If you’re looking for something more than just the standard national park experience, check out Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah. With three rock bridges that were formed thousands of years ago, it’s a geology buff’s dream! And with all its ancient history, it's a great place to bring the kids for an organic learning experience. Pack up your travel trailer or fifth wheel RV and head over to Natural Bridges National Monument in Lake Powell, Utah.
It’s presumed that Native Americans first inhabited this area in 7,000 B.C. Since then it has been deserted and re-inhabited several times over. In 1883, a European settler named Cass Hite was looking for gold when he stumbled upon this area and noticed the bridges. How did these bridges form in the desert, he wondered. Around 260 million years ago this area was quite the opposite of a desert. It was the beach of a Permian Sea. Over time the water eroded the rock in the areas and created natural bridges. Once the water receded, arch-like bridges made of rock were left standing. Natural Bridges National Monument was designated as Utah’s first national monument in 1908. Almost 100 years later in 2007, it became the first International Dark Sky Park to be certified by the International Dark Sky Foundation. Today it is protected so visitors from all over can come check out this geological and historical wonder.
Three natural bridges stand at this national monument. They have each been given names to honor the Native Americans that once inhabited the area. The names are Kachina, Sipapu, and Owachomo. Owachomo is the thinnest of the bridges at only 9’ and it is possible that it could collapse soon due to its lack of strength. Unlike natural arches that are formed by wind and other environmental factors, these bridges were created long ago by water. As you visit these bridges, please be sure to follow posted rules. Never climb on the bridges. It’s illegal due to the desire to preserve them but it's also very dangerous.
HORSE COLLAR RUIN
Take in a bit of Puebloan history by visiting the Horse Collar Ruin. This area was abandoned around 700 or more years ago, yet some of the homes still stand, including one with the roof mostly still intact. The ruins can be viewed from a distance on a cliff, or if you’re up to it you can climb over to it for an up-close look. As with the bridges, they would like to keep these ruins intact for as long as possible for others to see. Do not climb on or in these ruins as it will cause them to crumble.
Within the park there are five trails equaling a total of 12.2 miles of hiking opportunities. These trails are the best way to see all that this area has to offer. Here’s the rundown on each trail:
Sipapu Bridge Trail
Sipapu Bridge Trail is 1.2 miles long and takes roughly one hour to complete. This trail will take you to the base of the Sipapu Bridge. It’s a somewhat steep trail to walk, so you’ll find stairs and wooden ladders to help you get down. Around half way down you’ll find a ledge where you can stop to take in the view of the bridge and snap a few photos.
Kachina Bridge Trail
At 1.4-miles long, the Kachina Bridge Trail takes about an hour to complete. This trail takes you to the base of the Kachina Bridge where you’ll find a pile of rock that broke off the bridge in 1992 and weighs 4,000 lbs.! You can also see what they call the “knickpoint” which is a pour-off area for water during flooding. When the water runs through, it creates a muddy red waterfall that pours into Armstrong Canyon below.
Owachomo Bridge Trail
This trail is much shorter at only .4 miles and takes about 30 minutes to complete. From this trail you can get a great view of the twin buttes called “The Bears Ears” as well as the original road that passed through them.
Horse Collar Ruin Overlook Trail
To get a great look at the Horse Collar Ruin, check out this .6-mile long trail that takes around a half an hour. Here you will be able to look down into White Canyon and see the remains of the Horse Collar Ruin. Because of the relatively flat terrain, this trail is pretty easy to hike.
Loop Trail is the best way to see all three bridges and the ruins in one hike. It extends 8.6 miles and you can start it from any of the parking lots near any of the bridges. This trail will take roughly 4-6 hours to complete, so be sure to bring food and water.
Within the park there is one campground. This campground offers 13 sites that are able to accommodate RVs up to 26’ in length. None of these sites offer hookups of any kind and gathering firewood is prohibited so you will need to bring your own. Within the campground there are vault toilets but no running water. If you head to the park’s visitor center you can find fresh water (they allow each campsite 5 gallons per day) as well as flush toilets.
A search for campgrounds in the area doesn’t yield much unless you want to drive one to three hours to get there. There are, however, dispersed camping locations outside the park. Check out this map that will show you where free campsites are located and information about how access them.
Whether you're a Michigander with an RV or you’re in Utah, this is a trip worth making. It’s unknown how long these bridges will last, so don't put off a trip to this national monument any longer. Don’t forget to take lots of pictures and post them below!