Iconic Delicate Arch In Arches National Park
Delicate Arch is by far the most widely recognized landmark in Arches National Park. It is so iconic it is depicted on the Utah license plate. It is the largest free-standing arch in the park and one of the most popular destinations for visitors. The light opening beneath the arch is 46 feet high and 32 feet wide and it is formed of Entrada Sandstone.
Throughout the years it has had many unusual monikers such as Mary’s Bloomers, Old Maid’s Bloomers, Pants Crotch and Salt Wash Arch. In the winter of 1933-34 the Arches National Monument Scientific Expedition explored the area. In an article discussing the expedition the name “Delicate” first appeared. The arch was described as “the most delicately chiseled arch in the entire area” and the name seems to have stuck.
So lets talk about the strenuous hike up to this baby. The trailhead is located at the Wolfe Ranch Parking Lot. The hike is 3 miles roundtrip and has an elevation gain of 480 feet. This is one of the most popular hikes in the park so the parking lot often gets full. It’s also a very popular sunset location and 100’s of hikers have been known to show up for the event. Be prepared for it to be crowded.
Also make sure to check out Wolfe Ranch and the Ute Petroglyphs on your way. They are right off the main trail. Neither takes long to investigate and they are worth the extra couple minutes.
This was a rough hike for me. I thought 3 miles would be nothing, but I don’t do well with climbs. There is a lot of climbing. I mean it just goes up and up and up. Half of the trail is a steady uphill climb on slickrock with absolutely no shade. I just kept following the cairns as the sun beat down on me. It was hot. It was only 9 am! Bring a lot of water and put on like 3 layers of sunscreen!
I took a lot of breaks. I wasn’t the only one (which made me feel better). Jamey didn’t seem to be having nearly as difficult a time as me though. As a result he spent a lot of time just watching me standing or sitting around trying to catch my breath. There were ravens? crows? flying around everywhere. Pretty sure they were stalking me just waiting to see if I was gonna make it or not!
One good thing about taking all those breaks though was I got to spend a lot more time admiring the views. You can see for miles in some directions and it’s incredible. I think a lot of visitors might miss out on that. They are so focused on making it up that hill (which I completely understand) and reaching their final destination that they don’t take the time to appreciate the journey.
Trust me, take a moment every few minutes on your way to the top and just look around. You will not be disappointed and as a result you get to take a min-break.
We were so close to the top and I knew it. It was almost over. The trail finally leveled out and we had to walk on this narrow rock ledge for about 200 yards (which I was not a fan of). Then we turned the corner of a rock wall and BAM! there it was, Delicate Arch.
It’s massive! Way bigger than I thought it would be when I finally got a look at it for the first time. It is quite an impressive piece of landscape and I can see why it carries the iconic status it does. I stared in awe and admiration for a few moments then collapsed onto the nearest rock I could find with a little bit of shade. I was exhausted.
After spending at least 10 minutes drinking about a gallon of water and getting my breathing back to normal we took some pics and just stared for a while. I wish I would of took more pictures. I thought I did, but I was in a daze and well I didn’t. In the pics I did take of me I look like a goofy lobster. Oh well maybe next time (that’s a lie I know I’m probably never doing this hike again).
It was getting crowded at the top and I was beginning to feel normal again so we started the hike back to our truck and air conditioning. So much easier on the way back down. I got to really enjoy those views all over again.
I know I may have sounded a bit dramatic and made this hike seem really difficult, but most people seemed to be doing just fine. Jamey had hardly any trouble on the trail. He was hot and had to catch his breath once or twice, but that was it. Don’t get me wrong it’s not easy in the least, but you ain’t climbing Everest either.
I did much more difficult climbs on the Appalachian Trail two years ago. I have a medical reason or two nowadays that makes me struggle a bit more than your average human. I wasn’t joking about the water or sunscreen though.
If you are physically capable of doing the hike I highly recommend it. Until you are right in front of the Delicate Arch I truly don’t think you can appreciate the sheer size and wonder of it.
If you are unable to hike the trail there are two viewpoints for the arch. At the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint you can walk 100 yards and see it from a mile away. Not the best view though. This path is also wheelchair accessible. At Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint a moderately strenuous 0.5 mile roundtrip hiking trail takes you to a slightly less obstructed view of the arch in the distance.