Delicate Arch in Arches National Park is one of the staple symbols of Utah, right up there with the beehive. Because of this we see Delicate Arch everywhere, it even has a prime place on half of our license plates. This is double edged sword because I knew when I went to Arches I had to see it, but I wondered if some of the magic had been spoiled by its frequent repetition. I should have learned my lesson from the Grand Canyon and shouldn't have worried. My first view of Delicate Arch came when we decided (based on the advice of a kid coming back from the arch) to climb a steep wall on the side of the path into a hole arch in the wall where I could for the first time look out on this beautiful, majestic, and artistic piece of nature.
I was blown away (almost literally by the wind) by how amazing it was to see this icon in person. It stands there, on the edge of cliff, a piece sculpted by God over eons of time. Much of the Colorado Plateau appears to have been God's canvas for nature's wonders, but if He had raised it for nothing but Delicate Arch it still would have been worth it.
How to Get There:
It's not difficult to get to the trail head once you get to the park. There are pretty clear signs, just make sure you don't take the right at Balanced Rock which would lead you to the Windows District. Instead continue on to the second major fork in the road will take you to the Wolfe Ranch which is the trailhead for the Delicate Arch trail.
The parking lot is large for a trailhead, but when we got there in the afternoon it was almost completely full. When we left a few hours later there were lots of open spots, so if you want to be sure you will find a place go either earlier in the morning or mid-afternoon. There is no water on this trail so make sure to bring plenty with you. At the parking lot there are pit toilets.
What You Will See and Do:
This is an amazing hike of moderate difficulty, it varies significantly in the terrain that it covers. The round trip for the hike is just over three miles. The park lists it among their most difficult hikes, but we saw children doing it and even one person with a leg boot on.
You will start off on a flat trail that has two small side trails right at the beginning. The first goes to the Wolfe Ranch which consists of one small house building and one dugout. You can't go inside the buildings and there is not to much to see around them, but it doesn't add any significant distance to the hike. The second side trail goes to a rock art panel just a short ways from the ranch. It is not very far from the trail and is very clear so it is definitely worth the five extra minutes it takes to look at. We recommend that you look at on the way out because on they way back your group will probably be too tired.
|The Wolfe Ranch|
From the rock art panel turn off the trail to Delicate Arch proceeds at a fairly steep incline which then levels off. You have a well defined trail for about the first third of the hike until you reach the slick rock.
The slick rock is a really fun part of the hike, just be sure to watch for the cairns (little rock towers) to make sure you are going in the right direction. As you go up the slick rock you will notice one part where there are stairs cut into the slick rock for a small but steep portion. We saw that most people used these going up, but they couldn't see them on the way back down. When returning just be sure to keep to the left of the cairns and you should find the steps going down which will be a little easier for you.
|Meagan on the slick rock|
|Steps in the slick rock|
Also note that on your return hike when you can see the parking lot from the high point on the slick rock that you are about half way back.
|View when you are halfway back|
After the slick rock you are mostly on sandstone dirt through red rock for about a third of the trail. This is a fun portion that gets you familiar with the classic Moab red rock.
The last portion of the trail is on stone ledges about three feet wide. This part does not go on very long, but the drop is pretty steep on the left side so watch an children here. This is the part where you will see hole in the wall on your right that you can climb up to for a first view of Delicate Arch. When we were there it was extremely windy, so just be prepared that especially when you are up around the arch it might blow a lot. When we were up in the hole in the wall Meagan's hat actually blew off and down in the bowl below where we could not retrieve it.
|In the hole in the wall before Delicate Arch|
The hike out to Delicate Arch took us about forty-five minutes. We then spent a good while at the arch itself just looking at it and waiting our turn to take pictures in it. We probably would have stayed longer if it had not been so windy. I could look at it forever. Getting down to take pictures in the arch looks steep, but it really is not too bad.
The return journey took us a little less time then going out, probably because we had already seen everything.
We highly recommend this hike, and feel that if you do not do it you will be missing out on Arches most amazing attraction. The hike is difficult only that it is longer than most of the other popular hikes and has about 500 feet of elevation change. Most young children should be able to do the hike without much trouble and doing it with a backpack-baby is completely doable. Allow 2-3 hours for the whole thing and bring plenty of water.
Labels: Arches, Hiking, Moab, National Parks, Outdoors, Utah