Natural Bridges National Monument

Southeastern Utah

Forty miles west of Blanding via Hwy 95, this monument became Utah's first National Park Service land in 1908. The highlight is a dark-stained, white-sandstone canyon containing three easily accessible natural bridges. The oldest, the Owachomo Bridge, spans 180ft but is only 9ft thick. The flat 9-mile Scenic Drive loop is ideal for biking.

Kachina Bridge is the youngest and spans 204ft. The 268ft span of Sipapu Bridge makes the top five of any 'largest in the US' list (the other four are in Utah, too). All three bridges are visible from the Scenic Drive loop road with easy-access overlooks.

Most visitors never venture below the canyon rim, but they should. Descents may be a little steep, but distances are short; the longest is just over half a mile one-way. Enthusiastic hikers can take a longer trail that joins all three bridges (8 miles). Don't skip the 0.3-mile trail to the Horsecollar Ruin cliff dwelling overlook. The elevation here is 6500ft; trails are open all year, but steeper sections may be closed after heavy rains or snow.

The 12 first-come, first-served sites at the campground, almost half a mile past the visitor center, are fairly sheltered among scraggly trees and red sand. The stars are a real attraction here – this has been designated an International Dark Sky Park and is one of the darkest in the country. There are pit toilets and grills, but water is available only at the visitor center; no hookups. The campground fills on summer afternoons, after which you are directed to camp in a designated area along Hwy 275. No backcountry camping is allowed. Towed trailers are not suitable for the loop drive.

The nearest services are in Blanding. If you continue west on Hwy 95 from Natural Bridges, and follow Hwy 276, the services of Lake Powell's Bullfrog Marina are 140 miles away.

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