THIS IS NOT TO DISCOURAGE YOU!!
I just think that it is nice to know that when you hike to Delicate Arch there will be other people there when you arrive. Some times a lot of people. This is especially true if you are there at sunset.
This is not totally a bad thing as they are some times fun to watch.
I highly recommend this hike. Just a heads up.
Slickrock is beautiful and it's smooth contours are inviting as a place to hike and climb around on.
Until you develop a bit of experience with it it is best to exercise a little caution. The park service has dozens of rescues and evacuations every season. This is often because people get strung out on what "looked like an easy" climb or jump.
This is especially true in areas where there is vertical exposue. Due to the smooth rounded nature of slickrock it is very easy to cross the point of no return and slip off an edge.
Remember this is a natural place. It is not an Amusment Park The danger has not been engineered out. There are no warning signs. You are primarily responsible for you and your party's safety.
I know that people love campfires. This is just not the place to have one. Let me detail as to why that is true.
1. You are in a world treasure if you damage it well......
2. The wood here is replaced VERY slowly and should be left as is. It is part of the ecosystem and is not here for our entertainment.
3. Should your fire get out of control (aside from the obvious danger to other people) you will be held criminally and financially responsible. This eventuality is more likely than you think. This is the desert and things here burn very easily and quite rapidly.
4. A fire insulates you from experiencing the desert fully. The night sky is invisible when using a fire. Forget the fire and experience the wonder of the desert night sky.
5. If everyone has campfire it will strip the area of vegetation and ruin Arches for other visitors.
So admit that Daniel Boone comes from an earlier time and learn to camp in a minimum impact fashion. You will smell better and enjoy the experience more.
You know the only 8 inches of precip I mentioned in that previous warning? On our 2011 trip, I think they got about 1/2 of that in 4 days. Felt like it, anyway. A downpour that's no big deal anywhere else can be a very big deal in Southern Utah; all that rock leaves it nowhere to go but DOWN. In a hurry. Into any and every space it can fill.
Heavy rains and thundershowers had us hightailing it off pinnacles and up out of canyon floors. They washed out trails and roads, flooded slots, made slickrock even slicker, and turned dry washes into raging torrents.
Rain is no more than an annoyance on the shorter trails and overlooks but can be a real pain in the fanny for those involving dirt roads, longer primitive trails or low, tight spaces. And high, open spaces are no place to be when it's lightning. Check with the rangers on weather conditions before setting off on long hikes, and make other plans if a cats-and-dogs downpour is possible anywhere in the area: flooding is possible from storms miles away.
Cairns, those little pyramids of piled stones along the trails, are there for two reasons:
A. To keep you from getting lost and/or away from dangerous or unstable places
B. To keep you off cryptobiotic crust
"Cryptobiotic" means "hidden life" and these lumpy, living colonies of microorganisms, algae, lichen and whatnot help keep the desert surface from washing or blowing away, and give plant life a fertile, friendly place to germinate and flourish. It's very fragile and some types take many, many years to form. Step on it and you've just wiped out 10 - 100 years of growth. It usually looks like a bumpy black fungus covering large or small areas of ground but some kinds are difficult to recognize or are just starting to form.
So please, please help keep the desert healthy and beautiful and don't hike, bike or 4-wheel off clearly indicated trails, paths or roads.
Arches has a parking problem. They KNOW they have a parking problem but have not yet been able to come up with a good fix. The million visitors a year descend by cars and buses upon a relatively small national park with a fragile ecosystem (remember my tip on cryptobiotic crust?) and little space to devote to lots. Finding an open spot at overlooks and trailheads can be a major headache and involve some circling around until someone leaves, and/or a long walk. As frustrating as that is, you MUST park only in designated areas and will be ticketed if you do not.
Going early in the morning is one way to avoid the worst of the traffic problems. And plan to be at parking areas for the most popular hikes - such as Delicate Arch before sunset - well in advance. Same goes for guided tours at Fiery Furnace: that lot is pretty small and can't handle both the folks there for the tour and others just coming for the viewpoint. You don't want to miss your time slot because you couldn't find a last-minute place to ditch the car.
Dogs and other pets are not allowed on any of the trails or in the visitor center, and can only be walked on the roads and parking lots. They have to be leashed at all times and can't be left in vehicles unattended. As I said in a previous warning, this park is a real scorcher in the summer so please, please leave Rover at home - or in a nice, cool kennel in Moab - and not in the car!!!!! Call Karen's Canine Campground at (435) 259-7922, Desert Doggie Daycare at (435) 259-4841, or Moab Veterinary Clinic at (435) 259-8710.
