Family Guide To Hiking Delicate Arch (Tips & Info)

Delicate Arch is one of the most iconic arches in Arches National Park. If you’re trying to decide if Delicate Arch is a good idea to do with your family, we’re here to help! As Utah locals, we visit Arches every year with our kids, and we’re here to help you figure out if this hike is a good fit for your kids.

Arches is home to over 2,000 natural stone arches, but among these, Delicate Arch stands out as the most iconic. This standalone arch frames the La Sal Mountains in the distance and has become a symbol not only of Arches National Park but of the entire state of Utah itself (it’s the arch you’ll see on the Utah license plate). If you’re planning a visit to this geological wonder with kids, here’s your complete guide to hiking Delicate Arch, including trail details, the best times to hike it, and the prime spots to take in the breathtaking views of Delicate Arch with kids. Make sure to check out our 1, 2, and 3 day itineraries to Arches National Park.

delicate arch hike

Best Time to Hike Delicate Arch

Choosing the right time to hike to Delicate Arch can significantly enhance your experience. Early morning or late afternoon are the golden hours, offering softer light, cooler temperatures, and fewer crowds. These times also provide the best conditions for photography, casting the arch in a warm glow that highlights its striking forms.

More importantly, parking at the Delicate Arch trailhead is limited and since this arch is VERY popular, it can be a nightmare to get a parking spot. On our last trip, we thought that we’d be fine going lat morning since it was the low season (February), but we still circled the parking lot for 30 minutes to get a parking spot.

delicate arch hike

My best tip is to go to Delicate Arch a few hours before sunset. Most of the crowds will have died off and if you’re there in the summer, the temperatures will be starting to cool down just a little. Better yet would be to plan on leaving the trailhead 2 hours before sunset, packing a picnic to eat at the arch, leaving before sunset, and having headlamps handy in case it gets dark before you’re back down. If you’re there with kids, you want to be back down the 1/3 mile closest to the arch while it’s still light because there are some exposed areas there.

The parking lot at Delicate Arch typically is full by 6:30am in peak season.

If you’re trying to decide the best time of year to go on the Delicate Arch hike, spring and fall have the best weather, but winter is also pretty amazing (just plan on wearing layers since it gets chilly). Summer is not an ideal time to hike Delicate Arch since there is absolutely no water. If your visit to Arches is in the summer just take plenty of water (1L/hr/person) and wear sun-protective clothing to help keep you cool. If you are looking for more hikes in Arches National Park read about our favorite ones next and our bucket-list adventures in Canyonlands and Arches.

Parking at Delicate Arch

If you were to look at the Delicate Arch parking lot, you would quickly notice that it’s at least double the size of most other parking in Arches. However, since it’s for the most in-demand hike, it never feels big enough. There are about 15 RV spots on the south side of the road and several spaces for oversized vehicles in the north end of the main parking lot. If you do park outside of the designated parking spot, expect a ticket, since this lot is regularly patrolled by rangers.

Seasonally, spring and fall are the sweet spots for visiting Delicate Arch. The moderate temperatures during these months make for pleasant hiking conditions, in stark contrast to the summer’s scorching heat and the potential for snow and ice in winter.

delicate arch hike

Getting to the Delicate Arch Trail

Delicate Arch is located near the center of Arches National Park. The trailhead is 11 miles from the Park Visitor Center and will take you about 25 minutes of drive time. Stay on the main park road until you see the sign for Wolfe Ranch/Delicate Arch and then turn east. The parking lot is just over a mile on your left. The hike to Delicate Arch starts at the trailhead on the east side of the parking lot, near the outhouses.

delicate arch hike

From there, the hike is 3.2 miles roundtrip, with about 480 feet of elevation gain. I’d consider this a moderate hike, though there is a small section that’s a bit exposed so that section is why it’s regularly ranked as a difficult hike.

