passes: $30 per car for a 7-day pass; Interagency Passes are accepted. As of April 2022, you will also need a timed-entry permit to enter the park. These must be reserved in advance here. If you have a campground reservation inside the park, you are exempt from this requirement but must have a printed copy of your reservation
  • Hiking: the trail to Delicate Arch is 3 miles (4.8 km) round-trip with 600 feet (185 m) elevation gain, mostly on slickrock and sand
  • Where to stay: Devil’s Garden is the only campground in the park (51 sites, no hookups, reservations necessary most of the year), but there are many camping options ranging from primitive to full hookups in Moab and the surrounding BLM land, and Moab has hotels, cabins, and hostels as well. Reservations are required for most of these options, but BLM campgrounds are first-come-first-serve
  • Showers: there are no showers in the park since it’s the desert and water is limited, but public showers are available in Moab; we went to the Lazy Lizard Hostel and were very pleased, but here’s the full list of options
  • Other: remember, everyone wants to have their picture taken beneath the arch; please be considerate of this as you take your turn

29 thoughts on “Iconic Utah – Hiking to Delicate Arch”

  1. It’s such a familiar image, it’s good to see it for yourself. I also appreciate the consideration of other visitors so that everyone has their moment, as you say it gives faith in humanity. Thanks for highlighting it

    Liked by 1 person

  2. OMG, I just never get tired of seeing photos from Arches National Park (or going there)! Weird though that I don’t remember the vastness of that swirling amphitheatre formation looking toward Delicate Arch from Frame Arch. Time to return! I’m glad you were able to visit last year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it’s so easy to get caught up in something so iconic that everything else gets overlooked. Even though I’d been there before, I didn’t really remember how neat the landscape was either.


  3. I would love love love to take a road trip through Utah and hit up all the national parks along the way. The landscape here looks incredible. What a great spot to do your handstand. I bet the other people waiting in line were probably wondering how they could possibly top that for a good photo!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha I did hear a few gasps and “whoas” as I did it. It actually made me a little nervous to have so many people watching… sometimes it’s not easy to pull off a great handstand with big heavy hiking boots on my feet.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. While the other Utah National Parks are also superb, our favorite was definitely Arches and your description of the Delicate Arch hike brought back great memories from about seven years ago including seeing the sunset from the Amphitheater after we made the hike. I was also convinced that this and one of the other famed arches were so precarious, that if we stayed there just a few more minutes, we would see it crumble. The geology is truly outstanding is as the handstand framed by the iconic formation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow, I bet sunset from Delicate Arch was amazing! I’m sure some of the arches will crumble away one day, sadly. I know Landscape Arch already has somewhat… my mom first visited Arches in the 70s and the span of Landscape Arch was much thicker. A few years after, a big hunk of rock fell down leaving behind just the thin span now visible.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I’d hope to go to Arches last fall, but due to starting a new job and other personal affairs, I unfortunately could not go. I’m DYING to go, though, as my parents had gone and have shown me stunning photos of the arches (as well as yours)! Perhaps I’ll try to add in a few extra days of driving should I end up deciding to hit the Vegas/Antelope Canyon area of the US, hopefully this fall, and drive up to Utah for that million-dollar shot! Thanks for sharing your adventures, old and recent, Diana! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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