FIELD TEST FRIDAY: DELICATE ARCH HIKE
If you’ve ever seen a postcard or poster of Arches National Park, you’ve probably seen Delicate Arch. This amazing arch has become the symbol of Arches National Park, which is somewhat surprising because it is barely visible from the road.
Do not leave Arches National Park without seeing Delicate Arch. The emblematic arch appears on the Utah License plate, and while it is certainly not the largest in the park, it is probably the most memorable. Two overlooks provide a distant view of the arch, but the best way to see Delicate Arch is to hike right up to it. This incredible 3-mile trek is a must-do for anyone visiting Arches.
Begin from Delicate Arch Trailhead and head east past Wolfe Ranch, the former home of the park’s earliest Caucasian inhabitants. The homestead was built alongside Salt Marsh, which the trail crosses with the help of a wooden bridge. Not long after, a side trail to the left visits petroglyphs along a rock wall.
The trail takes a gradual climb up slickrock slopes, eventually ascending 500 feet to the arch. The wide gravel trail is reduced to a weathered line across exposed sandstone. Follow the cairn-lined track across bare rock as it turns northward, leveling some before swinging to the right around the back of a sandstone fin. A path cut into the ledge presents the only way forward.
The building anticipation can make the mile and a half journey to Delicate Arch feel long, but as you traverse the ledge, the trail curves to the right and Delicate Arch appears. Wow, what a sight!
Delicate Arch stands on the side of a bowl shaped depression, flying solo above the surrounding rock. There is something special about this place that is hard to describe. If you arrive around sunrise or sunset, the spiritual beauty will be undeniable.
Delicate Arch is only about fifty feet tall, and stands in an area where the surrounding stone has been removed. Somehow, this stubborn span perseveres, looking both breathtaking and perilous. The arch appears frail, but defiant. The creation and steadfastness of Delicate Arch seem improbably, but thank god it’s there. The vast colorful landscape behind the arch sets the backdrop for one of the most striking views in any national park.
Be aware that the hike to Delicate Arch is not a stroll. The trail is 1.5 miles to the arch, or 3 miles round trip. Bring extra water (at least one quart per person), wear good hiking s hoes, and try to avoid the midday heat. Much of the trail is on slickrock following cairns (piles of rocks), and there is little shade.
Be safe and enjoy!