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Sipapu-Owachomo Loop Trail, UT

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Guide 12 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List UT > Southeast
4.4 of 5 by 8
HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
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Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance Loop 8.6 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,215 feet
Elevation Gain 495 feet
Avg Time One Way 6 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 10.25
Interest Ruins, Historic, Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
Backpack No
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
editedit > ops > dogs to adjust
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
23  2017-10-05
Natural Bridges NM
14  2014-06-06 leonesiegel
30  2012-06-07 PaleoRob
16  2011-04-01 GrottoGirl
88  2008-06-21 TM1ssKDMac
Author PaleoRob
author avatar Guides 137
Routes 111
Photos 5,253
Trips 942 map ( 2,097 miles )
Age 38 Male Gender
Location Grand Junction, CO
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   May, Oct, Sep, Apr → Early
Seasons   Early Autumn to Late Spring
Sun  6:07am - 6:19pm
Official Route
1 Alternative
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
All day hike to see all three bridges.
by PaleoRob

Likely In-Season!
Natural Bridges National Monument is well known for its spectacular collection of three enormous natural bridges, spanning across White Canyon and a side canyon of Armstrong Canyon. The best way to experience all three bridges is not to drive to all three view points, but to make the Sipapu-Owachomo Loop.

The Loop can begin at either Sipapu Bridge or Owachomo Bridge. I have always hiked it starting from Sipapu, so that is how it will be described here. Either way you are going downcanyon for half the hike, and upcanyon for the other half.

The trail starts off heading towards Sipapu Bridge across a sloping plain of slickrock. It takes some switchbacks, and then the trail follows a bench below the rim. This section of the trail is the same route as the Sipapu Bridge Trail, as you need to reach the bottom of White Canyon at Sipapu Bridge for your first destination. Be careful going down the metal staircases, especially in colder weather when snow and ice may be present. Use caution as well as you cross over the slickrock and ladders near the base of Sipapu Bridge - some of these can be exciting, even in dry warm weather.

Sipapu Bridge towers over you from the oak grove, while White Canyon continues both up and downstream. It is here that you diverge from the Sipapu Bridge Trail, and begin making the loop. The trail heads downstream, down the arroyo bank under Sipapu, and follows the wash bottom, generally. During times when the creek in White Canyon is flowing, you can also make crossings of the creek and hike along the benches, where the trail can also be found. When the stream isn't flowing, however, I prefer to hike in the creek bed. You will find occasional pools of water behind boulders, populated with small frogs or toads. Petrified wood, rounded by the action of the water, pokes out of the sand and rocks often.

As you are hiking, either in the creek bed or on the benches, keep an eye out for Anasazi remains. The Anasazi frequented this area, and if you know where to look you can find their rock art and their dwellings with a little work.

One such spot is Horsecollar Ruin. As you continue heading downcanyon, you will pass a side canyon on the right (west) side of White Canyon, about .6 miles past Sipapu Bridge. This is Deer Canyon. Not long after this, on the west side, Horsecollar Ruin can be seen. It blends into its surroundings well, so you may have to look hard. It is also not terribly easy to reach, with either a decaying log or a slickrock scramble being the best ways, but if you are energetic and have the time, it does make a nice side trip.

About 2 miles after leaving Sipapu Bridge, you arrive at Kachina, the middle of the three bridges. If you've kept your eyes open, you likely will have noticed several Anasazi remains along the way here. Now at Kachina, take a chance to look at the rock art on the bridge abutments. Kachina Bridge derives its name from these designs, as early government surveyors thought (correctly) that the folks who made the designs, the Anasazi, were somehow related to the modern Hopi.

It is at Kachina that the opportunity arises for getting lost. After you pass under Kachina, a broad canyon opens to the right, and seems like the right way to go. Kachina Bridge marks the confluence of White and Armstrong Canyons, and while the trail has been following White Canyon to this point, at Kachina it heads to the west and out of the park. From this point on, the trail will be following Armstrong Canyon, climbing gradually as you work your way upstream. Keep to the left-hand canyon as you exit Kachina.

It is also important to keep to the left hand side of the canyon as you begin heading up Armstrong. Not far past Kachina, an enormous pourover thwarts the way. During the summer monsoons or the spring snowmelt, this can create an awesome waterfall. During other times, there is often a deep pool of stagnant water at its base. To avoid this blocking your way, you will need to climb up on the trail leading out of the canyon towards the Kachina Bridge parking lot. There are several switchbacks on this part of the trail. There is also a sign, where the trail diverges, that points the way onward to Owachomo. Follow the trail to the right, and soon you will find yourself at the top of the pour off. This provides an excellent photo opportunity back down into the canyon.

