Natural Bridges sits high on Cedar Mesa, 6,500 feet above sea level. Intermittent streams have cut two deep canyons and three massive bridges in sandstone formed from what was once the shore of an ancient sea. At each of the bridges, trails descend into the canyons from the loop road. A longer trail meanders along the canyon bottoms through oak and cottonwood groves (shown above), connecting the three bridges in one loop hike.
Kachina is a massive bridge and is considered the "youngest" of the three because of the thickness of its span. The relatively small size of its opening and its orientation make it diffi - cult to see from the overlook. The pile of boulders under the far side of the bridge resulted from a rock fall in 1992, when approximately 4,000 tons of rock broke off the bridge. As you descend the switchbacks, notice the “Knickpoint” pour-off in Armstrong Canyon below to your left. During fl oods, this spout sends a muddy red waterfall plunging into the pool below. The bridge is named for the Kachina dancers that play a central role in Hopi religious tradition.
Sipapu Bridge is the second largest natural bridge in the world (only Rainbow Bridge in Glen Canyon is bigger). In Hopi mythology, a “sipapu” is a gateway through which souls may pass to the spirit world. The trail to the canyon bottom below Sipapu is the steepest in the park. A staircase and three wooden ladders aid in the descent. At the top of the stairway, notice the logs reaching from the cliff wall to the large fi r on the other side of the stairs. Early visitors to the park climbed down this tree to reach the canyon. At the base of the tree you can still see the remains of an earlier staircase. The ledge located halfway down the trail provides an excellent view of Sipapu. Please use caution around the cliff edges. The remaining portion of the trail leads down a series of switchbacks and ladders to the grove of Gambel's oak beneath Sipapu.
Owachomo means “rock mound” in Hopi, and is named after the rock formation on top of the southeast end of the bridge. From the overlook, the twin buttes called “The Bear’s Ears” break the eastern horizon. The original road to Natural Bridges passed between these buttes, ending across the canyon from Owachomo Bridge at the original visitor center (which was a platform tent). The old trail still winds up the other side of the canyon, but is seldom used. Notice that Tuwa Creek no longer fl ows under Owachomo like it did for thousands of years. The bridge’s delicate form suggests that it is has eroded more quickly than the other bridges.
This short, mostly level trail leads over the mesa top to the edge of White Canyon. From this perspective you can see the remains of an ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling in a large alcove near the bottom of the canyon. Two granaries with uniquely shaped doors give this ruin its name. To the left of the granaries is a kiva, the community’s ceremonial and meeting room.
The loop trail provides visitors an excellent way to experience the wonders of Natural Bridges. The full loop passes all three bridges, but shorter loops between only two bridges are also possible. The loop trail may be started at any of the bridge parking areas. Visitors wishing to hike the full loop must follow the trail up the left side of the canyon after passing Kachina Bridge in order to skirt the “Knickpoint” pour-off .
Round Trip (mi/km) :: Elevation Change (ft/m) :: Hiking Time
Sipapu 1.2/1.9 :: 500/152 :: 1 hr
Kachina 1.4/2.3 :: 400/122 :: 1 hr
Owachomo 0.4/0.6 :: 180/55 :: 30 min
Sipapu/Owachomo 8.6/13.8 :: 500/152 :: 4 to 6 hrs
Sipapu/Kachina 5.6/9 :: 500/152 :: 2 to 4 hrs
Kachina/Owachomo 5.4/8.7 :: 400/122 :: 2 to 4 hrs
Horsecollar Ruins 0.6/1.0 :: 30/9 :: 30 min
The scenic drive is open year-round. This paved, nine-mile loop provides access to all the bridges. Each may be viewed by walking a short distance to an overlook. An archeological site may also be viewed from an overlook along the scenic drive.
The visitor center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours during summer. Exhibits, a video presentation and bookstore are available. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.
The 13 site campground is open year-round on a fi rst-come, fi rst-served basis. Fee is $10 per night. Sites will accommodate up to eight people and one vehicle. There is a 26-foot length limit. Each site has a fi re grill, picnic table and tent pad. Gathering fi rewood is prohibited. Evening programs are off ered during the summer (check bulletin boards for schedules). Overfl ow camping is available outside Natural Bridges.
Pets are allowed on paved trails and roads but must be leashed at all times. Pets are not allowed on hiking trails or in the backcountry.
Sipapu (53 ft /16 m thick) and Kachina (93 ft / 28m) are the second and third largest bridges in the world. Owachomo is only 9 ft (3 m) thick.