ARCHES NATIONAL PARK — In a remote cavity of Arches National Park, the sun sets and a strange phenomenon occurs: Flocks of manic professional photographers stake out tripod space, literally shoulder to shoulder, on the edge of a sunken orange cliff. These beauty specialists know what they’re doing; snapping Utah’s most notorious structure during the sunset glow is a genuinely profound, exhilarating experience.
Yes, the Delicate Arch lives up to its notoriety, but nowadays, visiting this tourist magnet takes some strategy. Here are three essential tips to having a better experience on this 3-mile hike of a lifetime to Delicate Arch:
- Visit during non-peak season
If you’re looking for an entirely solitary experience with no one around, you frankly have to go during the winter. The number of visitors throughout the entire Moab area drops massively in wintertime. In fact, the flooding number of vehicles passing through Arches slows to a trickle around the end of October from approximately 10,000 a week to 2,000 and, near the end of February, rises swiftly back up to around 10,000 a week for the remainder of spring, summer and fall.
“Winter is the best season here and people don’t realize it,” Steph Davis, professional rock climber and owner of Moab Base Adventures, wrote in an email to St. George News. “Moab is not crowded at all in the winter, and that’s what makes it even better.”
What’s more, the winter weather is preferable to the scorching summers in the area. Relative to most of the Intermountain West, Arches gets a gentle cold streak in the winter — at its most severe receiving a mere skiff of snow a few times a year, which typically melts away by the afternoon.
Point is, if you prefer solitude with your scenery, get to the Delicate Arch sometime between November and February for a serene sense of reverence most people never get the privilege of experiencing.
- Get up early and hike at dawn
During the busy season, you can avoid most (not all) of the crowds and still get nature-high on the scenery by simply avoiding the afternoon/evening frenzy. Granted, while an early morning hike during the peak season will surely yield at least a few other gawkers, the human distractions will be significantly less in the morning, allowing you a predominantly reverent,yet inspiring experience at the Arch.
Luckily, in terms of experience, the mornings are just as spectacular as the overly crowded evenings with only a fraction of the spectators. The sunrise at Delicate reveals a similar but different livening effect than its over-photographed counterpart the sunset.
During the early morning moments, the sun backlights the archway, its rays slowly curling around the structure and eventually piercing a honey-golden hole of light through the heart of it.
Instead of fading over your shoulder in the evening, a mere supporting role in the scene, the morning sun is the hero of this daily performance, perfectly embracing the Arch. Like the opening of a celestial portal, a sunrise at the arch is a heavenly experience. It generates a one-of-a-kind, direct connection between you, the Earth and its ultimate life force, the sun — resulting in a powerful feeling of cosmic unity you won’t experience anywhere else.
- Embrace the humanity
There’s a reason crowds show up at Delicate Arch at sunset. There truly is nothing like the sunset here. It’s so incredible. This 20-minute show compels flocks of humans to literally travel across the planet to ogle. This fact alone is humbling, and to share a moment with such a melting pot of humanity is something special.
Watch the people, listen to the languages, feel the wonder as you all accept your insignificance and your togetherness. It’s not just a beautiful scene, it’s a spiritual experience.
In a few short moments as the sun sets, the sun’s beam revitalizes the ancient crumbling archway, awakening the arch’s core and imploring it to pour out blood-orange waves of energy in all directions. The ancient structure seems to gain power at sunset, releasing a reverence across the crowd of people who sit in silence, drooling over this nature-high you can’t experience anywhere else.
Hike at a glance
- Distance: 3 miles total, 1.5 miles up to Delicate Arch and 1.5 miles back down to the parking lot.
- Hiking time: Approximately one hour up and one hour back.
- Elevation gain: You must hike up a steady ramp-like incline, 480 feet in elevation and 480 feet back down.
- Trail characteristics: Most of the hike is on an incline. Mostly smooth sandstone with some intermittent natural steps to maneuver.
- Carry at least a quart of water per person. Many hikers underestimate the steady incline of the hike and run out of water.
- There is one other official hike to a different viewpoint of the Arch but it is outside the scope of this article.
Driving Directions from Moab: 35 minutes, 16.7 miles
- Travel north from Main Street/U.S. 191 in Moab for 4 miles
- Following the signs for Arches National Park, turn right onto Arches Entrance Road/Arches Scenic Drive
- Pay for entry at the drive-thru National Park pay stations
- Continue on Arches Scenic Drive for 11.5 miles
- Turn right onto Delicate Arch Road and continue 1.2 miles to the Wolfe Ranch parking area on the left.
- Park here, and begin the hike.
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