The Delicate Arch trail head is located inside Arches National Park and is a 30 to 40 minute drive north of Moab, Utah. The Arches National Park entrance is about five miles north of Moab, Utah and on the east side of US-191. Hiking is the primary activity, dogs and mountain bikes are not allowed on the trails, and backcountry camping requires a permit. A week long pass is required to enter the park. The trail head appeared to have restrooms but we did not notice if water was available. Cell phone service was not available in the park.
The Delicate Arch trail is 1.5 miles long with a gain of 500 feet in elevation; from 4,300 feet to 4,800 feet. The first stretch of trail is easy for little kids to hike because it is a wide dirt path with short climbs.
Notably, the next section of trail is a long, moderately steep climb up slickrock. This is the only physically demanding stretch of trail and where most of the 500 foot elevation gain occurs. Hiking on bare slickrock is a fun departure from dense forest hiking because the accompanying scenery is unobstructed throughout the hike. In addition, the open slickrock makes it easy for large numbers of people to hike the trail without the trail feeling crowded.
However, the downside is that there is very little shade on the trail and it can be really hot so bring lots of water via a hydration pack or bpa free water bottle. The following picture was taken after climbing the long stretch of slickrock and shows the trail leveling off.
Just before reaching Delicate Arch, the trail narrows and runs along a steep cliff edge.
The steep cliff edge offers an up close view of a canyon below.
Delicate Arch and the other arches in the park were formed by millions of years of weathering (i.e., ice, wind), erosion intensified by uplifting of sandstone sedimentary rock, and the movement of unstable underground salt deposits. There are more than 2,000 arches in the park with the smallest having a three foot opening and the largest having a 300 foot opening. The Arches National Park brochure recommends hiking to Delicate Arch at sunset so you can see the arch reflecting vivid colors. The following is a picture of Delicate Arch without the sunset effect.
I recommend hiking to the arch at any time other than sunset for three reasons. First, clouds may block the sun like they did the day we were there; making the extra effort less rewarding. Second, the sunset opportunity draws a larger crowd on the trail which is less fun (for us anyways). Although the trail is wide and open, the area near the Delicate Arch is limited which makes it feel like a subway stop. Finally, getting to the Delicate Arch at the correct time adds stress because time management is important whereas I prefer to enjoy a trail at a leisurely pace; especially when hiking with kids. The subsequent picture does not properly convey the large number of people squeezing in to set up for a picture of the arch at sunset.
The Delicate Arch landing area would be a suitable picnic location at a time when there was less people. The following picture shows a view to the south from Delicate Arch.
In sum, Delicate Arch is fun, family friendly hike but the trail’s serenity can be lost by an overwhelming number of people and, thus, I recommend hiking it when crowds are at a minimum.
One thought on “Delicate Arch Trail – Arches National Park – Moab, Utah”
Thanks for the details. I am going with kids and wasn't sure what "moderately strenous" and "narrow cliff" meant. Your photos and descriptions were great in assessing whether or not to make the hike. Thank you.