Delicate Arch is one of the main attractions in Arches National Park. Most likely, this arch is high on your list of places to visit in the park. In order to have the best experience, there are a few things to know before you go. Here are our tips for visiting Delicate Arch, including what to expect on the hike and several unique photo spots of the arch.
Note: We have visited Delicate Arch on multiple occasions. The photos in this post are from our two most recent visits. We were here at sunrise in December 2018 and on a late afternoon in November 2020. The photos of the arch are labeled with the times of our visit, because the time of day and lighting conditions dramatically change the appearance of Delicate Arch.
A Few Quick Facts About Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch is one of the most famous geologic structures in the world. It is so iconic that you will see it thousands of times as you road trip through Utah…on local license plates.
It may not look like it in photos, but Delicate Arch is massive. The opening below the arch is 46 feet high, making this the largest free-standing arch in Arches National Park. It’s not until you see a photo of someone standing under the arch (or you stand under it yourself) that you get an idea of just how big it is.
Tim and Kara, sunrise in December.
The Olympic torch was carried under Delicate Arch for the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Tips for Visiting Delicate Arch
#1 The Only Way to Get to Delicate Arch is by Hiking
To get a close up view of Delicate Arch you need to do some hiking. Unlike Balanced Rock and several of the arches that you can see from the road, Delicate Arch is located in the “backcountry.”
To get to Delicate Arch, it is a 3-mile round trip hike with 480 feet of elevation gain. This hike, plus time to view the arch, takes most people 2 to 3 hours. The National Park Service describes this hike as difficult. I think “difficult” is a bit of a stretch, unless you happen to be hiking midday during the summer months.
Delicate Arch Trail Elevation Profile
Please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.
The hike starts at the Wolfe Ranch Cabin. Park in the large parking lot next to the cabin and look for the sign that marks the trailhead.
The first section of the trail is an easy walk on a graded gravel path. There are some short climbs here but nothing too strenuous.
The hardest part of the hike is the middle third. This is where you will walk up a steep section of slickrock. Along the way, follow the rock cairns or the people in front of you. Hiking to Delicate Rock is a very popular thing to do so most likely you will share the trail with other hikers. The higher you climb, the better the view gets over the park.
The view from the hiking trail, looking back towards the parking lot.
Once past the slickrock, the trail levels out. Now you are hiking among giant domes of sandstone rock. Continue to follow the cairns. The last section of trail is along a ledge that hugs a rock wall. There is a drop-off here on one side so be careful.
As you walk up this trail, keep an eye out for an opening in the rock wall to your right. There is an arch here, called the Twisted Doughnut, that offers a very unique view of Delicate Arch (keep reading to see photos, or skip ahead to see a photo from Twisted Doughnut Arch). If you get to the trail shown in the photo below (with Kara), you went too far.
The last short section of trail has a drop-off on one side, so be careful here. Kara is standing on one of the narrowest sections, to give you an idea of just how wide (or narrow 😊) this trail is.
Once you round the final turn, you get your first up-close view of Delicate Arch.
First view of Delicate Arch (photo taken in the afternoon in November).
#2 Best Time to Photograph Delicate Arch
The best time to photograph the arch is at sunset. At the end of the day, the warm light from the setting sun illuminates Delicate Arch, casting it in a warm glow. This makes the arch look fiery red during sunset.
Sunset is a popular time to visit Delicate Arch so it can be crowded, especially during the summer months.
Sunrise is another popular time to photograph the arch. However, the sun rises behind the arch, creating a much different effect then seeing Delicate Arch at sunset.
Delicate Arch just past sunrise (in December)
Delicate Arch in the late afternoon in November
If you plan to visit Delicate Arch at sunrise or sunset, make sure you pack a headlamp, warm clothing (it can get chilly once the sun sets), plenty of water, and snacks. If you have a wide-angle lens, pack that in your bag, too.
#3 Best Time to Avoid the Crowds
The best time to see Delicate Arch without the crowds is early in the morning, just past sunrise. If you want the chance to have Delicate Arch to yourself (or just share the experience with a handful of people) it’s worth rolling out of bed early and heading right to Delicate Arch.
