Utah – Delicate Arch at Sunrise
Delicate Arch is a stunning piece of art in its own right. Delicate Arch at sunrise will actually knock your socks off. Yes, it’s still dark when you wake up. Yes, the trailhead is deep into Arches National Park. And yes, it’s a mile or so hike to Delicate Arch itself. But if I am going to be honest, doing the hike to Delicate Arch at sunrise was one of top ten things I have done in my life. #worthit
The decision to do the hike to Delicate Arch at sunrise was made the night before, in the grocery store, when Rebecca and I learned the alcoholic beverage laws of Utah. A Moderately Adventurous tradition is to enjoy a glass of wine while we catch up on the first night of any trip. As we chose our groceries for the next couple days, it slowly dawned on us… there is no wine in this grocery store.Our cashier informed us that the local liquor store was also closed. Noooooooo. BUT no wine meant we might have the motivation to do the hike to Delicate Arch at sunrise.
After a bit of convincing, Rebecca and I chose our outfits and packed our backpacks for the next morning. We calculated that we would need to leave the house at 4:30 am to get to Delicate Arch at sunrise, which was at 6:00 am. Ouch. We were staying a little south of Moab, but you’ll still want to give yourself enough time to get through the park to the trailhead and get on the trail.
At a Glance:
- Rating: 4 stars, would absolutely do it again
- Intensity: Clothes to sweat in, water, flashlight
- Duration: 3 hours
- Cost: National Park Entrance Fee
- Location: Arches National Park
- Restrooms: at the trailhead
- Incredible moment as soon as the sun touches the arch
- There is a lull in the amount of people once the sun has risen, but not to the bottom of the arch
Recommended for this hike:
- Plenty of water, it will take about 15-20 minutes to reach the Arch
- Tennis shoes
Driving through Arches National Park at 5:00 am is a beautiful experience. The entrance alone is fantastic – a series of switchbacks up a cliff surrounded by red rocks. As you drive along, forms in the distance slowly emerge with the first signs of light. When we arrived, the parking lot already had about 15 cars. This seemed like a lot, but is truly nothing compared to the swarms of people we encountered on the way back. It was light enough at the trailhead that we did not need our headlamps.
The hike is about a mile or mile in a half. What I didn’t read before we left was the fact that the trail was uphill nearly the entire way. You will be huffing and puffing as you race the sun. Although I saw some questionable shoe choice, I recommend something with a bit of grip as there are some steeper sections on sandstone. You'll be tempted to stop and see certain things on the way to Delicat Arch. Ignore these temptations as you will time to see these on your way back down.
Delicate Arch at sunrise
A few things that I didn’t realize about Delicate Arch from the millions of pictures I’ve seen over the years: it’s huge and it’s on the side of a cliff! Both of these realizations make the sight even more dramatic. From the vantage point when coming around the corner and where everyone sits, you can see through the arch into the valley below.
Hopefully you will arrive with plenty of time to catch your breath before the first rays of sun touch the arch. You will see the hills beyond the arch light up first. Then slowly, the upper left corner of the arch will begin glowing bright orange. The orange spot grows and grows, illuminating the arch. Sure the sun rises every day, but have you ever seen something like this before?
The way the rocks are structured, it is like a small stadium facing the arch. In this way, everyone viewing the arch is also viewing the people who decided to go down and take pictures. Eventually we got the nerve to head down to the arch and get pictures standing underneath it. We look TINY in comparison to the arch! We only stayed for a brief couple of moments to let the next people stand under the arch.
When the sun made it halfway down the arch, I noticed that there were much fewer people. The people before us had already left, but it was still quite early for people who didn’t make the effort to see Delicate Arch at sunrise. I took a mental note of this phenomenon for Mesa Arch in Canyonlands.
On the way back, right after you turn the corner away from Delicate Arch, make sure to look up on your left. There is another small arch that is a short scramble to get to. Absolutely stop at this mini arch to get a picture of you in an arch with Delicate Arch in the background. So good!
We passed what seemed like a hundred people on our hike back to the trail head. With the sun up, it was already in the 80’s. The sun was directly the visitor’s faces and it made me so happy to be headed downhill and away from the sun. Since it was “early” for these guests, they immediately went to Delicate Arch, which gave us the opportunity to head to some of the other arches in the park with relative ease, nearly empty parking lots, and only a few visitors at each arch. I cannot recommend to anyone enough to push through the discomfort of early morning to do the hike to Delicate Arch at sunrise.
What sunrise hikes have you done that make the experience 1000% better?