Armstrong Canyon is narrower than White Canyon, but still quite beautiful. If you are keeping a watchful eye out on the canyon walls, you can find still more rock art and ruins. Make sure you keep an eye on the trail, too. Armstrong has more side canyons than White, and while the trail is still well defined, it would be easy to get turned around if you were not paying attention.

Before you reach Owachomo, there is another pour over that blocks your passage upcanyon. The trail brnaches off to the left (north) just before the pourover, but the last time I was there, it was somewhat hard to find. If you go past the trail, in the canyon bottom, you find a nice photo opportunity, with the cliffs, Owachomo, and the pourover. You probably can't get to this point to view the waterfall when the stream is flowing however. There are no banks at the section of the canyon - not the place to be in a flash flood! There is also a pitchfork, the last time I was there, embedded in the sand of the wash bottom. I do not know why, but if you reach the pitchfork, you've probably gone too far (if its still there).

The trail leads up the side of Armstrong Canyon and flattens out on a bench below the rim. As you round a bend, you see Owachomo Bridge ahead and on the left, with Tuwa Canyon straight ahead and Armstrong Canyon continuing off to the right. You have reached your last bridge, and the smallest. From here, follow the trail up towards the parking area. If you have arranged a car shuttle, this would be the end of your hike. Otherwise, look across the parking lot and road for a trail leading into the pinon-juniper forest. This trail leads back across the mesa, to the Sipapu Bridge parking area. There is also a branch trail that leads to the Kachina Bridge parking area, so that you can do a loop hike between only two of the bridges. There is lots of well-developed cryptobiotic soil along this section of the trail, so make sure that you follow along only on the trail, to avoid damaging the crust. The trail also crosses the loop road a couple of times. While the road is signed for pedestrian crossing, make sure that you use extra caution at this places - not everyone may see the signs, or be paying attention to the road.

While water can usually be found in potholes and under pourovers along the trail, it is highly recomended that you bring all the water you will drink yourself. You can fill up your water bottles at the visitor's center.

Note: while the visitor's brochure claims that the hike is only 8.6 miles, it is very easy to get this hike over 9 miles with a little exploring for ruins and such.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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2008-01-05 PaleoRob

    One-Way Notice
    This hike is listed as One-Way.

    When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
    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.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    Sipapu-Owachomo Loop Trail
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Natural Bridges NM
    Day 2 of my 14-day found me in Natural Bridges NM. I set up camp, spent some time talking to the helpful rangers and then drove the loop hitting all the overlooks. The ruins were interesting looking from the rim, but there wasn't a way to get closer that I could sleuth out.Camp was a quiet night grilling a burger and turning in early. I don't sleep well in campgrounds -too many people and noises.

    Headed out to do the Sipapu-Owachomo Loop following the ranger's good advice and leaving my vehicle at Owachomo and hiking counter clockwise starting across the mesa near sunrise. I thought the mesa portion of the hike would be boring, but it was great. There were huge areas of cryptobiotic soil, the cedar pinion forest, animal sounds, slick rock areas. Nice way to start.

    The drop into Sipapu requires ladders, got to love a hike that requires ladders. I'd read a lot about this bridge in particular and enjoyed knowing the story as I descended. It is truly impressive to be under this formation.

    The hike along the bottom of the drainage was nice. The trail isn't maintained and can be difficult to follow sometimes as it crosses and recrosses the stream bed, but you can't really get lost. Its pretty lush with cottonwoods, willows, tamarisk and two very out of place spruce trees. Some potholes of water were easily easily worked around and surrounded by deer, coyote and bobcat tracks. The ranger had warned me of extensive muddy areas, but those had largely dried and the little remaining was easily avoided. The quietness was a physical thing. I stepped on a dried cottonwood stick and the resulting loud snap seemed a violation of local protocol.

    Passed one hiker going the other way before arriving at Kachina Bridge. The abutments of Kachina are just simply massive. A couple had dropped down from the overlook above. We exchanged pleasantries as I took my lunch in the shade of the bridge.

    I was mindful of the ranger's admonition to NOT follow the White Canyon Creek drainage NW. "The next stop is Lake Powell in 50 miles. You won't make it," he said. But the trail took me upslope and I worried I was headed for the overlook and almost dropped back into the drainage below, only to realize going up was required to avoid the 80' pour off between Kachina and Owachomo. The remaining hike to Owachomo was through a narrowing canyon with the sun in my face. The trail became fainter, harder to follow until finally I saw the bridge and knew the truck was close by.

