Given their relative rarity, it’s somewhat remarkable that southern Utah has such a large concentration of natural sandstone bridges. In fact, the largest natural bridge in the world—Rainbow Bridge—is here. But many of these bridges are in remote locations only accessible via long hikes, or even by boat. If you’re trying to cover lots of ground on your trip through Utah canyon country, spending an entire day getting to one site often isn’t an option. The three hikes below will each get you to a spectacular natural bridge and back to your car in two to three hours.
Escalante Natural Bridge
At 130 feet high, the massive Escalante Natural Bridge is dramatic in its own right, but half the fun of seeing this bridge is getting there. The two-mile hike (one way) involves fording the Escalante River five times, and you’ll really appreciate this relief during the hot summer months. Most of the crossings are easy—like wading across a sandy-bottomed swimming pool. The trail to the bridge is mostly sand with very little elevation gain. Although there are some forks that occasionally branch off the main path, it’s fairly easy to recognize and stay on the main trail. Once you reach the natural bridge, there is more opportunity for wading, splashing, and cooling off in the Escalante River’s clear waters. Find a comfy spot in the sand, and it’s the perfect spot to have lunch while gazing up at the bridge and the spectacular Upper Escalante River Canyon. Unless you don’t mind having to take your shoes and socks on and off repeatedly, water shoes or sandals will serve you well on this trail.
Trailhead Location: About halfway between the towns of Boulder and Escalante on Utah Scenic Byway 12
Total Hiking Distance: 4 miles (round-trip)
Hickman Natural Bridge is one of the classic sites in Capitol Reef National Park, and easy access to the trailhead from Highway 24 makes it the most popular hike in the park. Spanning 133 feet across, Hickman Bridge is carved from the fine-grained sandstone of the Kayenta Formation and is a classic example of a natural bridge that formed over millions of years as intermittent flowing water eroded the sandstone. Some sources, however, say the bridge is technically an arch, having formed primarily through wind and weather erosion. Regardless of how it formed, Hickman Bridge is an inspiring example of geologic artistry. The trail initially follows the bank of the Fremont River, but after a short distance it turns away from the river and climbs some steep switchbacks up the lower slope of the sandstone rim. From the top of the switchbacks, it’s only another .7 miles to the bridge. Although the trail isn’t difficult to follow, you will have to rely on rock cairns to guide you through certain sections.
Trailhead Location: 2 miles east of the Capitol Reef National Park visitor center, on Utah Highway 24
Total Hiking Distance: 1.8 miles (round-trip)
Despite the fact that Natural Bridges National Monument is a bit off the beaten track, about 90,000 visitors come to see the park’s three mammoth natural bridges each year. Towering 220 feet above the floor of White Canyon, Sipapu is the largest of the park’s three bridges. A well-defined trail leads from the rim down to the base of Sipapu (which means “place of emergence” in the Hopi language), but it’s the steepest of the three bridge trails. On your way down, you’ll have to negotiate stairs, wooden ladders, and several switchbacks. Descending the last section of trail requires down-climbing a steep section of slickrock using ladders and metal handrails. You’ll have excellent views of the bridge from a ledge just before you reach the handrails, so if you’re skittish about doing the final descent, that’s all the farther you need to go to get good photos. If you’ve come this far, you’ll probably want to see the other two bridges, too (Kachina and Owachomo).
Trailhead Location: 30 miles from Blanding on Utah State Route 95, in Natural Bridges National Monument
Total Hiking Distance: 1.2 miles (round-trip)