Post Summary: What to expect when hiking the Delicate Arch hike during surprise. Tips and tricks for the journey!
The Delicate Arch is the largest free-standing arch in Arches National Park (46 feet high and 32 feet wide). It has also become an icon of Utah National Parks as well as a globally recognized and world-famous geological feature.
When Berty and I were planning our trip to Utah, we knew we had to stop in the park and check it out.
We learned that it’s a very popular hike to take during sunset, so we decided to do just the opposite and see it in the morning!
In this post, we’re sharing our experience with the Delicate Arch hike during sunrise, and why we think the morning is a great time (if not the best!) to experience this place!
The Delicate Arch Hike During Sunrise (Beat The Crowds!)
WHY TAKE A DELICATE ARCH HIKE AT SUNRISE?
Most of the pictures we see from Delicate Arch are from sunset, and for good reason.
The sun is in the perfect position for it. So why did we want to see it in the morning when the light is “not so ideal”? Here are a few reasons:
**A lot of information about the Delicate Arch hike warns about the fully-exposed sun you will experience on the trail. When hiking before sunrise, you don’t have the problem of heat exhaustion, risk of sunburn or dehydration. You don’t have to deal with any of that during the dark of the morning!
**This is a really famous spot to photograph sunsets. This means crowds are much higher later in the day, so early birds will have a higher chance of a peaceful hike and a viewing of the arch with only a handful of people.
**Being one of the most famous geological structures in the world, this spot is one of the most popular locations in the park to visit. The trailhead parking lot fills up fast and it can be difficult to find a spot. If you arrive before 7:00 am, you will be able to grab any spot you wish at the Wolfe Ranch parking lot (we were one of maybe 2 cars at 6 am).
(This picture was after our Delicate Arch sunrise hike. As you can see, there is still not very many cars parked in the morning!)
WHAT DOES THE DELICATE ARCH TRAIL LOOK LIKE?
Getting to the Delicate Arch hike trail is easy from the entrance of Arches National Park. From the main road, drive about 12 miles and then follow the signs for Delicate Arch.
From here you have two options: park at the Wolfe Ranch parking lot to take the up-close-and-personal trail (the one we did), or drive a little farther to take a shorter hike to the Upper and Lower Delicate Arch viewpoints.
If you don’t want to take the 2.9-mile Delicate Arch Hike to see it up close, you can choose to walk the shorter/easier routes to the upper and lower Delicate Arch viewpoints. (Map below shared from NPS.gov)
The Delicate Arch hike is a 2.9 mile out and back trail with 480 feet of elevation gain.
Unlike many of the forested Pacific Northwest trails we know, this hike is across sandstone rock faces where the trail can sometimes be hard to find. Rangers have set up frequent rock piles (or “cairns”) to help guide hikers along the way.
Make sure to look for these markers, especially if you are hiking in the dark. The first half of the trail is a long, steady incline and the second half requires a bit of rock scrambling. If you want some extra reassurance that you’re going the right way, download one of these hiking apps to get access to an offline, interactive map during those early hours.
At the very end of the trail, you’ll need to walk along a steep cliff to reach the viewing area.
HIKING DELICATE ARCH IN THE DARK
During our Delicate Arch hike, Berty and I definitely got lost a few times. One of our headlamps died on the trail, so we used one headlamp and an iPhone light to help guide our way.
It was pretty difficult to find the trail in the dark and we relied a lot on Google Maps as a guide. We followed the dotted trail line on our phone and used the blue dot as an indicator of where we were.
(On our return trip, we noticed the rock cairns that marked the trail were pretty frequent. If you are hiking in the dark, these are helpful guides to make sure you are on the right path.)
We arrived at Delicate Arch before the sun rose. Berty and I sat for a while and enjoyed the view, and took some time to explore the area!
More Of A Sunset Hike Person? Check Out Black Elk Peak In South Dakota, or an amazing trip to Cathedral Rock in Sedona as the sun goes down!
SUNRISE AT DELICATE ARCH
Like stated above, you can expect to find hundreds of hikers at sunset, but only a few during a Delicate Arch sunrise. That was part of the appeal for Berty and I from the start.
We love those quiet moments of the morning and the Delicate Arch hike during sunrise sounded like the perfect way to kick off our time in the park. We were joined for sunrise with maybe 5 others, but everyone was spread out enough that it felt like we had the area all to ourselves.
Read More: 10 Amazing Hikes In Arches National Park
PERSPECTIVES OF DELICATE ARCH
The Delicate Arch sits atop of a large sandstone bowl. (One photographer actually dropped his lens cap and we watched it roll all the way down and out of sight! Oops!)
The top of the bowl is flat enough to walk comfortably on, so we took turns standing under the arch.
It’s also important to note here that while you can stand under it, the National Park forbids anyone climbing on the arch or any arches in the park!
We were actually surprised with how big Delicate Arch was. Seeing it from the perspective of the viewing area, it didn’t look so big. After deciding to walk under it, however, we became tiny little ants under the cover of this enormous feature!
PERSPECTIVES FROM TWISTED DONUT ARCH
Just before you emerge to see the Delicate Arch up close, you will pass a little arch in the face of a rock called Twisted Donut Arch. We think it gets its name from the swirled top – it looks like a braided donut!
Love this arch? Discover another little one on a hike through Soldiers Pass in Sedona, Arizona!
We didn’t notice it on our initial trip, but on the way back we saw the sunshine spilling through the hole and we had to check out what it looked like on the other side. I’m glad we did because it’s now one of our favorite spots to view the Delicate Arch!
We think that this place was MEANT for sunrise!
OUR EXPERIENCE WITH THE DELICATE ARCH HIKE
This hike itself wasn’t incredibly hard.
It took us about an hour to reach the end, and a much shorter time to hike back (probably 40 minutes on the return trip) because we could see where we were going and it was mostly downhill.
We were happy with our decision to do the Delicate Arch hike during sunrise – we met only a few other people there, and it was a Saturday too! If you are looking for a quieter time to view the Delicate Arch, we 100% recommend coming to see it during sunrise.
TIPS FOR THE DELICATE ARCH HIKE DURING SUNRISE
- Bring a wide camera lens. A wide camera lens lets you capture not only the arch but all the beauty around it too!
- Pack a headlamp. This is essential if you are planning to hike in the dark.
- Bring a water bottle and snacks. If you are hiking before sunrise, you’ll likely get a little hungry and will need something to tide you over before breakfast.
- Wear warm/lightweight gear. Desert mornings can be cold, no matter what time of year it is. Wear a lightweight coat on the way to Delicate Arch, and pack it in your back on the return trip.
Have you ever done the Delicate Arch hike during sunrise? What was your experience like? Share your story with other readers in the comments below!
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