    Stopped back at the visitor center to refill my water bottles and debrief the ranger on the trail. We swapped stories for a bit and then I headed back to camp for a nap in my tent cot and one more evening before pressing on the next morning.
    Sipapu-Owachomo Loop Trail
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    A six day trip to what has always been my favorite state finished with two nights of camping and star gazing at Natural Bridges. I love Utah!!! This hike had been on my bucket list for over twenty years and happy to finally do it. We explored a couple of side canyons, intentionally and otherwise, so that accounts for the extra mileage. Owachomo was our favorite bridge especially when you take in the slickrock bowl it resides in. My first visit to the park in 1991 so long ago... You have to arrive fairly early to get a spot in the 13 site campground, glad we did!
    Sipapu-Owachomo Loop Trail
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Drove down from Moab on the 6th with a nice detour/scenic route through the north end of the Abajos and set up camp before going out for a sunset drive and survey mark hunt along Clay Hills Crossing Road to the south to round out the day. Got up bright and early and drove out to Sipapu Bridge to start loop just as the sun came up. Park rangers recommended starting at Sipapu and going clockwise (or counterclockwise from Owachomo) to get the mesa top section of the hike out of the way before it got hot, but with an early start I wasn't particularly concerned so I went counterclockwise from Sipapu to descend the deeper canyon drop and ascend the shallower one at Owachomo.

    This hike was really similar in structure to the Syncline Loop hike in Canyonlands NP: descend into a canyon, hike downstream to a confluence, switch over and go upstream the other canyon, then ascend out. Here, though, the canyons were much less deep and the descents more heavily traveled, with stairs and ladders along the way going down at Sipapu. Once on the floor, I followed the wash for the most part, though in spots there is tread up out of the main channel.

    As I went down White Canyon, I kept my eyes open for a side trail to go up the canyon wall to Horsecollar Ruins, and found one and made my way up, finding a branched juniper log in place to help me climb up the last 5 foot shelf. This is a pretty nice little ruin site with quite a few structures and since they're under an overhang, the mud cement used for the stonework is still in good shape.

    After enjoying the ruins, I dropped back down and continued around to Kachina Bridge, where the trail leaves White Canyon and switches to heading up Armstrong Canyon, starting with a climb part way up to a shelf to get around the Knickpoint pour-off not far upstream from the junction. As you start up, Armstrong Canyon is wider and more open than White, but eventually it narrows and the trail moves again out of the main channel and up onto a shelf for the rest of the way to Owachomo Bridge to avoid pools of water in the channel that looked semi-permanent.

    Already being up on a shelf, the climb up and through Owachomo was a snap, and in this area I spotted a couple different side trails, followed one to see if it led to more ruins or possibly petroglyphs, but eventually deciding it was a route to get up onto the bridge itself, which is contrary to park rules so I returned to the main trail and continued up to a bench at the trailhead where I dumped the sand from my shoes before moving on.

    When I think mesa top, I think flat easy walking, and for the most part the mesa top section of the loop is that, but it does straight-line down and up across a couple of drainages along the way. I finished up the hike in short order and then went for a drive up to Bear Ears for lunch, continuing east through the south end of the Abajos to town to restock the cooler.
    Sipapu-Owachomo Loop Trail
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    We planned to go to Cedar Mesa for a backpack that we organized for the Tucson Backpacking meetup. Four of us decided to head down a bit early and check out Natural Bridges. We did a loop hike that included Sipapu and Kachina Bridge as well as the Horsecollar Ruins and the petroglyphs and pictographs near Kachina Bridge.

    As we headed down the trail to Sipapu Bridge we were looking in White Canyon. The canyon was spectacular and would have been a great hike even without the bridges and ruins. Sipapu took my breath away. We managed to get down to the overlook and below the bridge at a great time for photos. We then continued down canyon to Kachina Bridge. It would be easy to miss the Horsecollar ruins if you didn't know to expect them. We didn't go over and check them out since we were planning on spending the next three days immersed in ruins. We did, however, check out the petroglyphs and pictographs at Kachina Bridge. After Kachina bridge we climbed out of the canyon and then over the mesa back to our car.

    This was the perfect afternoon hike after our drive from Arizona. We had a good time camping overnight in the Natural Bridges campground.

    Permit $$

    Natural Bridges National Monument
    $6 per car (Good for 7 days) Entrance Fee

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To hike
    From Blanding, Utah, take Utah Route 95 west, following the signs to Natural Bridges National Monument. Turn left on Utah Route 275 (also signed for Natural Bridges). Enter the Monument, and stop at the visitor's center to pay the fee. Continue down the road to the T-junction and turn right on the one-way Bridge View loop road. Continue past the Sipapu Bridge overlook parking area, and turn off just down the road, on the right hand side, at the Sipapu Bridge trailhead. It is a large paved parking lot with signs at the trailhead, and parking on either side; impossible to miss. Park there, and begin your hike.
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