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Sunrise Vs Sunset at Delicate Arch: Which is Better?

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Last Updated on March 18, 2024 by Sarah Puckett

Delicate Arch, an iconic natural formation located in Utah’s Arches National Park, is a sight to behold at any time of day. However, witnessing the majestic arch during sunrise or sunset unveils its true splendor and transforms the landscape into a captivating display of colors and shadows. As the first rays of sunlight illuminate the arch’s reddish hues or as the golden hour casts a warm glow on its ancient sandstone surface, visitors are treated to two distinct experiences.

So, you want to hike Delicate Arch, but you don’t know whether it would be better go at sunrise or at sunset. You’re in luck, because Tim and I have done both!

In this article, we explain the pros and cons to hiking Delicate Arch at sunrise vs. sunset, weigh in with which one WE think is best, and provide detailed information for you to start planning your sunrise or sunset hike to Delicate Arch today!

Follow the seven Leave No Trace principles: plan your hike in advance, stick to designated trails, carry out all your belongings, dispose of waste properly, leave natural areas untouched, minimize the impact of campfires, show consideration for fellow hikers, and avoid approaching or feeding wildlife.

Sunrise at Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch Sunrise Vs Sunset: Which is Better?

Delicate Arch Sunrise Pros and Cons

1. Fewer Crowds: Beat the crowds at Delicate Arch by hiking before sunrise. You will have less competition for parking at the trailhead, and fewer strangers photobombing your pics.1. Hiking in the Dark: Prepare for hiking in the dark before sunrise by wearing a headlamp or carrying a flashlight. Wayfinding can be more difficult in the dark
2. Photography Opportunities: We loved photographing the sunrise at Delicate Arch. The arch casts its own shadow across the bowl, which makes for a fantastic landscape composition. Sunrise offers soft, diffused light.2. Colder temps: Prepare for chillier temperatures on the trail to Delicate Arch in the morning compared to the afternoons and evenings when the air has been warming up in the desert sun all day.
3. Bypass the Timed Entry Reservation Requirements: From April 1 through October 31, Arches National Park requires a timed entry permit to visit if you arrive between 7 am and 4 pm. Sunrise happens before 7 am, which means you’ll be in the park well before the timed entry reservation period.3. Early Wake-Up Time: Although Arches National Park is only a few miles from downtown Moab, the trailhead for Delicate Arch is deep within the park, making it a longer drive than other places in Arches NP. To catch the sunrise at Delicate Arch, arrive at the park an hour and a half before sunrise time.
Delicate Arch at sunrise
Delicate Arch at sunrise

Delicate Arch Sunset Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
1. No need to rush: Without the early wake-up call, you can have a more leisurely morning and even tackle a few hikes during the day before your sunset hike to Delicate Arch. 1. Hiking in the Dark: Prepare for hiking in the dark after sunset by wearing a headlamp or carrying a flashlight. On the plus side, wayfinding should be a tad easier in the dark after sunset since you’ll have already hiked the same trail in the opposite direction to get to Delicate Arch.
2. Photography Opportunities: Sunset provides warm, dramatic lighting. During sunset, the sun illuminates the side of Delicate Arch that you face when you arrive, meaning the arch will be a golden glow at sunset. 2. More Crowded: We’d heard Delicate Arch is more crowded at sunset than at sunrise and this was our experience as well! Not only will it be more difficult to find parking at the trailhead, but you’ll share the sunset view of Delicate Arch with many more hikers than you typically would at sunrise. This can be a good thing though – we made friends on our sunset hike!
3. Opportunity for stargazing: Linger for a while longer after sunset for the opportunity to stargaze at Delicate Arch. If you stay late enough, you can even practice astrophotography. 3. Timed Entry Permit Required: You will need to obtain a timed entry reservation on recreation.gov to enter the park between 9 am and 4 pm April 1 through October 1. Depending on the sunset time, you will most likely need to get into Arches National Park before 4 pm.
Sunset at Delicate Arch

So is Delicate Arch Hike Better at Sunrise or Sunset?

Our Personal Experience With Sunrise and Sunset at Delicate Arch

Personally, we enjoyed sunrise at Delicate Arch over sunset! Our sunrise hike to Delicate Arch was made extra magical by a recent snowfall, which contrasted beautifully against the orange sandstone. We shared sunrise with just a few other hikers, and had plenty of time to take photos both with and without people in them. One of our photos is even hanging in our bathroom on an aluminum print!

