Hiking the Arches in Utah (nope, not the McDonalds’ ones)

I woke up early. Way too early. It wasn’t even 7 am. That never happens (I am a bit of a night owl, especially on weekends or whilst on holiday). As I started to wake up, I remembered I was in the middle of the desert. Moab, Utah to be precise.

As soon as the sun rises in these parts, the tent instantly becomes a sauna. I couldn’t continue to sleep if I tried.

We arrived here late last night so we didn’t get a chance to see much of the area yet. So when I stepped out of the tent, I couldn’t wait to see what Moab looked like.

I stood there absolutely speechless as I took in the magical red rock wonderland that surrounded me. All I could see for miles, in any direction, were stunning red rocks and endless blue skies. John Wayne said it best when he, apparently, said:  ‘Where God put the West.’ when describing this area

Indeed! This place is spectacular.alundertent

And incredibly hot. You know it must get pretty hot ’round these parts when they put ‘roofs’ over the picnic tables at the campsites. I was already sweating buckets in the 4 minutes I’ve been awake.  The barometer told me it was already  30 degrees C (about 90F ), and it wasn’t even 8am!

 I had a quick shower (which cooled me off for maybe 2 minutes) and then we packed the car and headed into downtown Moab for some coffee and a hearty breakfast to energize us for a full day of hiking.

Then we were finally on our way to Arches National Park, which is just a few miles north of Moab.

The drive to get there was beyond incredible. I almost got whiplash trying to see all of the geological wonderland around us.



 Arches National Park is a red arid high desert in Eastern Utah that is punctuated with eroded sandstone sculptures including over 2,000 sandstone arches, and many other natural rock formations such as fins, pinnacles, balanced rocks, and ‘windows’.

As you walk through the flat open desert, these sculptures seem to rise out of nowhere. This place is surreal. I felt like we had been suddenly transported to another planet. 

Being the geek that I am, I half-expected to see Captain Kirk and Gorn fighting beside one of the red rock formations along the side of the road (I didn’t).

vasquezrocks-gornandcaptainkirk         (Apparently this episode was filmed in Southern California, but this place was quite similar…enough to make me think of Star Trek. Which is not necessarily a bad thing).

 When we got to the park, we opted to do the famous ‘Delicate Arch’ hike first, before it got too hot (although I don’t think it really could get any hotter). 

The guide told us it was a moderate-level hike to the famous Arch. And he also stressed that we should either do it now (mid-morning) or wait until later in the day. If you tried to do it at noon, he warned us, we’d melt onto the red rocks. That scared me because I felt like I was already melting.

Maybe coming here in July wasn’t such a wise idea after all…

 The hike is roughly 3 miles (round trip) with a 500 ft change in elevation. Sounded great to us. We grabbed our cameras and our 80 litres (exaggerating, but not by much) of water and made our way to the trail head.


At the trail head stands ‘Wolfe Ranch’ where John Wesley Wolfe and his eldest son lived together in this little one-room house for a decade. They moved here from Ohio after the Civil War in search of a drier climate (mission accomplished, I’d say).  John’s daughter and her family moved in with them in 1906 but they built a bigger cabin nearby.

Now we were ready to begin the hike. The first leg of the hike started out fairly easy. The trail was wide and open, with a distinct path to follow. But then as soon as we got to the base of the slip rock incline, the trail disappears and it becomes fairly steep. You then try to follow the Cairns, which help mark the way up the mountain.

 Hiking on slip rock was a bit tricky as the rock is very smooth (fortunately it wasn’t wet, I wouldn’t want to hike up this in the rain) and you’re working a bit of a sweat climbing uphill in 35 degree (90+ degrees F) weather. Unless you’re smarter than us and you do this hike when its much cooler. 

danadelicatehike2 I realized right away why the rangers recommends you bring a lot of water with you. It’s fairly steep climb in some areas, and insanely hot. And there isn’t any shade at all. I‘ve already downed 2 bottles of water and we were only half-way up the mountain.

 After we climbed the steep slip rock part, a trail opens up that goes along a ledge of rock. It’s fairly wide however this might be difficult for those with a fear of heights as it follows a steep ledge. But as long as you don’t go close to the edge, you’ll be fine. It sounds much worse than it is. Folks of all ages were here but I noticed older people having a bit of difficulty with the steep climb and they had to stop often. I definitely don’t recommend bringing young kids on this hike particularly because of the steep trail at the top (and lot of steep areas at the Arch).

This is what the terrain is like as you’re hiking towards the arch at the top: bigswirl

The best part of this hike is that you never see the famous Arch for the entire climb to the top.

