Delicate Arch is probably the most famous arch in the world. Fittingly, it is the chief attraction in Arches National Park, which has as many as 2000 arches within its boundary. Delicate Arch is not the biggest arch in the world by any measure, but its unique shape and free-standing nature make it very memorable and photogenic. It is featured on Utah License plates.
Delicate Arch is 65 feet tall and it seems improbable that it exists at all. Originally called Chaps by local cowboys due to it resembling a pair of flaired pants, how long it will remain with continued erosion is unknown. Eventually, it will succumb to these relentless forces. But for now, it is a wonderful experience that I highly recommend to nature lovers and careful adventurers everywhere.
Formed of Entrada Sandstone much like the other arches in Arches National Park and the area around, it was gradually worn away by weathering from an original sandstone fin. These fins are visible throughout the area, particularly in such places as the Fiery Furnace and Devil’s Garden.
Please don’t confuse the overlook of Delicate Arch with the trail to Delicate Arch. The Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint offers an easy view of the arch, but is is from a fair distance that removes most of the grandeur of the arch. You can hike a bit from there to the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint for an improved look. But to see something like what is pictured in this article requires the hike that starts near Wolfe Ranch.
The trail is just over 3 miles round trip. The route there is mostly uphill and gains 610 feet of elevation. The hike is exposed to direct sunlight the whole way, so please be prepared for very hot weather if you visit in the warmer half of the year. Take plenty of water with you and cover you head. The first half mile of the trail is well marked but then it crosses slickrock for most of the rest – bring shoes with good traction. The trail is not always real well marked while on the slickrock, so watch for cairns to show you the way across the slickrock. The final approach is a stone path that is hewn directly from the rock and while wide enough and well sloped inward, it does present a vertigo-inducing drop. Please take care with children or strollers, which can navigate the trail if they have good clearance and larger tires.
The very end of the trail leads up to the bowl that contains the arch. A bit of scrambling over rocks is required and you’ll find a group of tourists visiting here at most times, particularly at busier times during the summer months and at sunset. I have found the visitors here to be polite and wanting to balance everyone’s desire to see the arch uncluttered with people but also take the requisite pictures of our loved ones under the arch. You’ll see everyone queue up politely and take turns walking out to stand under the arch.
I see a lot of things when I look at this picturesque arch. The aforementioned pair of pants certainly fit. I also see a slender fish leaping to the left. The red-orange sandstone glows in the evening sun, with four layers of varying landscape running parallel to the arch visible beyond, ending in the snow-capped La Sal Mountains. The nearly always bright-blue, cloudless skies that punctuate this desert are a nice dichotomy to the arch itself. Standing underneath it, you can look about the whole arch and feel the remaining strength of the rock – it seems like it will last for a while yet, but there is no way to know. See this easily accessed beauty while you have the chance.
Delicate Arch faces almost directly to the west, so it receives the best sunlight nearing sunset. But do now wait too long, as the bluff directly to the west of Delicate Arch will cast a long shadow over Delicate arch before the sun ever sets. Arrive with enough time to ensure you get the picture you want. An added bonus is that visible beyond the arch is the La Sal Mountains. These nearly 13,000 foot mountains are snow covered thru the early summer, and this will enhance your picture a great deal. The pictures here are from May 31st, for comparison, other than the snowy one further down.
Sunrise is another nice time to see the arch. The sun will rise behind the arch and you can get a nice silhouette of the arch against the sunrise and mountains beyond. Allow enough time to hike the trail and bring a flashlight to find your way as you’ll need to begin your walk up in relative darkness.
Where is it
Delicate Arch is located in Arches National Park a few miles from Moab, in eastern Utah in the United States. The town of Moab is a popular tourist town and has many places to stay, eat and shop. You could spend many weeks doing all the activities to be experienced in the area about, ranging from site-seeing in your car to such adventurous things as mountain biking, white water rafting or extreme off-road jeep trails, but I recommend spending some number of days here as part of a road trip including other beautiful sites in adjoining Arizona, Colorado and Nevada. Moab hotels are fairly expensive, but the natural sites are free or nearly so, and there are plenty of options to keep food costs down.
Delicate Arch is busy from late May to Late August when it is also very hot. It is not Disneyworld busy, but you will have to share most of your experiences with like-minded visitors. But at other times of the year, the arch can be enjoyed with only a few others.
In late December of 1993, we hiked up to Delicate Arch for sunrise the morning after a nice snowfall, and were the only ones there the whole time. It was very cold (wind chill was -25), but we were prepared and had a wonderful time seeing the sun rise by ourselves. The park has grown in popularity since that time, but consider the time of year of your visit. The fall and spring will be less busy and less hot but still very pleasant. Snow in winter is not guaranteed but happens on occasion.
You can find a hi-res gallery of pictures from Delicate Arch here.
There is much to do in Arches National Park. Check out my article on it here.
Utah is a state of great beauty and is full of things to do. Check out some ideas from my past trips here.