The Delicate Arch Trail is the most popular hike in Arches National Park for good reason. The hike to Delicate Arch is scenic and enjoyable, and the up-close views of this highly photogenic arch are pretty incredible.
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The trail begins by crossing a river and a historic settlement, then transitions to a slow, but steady incline. The views of the valley below are quite nice the whole way up and (in April) it actually looks quite green due to natural grasses and shrubs.
About half way up, the hike transitions to a wide patch of gently sloped slickrock, which is fun for the kids to walk on. As you near the top, you start walking through amazing corridors of large rocks, with medium sized bushes all around. There are all kinds of tempting rocks to climb and trails to follow for the kids, so watch them close.
The final leg of this hike is a bit scary, but manageable if you are careful. The final 200 yards of trail to the Delicate Arch clings to the side of the cliff-face as it gently winds around a corner. There are no handrails and as you climb further up the drop below gets greater and greater. I don’t have a sense for how far it dropped as I didn’t look, but it was really far down. Hold onto your kids with an iron grip for this section.
Soon enough the scary section ends and you turn to corner to see world-famous Delicate Arch up-close. There is a large viewing area with natural rock formations to sit on, take pictures and simply enjoy the view. Many people continue onwards to get even closer to the Arch, but the wind was blowing extremely hard and we felt it wasn’t safe to take the kids any closer without taking undo risks.
Delicate Arch Hike Stats
Distance: The round trip distance of this hike is 3 miles / 4.8 km.
Elevation Gain: This hike has a steady, but moderate incline the entire way. There are no really hard parts to this hike, just a steady effort the entire way up. The official elevation gain for this hike is 480 feet / 146m, but our GPS clocked in at 610 feet / 186m. – the difference likely being that we chased our kids around the trail.
Difficulty: This is no easy stroll along the riverside, nor is it a grueling sludge to the top of a mountain, so this trail is firmly in the moderate range. Anyone in reasonable shape ought to be able to do it no problem. Our 3 & 5 year old kids easily did the entire hike themselves.
Duration: This hike took us 2 hours and 19 minutes to complete, which is bang-on to our usual pace hiking with kids. Without kids, we’d be able to hike this trail is less than an hour.
How to Get to Delicate Arch
How to Get to Delicate Arch: Our Lonely Planet recommended to arrive at Arches NP by 7am in order to beat the crowds and to guarantee a parking spot at Delicate Arch. Our campground staff agreed, saying that if you wait until 8:30ish, the lineups to enter the park can be over an hour long.
We got to the front gate of the park at 7:10 and were able to drive straight through – literally… there were no staff working yet. We had purchased an America the Beautiful National Park Pass, so we just kept driving; but everyone else who arrives early must go to the Arches National Park Visitor Center to pay their entry fee.
The first few minutes of the drive into the park are epic, winding uphill through towering rock walls. After an incredible 20 minutes of driving we arrived at the massive Delicate Arch parking lot to find it around 25% full. For comparison purposes, when we got back to the parking lot at 10:30am, it was completely full with lots of cars circling the lot waiting for someone to leave.
Delicate Arch Trail Highlights
- The obvious highlight of this hike is the up-close view of Delicate Arch. This is the most popular hike in the park for a reason, it’s a spectacular and highly Instagram-able sight.
- The steadily increasing elevation gain, coupled with minimal tree cover result in really nice views of the valley below. It’s surprisingly green, with lots of shrubs and grasses.
- Despite being in a desert environment, when we did the hike in April there were lots of beautiful wildflowers.
- There is a historical cabin at the very beginning of the hike, followed shortly by a side trail to see some petroglyphs.
Hiking Delicate Arch with Kids
- There are bathrooms at the trailhead. Make sure everyone goes before they start as this is a very popular hike, with very few places to hide to go potty on the trail. You can find a spot if you try really hard, but it may be tough to find a quick place to go in an emergency. On a related note, we advise parents to moderate their caffeine intake before this hike.
- There are no water bottle filling stations on this hike. If you need to fill your hydration packs before starting, the Arches National Park Visitor Center has a water station.
- This is a true mountain hiking trail made of dirt and rocks. You can get by with hiking shoes, but we’d recommend hiking boots due to the uneven sliprock. Don’t even think about wearing flip-flops on this hike.
- There isn’t much tree cover on this hike, so be prepared for full sun exposure for the duration of the hike. Bring lots of water and sunscreen; the sign at the trailhead recommends at least half a gallon (2 litres) of water per person on the hike. Hydration packs are a great way to easily carry large quantities of water.
- This trail is not stroller accessible, but tons of parents we saw with small kids used a backpack carrier to get them to the top.
- No dogs are allowed on Delicate Arch Trail.
- Keep your eyes open for wildlife. We saw a cute bunny hiding under a bush, lots of lizards and a stinkbug (a large beetle which will spray you with a noxious fluid if you bother it).
- The beginning of the trail is lined with medium sized, decorative rocks on either side of the trail. It’s virtually impossible to keep kids off these rocks, which will slow everyone down.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
The best place to stop for lunch is at the top of the hike. Once you reach the end, there is a large area with lots of rocks to sit on and enjoy views of Delicate Arch. If the crowds are too dense, or the wind is blowing too hard (as was the case when we visited), you can find some great areas to stop on the slickrock not too far from the top – just before you start the scary part of the hike.
- The sun can get intense in southern Utah, so bring more water than you think you will need.
- Near the end of the hike, a 200 yard section of the trail clings to the rock face and drops off severely to the other side. There’s plenty of room for two way traffic, but the drop is potentially life-threatening, so please keep your kids close and be careful. Personal note: I’m very afraid of drop-offs, but the trail was wide enough and I was able to do this short section without freaking out.
What to Bring
- Sun hats
- Hydration packs for the adults and kids
- Plenty of snacks and water
- Garbage bag to carry out your trash
Other Hikes in Arches National Park
Arches National Park has many fun and interesting trails for families to enjoy. A few others we enjoyed during our visit include the Devil’s Garden Trail and these five easy walks in Arches.
Moab’s National Parks with Kids
Moab, Utah is a great base for exploring Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. For more things to do in Canyonlands and Arches National Parks plus family friendly hotels and campgrounds, visit our Arches & Canyonlands National Parks with Kids post.
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