If you’re wondering what the Delicate Arch hike is like, find out here in this complete guide – tips & tricks included!
Delicate Arch is literally a Utah icon. Even if you have no idea what Delicate Arch looks like, you’ve seen it if you’ve ever seen a Utah license place. If that picture above looks familiar, that’s because it’s Delicate Arch!
Although Zion National Park is the most popular national park in Utah, Arches is probably the most recognizable – largely thanks to this icon.
I recently visited the Utah “Mighty 5” national parks (Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef) and trekked through all of them. Although I went on probably a dozen or so hikes, the Delicate Arch hike was my absolute favorite. It was difficult, certainly, but it was an awe-inspiring experience that I would 100% do again.
Are you thinking of enjoying the sunrise at Delicate Arch? Find out everything you need to know in this guide!
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Where is Delicate Arch located?
Delicate Arch is located in Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. Once you enter Arches, you have to drive about 25 minutes on the Scenic Road to pretty close to the back of the park. This means that the trailhead is ~35-45 minutes from downtown Moab.
There are plenty of signs guiding you to Delicate Arch, but your GPS will get you just as well!
Delicate Arch hike length & difficulty
The Delicate Arch trail is considered fairly difficult. It’s about 3 miles roundtrip and is a steady uphill trek nearly the entire way there. In addition to that, it is on the famous red slickrock that surrounds the Moab region, so that means very little shade and tons of sun exposure. 3 miles may not sound like a lot but with a steady incline, the already high elevation of Moab, and the baking sun, it can be intense.
For me, Delicate Arch took about an hour to reach from the parking lot. The elevation gain was just over 600 ft so not too insane but you’ll definitely feel it over a mile and a half. I took plenty of breaks and that made it a lot more manageable.
I do think it’s worth noting – I am plus-sized! If you pack enough water, go before the heat, and wear the right clothing, you can do this hike, too. Just take your time!
It’s safe to estimate 2-3 hours for this hike. The time depends on how long you linger at Delicate Arch, but you don’t want to rush the best part!
What is the Delicate Arch hike like?
The length and difficulty of the hike only tell you so much. You’re probably wondering – what is the Delicate Arch hike really like?
The trailhead starts on a generally sandy, flat trail. It’s deceptively easy! You’ll even have a small downhill section, but after that section, it’s all uphill from there.
You’ll very quickly be trekking entirely on this slickrock. Slickrock is the red sandstone that makes Moab famous and it’s much more slippery than traditional hiking paths. This means that it is absolutely critical that you wear proper hiking footwear! No flip flops, regular tennis shoes, or other casual wear – you need shoes with a good grip (and, realistically, ankle support, too).
For me personally, I noticed that the mosquitos were out in full force very soon after the slickrock started. Pack sunscreen AND bug spray because you’ll definitely need both!
Don’t forget to look behind you, because the views are gorgeous:
You’ll very quickly come upon a fairly long slickrock incline. This portion has no real defined trail and has fairly steep drop-offs to the side, so it’s best to stay in the center of the trail.
This portion is partly why good footwear is so important. If you slip, you could roll your ankle or go tumbling. Don’t risk it!
One thing that I thought was super cool on this hike was the sense of comraderie. People cheered each other on and chatted when taking breaks. Those returning from Delicate Arch would shout words of encouragement like “you’re almost there!” or “there’s an easier section just up ahead.” Everyone was an equal on the trail and everyone was each other’s cheerleader. This was most apparent at this steep section!
After you make it to the top of this section, you will trek through some smaller inclines and through some sand. It’s still difficult, but difficult in a different way. Again, cannot emphasize proper footwear enough here. 🙂
Eventually, you’ll come up on a large structure. You’ll have one final push and a corner to round before you come up on the iconic Delicate Arch. You’ll have to hop up on a ledge (that a ton of people are probably sitting on!) and then you’ll see this gorgeous view:
The picture doesn’t have any people in it, but that’s mostly because the arch is resting on a LITERAL cliff. I was walking towards the arch and nearly lost my footing. It was one of the scariest moments I’ve had because I had a hard time getting stable again. Footwear!
This picture doesn’t have any people in it so it’s a little bit misleading. There were probably ~75 people at Delicate Arch by time I showed up but most everyone lingers near that initial ledge you have to climb up.
Want a picture underneath Delicate Arch? Hikers are a respectful bunch and a line will naturally form just to the left of the arch. People quickly take turns snagging a picture (and I’m sure another hiker will offer to take your picture if you’re traveling solo!)
It’s really only possible to understand how huge Delicate Arch is by standing underneath it. Picturs do not do it justice!
When you’re done exploring around the arch, refuel and rehydrate. Definitely be sure to pack enough water – I ran into a few couples that had ran out of water by time they reached Delicate Arch and they were getting dizzy with dehydration. I had extra bottles of Gatorade in my pack that I gave to them. My recommendation? Throw a 6-pack (or two!) of Gatorade and keep it in your car. You can always add more to your pack when you get back to your car.
Going down back to the parking lot is definitely easier than up but it is more of a thigh workout. But as a bonus, you can see some really cool petroglyphs at the bottom of the trail!
Why it’s best to visit Delicate Arch at sunrise
I’ll be honest: if you’re a photographer, sunset is the better time to see Delicate Arch. The light isn’t great at sunrise and the shadows are a little bit intense.
HOWEVER, I was able to get some beautiful photos at sunrise, so I have zero regrets about going in the early morning.
Visiting Delicate Arch at sunrise is the best for a few reasons:
- You get to beat the crowds. The trail was moderately crowded when I arrived but it didn’t detract from the experience. Much later, and I would have felt a little bit congested. On top of that, during the high season, parking lots at Arches fill up pretty quickly (as early as 8 am!), so this guarantees you a spot in the park.
- You get to beat the heat. During peak summer days, Moab can reach well over 100 degrees. With no escape from the shade, this can makie hiking legitimately dangerous.
- You get to hike in daylight! Given the number of cliffs near Delicate Arch and the nature of the slickrock, I wouldn’t want to complete the return trip after sunset (read: at night) without being at least somewhat familiar with the trail.
For a first-timer, I think seeing Delicate Arch at sunrise is the way to go.
Speaking of crowds – even at sunrise, the parking lot at Delicate Arch fills up pretty quickly: