Home to three natural bridges, don’t miss this little-known park which is perfect for families.
In a state that has its fair share of famous national parks, little-known Natural Bridges National Monument gets overlooked. That’s okay, because now you know! This hidden gem is well worth driving out of your way. But if you’re traveling from Bryce Canyon to Canyonlands or Arches, you’re in luck as it will en route. Stop and spend an hour or two. You won’t regret it. Cost: Car $10. (If you’re visiting multiple parks in the same year, consider the Annual National Park and Federal Lands Pass for $80.)
KidTripster Tip: Even though Natural Bridges is a national monument and not a national park, it still has a Junior Ranger program. Stop at the visitors center to pick up your child’s booklet. When completed, he or she can turn it in for a junior ranger badge.
What to do?
Of all the trails that my family has hiked in Utah (and there have been a lot!), the trail to Sipapu Bridge in Natural Bridges National Monument is our favorite. A little over a mile round-trip with an elevation change of 500 feet, this trail has three wooden ladders, stairs, switchbacks, and short steep sections of slickrock. Best of all, you’ll likely never pass a single soul.
KidTripster Tip: Keep an eye on little ones as some parts of the trail are steep with drop-offs. But it's completely doable, as my 4-year old easily hiked this trail.
And what a payoff! Sipapu is the largest and most spectacular of the three bridges at the monument. (It’s the second largest natural bridge in the world behind Rainbow Bridge in Glen Canyon.) The opening nearly could house the dome of the United States Capitol! Its name means “the place of emergence,” an entryway by which the Hopi believe their ancestors came into this world. It’s considered middle-aged as far as bridges go, older than Kachina Bridge but younger than Owachomo, both of which can be seen in this park. Formed thousands of years ago by a river - not wind (like arches) - Sipapu will someday collapse and erode as part of the endless cycle of change. Best to get there while you can!
KidTripster Tip: Be prepared for the relentless sun with sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. And bring more water than you think you’ll need. Once you make it to the bridge, sit in the shade of the Gambel's oak grove and have a snack while admiring the bridge’s beauty.
After your hike, drive the park’s loop to see the other two bridges, Kachina and Owachomo, from their viewpoints.
Where to stay?
The monument has a 13-site campground which is open on a first-come, first-serve basis to tent campers or RVers with vehicles no larger than 26 feet. Each site has a fire grate, picnic table, and tent pad, but there’s no running water, electricity or hookups. Cost: $10/night.
If you’re headed north to Canyonlands, consider Devils Canyon Campground on US-191 near Monticello. Situated on national forest land, this campground is quiet and rustic; picnic tables, fire rings, plus vault toilets and drinking water (no showers) are available. There’s no hookups for RVs. It’s a good spot for a one-night stopover. Cost: $10/night.
Natural Bridges is a 5-hour drive southeast from Salt Lake City; it’s about two hours from Moab.
Headed to Canyonlands National Park? Click here. Or maybe Bryce Canyon National Park? Click here. Want to find more hidden gems of the National Park Service? Click here.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah travels to national parks with her husband and two sons. She’s logged thousands of miles behind the wheel of the family’s RV.