Until you ’round that last corner and suddenly it’s right before you.  I stopped in my tracks, it was absolutely breathtaking.

After all that work and sweat getting up here, you are rewarded with this magnificent and ginormous surprise: 

Ladies and Gentleman, behold: the Delicate Arch.  It’s a 65 feet high, free-standing arch. Not too surprisingly,  this is the most popular Arch in the park. And as a widely recognized landmark, Delicate Arch is depicted on the Utah license plate.

It was formed when the original sandstone fin (vertical slabs of rock) was gradually worn down through erosion, thus leaving the arch. Because of its unique shape, it was commonly known as ‘The Chaps‘ by local Cowboys (back in the day).  I loved getting close to it. It was just magnificent.



I love how tiny Al looks standing under the arch.  It gives you a sense of how massive this arch really is. It looks huge from afar, but when you’re standing underneath it, it’s absolutely ginormous. It was such an incredible experience. If you visit Arches National Park, do not miss this hike!! The work is definitely worth it to see this arch up close and personal.

 As you can imagine, I took a lot of photos on this hike. A fun tidbit: I was here in the summer of 2001. Digital cameras were fairly new and still pretty crappy then. I took 5o rolls of film from my American Southwest trip, 10 rolls of that were taken here in Arches National Park.  Needless to say, my wallet was happy to see digital cameras improve a few years after that (haha!)

 We stayed up here for over an hour, walking all around the ‘Ampitheatre’ of rock that surrounds  the arch. It was great to sit and relax after the hike, and soak in the incredible landscape around us. Before we headed back down the mountain, we drank a bottle of water each and I also dumped some of top of my head (that  helped cool me off, for a few seconds anyway).


When we finally descended down the mountain we decided to check out the rest of the park to see some of the other incredible rock formations.

We headed to the Windows section of the park. It was a bit of a hike to get here, but it was easy  compared to the hike we just did. This is the North Window Arch:

 And the other side of it is the South Window.

And then as you start walking back and turn around to admire these windows, you quickly realize why they’re sometimes referred to as ‘The Eyeglasses’. Man, nature sure is pretty cool.

This gorgeous hunk o’ rock is called Turret Arch.


The main arch is over 100 feet wide, however the arch is apparently quite young and small. It’s likely that the smaller arch beside it will join to create a larger arch….in a few hundred thousand or so….

This is Balanced rock. One of the most incredible free-sanding slabs of rock on the planet, it sits perched on its pedestal over 130 feet high.


The ‘rock’ part itself rises 55 feet above its base. It doesn’t look that big, but apparently the rock weighs 3500 tonnes, roughly the size of 3 school buses. That’s a huge chunk o’ rock sitting on its pedestal defying gravity. Beyond amazing…

Although I’m not much of a shopper (if you know me, you know I don’t care about fashion all that much), I couldn’t wait to check out Park Avenue. Nope, not the New York shopping mecca, Utah’s got a Park Avenue too. But it’s in the form of a giant slab of rock. Definitely more my cup of tea (coffee).

Park Avenue got its name because it reminded early visitors of the skyscrapers and buildings of Manhattan. I much prefer this scenery over big city skylines.


40667_10150264068575601_280074_n     Turret Arch later in the day as the sun started to set. Just beautiful! 

 Since we were running out of time, we had to miss a few areas at Arches we were hoping to see. One of them was the ‘Fiery Furnace’, a concentrated maze of sandstone fins and narrow slot canyons. It gets its name from the deep red and orange glow of the rocks with the setting sun. It’s recommended that you do this tour with a guide and because it’s a 3 hour tour AND fills up insanely fast, so we didn’t get a chance to do it.

As far as I’m concerned, this whole area of Utah is a fiery furnace (ha!)….especially in the middle of July.  But I would have still loved to see this spot. So I suggested to Al we come back in a couple of years to spend more time here. Mind you, that was over 13 years ago-I guess we’re long over-due to get back here.

After many years of road tripping all over America, this is STILL one of my favourite spots in the country.

It really ROCKS! 🙂


  If you want to check out Arches, check out this site for info and inspiration, and here for the National State Park site where you’ll find out all the necessary info such as fees, permits, closures, news etc.  Arches National Park is located in Moab, Eastern Utah.

Have you been to Arches National Park, and if so, did you do the Delicate Arch Hike? I would love to hear about your trip and your favourite parts of your adventure there.


One thought on “Hiking the Arches in Utah (nope, not the McDonalds’ ones)

  1. Pingback: Sedona: This Place Really Rocks! | The Roadtrip Cowgirl

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