Distance: 3.2 miles round trip | Time: 2 – 3 hours | Level: Moderate
Delicate Arch is one of the most iconic views in the U.S. southwest and, hands down, the most sought after arch in Arches National Park. Unlike many other arches, Delicate Arch stands completely alone. With no support on either side, it’s evident how the arch earned the name, delicate.
However, don’t let its popularity deter you from hiking Delicate Arch Trail. Watching the sunrise from Delicate Arch was one of our favorite moments on our three-week-long Utah road trip.
In this guide, I cover the best time of day to start your hike, what to expect, and how to enjoy your time at Delicate Arch. I also include details on the new timed entry system for Arches National Park, as well as how to secure a permit.
Complete Guide to Enjoying your Hike to Delicate Arch
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Most Commonly Asked Questions about Delicate Arch Trail
Is Delicate Arch better for Sunrise or Sunset?
If you’re hoping for the best experience, i.e. less crowds, sunrise is going to be the best time to hike Delicate Arch Trail. Keep in mind, in order to beat the crowds, you want to aim to be at Delicate Arch before the sun breaks the horizon.
Not only will doing so help you avoid sharing the trail with hundreds of others, but you will also get your choice of where to sit.
The slickrock bowl surrounding Delicate Arch is big and allows hikers to spread out. Cole and I walked quite a ways on the slickrock before choosing a spot that awarded us with a great view of the sunrise and of Delicate Arch.
Keep in mind that even during the earliest hours of the day, you will be sharing the arch with a good number of others.
If sunrise doesn’t fit into your travel plans, sunset is also a good time to visit the arch. While there will be a huge amount of other hikers at the arch, it’s a stunning time for photography. As the sun begins to dip below the horizon, it casts a fiery red glow onto the arch.
For a split second, you might even forget that you’re sharing the view with hundreds of others.
Is Delicate Arch Trail difficult?
I think it’s safe to say that many people underestimate just how physically demanding Delicate Arch Trail is. It’s not your typical, pull-over-on-the-side-of-the-road, take a picture, and hop back in, park attraction.
Delicate Arch makes you work for it.
The trail isn’t technical and doesn’t require any previous hiking experience, but it does require some stamina. From the get-go you’ll be steadily inclining all the way to the arch. It’s not a race so take your time and stop when needed (just make sure to step aside when you do to help keep the trail traffic moving).
Is Delicate Arch Crowded?
Delicate Arch Trail is heavily trafficked at all times of day and times of the year. While reaching the arch by sunrise, or hiking the trail in winter, will decrease the number of people on the trail it won’t eliminate them.
With iconic hikes like Delicate Arch Trail it is best to go into them knowing they will be packed. Practice patience and remember National Parks are for everyone.
Is Delicate Arch Worth the Hype?
Regardless of the crowds, Delicate Arch is absolutely worth the hype and a must see while in Arches National Park.
Not only is Delicate Arch way more beautiful in person, but the surrounding views are also worth the trek in itself. Delicate Arch is a free standing arch, situated in a large bowl of slickrock. It seems surreal that the elements could form such an incredible landmark.
What to Expect Hiking Delicate Arch Trail
We pulled into the Delicate Arch Trail parking lot in the pitch black. At that time, there were only a handful of other cars in the lot. The parking lot is very large but was still nearly full by the time we made it back to our car.
From the lot, the trail starts off pretty mild. The path is gravel and the incline is minimal for the first half mile or so. After this section, the elevation gain becomes a little less gradual as you approach the section of slickrock.
Once you reach the slickrock, the trail becomes less defined. Take note of rock cairns (stacks of rock) to help guide you through this section. Once more hikers are on the trail, you don’t have to worry about navigating this portion as much.
However, if you’re like us and attempting the slickrock section in the dark it can be tricky. Make sure to pack along a headlamp if you’re aiming for sunrise or planning to stay after the sun goes down.
This section of the trail is the most physically demanding. Remember to take breaks when you need them and to step aside when doing so.
At the top of the slickrock section hikers are rewarded with views in every direction.
The last stretch, and my favorite section, of trail involves a narrow path with red rock on your right and a steep drop off on your left. The path here is about three feet wide and leaves plenty of room for two lanes of foot traffic.
However, for someone afraid of heights this section could give some pause.
During this section it’s tempting to want to look down at your feet but don’t forget to look up from time to time. Some of the best views of Arches National Park, in my opinion, can be seen from this section of Delicate Arch Trail.
While shimmying along this drop off section, you can also spot Twisted Donut Arch to your right. This arch is a small hole in the rock that offers hikers their first glance, and unique perspective, of Delicate Arch.
If you’re like us and miss Twisted Donut Arch on your way in, don’t worry. I like to think our first view of Delicate Arch was so memorable because it took us by surprise.
