Thinking of a trip to Natural Bridges National Monument?
I visited this scenic region with my son and niece (ages 12 and 11) earlier this summer. This park had been on my wish list for awhile, but it's so remote that I really didn't know what to expect.
We arrived at Natural Bridges in the afternoon, after driving from Salt Lake City and briefly visiting Edge of the Cedars State Park. In late June, we still had hours of daylight and the weather was unseasonably cool – around 80 degrees F.
We stopped at the visitor center, drove through the entire park, saw all the viewpoints and took a couple of short hikes in about 3 hours. I thought that our time was too short, and plan to return for the hikes we missed.
I recommend a half to full day at Natural Bridges National Monument. Here's what you need to know to make the most of your time.
Natural Bridges has a small visitor center, and it's one of the first things you'll find after entering the park. We watched a short movie about Natural Bridges and chatted with the ranger about our plans. He answered all my questions and gave us helpful information.
The visitor center has bathrooms, water (spigot and fountain) and a small gift shop. Outside, we found a very short nature trail featuring local plants.
Pick up a free Junior Ranger book. The Junior Ranger program is intended for ages 5-12. Kids complete the activities in the book, then return to the ranger desk to receive a free gold souvenir badge and be sworn in as Junior Rangers. It's fun if your kids are into it.
The Scenic Drive is a must if you visit Natural Bridges, because all the bridges and trail heads are on it. It's a 9-mile, one-way, one-lane road. Once you start, you have to finish the loop. This road is flat and scenic. It was not crowded on the day we were there.
Viewpoints for all three natural bridges – Sipapu, Kachina and Owachomo – can be found along the scenic drive. You'll usually find the trailheads nearby. There are a couple of other worthwhile stops along the way, like the trailhead to Horse Collar Ruin.
Take the Hikes
All three natural bridges have viewpoints on the mesa top, but the views can be less than inspiring because you're looking down on them. For example, the photo above is of Owachomo Bridge from the viewpoint, but you can barely see it in the center. Your views and photos will be much better if you hike down and then look up at the bridges.
The hike to Owachomo Bridge is fairly short and easy. Hikes to Sipapu and Kachina are longer and more strenuous, but still “moderate” hikes. You will encounter sturdy wooden ladders and steep hills as you walk down, then back up these trails.
Serious hikers may want to hike to the bottom and then take a loop trail from one natural bridge to another. You can hike to all three bridges in about 10 miles. Learn more about all of Natural Bridge's hiking trails at https://www.nps.gov/nabr/
Natural Bridges is a fantastic place to go stargazing. According to the International Dark Sky Association, Natural Bridges “is notable for its almost perfect lack of light pollution.” Natural Bridges was the first International Dark Sky Park.
The official Natural Bridges website has information about stargazing ranger programs with telescopes. These are typically held on summer weekends. Check the website, call ahead or ask at the ranger desk for details.
If you want to go stargazing at Natural Bridges, consider spending at least one night at the campground – especially in summer when skies do not get fully dark until after 10 PM. I would rather not drive the 45 minutes back to Blanding on dark, winding roads afterward.
Related: Best Places to go Stargazing in Utah
Hundreds of years ago, this region was inhabited by the Ancestral Puebloans. They built cliff dwellings, kivas, granaries and more in protected nooks and crannies of the canyons. You can still see some of these structures in Natural Bridges National Monument.
Horse Collar Ruin is a cliff dwelling. You can see it at the end of a fairly short and easy hike. However, the view is from the other side of the canyon. You'll want a zoom lens or binoculars to get a good look.
My kids were underwhelmed, but as we just sat and rested, their imaginations took charge. They speculated how the people who lived there scaled the cliffs, disposed of their trash and more.
Bring Water and Food
Lack of water was the #1 reason that we cut our day short at Natural Bridges. We brought one water bottle per person and just a few snacks. We were low on water and food by the middle of the first hike.
Natural Bridges is high-altitude and very dry. Temperatures can be warm year-round, and summer is generally very hot. You're going to want to drink plenty of water. I suggest bringing a gallon (3.8 liters) for every 1-2 people in your family.
You cannot buy food at Natural Bridges – or anywhere else within 35 miles of the park. Pack a picnic and plenty of high-energy snacks if you want to stay for more than a couple of hours. We stocked up at a supermarket in Blanding for the next day's outing.
Where to Stay
Natural Bridges National Monument has a campground, which we drove through. It's pretty basic, with fire pits, picnic tables and primitive toilets. There is no running water, electricity or hookups. Thirteen campsites are available on a first come, first served basis year-round. You cannot make reservations.
You may also be able to find campsites on BLM land outside the monument.
Blanding Utah is the nearest city to Natural Bridges. We stayed at Stone Lizard Lodge in Blanding, which was cute and updated. There are a few more hotels to choose from in Blanding, but this is a small, un-touristy town with limited options. Get there while it's uncrowded and prices are low.
Click the button below to check rates and availability for Stone Lizard Lodge and other Blanding hotels on TripAdvisor.com.
Natural Bridges National Monument is a beautiful, remote and uncrowded park. It's a great place to go hiking and stargazing. You can also see some ancient ruins. I thought that it was worth the trip, and I'd like to return.
Be sure to bring sun protection and pack lots of food and water. I hope that this article has helped you plan a great visit to Natural Bridges!
If you go and have more tips to share, I'd love to hear them! Please share your questions or advice in the comments.