Rainbow Bridge NM was set aside on May 30, 1910 by President William H. Taft because the natural bridge itself "...is of great scientific interest as an example of eccentric stream erosion, and it appears that the public interest would be promoted by reserving this bridge as a National Monument..."
Who discovered Rainbow Bridge? Well, I did. Twelve years ago, when you could still see Rainbow Bridge from the water, I sat at the back of a Park Service boat as my fellow rangers motored through that last bend before the bridge jumps out at you. My heart really did skip a beat. I’ve been in love ever since, and every time I visit my heart discovers it again as if for the first time. My best friend discovered Rainbow Bridge on a school field trip when she was nine. She remembers being disappointed that it wasn’t a rainbow like the kind leprechauns have. But now she can’t wait for an opportunity to borrow a boat so she can bring her ten-year-old daughter to discover it for herself. You may be about to discover Rainbow Bridge right now, for the first time, or the hundredth. Every single person who visits has the privilege of discovering Rainbow Bridge in their own unique way.
Ah, but who first to discovered Rainbow Bridge? The answer is buried in ancient history. Several American Indian tribes had known about the bridge hundreds of years before its “discovery” by the outside world. In 1909, archeologist Byron Cummings, and federal surveyor William Douglass combined forces to find this elusive bridge about which they had heard so much. They were led by John Wetherill, a pioneering trader and explorer of the Southwest, along with two Paiute guides, Nasja Begay and Jim Mike. For days they rode through the rugged slickrock canyon country that surrounds Navajo Mountain. Finally, late in the afternoon on August 14, 1909, the party reached Rainbow Bridge. Less than a year later, President Taft set aside Rainbow Bridge as a national monument.
How can you discover Rainbow Bridge? There are two approaches to Rainbow Bridge National Monument.
One is the choice of 14 or 18 mile hikes from Navajo Mountain. The other is the boat trip across Lake Powell up Bridge Canyon to the boat docks, where you then walk about 1¼ miles to the observation area. You are welcome to take your private boat, or rent a boat from Wahweap, Antelope Point, Bullfrog, or Halls Crossing Marinas and pilot yourself there. Boat tours are also available from Wahweap and Bullfrog Marinas. The tours only depart if they have over ten passengers signed up, so be sure to call ahead (1-800-528-6154, or 928-645-1070).
The Park Service does not recommend that you take the Navajo Mountain hikes in the summer due to extreme temperatures
and lack of shade or water.
But once it starts cooling off in the fall, take the effort to prepare yourself, acquire a permit from the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Department (928-871-6647), and retrace the expeditions from almost 100 years ago. It is an experience like no other.
Detailed information on the Navajo Mountain hikes to Rainbow Bridge can be found on Rainbow Bridge National Monument's website, see weblink below.
So the discovery of Rainbow Bridge isn’t just something that happened long ago or something that you could never be a part of.
It happens every day, by everyone who visits, or hears a story about it, or sees pictures of it.
I hope your turn to discover Rainbow Bridge is now.
-- Betsy Scroggs, NPS Interpretive Specialist
Navajo Mountain is a laccolith, an igneous mountain which never erupted. Water from the snow on top of the mountain flowed down Bridge Canyon to form Rainbow Bridge.
Rainbow Bridge National Monument can be reached by way of two hiking trails whose trailheads are located in the vicinity of Navajo Mountain. The two trails are located on Navajo Tribal Lands and terminate at Rainbow Bridge National Monument. The trails traverse rough canyon country and are not recommended for the beginning, casual or careless hiker. In summer, the trails are hot and dry; in winter, elevations make them subject to severe cold and high winds. Portions of both trails are subject to flash flooding during thunderstorms. Neither trail is maintained. Be prepared! Search, rescue and evacuation can be time-consuming and expensive. Neither the National Park Service nor the Navajo Nation is responsible for search and rescue operations that may need to be carried out on this trail system. Few trail signs exist. The trails are mostly marked with small stone cairns. These can be washed away during flash floods, so carry the appropriate 7.5’ quad maps. It is important to note that both trails lay almost entirely upon Navajo Tribal Lands. Utmost respect must be paid to homes, hogans, sweat lodges, and archeological sites along the way. It is preferred that vehicles not be left at the trailheads. Do not harass horses or livestock. Practice Leave No Trace backcountry ethics at all times: pack out all trash, build fires in established fire rings only, do not bury human waste near water sources, and most importantly, stay on the established trail.
Check out the NPS website (see link below) for details.
No one person can take claim for the actual naming of the bridge. The name just came about by virtue of its resemblance to a rainbow turned to stone. During the discovery expedition in 1909, surveyor William Douglass tried to call it the Paiute word for rainbow - Barohoini Bridge, but that name never stuck. Affiliated American Indian Tribes/Groups Five American Indian tribes/groups claim affiliation to Rainbow Bridge and surrounding areas. These are the Navajo, Hopi, San Juan Southern Paiute, Kaibab Paiute, and White Mesa Ute Council of the Ute Mountain Ute. A consultation committee made up of these groups was formalized in 1991.
Monument: 160 acres (65 hectares)
Rainbow Bridge itself:
Height - 290 feet (88 m)
Span - 275 feet (84 m)
Top of the arch is 42 feet (13 m) thick and 33 feet (10 m) wide.
Over millions of years, Rainbow Bridge was formed by the action of erosion as Bridge Creek flowed down from Navajo Mountain and carved through the relatively soft Navajo sandstone which rests upon the more resistant Kayenta formation.
Glen Canyon NRA has catalogued the following species: 800 plants, 311 birds, 64 mammals, 27 fish, 28 reptiles, and 7 amphibians. Any of these species could potentially be found at Rainbow Bridge NM as well.
In the summertime, temperatures at Rainbow Bridge can get well over 100 F (40+ C), and there is no shade on the trail from the dock to the observation area. Make sure you have plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat so you can avoid becoming a crispy critter!
Although Rainbow Bridge National Monument is a separate unit of the National Park Service, it is managed
by Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
All services, tours, ranger programs, and emergency assistance are provided by Glen Canyon NRA.
Because of its remote location, Rainbow Bridge NM was under the custodial management of Navajo National Monument from its authorization in 1910 until 1963, when management of the Monument was handed over to Glen Canyon NRA.