Kachina Natural Bridge
Distance: 8.6 miles (loop)
Walking time: 5 hours
Elevations: 490 ft. gain/loss
• Sipapu Bridge Trailhead (start): 6,200 ft.
• Kachina Bridge: 5,710 ft.
• Owachomo Bridge: 5,920 ft.
Trail: The trail is mostly well maintained and easy to follow, although it can be confusing in a few places-especially near Kachina Bridge. There are signs at all of the major trail junctions.
Season: Spring, summer, winter, fall. The canyon is quite hot in midsummer. Expect some rain in late summer. For more information call the Visitor Center, Natural Bridges National Monument, at (801) 692-1234.
Vicinity: Natural Bridges National Monument, near Blanding
The highlights of this hike are the three enormous natural bridges for which Natural Bridges National Monument was named: Sipapu, Kachina, and Owachomo Bridge. The canyon-bottom trail passes under all three, while offering views of at least two other less-spectacular arches further up the side of the canyon walls. Also of interest are a number of Indian ruins within the canyon. The present-day park area was used extensively by the prehistoric Anasazi Indians who lived there until about 1300 A.D.
From the Sipapu Bridge Trailhead the trail immediately drops 440 feet in 0.6 mile to the creek bed under Sipapu Bridge. The trail is quite steep in places; the park service has even constructed stairs to help in the descent. But don’t be discouraged by the grade. Once you reach the bottom the trail is almost entirely on the canyon floor. A short side trail branches off to the left about half way down for a magnificent view of the bridge. This is probably the best photo opportunity you will have of Sipapu, the largest bridge in the monument. With a span of 268 feet and a height of 220 feet, it is only 10 feet shorter and 89 feet lower than Rainbow Natural Bridge, the largest natural bridge in the world.
From Sipapu the trail winds down the floor of picturesque White Canyon for another 2.3 miles to Kachina Bridge. Watch for Indian ruins along this part of the trail. The well known Horse Collar Ruin is on the south side of White Canyon just below the confluence with Deer Canyon, about 0.8 mile below Sipapu. There are other ruins as well, including a small granary just above the south side of the trail about 1.9 miles below Sipapu. Finally, you will see Kachina Bridge looming over the trail. Only slightly smaller than Sipapu, Kachina spans 204 feet and is 210 feet tall. It is, however, a much younger, bulkier bridge, fully 93 feet thick at its crown. Kachina Bridge will still be standing many thousands of years from now.
Don’t miss the petroglyphs near Kachina Bridge. There are dozens of them on the rock face just a hundred feet south of the bridge on the west side of the canyon. Kachina Bridge got its name from these petroglyphs, which remind some observers of the art that decorates Hopi Kachina dolls. There are also the remains of two ancient granaries in the same area.
From Kachina Bridge it is very easy to take a wrong turn and get off the trail (as I did the first time I walked this loop). Do not bear right into White Canyon. Rather, follow the main path which bears left from Kachina Natural Bridge and goes up towards the canyon rim. After about 0.3 mile you will see a well marked junction in the trail with a sign directing you to Owachomo Bridge. At this point you are no longer in White Canyon; you have made the transition into Armstrong Canyon.
Owachomo Bridge is 3.0 miles down Armstrong Canyon from the trail junction near Kachina Bridge. This part of the trail is not as popular, and you are not likely to see other hikers until you reach Owachomo. There are not as many ruins of the Anasazi culture here, but at one point you can see quite an interesting collection of well preserved petroglyphs just above the right side of the trail. You are also much more likely to see deer and other wildlife during this part of the hike.
Finally, as the trail passes under Owachomo, you will immediately recognize it as the oldest of the three bridges. Owachomo spans 180 feet, is 106 feet high, and is only 9 feet thick at its crown. It is a very shallow arch and gives the appearance that it could fall at any time. Its life span is, of course, impossible to predict, but it will probably not remain intact for more than a few more centuries.
From Owachomo it is a short walk to the canyon rim, from where another trail leads 2.2 miles through the pinyon-juniper forest, back to the Sipapu Bridge Trailhead where the hike began.