Most of the trails at Arches are pretty flat but some of the more strenuous involve long drop-offs. The evening we were up at Delicate Arch, some clueless adults let their young children run wild on the steeply sloping slickrock and nearly gave those of us who knew what lay on the other side of that arch a coronary.
Those drop-offs make for great photos but lousy trips to the trauma room - if you survive the fall. Keep a tight rein on your young folks and do not take them to the upper reaches at all if they're prone to spontaneous acts of daredevilry.
The Moab area averages less than 8 inches of rain a year and temperatures can easily top 100 degrees (+37 F) during the summer and early fall. You'll see reminders everywhere to drink plenty of water, pack at least a quart (short hikes) to a gallon (longer treks) along for the day, and cover your head: dehydration/sunstroke is no joke.
As drinking water is only available two places inside the park, fill your bottles at your hotel or at the visitor center before making for the trailhead. We carried a collapsible, 2-gallon water bag in the car for quick refills, and camelback packs are great if you have one.
Drink and then drink some more. Having been to the dizzy, stomachache stage of dehydration, I have some firsthand experience with how fast it can slap you upside the head. Yup, that bottle of (eventually) lukewarm water is going to taste like crap so bringing along some of those zero-calorie flavoring packets to make it go down a little easier is a good idea.
Even if you're visiting Arches on a highlights-only bus tour, you should dress for the desert. Even some of the short paths to viewing areas are sandy, rocky and uneven. I took this photo at Landscape Arch - an easy 2-mile RT but some slog through deep sand and gravel. This lady's slick-bottom, open sandals are just asking for a sprained ankle or broken toe. The frock? Pretty sure the rangers were peeing their pants.
At sunset on a clear day, scores of shutterbugs make their way up to Delicate Arch for the "money shot." And they mean business. They want that to-die-for snap of Utah's state symbol glowing red in the dying rays. They do NOT want a photo with you in it. Some unfortunate individuals who failed to understand that fact were given the message loud and clear.
So if you MUST have your picture taken under the arch, make your trek up before the sun starts down. Get in the way of all those expensive lenses and their owners may get a rope.
I should mention that this is true of many of the park's most-photographed spots. You do not want people you don't know in YOUR pictures so don't take all day getting the Christmas card shot, please.
While it has lots of really cool hikes and photo-ops, seeing this park can come at a price: solitude. Arches is not a large park (by National Park standards) and has a million visitors a year. Between the relentless heat and mobs of people, we cut our early September visit in 2004 short and tried again, later that same month, in 2011.
Getting to the park first thing in the morning to do the longer, more difficult trails is the best way to stay cooler and avoid the crowds that clog up the more accessible viewpoints. As it's open 24/7, you can drive to your trailhead or those popular viewpoints at dawn and be out of the way when things get crazy. Dusk can also be a good time to avoid the worst of the masses.
Wherever you drive or hike in Arches National Park, be aware that it is a high bassin desert. There is hardly any shade, and the summers can be extreme hot. Make sure, you bring enough water (4 l minimum per person in a hot summer).
If you hike to Delicate Arch, this is even more important, as on the first half, there is zero shadow, and the hike can get quite strenous, even if you have enough to drink.
The terrain around Delicate Arch is pure slickrock, very slippery even when it’s not wet. Make sure, you have well gripping hiking boots, and even with them, take care for each step you do. The whole area is quite steep, and one wrong step might have you ended up with broken bones in the bassin or even deeper.
The pics show how steep it is just outside of the opening in the wall, you might get into just close to Delicate Arch.
The other one shows how polished the base of Delicate Arch is.
There are many hiking paths throughout Arches National Park that are maintained by the National Park Service. These trails are marked to blend in with the natural terrain. Be sure to stay on the clearly marked paths and follow the trail markers. If you’re planning to hike “off the beaten path” and are unfamiliar with the terrain check in first at the visitors center located near the park entrance. Here you have access to park maps and trail guides. Experienced hikers lead guided hikes through some of the more difficult terrain at various times during the day. It is easy to get lost if you are unfamiliar with the territory and stray from the marked paths. And the sun in this area can be unforgiving with very little shade available. When in doubt search for the trail markers and be sure to bring plenty of potable water with you.