Explore The Outdoors / Explore The Parks

A Delicate Hike – Hiking to Delicate Arch on Earth Day

I’ve hike to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park before, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to hike it again on Earth Day.  I’d planned to do a sunrise hike, but when the alarm went off, I hit snooze for a bit longer, but still managed to make it to the trailhead before the big crowds.  That’s my biggest tip on this hike – go early!  It’s best to be to the trailhead by 8am, otherwise you’ll be hiking with others in droves.

Delicate Arch is the most iconic hike in Arches.  It’s the best known arch in the national park with more than 2,000 stone arches.  It’s a symbol of Utah, the desert, and earth.  It’s even on the Utah license plate.  It is a remnant of an ancient fin.  This freestanding arch precariously perched on the edge of slickrock bowl, has had many nicknames including Cowboy Chaps and Old Maid’s Bloomers, but I think Delicate is the best suited name for this graceful ring of stone.

The hike starts at Wolfe Ranch.  It is rated as a moderately strenuously hike, in part because of the quick elevation gain on slickrock.  Another tip on this hike – be prepared!  Take more water than you think you need, have layers, wear sneakers or hiking shoes, and slather on the sunscreen.  You are fully exposed the entire time on this hike in the dry and often sweltering desert.  Since it’s only 1.5-miles to Delicate Arch (3 miles round trip), I think inexperienced hikers underestimate the difficulty.  This is not the same as a walk around the neighborhood.  You will be huffing and puffing with the quick 500 foot elevation gain.

The first thing you see on the trail is the historic Wolfe Ranch, settled in 1888 by John Wolfe.  He sold it in 1910.  You cross Salt Wash on a small bridge and hike a well worn path.  I noticed the offshoot trail to petroglyphs and decided I would do that on the way back.  The first half mile of the hike is fairly easy on the wide, mostly level path.

As you start the climb, the well defined path disappears and you have to follow cairns, which are stacks of rocks guiding the way.  You’ll also likely see a hikers ahead of you helping to guide the way.  The next half mile is virtual up the whole way.  It’s the hardest section of the hike as you climb up slickrock.  Be on the lookout for lizards.  I saw a bunch of small ones scurrying across the rocks.

You can catch your breath a little as you continue on a more level, and more sandy part of the trail.  Hiking this stretch I felt like I had entered something out of this world.  The landscape is filled with mounds of slickrock and unusual rock formations.  There are a few trees and a lot of sand as you make your way through this section.

You curve off to the right and suddenly hiking along a semi-narrow cliff.  There’s room to comfortably pass a hiker going back down, but you do have to be careful on this section.  You’ll notice an arch on your right, especially with the sun shining through it.  That’s Frame Arch.

The trail continues as a ledge from there for about 200 yards.  One of the coolest parts of this hike is you don’t see Delicate Arch until the very end.  As you walk along the rock and Delicate Arch comes into view for the first time, it will take your breath away.  On a second visit, I can tell you it does the same, as I let out an audible “wow” when I saw it on this hike.


The arch which is 33 feet wide and 45 feet high is truly postcard or poster worthy.  I took a few moments to just enjoy the stunning beauty of the snow covered La Sal Mountains as a backdrop for Delicate Arch.  This is also a great time to chat with other hikers, like I did with two guys from California.  I found out they were on a 5 national parks in 7 days adventure.  I love hearing others’ stories from the trail.  Take a moment to enjoy the surrounding scenery too.  While Delicate Arch is the highlight, the rest of the terrain is pretty stunning too.

As I hiked back down, I noticed a beautiful white flower growing out of the rocks.  The sego lily was a stunning symbol of beauty against the rugged landscape.  I marvel at how such a beautiful flower flourishes from the rock cracks.

I took the quarter of a mile detour off the main trail to check out the petroglyphs.  Indian rock art fascinates me.  Since I was the only one there, I also had a lizard almost pose for me in the sunshine.  As I looked at the rock art I couldn’t help but wonder what the story was about and what the symbols were saying to others.  These petroglyphs date back to between 1650 and 1850 A.D.  The horse and rider surrounded by bighorn sheep and dog-like animals is typical of Ute rock art from that time period.

I rejoined the main trail and enjoyed the partial view of Double Arch (you can see one of the arches) and the landscape that is home to the Windows, another famous formation in Arches.

I was getting short on time, but decided to drive the 1.2 miles to Delicate Arch Viewpoint to get a different view of the stunning ring of stone.

After the hike I had just enough time to grab an almond mike latte and New Mexico Burrito (egg, potato, cheese, salsa – and if you want chorizo) from Love Muffin Cafe and enjoy the patio at Moab Digs Upstairs and Moab Digs Downstairs, my favorite place to stay in Moab, before I had to hit the road for my next adventure.

Moab Digs

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  1. Pingback: Why Winter is the Best Time to Hike to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park - Swept Away Today

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