We visited Delicate Arch just past sunrise on a cloudy December morning. In this case, the clouds worked in our favor. They obstructed the harsh sunlight so I could take photos of the arch without it being too back lit. There were about 10 to 15 people here, which wasn’t too bad, considering it was a holiday week. By the time we started the hike back to the parking lot, more and more people began to roll in.
Delicate Arch was more crowded when we were here in the afternoon in November, but it really wasn’t too bad. There is a lot of room to spread out, but if you want a photo under the arch, you will have to wait in line for a little bit (it was about a five minute wait when we were here).
#4 Don’t Miss the View from the Twisted Doughnut
Tyler gets the credit for “discovering” this spectacular viewpoint. Just before you round the bend to get your first view of Delicate Arch, there is a small opening in the giant rock wall to your right. This arch, called Twisted Doughnut Arch, is one of the most unique spots to take a photo of Delicate Arch.
Twisted Doughnut Arch (photo taken in the afternoon in November)
The view from the opening (photo taken in the afternoon in November)
It wasn’t until after our visit that I learned that this little arch has a name (and maybe the best name of all the arches in the park). So no, we didn’t discover it, although I never read anything about Twisted Doughnut Arch before our visit to Arches. Tyler just happened to spot it during our hike.
#5 There’s More than Just the “Iconic Shot”
Rather than just taking a few photos from the first viewpoint, take some extra time to view Delicate Arch from numerous other viewpoints.
Photo taken at sunrise in December.
The arch sits next to a large “bowl.” You can walk out to the far end of the bowl for another unique photo of Delicate Arch.
Photo taken at sunrise in December.
Photo taken in the afternoon in November.
#6 Expect Scorching Hot Conditions in the Summer
During the summer months, Arches National Park can feel like a furnace. In July, average daytime highs hover just below 100°F. On many days, midday temperatures can creep up over the 100° mark. There is zero shade on the trail and the sandstone rock absorbs the heat from the sun, which makes conditions feel even hotter.
If you are visiting from June through August, consider skipping this hike midday. Temperatures begin to cool off around sunset. Or, get here early to avoid the heat (and the crowds).
Bring sunscreen and carry at least 2 liters of water per person.
Before you go, get updated conditions on the national park service website.
Read more about Arches National Park in our article 16 Amazing Things to do in Arches National Park.
Are you planning a visit to Arches National Park? If you have questions or want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information about Utah
UTAH ITINERARY: If you need ideas on how to plan your road trip through Utah, check out our 7 to 10 day Mighty 5 Itinerary, our Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef Road Trip, and our 14-day American Southwest Itinerary.
ARCHES NATIONAL PARK: Take a look at our Arches National Park Travel Guide for important travel planning tips, sample itineraries, advice on when to go, where to stay, and to see all of our articles about Arches.
ONE DAY IN ARCHES: If you are short on time, check out our One Day in Arches National Park to learn the best way to spend your time here.
ISLAND IN THE SKY, CANYONLANDS: The Island in the Sky district is the most popular area of Canyonlands to visit. Learn how to spend one perfect day at Island in the Sky and how to hike the Syncline Loop and Gooseberry Trail.
NATIONAL PARKS: Learn more about the national parks and get a FREE printable checklist in our US National Parks Checklist.
USA ROAD TRIPS: Planning your next big adventure in the USA? Check our our USA Road Trip Guide for travel ideas and sample itineraries.
We have TONS more information about Utah in our Utah Travel Guide and the United States in our USA Travel Guide.
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There use to be a hand rail and steps leading behind and below Delicate Arch. From that point it is only the arch and sky. As one approaches the arch there is a boulder to your left. Behind the boulder there is a several hundred foot drop. Look closely and you will see faint steps and holes for the hand rail. I am 78 with one good lung, I still take pictures of friends in the arch from below looking up at Delicate Arch. This is not for the faint of heart or when damp or in the dead of winter.
We just returned from a trip to Moab and hiking to see the Delicate Arch. I’m surprised how much the distance is recorded as 1.5 miles in each direction—even by the National Park Service. We clocked the trip as 2.2 miles in each direction or 4.4 miles in total. Other hikers we met in the parking lot said the same thing. That extra mile (especially in 100-degree heat) is a big deal. We saw lots of people without enough water thinking the distance was far less than it is. Be prepared!