Natural Bridges National Monument is an amazing place in southern Utah, but it is not visited very often. Three beautiful Natural Bridges and an Anasazi ruin await, along with a Visitor’s Center, a Junior Ranger Program, and Night Sky Program.
A natural bridge is different than an arch that you might see at Arches National Park. A natural bridge is formed by running water, whereas an arch is formed primarily by wind and water seeping into cracks in the rock. In other words, natural bridges are formed by rivers or bygone rivers.
Natural Bridges National Monument has one road that loops around, and all the hikes start from there. After you pass the Visitor’s Center, you’ll come to the first bridge, which is called Sipapu. This name refers to the opening in the world where the first ancestral people came out. You can hike down underneath Sipapu Bridge, which is, like nearly all the hikes here, a bit steep. It is a little over a half mile down to the bottom (.6 miles), but we didn’t go all the way. This is because you don’t have to stand right under the bridge, there is a much better view from a wide stone ledge, which stands right in front of the opening. As you hike down to the bridge, you’ll climb down some metal stairs and one short, rickety ladder. Then the trail turns back under the overhanging cliff face. The trail will continue along the face and then the trail splits. Down and to the right goes under the bridge. Straight along the ledge brings the the bridge right in front of you. This is where we stopped. If you choose to hike to the ledge, Sipapu is a hike you should do.
The next stop around the loop is the Horse Collar Ruin Overlook. This hike is not steep, as it follows the canyon rim around to an overlook of a nice ruin. If you have binoculars, you’ll want to take them as the ruin will be around 100 yards away. The hike is only .7 miles RT. The ruin gets its name from the horse collar shaped windows that seem to be unique for Anasazi sites. This is an easy hike for anyone.
A little further around the loop, you’ll find the most difficult hike at Kachina Bridge. It is .75 miles each way (1.5 miles RT) and it is fairly steep. We only walked down to the overlook on this one, which is handicapped accessible as we felt that 4 consecutive hikes for our little ones would be too much.
The final bridge is called Owachomo. The hike is .2 miles down, which makes it less than a half mile round trip. You can stand right under the bridge, and the hike is less steep than either of the other two bridges. This is the must-do hike in the park and it is very accessible for anyone in reasonable health.
Natural Bridges is also a Dark Sky park. This is a special designation that means that it is far away from any light pollution. Astronomy programs are held regularly in the summer months, and are quite popular. We stayed for a program which started at 9:30, and there were around 2o people, mostly from the campground in the park. They brought out a huge telescope and focused it on each of the visible planets: Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, as well as the full moon (which washed out any good deep sky objects). Of course, the moon was beautiful, but the highlight was Saturn with it’s perfect rings. You could even see the black line known as the Cassini division separating the inner and outer rings.
We spent most of a day at Natural Bridges National Monument. It was a great stop in southern Utah that is mostly overlooked. If you’re tired of the tourists, go off the beaten path and try it!