The Hike to Delicate Arch with Kids

As you start your hike, you’ll be walking through a pretty nondescript desert area. If it were possible to hike this trail alone, I imagine you’d feel a pretty big sense of solitude here, but I’ve never seen the trail empty in the last 15 years.

delicate arch hike

Just past the Delicate Arch trailhead, hikers can visit the historic Wolfe Ranch cabin and livestock corrals. The trail then continues over a bridge of a small wash with a split in the trail right after. Take the left trail and go see the petroglyphs. It looks like it takes you far out of the way, but probably only adds 3 minutes of hiking time and will get you up close with a panel of petroglyphs created by the Ute Indians.

After you pass the petroglyphs, the trail will climb up the hill with a couple of switchbacks, but then flatten out again as you walk through the grasses and sagebrush on a well packed trail. Ahead of you, you’ll see a large slab of slickrock dotted with hikers that you’ll be headed towards.

Once you start hiking up the slickrock the trail starts to get a little bit steeper. If you follow the signs for the trail, you’ll be directed to the least steep places to hike, though you’ll notice that hikers tend to spread out a lot more on the slickrock. This part of the trail can be challenging, especially under the hot sun, but it offers increasingly impressive views of the surrounding park. Cairns (small stacks of rocks) also help guide the way, but hikers should pay close attention to stay on the correct path.

Once you go around the corner, you’ll pass a sandy wash and have a few short steep pitches to climb. After that, you’ll get to one of the most memorable and dangerous parts of the hike – the ledge. The ledge is exactly what it sounds like and is a narrow ledge that must be traversed to reach Delicate Arch. This section is short but can be intimidating for those with a fear of heights. The ledge is wide enough to walk comfortably, but caution is advised, especially with children or when the weather is bad. The first time we hiked this trail with kids, we had toddlers, and I had a death grip on their hands. Now, we’ve got kids ranging from 6-16 and the trail doesn’t even phase them. Regardless of your kids ages, make sure to remind them to be careful and not run since when this trail gets sand on it, it can get slippery (like all slickrock does). While this section looks long, only one part is really exposed and you’re walking on it for about 90 seconds (yes, it will be over soon). If you’re nervous, just stay close to the wall.

arches national park delicate arch

After the ledge, the trail rounds a rock wall and suddenly, Delicate Arch appears in all its glory. This dramatic reveal is a highlight for many hikers on the Delicate Arch hike, offering a breathtaking view of the arch with a picturesque bowl-like depression in the foreground. The arch stands 46 feet high and 32 feet wide, making it one of the largest free-standing arches in the park.

Plan on spending some time up at the arch and enjoying the view. The easiest spots to sit are right along the top before the bowl starts. If you are confident in your footing, you can head closer to the arch, but I recommend staying close to the top. The bowl that Delicate Arch sits in at the National Park is steeper than it looks and with loose sand, the surface can get pretty slippery. For the most iconic picture, be brave enough to stand underneath the arch. Don’t go too far back because there is a steep dropoff behind when you visit Delicate Arch. This is one of the most famous geologic features in the world, so spending some time to enjoy it is a great idea. In the afternoon, you’ll often be able to find a little bit of shade at the top along the rock wall, so make sure to enjoy that since it’s some of the only shade along the Delicate Arch trail.

delicate arch hike

Read Next:

Best Viewpoints of Delicate Arch

While the journey to Delicate Arch is filled with stunning vistas, several viewpoints stand out:

  • Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint: For those who prefer not to hike, the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint offers a distant, but accessible view of the arch, requiring only a short walk from its parking area.
  • Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint: Accessed from the Delicat Arch Viewpoint trail, this route is 0.5 miles roundtrip and is a pretty steep trail. It will take you to a viewpoint across from Delicate Arch where you’ll be able to see the arch from about a mile away.
  • Frame Arch: Along the way to Delicate Arch, Frame Arch provides a unique opportunity to capture Delicate Arch through a natural frame, offering a different perspective on this iconic structure. This can be accessed right as the ledge starts, just to the west of Delicate Arch. The window of Frame Arch is just above the trail and a little bit of scrambling will get you up to this arch with a unique view of the Delicate Arch Area.
  • Delicate Arch Bowl: The trail culminates in an amphitheater-like bowl, with Delicate Arch presiding over the scene. This vantage point allows for up-close appreciation and is the perfect spot for that quintessential photograph.
  • Sunset at Delicate Arch: Perhaps the most magical time to view Delicate Arch is at sunset when the setting sun illuminates the arch in fiery hues against the backdrop of the cooling desert sky.
delicate arch hike