Sunrise at Delicate Arch

When we hiked to Delicate Arch for sunset, on the other hand, we had less-than-ideal skies for most of what would have been golden hour. Even worse, though, a large crowd was releasing balloons next to the arch. Balloons are incredibly harmful to the environment, and especially wildlife who accidentally eat the balloons and then die. With all of the commotion around people intervening (us included) to stop the group from releasing more balloons, it was a stressful experience. Even when we eventually got beautiful skies, it was hard to shake off the earlier event and enjoy the beauty. It’s a good example of how crowds really can determine your experience, and a reminder of the importance of respecting others and the environment outdoors.

Delicate Arch at Sunset

Should You Hike Delicate Arch for Sunrise or Sunset?

If you can swing it, we recommend hiking to Delicate Arch for both sunset and sunrise. But, if you have to choose, here are some factors you should consider:

  • What is the goal of your hike? Are you looking for solitude, or a specific photograph, for example?
  • How does the timing fit in with your itinerary? What time constraints do you have?
  • What is the weather forecast? Sometimes the weather conditions make decisions for us!

About the Hike to Delicate Arch

Arches National Park Entrance Info

Make sure you have a timed entry permit if you are visiting between April 1 and October 31, and if you plan to enter the park after 7 am and before 4 pm. As of 2024, timed entry permits are not required for entering Arches National Park before 7 am or after 4 pm. All visitors must pay the $30 per vehicle entrance fee OR have a National Park Pass.

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Delicate Arch Parking Lot

There is a large paved parking lot at the trailhead for Delicate Arch, as well as a dirt overflow lot on the other side of the road. There are basic toilet facilities, and they typically smell pretty bad. You’ve been warned.

Delicate Arch Trial Description

The hike to Delicate Arch starts at Wolfe Ranch, located around 12 miles from the park entrance. The trail starts on a flat path through juniper trees. We spotted a deer on this part of the trail on our sunset hike to Delicate Arch, so keep your eyes out for wildlife!

To your left shortly into your hike, there is an impressive petroglyph panel etched onto a boulder by indigenous people who once called this land home. These ancient carvings provide glimpses into their rich history and cultural heritage.

From there, it’s a gradual uphill walk over slick rock terrain with occasional cairns (stacks of rocks placed by park rangers for wayfinding) to guide your way.

After crossing over the slick rock hill, the trail narrows to a ridge as you approach the last bend to Delicate Arch. Look up to your right about halfway along the ridge to see Twisted Donut Arch. Scramble up the steep rock to get a view of Delicate Arch framed by Twisted Donut Arch – a beautiful first glimpse of the arch!

Back on the main trail, you’ll turn around a corner, and voila, Delicate Arch stands 46 feet high, and towers over a large natural bowl. Most people tend to stop when they get to this first view of the arch. Hike to the right for more solitude, or to the left to get closer to Delicate Arch.

Sarah and Tim at Ooh Aah Point In grand canyon national park

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Delicate Arch Sunrise and Sunset Photography

The iconic Delicate Arch in Arches National Park is a photographer’s dream, especially during the enchanting moments of sunrise and sunset. The warm hues of the golden hours cast a magical glow on the landscape, creating a breathtaking canvas for your lens. Here’s a guide to help you make the most of your photographic journey to Delicate Arch.

Photography Tips

1. Arrive Early or Stay Late: Begin your day before the sun graces the horizon or linger after it bids adieu. The changing light conditions during sunrise and sunset offer a dynamic range of colors and tones.

2. Check Weather Conditions: Keep an eye on the weather forecast. Clear skies or a scattering of clouds can significantly influence the atmosphere and lighting of your shots.

3. Scout the Location: Visit Delicate Arch in advance to scout the perfect vantage points. Familiarize yourself with the surroundings and plan your compositions.

4. Use a Tripod: Stability is key, especially in low light conditions. A sturdy tripod ensures sharp images and allows for long exposure shots.

5. Shoot in RAW: Capture the images in RAW format to retain maximum information, providing flexibility during post-processing.

6. Experiment with Exposure Times: Play with different exposure times to strike the right balance between capturing details in the arch and maintaining a natural feel in the landscape.

7. Utilize Graduated ND Filters: Graduated ND filters help balance the exposure between the bright sky and the darker foreground, ensuring details in both areas are captured.

