A Sunrise Hike to the Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

As we were planning and discussing our visit to Arches, the top thing both Will and I wanted to do was hike to Delicate Arch. However, we also knew that Arches is a very busy Park that closes the gate when a certain capacity is reached, and it can be hours before it reopens.

Even though we were going on a Monday morning, we decided we wanted to be to the trailhead (approximately 45 minutes from the campground) as the sun started to come up a little after 7 AM. We rarely wake Bird early, let alone that early, so it was a bit of a gamble on our part that she would be her usual cheerful self. While she did wake up and stay up when we went to get her, we kept her in her pajamas until we reached the trailhead. We knew that as long as we got there and got a parking spot, we could take our time from there.

We arrived at the parking lot when we had hoped to and found it filling quickly but with plenty of available spaces. Most other hikers around us were pulling in and hopping right on the trail, but we got Bird dressed, had some breakfast, and generally enjoyed a quiet moment watching the sun come up over the beauty around us.

According to AllTrails.com, the trail to the arch is 3.2 miles and is rated moderate. According to the map from the Park, it is rated difficult. For us, the moderate rating fits, but due to the steep elevation gain (approximately 400-foot gain in a rather short distance, with over 600 feet gained in all) and the narrow trail with drop-offs toward the end, it would behoove less experienced hikers to do a little research before committing to the trail.

While the views along the trail are gorgeous, you do not get a view of the arch until the very end, so while we encountered several people contemplating turning back before reaching the end, there is no reward unless you push through.

There is still a woman we met on the trail who I think about often. We passed her and her husband on our way in and made small talk with them. I noted they had less than ideal shoes and very little water. What we did not know is the woman also had an immense fear of heights. After we spent our time at the arch, we passed them on the way back down, with her terrified of the narrow trail and steep drop-offs and ready to quit. They were less than 0.25-miles from the arch. She had tackled the tough climb to get to this point but was paralyzed. She recognized us as we made our way past, and we stopped for a moment to give some encouraging words to try to help them both reach their goal, but I will never know if they made it. I sure hope they did.

I hope everyone who starts out on this trail makes it safely to the arch because there is not another feeling like coming around the final bend, looking down into what can only be described as a bowl, and seeing the Delicate Arch rising from the rocks. Of course, I had seen pictures of the arch (like on a lot of Utah license plates), but it was absolutely breathtaking due to its size alone. Looking up and seeing it in front of us was more than I could have hoped it would be. Sheer awe.

As expected, there were a lot of people milling around the arch, so we made our way into the bowl and found the very orderly and polite line of people waiting to take pictures. While most people took a respectable few minutes to get the photo they wanted, there were a few who took things to the extreme by doing all sorts of yoga poses, for example. We waited about 20 minutes or so to get our pictures, and while I was certain I wanted one of just me in addition to our family photo, Will waffled about taking the time to get one of just him and Bird. As is usual, he did not want to inconvenience others by taking a turn he rightly had, so luckily, I had 20 minutes and the yoga lady to show him that he should also get a photo. We also had a really nice guy behind us who agreed to take our family photo if we returned the favor, which we happily obliged. Overall, the people in line were so friendly and patient, which very well could have been from the fact that we had all just made it to what can only be described as one of God’s true masterpieces.

Walking up to have Will take my picture was completely surreal. There were people everywhere around the arch that were watching and probably trying to snap their own photos, yet I really did not care. I was in total awe taking in the beautiful arch over my head and soaking up the feelings of gratitude and accomplishment. And then I got to stand there with Will and Bird and continue to watch Bird soak in the entire experience. I take a lot of pictures, but these will forever be some of my favorites.

After we took our pictures, we made our way up to the rim of the bowl to get away from the people and continue to enjoy the moment. We took a breath, had some water, and ate a snack, and it was perfect.

As we turned to head back, the line to take pictures finally subsided, and a woman who had been standing off to the side in a white flowy dress made her way under the arch and started doing ballet. And oh my goodness, if anyone who was in the area had not had their breath taken away by the nature around us, it certainly was now. The sun backlit her so perfectly, and her dress choice was impeccable. As we stood and watched her for a moment, I had chills. I could have watched her all day.

The return hike was almost surreal, like we could not quite fathom what we had just seen and experienced. The anticipation had gotten us up to the arch, and we rode the wave of appreciation, awe, and gratitude back down. However, as we made our way down, we could not help but notice how much busier the trail was just a little over an hour later.

In all, it took us just about 2 hours to complete the trail. Had there been fewer people at the arch, I know we certainly would have stayed longer, but it was also not really a place where we could get Bird out of the backpack to explore, so getting her out and expending some of her energy was high on our list of priorities.

While we were mostly satisfied with our visit to Arches with this single hike, we drove around the Park to see a few more highlights. Even though it was still before 10 AM, the Park was closed and there were few to no parking spots to be found at many of the more popular attractions (including the parking lot we left, which was now full and had moved to the overflow area).

However, on our drive to the trailhead, Bird had spotted Balanced Rock out her window, and she was in complete awe. All she kept saying was “eggity up high!” And she was right. It looks exactly like an egg balanced way up in the sky. Knowing that she would love getting a better view of the eggity rocko (2 of her most favorite things), and knowing that she could tackle this trail, we patiently waited for a parking spot to open up.

The trail around Balanced Rock is short and super easy and was the perfect way for Will and me to walk off the more challenging hike and for Bird to run wild and free (within reason) for a few minutes. While the hike to Delicate Arch will forever be etched in my mind for the feat of nature we witnessed, the hike around the eggity is right there beside it because I got to see and experience it through Bird’s eyes. We were so anxious about getting into the Park, finding parking, and conquering the trail, that taking the 30 minutes to walk around Balanced Rock was what we needed to remind us to loosen up and have fun with our girl.

If we had not already believed that God’s hands are at work all around us, we experienced it firsthand as we were leaving the Park. There is only 1 road that goes in and out of the Park, and there is a traffic light at the intersection. While we were sitting at the red light, 2 line painting trucks start painting the lines of the turning lane we needed to turn into in the middle of the intersection. When the light changed, Will did not even pretend like we were going to be able to go since we were not sure we would make the light (and line painting trucks are high on Will’s list of things he dislikes). However, a solid several seconds after the light changed, when we would have typically been smack in the middle of the intersection, a van full of people who were gawking at the scenery and paying no attention to the road blew through the intersection without even glancing at their very red light. Without those line painting trucks, they would have slammed into us going at least 45 miles per hour. For easily the hundredth time that morning, God yet again took my breath away, but not in the way it could have been.

While we again left so much unseen in Arches, we simply were not willing to fight the crowds to see more. We called it a day early and found people being turned away at the closed gate as we left. Our early morning plans paid off, and when we return to Moab, that is exactly when I want to explore Arches and the beauty God has put on display for us in the future.

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