Before I visited Natural Bridges National Monument, I read some reviews saying it’s best to skip it if you’re planning to visit Arches National Park (because natural bridges and arches look alike). Despite that, I decided to go to Natural Bridges National Monument anyway, and I did not regret it! Although it’s true natural bridges look like arches, the beauty of the surrounding landscapes, the exciting hiking trails, and the fact that this area is less crowded than Arches National Park made it the perfect place for me.
The size of the bridges is simply incredible! It’s definitely worth the trip!
Recommended lenght of stay: it really depends on which hike you plan on doing. Most people spend at least two to three hours exploring Natural Bridges. But this lenght of stay is unrealistic unless you only drive the one way loop. I took my time exploring, hiking, and admiring the beauty of the place for 7 hours.
Once you get there, your first stop will be the Visitor Center (click here for operating hours), where you will pay entrance fees and you will be treated with exhibits and a nice video presentation. When I was there, on April 4th, 2017, the visitor centre was operating on winter schedule, which means it was closed on Tuesday and Wednesday and I didn’t have to pay entrance fees (even though I had my annual pass). Natural Bridges Visitor Guide is available online in English, French, and German. Click here to view National Park Service’s map of Natural Bridges.
Then, you can start the Scenic Drive, which is a 9-mile one way loop. There are a few stops along the road which offer great viewpoints on bridges and surrounding landscapes.
Now, let’s move to the question that’s on your mind: which hike should you do?
All of them if you have enough time! Although you can see a lot of beautiful sceneries by only driving the scenic 9-mile loop and although you can see the three bridges from the designated scenic overlooks along the road, I highly recommend getting down in the canyon and doing the hikes to get a closer look (otherwise, the bridges blend in and don’t look very impressive). Since you drove to the area anyway, which is a long way from anywhere, you should make the most of your trip! Each trail descends from the designated parking area along the scenic loop to the base of the bridge. Longer trails follow the canyon bottom or mesa top connecting all three bridges.
1. Hike to Sipapu Bridge
(difficulty: moderate; duration: 1 hour roundtrip; distance: 1.2 miles/1.6 km; evelation change: 500 feet/152 m)
Sipapu is the largest of the three bridges in the Monument (Height: 220 feet/67 m; span: 268 feet/82 m; width: 31 feet/9.5 m; thickness: 53 feet/16 m). The trail has stairs and two ladders, switchbacks, and short steep sections of slickrock. It was my favorite hike! However, if you’re afraid of heights or if you’re not in a decent physical condition, you should skip this one.
2. Hike to Kachina Bridge
(difficulty: moderate; duration: 1 hour roundtrip; distance: 1.4 miles/2.3 km; evelation change: 400 feet/122 m)
Kachina Bridge is considered the youngest of the bridges because of its thickness. This bridge was not my favorite in terms of view, but it was still very impressive. And a lot of people skip this one, so you might be lucky and be totally alone on the trail, yay!
3. Hike to Owachomo Bridge
(difficulty: easy; duration: 30 minutes roundtrip; distance: 0.4 miles/0.6 km; evelation change: 180 feet/55 m)
Owachomo Bridge is the most accessible of all bridges; it’s only a 0,2-mile walk from the parking lot. That’s probably the reason why it’s the most visited. This bridge is also the narrowest bridge of all three, which makes it even more impressive. Fascinating how that long arch can still hold together considering high winds, sandstorms and snow that keep on carving it continuously. I was hypnotized by that natural structure!
Directions: Drive towards the south of Blanding on US 191 to State Route 95. Take State Route 95 and drive about 35 miles (56 km) west towards State Route 275. Once you leave State Route 95, you have to drive approximately 4 miles (6.4 km). Natural Bridges’ entrance is located at the end of State Route 275 (in San Juan County), this route being part of the Trail of the Ancients National Scenie Byway.
At first, I thought it was a bit far to get there, but when you think about the time it takes to get from Moab to the Needles district of Canyonlands, it’s quite similar.
Distance from nearest cities/attractions to Visitor Center:
I drove from Monticello to get to Natural Bridges NM (59 miles / 95 km; about 1 hour), but you could also drive from those places:
- Blanding: 39 miles / 62 km (about 45-50 minutes)
- Via roads 191, 95, and 275: 57 miles / 90 km (about 1 hour 5 minutes)
- Via roads 261, 95, and 275: 60 miles / 96,5 km (avout 1 hour 15 minutes)
- Mexican Hat: 43 miles / 68 km (about 1 hour)
- Monument Valley (via roads 163, 261, 95 and 275): 68 miles / 108 km (about 1 hour 25 minutes)
There is a small campground in Natural Bridges National Monument (only 13 sites, first-come, first-served basis).
Is it safe to visit Natural Bridges National Monument alone?
I visited Natural Bridges National Monument as a solo female traveller and I felt safe all the time I was there, either on the trails, on the road, or in the parking lot. However, since there are not a lot of people on the trails, you should always carry the basic necessities in your backpack in case you get injured (extra clothes, food, water, first-aid kit).
Here’s a list of useful items you might want to bring, prepared by REI Co-op: https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/day-hiking-checklist.html
You’ll probably don’t need all of these items on one hike, so do not hesitate to adapt this list according to your needs and the hike(s) you’re planning to do. Most of the time, I also carry a pepper spray for self-defense (against animals, or even humans, you never know).