The view of Delicate Arch remains hidden behind the tall red walls of sandstone. We knew we must be close to the end of the trail but the arch was nowhere in sight.
Finally, we rounded the last corner of the trail and found ourselves looking out over the mighty, Delicate Arch.
We were among the first four people to reach the arch. Witnessing Delicate arch, away from the crowds and noise, is a moment we will cherish forever.
If you’re comfortable walking on the slickrock, continue walking along the rim of the bowl. Many hikers will stop and congregate around where the trail ends. If you continue walking and find a spot to sit further in, you’ll have a little more privacy.
Trail Etiquette and Leave No Trace Tips For Delicate Arch Trail
Crowded trails can lead to unpleasant experiences, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If we all do our part in abiding by the leave no trace principles and practicing trail etiquette we can help make even the busiest of trails enjoyable.
Ditch the Plastic Water Bottle
If you’re still purchasing and using plastic water bottles, it’s time to invest in a handy reusable bottle.
For one, it helps the environment, and two, it helps you by ensuring you’re carrying enough water. For a hike of this length, in the desert, you should be carrying around 1.5 liters of water.
Unfortunately, we passed several people out of water on this hike and saw even more plastic water bottles discarded along the trail and parking lot.
Want to listen to music while you hike? Great! Just please make sure you’re not requiring everyone to listen to your music as well. When on any trail, even ones where you think you’re alone, please use headphones.
Many hikers turn to the sport to escape the noise of everyday life. While this might not be the case for you, please be respectful to those who are.
Share the Trail
When a trail is busy, it’s particularly important to be mindful of those around you. A few reminders:
- Hikers coming uphill have the right-away
- If you need to take a break, step to the side
- Do not take up the whole trail walking shoulder to shoulder with your party, and
- If hikers behind you are walking at a faster pace than you, step aside and let them pass
Use Indoor Voices
Nothing quite ruins the moment just before the sun rises or just as it’s setting like someone hootin an hollarin beside you. As we were leaving Delicate Arch, we couldn’t believe how loud some group of hikers were.
Be respectful of those around you and make sure that your conversation cannot be overheard by others.
Hold on to your Belongings
We saw not one, not two, but three water bottles go tumbling down the slickrock bowl. None of them were retrieved because (1) it’s a long way down, and (2) it’s not safe.
Day packs are a huge help in keeping all your things together and safe. Additionally, packs allow you to keep your hands free when hiking.
Don’t Stand Under the Arch
Delicate Arch is a highly sought out natural wonder that many people wait a lifetime to experience.
We want everyone to be able to view, appreciate, and photograph the arch without a random hiker posing under it. While it can be tempting to run under the arch, be mindful of the experience of those around you.
While no one attempted to stand under the arch while we were there, I have heard stories of people getting booed for doing so. Not that I would ever stand by booing others, but you get the point.
On another note, as the name suggests, the arch is delicate and is believed to fall in the near future.
Avoid the Crowds with these Hikes in Arches National Park
Yes, you should expect crowds when visiting Arches National Park, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find untouched gems to explore. AllTrails is a great resource to use when searching for off-the-beaten path trails.
Tower Arch Trail
Tower Arch Trail was hands down our favorite hike we did in Arches National Park. If your prerogative is to experience Arches National Park away from the crowds and chaos, this is the hike for you. We only saw two other people on the trail all morning.
Not only is Tower Arch trail secluded and beautiful, but the arch itself is the most grand arch in Arches National Park, in my humble opinion. Stretching 92 feet overhead, Tower Arch has that incredible power to humble you just by its presence.
Devils Garden (Primitive Loop) Trail
Devils Garden’s Primitive Trail is another close second when it comes to claiming the title for best hike in Arches National Park. The trail boasts eight different arches, including the longest arch in North America.
What makes it such a great trail is hikers can opt to explore the several spur trails, navigate the primitive trail loop, or take a short out-and-back trek. If you’re up for the less popular primitive trail option, you’ll be rewarded with a quiet trail and endless, untouched views.
Arches National Park Reservations
As of January 3, 2022, Arches National Park requires a reservation. If you plan to visit the park between April 3rd – October 3rd from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., you will need to secure a reservation prior to arriving.
Up to three months in advanced, timed entry reservation tickets can only be purchased online or by phone. You can learn more about the timed entry system here.
Make sure that you’ve already created an account with recreation.gov and are logged in prior to attempting to reserve a ticket. Doing so will increase your chances of securing a reservation for your desired date and time.
Purchase your timed entry ticket here.
Don’t forget to have your timed entry ticket, photo ID, and valid park pass (you can also pay at the booth) upon arrival. We always opt for the America the Beautiful pass so we can get unlimited access into all U.S. National Parks throughout the year.
Have you been to Arches National Park or planning a trip? Drop any questions you have about hiking Delicate Arch Trail, or finding off-the-beaten path adventures in Arches.
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