Delicate Arch Hike in Arches National Park: What to Expect

The Delicate Arch hike in Arches National Park is one of the most well-known hikes in Southern Utah. Located in Moab, Delicate Arch is one of the most photographed natural arches in the world. It is massive in size and has become an iconic symbol of Utah, hence why it is on their state license plate. Hiking the Delicate Arch trail was one of the highlights of our national parks road trip, and while it is only a 3-mile hike, it is doable for most. Here is what to expect if you’re thinking of hiking to Delicate Arch.

Delicate Arch hike
Delicate Arch Hike

Delicate Arch Hike Factsheet

  • Distance: 3 miles round trip
  • Approximate hiking time: about 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Type of trail: Out and back
  • Elevation gain: 480 feet
  • Bathrooms: Yes at the trailhead

Hike to Delicate Arch Tips

The Delicate Arch Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Utah, and draws plenty of visitors to Arches National Park. Be prepared to share the trail with people, as you are not alone in wanting to see that classic Delicate Arch viewpoint. If you are looking to avoid some of the crowds, try going early in the morning or later in the afternoon. If you start/end your hike when it’s dark, don’t forget a headlamp, as your phone light may not be bright enough. Another useful tip, especially in the summer, is to bring plenty of water (1-2 liters) as there is little/no shade on the trail. There are also no water fountains at the trailhead.

Hiking to Delicate Arch with Young Kids

I saw plenty of hikers with babies and toddlers in a backpack carrier and even some 3-5 year olds hiking to Delicate Arch. I thought they were crazy, but also admired them for still adventuring with little ones. I wish I would have done that when my kids were younger, that way, they would have gotten used to hiking.

Personally, at that age, I do not think my kids would have been able to do this hike. You see, we are from Florida, and we don’t hike often. Our first hike was in Smoky Mountain National Park when they were 5 and 7. Since then, we have hiked in Yellowstone and Grand Teton, Acadia, Glacier, North Dakota, California, and other state parks/trails around the country. You know your kids best. If they have never hiked before, or have only done gentle nature trails, then this may be tough for them. While the elevation gain isn’t that bad, it does go uphill and certain points and towards the end, there are a few steep drop-offs that are not for the faint of heart.

Our kids were 10 and 12 at the time, and they loved the Delicate Arch Trail. Their favorite part (just like most people) is at the end where you get to see the Delicate Arch viewpoint. We did stop once we reached the arch to take a break for about 15 minutes and have a snack. While we did complete this in the summer, we arrived around 8 AM and didn’t experience the full brunt of the desert heat. Have your kids wear a hat and apply sunscreen before the hike, and stop a few times for water breaks.

Delicate Arch Viewpoint Kids
Delicate Arch Viewpoint

What to Expect Hiking to Delicate Arch

Below, you will see a few pictures and short videos about our hike to Delicate Arch. Hopefully, you will get a sense of what to expect on the Delicate Arch Trail, especially if you are traveling with young kids or someone with mobility issues, then you can see if it’s a hike that you can attempt.

One of the things I loved about the hike to Delicate Arch was the varying scenery. You traverse gravel, pavement, dirt, slick rock, sand, and exposed rock. I broke up the hike into those sections, so you could see the variety of the Delicate Arch Trail.

The Beginning

The parking lot for Delicate Arch is large. It is located at Wolfe Ranch Cabin. James Wolfe and his family lived here from 1888 to 1910. After crossing a small foot bridge, you’ll see a sign and a side trail off to the left that takes you to a Ute petroglyph panel, depicting horses and sheep.

It begins relatively flat, but starts going up some switchbacks and gaining elevation rather quickly.

Be sure to take in all of the surroundings when hiking to Delicate Arch, not just what’s in front of you. This beginning section of the hike starts off with hills in the distance and switchbacks cutting through the hillside. Hiking poles are very useful on this hike! We bought them specifically for this national parks road trip, and they really helped take the brunt of the inclines and kept us sure-footed. Plus, it made the kids happy!

The Middle

The middle portion of the Delicate Arch hike is ascending up a huge rock hill. I would highly recommend that you use hiking shoes with grip and not regular sneakers. We had no issues slipping because we all had the proper footwear. I will admit, it does look intimidating, but it wasn’t that horrible. In addition, the views from the top were pretty nice.

Once you trudge up that rock, the trail levels off. There are some areas that are a bit narrow and then other areas open up to beautiful rock formations. This was a very nice section of the hike and a little over the halfway point.

Hike to delicate arch

The Grand Finale

The last section of the Delicate Arch hike involved two ledge areas. The first opened up to a scenic area with some spectacular views, a little cave area and window arch that required some climbing to get to. This is the section where kids need to be careful as it does have a cliff edge; however, it is plenty wide (about 3 feet). I thought this was the place where you could see the Delicate Arch viewpoint, but I was wrong.

This is the final walkway before reaching Delicate Arch. My favorite part about this hike to Delicate Arch is the surprise reveal. I love that you literally cannot see the arch until the very end. It was beautiful!

Once you are there, take the time to sit, rest, and enjoy the views – you’ve earned it! Many people go on to walk a bit further and take a picture under the arch. It really helps you understand the grand scale of this arch and gives you perspective when the people under it look like tiny ants.

Other Options Instead of Hiking to Delicate Arch

If you do not want to or cannot complete the 3 mile Delicate Arch hike and you still want to see the famous arch, then you have two options:

  • Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint
  • Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint

While our family did not complete these, it was our backup if the parking lot would have been full or if we didn’t get to hike to Delicate Arch for whatever reason. The Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint is not really a hike. You can see the arch, but it is quite far. The Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint is a short 1/2 mile trail; however, the arch is still far away. If the 3 mile Delicate Arch Trail is not possible, then this is second place.

The Delicate Arch Trail is the premier trail in Arches National Park, yet there so many other arches found in the park, that if you cannot hike this, you will still see some fantastic natural arches. Here are some of my favorites:

You could also check out the Arches National Park brochure for a general overview of the park, history, map, and trail info.

Final Thoughts on the Hike to Delicate Arch

The Delicate Arch Trail is one of my favorite hikes to date. It provides varying topography, has elevation gain, a scenic desert landscape, and a surprise reveal at the end. While it is likely the most popular hike in Arches National Park, there are ways to avoid the throngs of people. Visiting during the shoulder seasons help, as well as going early in the morning or later in the afternoon. Regardless of when you choose to visit Utah, the Delicate Arch hike is not to be missed and is not overly strenuous.

One of my favorite apps, when I hike, is AllTrails. You can check out all of the facts of the hike, see reviews, pictures, and if you purchase the pro version, you can download the map and see your GPS location while on the trail. If you hike more than once a year, I highly recommend buying the pro version, as knowing where you are on the trail is very helpful to make sure you are on the right path. It also helps answer the question my kids always ask on a hike, “how much further”?

If you plan on visiting multiple national parks in a year, consider buying the America the Beautiful pass. If you happen to have a ten year old, you can sign up for a free national parks pass for the entire family. We were able to get the fourth-grade national parks pass, and completed many junior ranger programs.

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