Arches National Park is one of the most-visited national parks in the United States. Its most famous attraction is none other than Delicate Arch, a symbol so iconic that you’ll find it on most Utah license plates. Despite its short length, the hike up to Delicate Arch can have a few tricky spots. The 3.2-mile roundtrip hike is a must-do for anyone visiting Moab. I’ve done the hike twice now, and was in awe both times.
The first time, I sizzled under the sun and sweated my way up through the Moab heat. The second time, I wised up and went right before sunset. The weather cooled down a tiny bit, but more importantly, the red rocks were lit ablaze with the golden hour lighting. Sunset at Delicate Arch is a surreal experience, and without a doubt, the best time to visit the majestic arch.
Here’s what you need to know before taking on the stunning hike.
Things To Know Before Visiting Arches National Park
Delicate Arch is the main attraction of the vast and otherworldly Arches National Park. If you’re entering the park before 5 PM, you’ll have to pay an entrance fee. For a single day, a vehicle pass costs $30. I recommend buying the annual pass for $80, as it gives you access to every national park in the country as many times as you want for a 12-month period. It’s an unbeatable value for the outdoorsy adventurer.
Once you’ve entered the park, it’s another 30 minutes or so before you reach the Delicate Arch Trailhead. You’ll pass through some beautiful scenic spots, so enjoy the ride. Park Avenue is one of the very first things you’ll see in the park, and I recommend a stop here before Delicate Arch. Continue along the main road for a while, eventually turning right to reach the trailhead. The turn comes shortly after Panoramic Point, and it is well-signed so you can’t miss it. From the visitor center at the entrance of the park, it’s a little over 12 miles.
Once you reach the trailhead for Delicate Arch, you have a couple of options. If you drive another mile further down the road, you’ll have the chance to take a short hike for a distant viewpoint of the arch. I’d only recommend it if you have time to kill, otherwise it’s a bit meh. The real attraction is Delicate Arch, so prioritize that before anything else.
The Hike to Delicate Arch
The hike to Delicate Arch is 1.6 miles each way. It’s an out and back trail, so you’ll be going back the same way that you came. It is mostly uphill, but the trail is very developed. No matter your fitness levels, you should be able to comfortably finish the hike up to Delicate Arch.
The trail starts flat, and you’ll pass Wolfe Ranch just seconds after you begin the hike. This historical site from the late 1800s is pretty fascinating to read about and walk around, although you aren’t allowed inside the building itself. Shortly after, you’ll cross a bridge over a small river and continue along flat ground. You can take a detour to see some petroglyphs, which is worth doing if you’ve got the time. It’s a pretty short detour, and connects back to the trail, although it does add a few extra minutes.
Once you get back on the trail, you’ll run into your first incline. The few switchbacks can be conquered pretty easily, and you’ll continue along relatively flat ground again until you reach the long stretch of stone path. There’s not really a trail here, as you just hike up the giant rock until you reach the top. It can be long and arduous, especially in the Moab heat.
Done with the boulder yet? You’re almost at the home stretch. A little bit of rocky and sandy hiking will eventually take you to the iconic red rocks of Arches. You’ll pass a few small buttes and rock formations that you can explore and admire for a little while.
Home stretch. You’ll walk along a narrow path for a few minutes before stumbling upon a smaller arch. Boost yourself up the rock and scramble to this amazing little viewpoint, known as the Twisted Doughnut Arch. From here, you’ll catch your first glimpse of Delicate Arch in all of its glory. At sunset, it’s unlike anything else out there. The stunning backdrop, golden hour lighting, and the huge arch are a sight to behold.
Scramble back down, finish the hike, and you’ll find yourself at Delicate Arch. Like I said, there’s no better time go than sunset. The rocks take on a life of their own during the waning hours of sunlight. The dying rays of the sun bask the landscapes in a fiery golden glow, while shadows play games and leave the scenery ever-changing.
Coronavirus Restrictions at Arches National Park
I visited in summer 2020, so there were a few coronavirus restrictions in place. However, national parks being wide open spaces that are severely understaffed, there’s not much enforcing of those restrictions. It’s up to you to be responsible and considerate of others.
For a trail like Delicate Arch, there will be crowds of people. I’d estimate there were close to a hundred people up near Delicate Arch when I visited at sunset. The area is wide open and pretty big, so it was possible to social distance. However, there were definitely a few extra crowded spots. People typically line up to take pictures with the Arch, so just try to maintain your distance while in line. Bring a buff or a mask for passing people on the trails. Everyone’s going to be huffing and puffing for air, so do your best to keep your air to yourself.
Other than that, there’s not too much that’s different about visiting Arches National Park during the coronavirus pandemic. Some campsites, restrooms, and visitors centers are closed or at limited functionality, but that’s about it. Just be smart, thoughtful, and responsible during your visit.