Delicate Arch Trail
ElevationAscent: 567' 173 m
Descent: -567' -173 m
High: 4,816' 1,468 m
Low: 4,307' 1,313 m
GradeAvg Grade: 7% (4°)
Max Grade: 32% (18°)
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“Sure, you've seen the pictures, but an in-person visit to this über-classic arch is not to be missed”— Megan W
1.) Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint Trail: short, flat, paved, wheelchairs OK.
2.) Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint Trail: moderate half mile climb to viewpoint on cliffs across from the arch
3.) Delicate Arch Trail: more strenuous, 3 mile round trip to the base of Delicate Arch (described in detail below)
This is a trail description for the Delicate Arch Trail (to the base of the arch): starting from the parking lot at Wolfe Ranch, head northeast on the wide trail over mostly level ground. Almost immediately on the left, you'll pass the Old Wolfe Ranch (log cabin, root cellar, and corral used in the late 1800's). A bridge over the overgrown Salt Wash brings you to the Petroglyph Interpretive Trail. This easy loop visits a small panel of carved Ute Indian petroglyphs thought to be created after these native people acquired horses in the 1600's.
Continue on the Delicate Arch trail through dry desert terrain, occasionally passing stunted trees or rock piles providing welcome shade. Take these rare opportunities when you can, there is hardly any shade on this trail. Start ascending up red dirt hillsides before arriving at enormous tan slickrock slabs. This part of the trail crosses open rock with the route marked only with cairns. Keep an eye out for these rock piles, but if you lose the trail it helps to look for others on the trail or simply head uphill- you are likely to come across the path again.
Finally, the grade eases a bit and you leave the crevassed slickrock behind to climb smooth sandstone on the final approach to the arch. Follow the airy stone ramp on a slight incline as it contours around the backside of an imposing rock tower. This exposed part lasts about 200 yards but the path surface is about 3 feet wide at it's narrowest, so don't let this discourage you from completing this superlative trail.
Emerge through a break in the formation to be dazzled by the Delicate Arch in all its glory. One of the best features of this trail is the surprise reveal saved for the very end! Delicate Arch presides over an amphitheater-like bowl that can become over-run with admirers. It used to be part of the upper Entradea sandstone fin before erosion and wind weathered away the sandstone to leave what we see today. When you are finished ogling the arch, retrace your steps back to Wolfe Ranch. Unless you are more observant than most, you likely missed Frame Arch just around the corner (on the main path to Delicate Arch). This is worth looking for on the return trip and is also a favorite place to frame pictures of Delicate Arch through its window.
Some words to the wise: take at least 1 quart (1 liter) of water per person, wear a hat, use sunscreen, take breaks. Visit early or late in the day if you want to avoid the crowds on this extremely popular trail. Late afternoon is thought to be the best time to photograph Delicate Arch for the best color. Note: no bikes allowed on this trail.
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Family Friendly, ADA Accessible, Flora & Fauna, History & Background
Land Manager: National Park Service - Arches National Park