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 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.
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:
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.
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.
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