Essential Tips for Your Hike

  • Hydration is Key: Bring at least 1 liters of water per person per hour to ensure you stay hydrated throughout your hike. This is critical during the summer months.
  • Sun Protection: The desert sun can be relentless. Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to protect yourself. We recommend sun shirts as well to keep you cool.
  • Proper Footwear: Good hiking boots or shoes with a sturdy grip are essential for navigating the trail’s varied terrain. We have our kids all wear hiking shoes or trail runners on a steep slick rock slope like this to give them the best traction.
  • Respect Nature: Stay on marked paths and refrain from touching or climbing on the Delicate Arch. It’s a fragile natural feature that we’re privileged to enjoy.

How difficult is the hike to Delicate Arch?

The hike to Delicate Arch is considered moderate in difficulty. It covers approximately 3 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 480 feet. The trail includes a steep ascent on slickrock and a short section along a narrow ledge, which may be challenging for some. Proper footwear and physical preparation are recommended to handle the uneven terrain and steep sections. Overall, most hikers with a reasonable level of fitness find this hike manageable and rewarding.

delicate arch hike

Can I hike Delicate Arch with Kids?

Absolutely! Delicate Arch is a great Arches hiking trail with kids. Our kids have been hiking it since they were toddlers and absolutely love it. Make sure to keep a close eye on them as they hike across the ledge and when they’re at the bowl.

Can I do the Trail to Delicate Arch in the Summer?

Summer is a tricky time to hike in Arches National Park. Avoid hiking in the heat of the day as heat stroke is common here. If you plan to hike Delicate Arch in the summer, plan to start hiking 2-3 hours before sunset. This is when the weather starts to cool and the sun is less intense.

What is the best time of day to hike to Delicate Arch?

The best times to hike Delicate Arch are early in the morning or late in the afternoon. These times offer cooler temperatures and softer light for photography, especially the golden hours around sunrise and sunset. Early morning hikes also have the advantage of smaller crowds, making the experience more serene. Sunset is particularly popular for its dramatic lighting on the arch, though it can be more crowded. Regardless of the time, always be prepared with sufficient water and sun protection.

delicate arch hike

Do I need a permit to hike to Delicate Arch?

No, you do not need a permit to hike to Delicate Arch for day use. However, there is an entrance fee for Arches National Park, where Delicate Arch is located and reservations to get in to Arches National Park are required from April 1-October 31 each year.

How long does it take to hike to Delicate Arch?

The hike to Delicate Arch typically takes between 2 to 3 hours to complete, covering a round trip distance of 3 miles. The duration depends on your pace, how much time you spend at the arch, and whether you stop for breaks and photos along the way. Those who are less accustomed to the elevation or who prefer to take their time may find the hike takes closer to the upper end of this range. Remember, it’s not a race; take your time to enjoy the scenery and ensure you’re comfortable and safe. Always allow extra time for rest and hydration, especially in the heat.

What should I bring on my hike to Delicate Arch?

For the Delicate Arch hike, it’s essential to carry water (at least 2 liters per person), sunscreen, and sturdy hiking shoes. The desert environment can be unforgiving, with little shade and high temperatures, so sun protection like a hat and sunglasses is crucial. Snacks or energy bars are recommended to maintain your energy levels. Don’t forget a camera or smartphone to capture the stunning views, and consider bringing a flashlight or headlamp if you plan on hiking during twilight or early morning. Lastly, always check the weather forecast and be prepared for changing conditions, as the desert can be unpredictable.

Leave a Comment