The hike to the most famous landmark in Utah at Arches National Park is known for its iconic destination, crowded trail, and heat. In early May, morning temperatures were cool and pleasant so we got an early start to beat the crowds and the rising temperatures. We arrived at the park entrance at 7:30 AM and were on the trail by 8:10 following a brief stop at the visitor center and the ten-mile drive into the park to the Wolfe Ranch trailhead.
At this early hour, there were only six other vehicles in the parking lot. Temperatures were still cool and long shadows cast by the low morning sun over nearby desert shrubs and boulders created a surprising amount of shade on a trail commonly noted as being “completely exposed.”
The 1.5-mile hike to the arch meanders entirely uphill through three distinct terrains. It begins rather flat with an easy, gradual elevation increase and pebbles littering the trail. Always visible ahead is a large, open slickrock and we followed the rock cairns to remain on the trail. At the top of the slickrock, the path becomes sandy through a forest of scrubby vegetation and rocks.
Finally, we reach the rock ledge in the shadow of a rock wall to the right and a drop to the left. The trail just wide enough to feel safe with the precarious drop beside us, but we held our boys’ hands tight for good measure! The rock wall conceals the arch from view on the entire trail until the dramatic reveal when it drops away and the Delicate Arch is right there!
The trail to the arch is entirely uphill and we arrived 70 minutes after leaving the trailhead with a few brief stops to rest little legs along the way.
The arch rises gloriously from the edge of a large, natural bowl which creates a beautiful natural amphitheatre. We found a perfect location in the shade along the edge of the mostly sun-drenched bowl to enjoy the view of the arch while the boys worked on Junior Ranger booklet pages from a rock table.
The bowl was already getting crowded as many hikers overtook us on the way up the trail. We passed many more going the opposite direction on the way back down the trail and by the time we arrived back at the trailhead at 10:30, the parking lot was completely full and arriving vehicles were circling for empty spaces. Temperatures were also quickly rising and the long shadows were disappearing with the rising sun. We highly recommend the suggestion to start this trail as early as possible – and also bring lots of water!
The arrow points to the parking lot so we could see exactly how much further we had to go once we arrived at the top of the large slickrock on the hike back to the trailhead.
The Delicate Arch trail is as perfect as a trail can be for our family at their current ages and abilities. The three-mile round trip is an ideal length, the trail terrain is varied enough to keep their attention, and there’s just enough change in elevation to add enough of a challenge. This trail is a must-do when visiting Arches National Park.