8. Watch for Shadows and Highlights: Pay attention to the interplay of shadows and highlights on the arch. Position yourself to maximize the changing light conditions and emphasize the arch’s contours.

9. Compose with Foreground Elements: Include interesting foreground elements to add depth and context to your shots. Rocks, plants, or other features enhance overall composition.

10. Capture Silhouettes: Experiment with silhouette shots during sunrise or sunset. Position the arch against the colorful sky for a striking outline.

11. Bracket Your Shots: Bracketing helps capture a range of exposures, useful in challenging lighting conditions. Merge exposures later for a well-balanced image.

12. Be Mindful of Other Photographers: Delicate Arch is a popular spot; be considerate of fellow photographers. Allow everyone the space to capture their shots without obstructing views.

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Photography Locations

Whether you’re aiming for a classic shot or a creative composition, here are some must-visit photography spots at Delicate Arch:

1. Twisted Donut Arch: Explore the area around Delicate Arch to discover the Twisted Donut Arch, a captivating geological formation. Frame your shot to include both arches, creating a stunning contrast of shapes in your composition.

2. Facing Across the Bowl: Position yourself on the opposite side of the bowl, looking back towards Delicate Arch. This vantage point provides a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape, with the arch as the focal point.

3. Angle Up from Beneath Delicate Arch: Capture the awe-inspiring view from directly beneath Delicate Arch. Frame your shot from underneath the arch, highlighting its unique structure and creating a captivating composition. This classic perspective emphasizes the scale and intricate details of the arch against the sky.

Delicate Arch at sunrise

4. Pose Under Delicate Arch: If you can be quick, pose beneath Delicate Arch for the iconic shot. Every time we’ve been to Delicate Arch, there’s been a line for people to take a photo beneath it. People have generally been respectful about not getting in each other’s photos. That said, avoid standing under the arch during the peak sunrise/sunset moments, as this is when landscape photographers will most want to capture a shot of the arch without anyone in it.

Delicate Arch at sunrise

5. Instagram Rock at Delicate Arch: To the left of Delicate Arch is a boulder you can sit on. This is a great spot to pose for photos with the arch, without being in anyone else’s shot!

Delicate Arch at sunrise

Tips for Hiking Delicate Arch at Sunrise or Sunset

1. Start Early or Late: Begin your hike in the dark to reach Delicate Arch by sunrise or stay late to witness the captivating sunset. A headlamp or flashlight will be your best companion on the trail.

2. Carry Sufficient Water: The trail offers no shade, and the steady incline can be demanding. Ensure you have an adequate supply of water to stay hydrated throughout the hike.

3. Wear Comfortable Footwear: Sturdy and comfortable hiking shoes are essential for navigating the rocky terrain. The trail involves some uneven surfaces, so proper footwear is crucial.

4. Dress in Layers: The temperature can vary significantly, especially during the early morning or late evening. Dress in layers to adapt to changing conditions.

5. Don’t Leave Trash Behind: Pack out all trash, including food scraps. In the dry desert environment, items take longer to break down, and leaving them behind can impact the ecosystem. Wildlife might ingest them, posing a threat to their well-being.

6. Watch Your Belongings: Exercise caution near the bowl area close to Delicate Arch. The incline and rocky surroundings can be tricky. Be mindful of your belongings to prevent accidents—water bottles, lens caps, and even cameras have been known to tumble down into the bowl.

7. Stay on the Designated Trail: Stick to the marked trail to minimize impact on the delicate desert ecosystem. Straying from the path can cause soil erosion and harm the fragile vegetation.

8. Be Sun Smart: Apply sunscreen and wear a hat to protect yourself from the intense desert sun. Even during sunrise or sunset, UV rays can be strong.

9. Plan for Limited Shade: There is minimal shade along the trail. Plan accordingly by bringing a hat, sunglasses, and any other sun protection to shield yourself from direct sunlight.

10. Mind the Steady Incline: Pace yourself on the uphill sections. The steady incline can be challenging, especially in the dark. Take breaks as needed and listen to your body.

11. Respect Wildlife: Keep a respectful distance from any wildlife you encounter. Avoid disturbing the natural habitat and observe from a distance.

12. Share the Trail: Delicate Arch is a popular destination. Be courteous to fellow hikers by allowing space on the trail, especially during peak sunrise or sunset hours.

Arches National Park Travel Resources

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