Arches National Park: Delicate Arch Trail
Updated: Sep 10
Delicate Arch Trail is great for kids with a couple of things to note
Great for 8 years old plus in good physical condition
Most of the trail is wide open for kids to explore
Some ascents are steep and can be dangerous especially in rain or snow.
The last 100 meters or so is a narrow route on the side of a steep dropoff; we kept our kids to the inside
The petroglyphs and Wolfe Ranch are near the parking lot and great for a history lesson
We didn't take our kids under the Arch. The arch is on the far side and top of a steep bowl that drops 30 meters.
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Delicate Arch Trail is more that an Arch viewing. Here you can see Wolfe Ranch from the parking lot and with a short walk see petroglyphs. So, if you are not up for doing the whole trail to Delicate Arch the ranch and petroglyphs are easy, must see, historical places. Additionally, there is a Delicate Arch Viewpoint to the Southeast with an easier trail to view Delicate Arch at a distance. You can see, with the help of Google maps below, the Devil's Arch trailhead parking on the right, the Arch trail marked with the red marker, Devi's Arch circled upper right, and the Devil's Arch viewpoint parking in the lower right.
Delicate Arch Trail is a sunrise and sunset destination. So, if you are trying to beat the crowds you need to arrive very early or plan to stay late. We arrived at our normal time around 7am and the trail was already busy. On our way back the trail was socked with hikers. I use hikers loosely. There were many people that should not have been on the trail that day. Please take water, take snacks, and wear sunscreen any time of day. I thought the sun wouldn't be an issue because we arrived early. On our way back to the parking lot the sun was blazing and the backs of our neck were feeling the burn.
The NPS tells the story of John and Fred Wolfe and the Wolfe Ranch. According to the National Park Service, John Wolfe, a Civil War Veteran, decided to move West with his son where they settled and raised over 1,000 cattle on the native grasses. The ranch lasted for about 12 years. In 1914 the first custodian of Arches National Monument bought the property. in 1975 the property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places due to the way these settlers survived on such meager resources and water. There is more to the story and we encourage you to visit the NPS site for more details on the ranch, how the Wolfe's lived, and other inhabitants of the area.
Next to Wolfe Ranch are petroglyphs. Ute rock art believed to be carved between 1650-1850 include pictures of horses and big horn sheep. For the kids, we found they enjoyed the search. The few petroglyphs that we have seen always seem to show a glimpse at first and then reveal more pictures as we continue to explore the rock faces. This panel is similar. When you think you have seen it all another image will reveal itself. How many can you discover?
To be clear, Delicate Arch Trail is a popular trail and maybe the most traveled trail in Arches National Park. Delicate Arch must also be the most photographed Arch in the park. The arch is so popular that it is on the Utah License Plate. The opening of the arch is 46 feet high and 32 feet wide making it the largest arch in the park. We found there is a lot more to the trail than Delicate Arch.
Delicate Arch trail is 3 miles round trip at an elevation of 4,850 feet. The trail begins by traveling by Wolfe Ranch, over the wash, and by the petroglyphs. The next section is easy gravel trail and then it gets more difficult. There is a strong ascent up vast slick rock terrain. On the slick rock there is a lot of space here and any route will do fine and it is fun to explore. Next is varied terrain of sand and slick rock with some flats and additional ascents. The trail gets a little uncertain in this area, so pay attention and look for the minimal trail markings. There are a couple of places where the trail is hard to find. However, it seemed like all possible paths essentially went in the right direction. The last 100 meters is, for lack of a better term, on the side of a cliff with steep drops to the left and a wall of rock on the right.
Once through here, Delicate Arch presents itself on the other side of a large bowl. People are able to walk around the top part of the bowl and reach Delicate Arch. Due to the slanted terrain of the bowl, we decided to have a seat and enjoy the Arch from a distance. Many people walked over to the arch and you will have to make your own decision whether it is a risk you would like to take. After the hike, I did research, and learned that people have fallen to their death. I regret not walking over there however, I am happy we are able to relive the memory, too.
The full climb is 480 vertical feet. The climb and descent is difficult. At the end of the trail, I carried my 8 year old daughter on my shoulders. She is made for these trails and still tired late. To keep her going we found conversations she likes to have and let her talk. The main topic of these hikes included her expansive Minecraft world. Based on how long she talked, I think her Minecraft world is bigger than Arches National Park.
The hike requires and is worth preparing for. We showed up early and it was still busy. By the time we finished the sun was high and sunscreen would have been helpful. For this hike we would recommend:
First Aid Kit - We've found out the hard way that even the simplest hikes may need first aid
snacks-we take a lot of granola bars and home-made trail\chex mix
Flashlights or headlamps for dawn and dusk viewing. We like the outlite tactical flashlight and the rayovac headlamp. These are both 3-AAA powered durable and lightweight with adjustable settings. I use both every day (we feed horses at 5:30am) and find they are durable and comfortable to use.
We found Delicate Arch Trail to be one of our favorites. The terrain, the morning sunrise, the amazing views, and Delicate Arch made for an unforgettable experience. If attempted in the heat, inclement weather, or with small children it can be memorable for other, not so happy, reasons. We made the mistake of not taking sunscreen and it caused discomfort and a little sunburn. When planned correctly, Delicate Arch Trail can be an amazing experience. We found the successful climb up the slick rock as a rewarding accomplishment. The walk along the cliff was scary enough to share in the success, hiking through it. The view of Delicate Arch in the dawn light, provided a beautiful moment of rest, half way through the round trip hike. We viewed the petroglyphs on our way back to the parking lot which gave us a nice historic finish before reaching the truck and air conditioning.
Let us know about your trip to Delicate Arch or what questions you have as you plan your next trip.