2nd largest natural bridge in America!
Natural Bridges National Monument is a rather small park, with no backpacking opportunities, and only a few maintained trails. Its natural, historic, and prehistoric attractions are almost out of scale, considering the monument's small size! The park contains hundreds of prehistoric Anasazi ruins, dozens of historic sites, and three of the largest natural bridges in the United States. Natural bridges are formed differently than natural arches. While natural arches, such as are common at the nearby Arches National Park, look similar, natural arches are not formed by water flowing under them. Bridges, as the name implies, span a creek or other body of flowing, or previously flowing, water.
Sipapu Bridge is the largest of the three bridges in Natural Bridges National Monument, and the second largest natural bridge, after Rainbow Bridge, in the United States. The trail to Sipapu is steep, and can be very icy during the winter.
Starting from the paved parking lot, the trail descends in easy switchbacks across a slickrock slope until reaching a slickrock bench. The trail then heads westerly along this bench until you reach the top of one of two staircases built into the cliff face. This allows access to the lower sections of the canyon, otherwise inaccessible due to a sheer cliff of about 200 feet. The trail then continues by the cliff face, shaded year-round with large pine trees, along a narrow ledge.
After a short descent the ledge flattens out again, and the trail branches by a beat-up Anasazi granary and a trail register that is no longer used. Continuing along the ledge leads to a point with a nice view of Sipapu Bridge below in the canyon. Following the trail heading down from the trail register will take you to Sipapu Bridge itself.
Below the register, the trail goes into a series of steep switchbacks to cross a talus slope. They can be narrow and rocky at times, so watch your footing. When the switchbacks end, you are on a slickrock slope again, with a nice view of Sipapu Bridge looming across the canyon in front of you. The slickrock crossing is the trickiest part of the hike, as it is often steep and can be snowy/icy/slippery during the winter. There is an seasonal spring that flows occasionally during the slickrock crossing, and algae can make this section treacherous even during warmer months when there is no ice. This is an easy place to twist an ankle.
The Park Service has installed metal railings for portions of this crossing, and you would be well advised to use them. There are also three log ladders in place to help with steep sections of slickrock and overhangs. They can be slightly unnerving, but rest assured that they are sturdy enough for most people.
The final ladder sets you down in a grove of Gamble Oak directly below Sipapu Bridge. Looking up through the leaves is a neat sight. The trail heads towards the center of the bridge, where a sandbar clear of trees allows for a clearer view of the size of the span. Sit back, have lunch, enjoy Armstrong Creek running across the boulders and sand. Done relaxing? Then hit the trail either back to the trailhead, or downcanyon on a hike to either Horsecollar Ruin or one of the other natural bridges.
While there is a small spring on the slopes above Sipapu, and Armstrong Creek runs frequently, it is recommended to fill all your bottles of water at the Visitor's Center.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.