Mother Nature is always hard at work shaping Bryce Canyon Country’s awe-inspiring bridges and arches. So what distinguishes these seemingly similar rock formations? A natural bridge is created from walled cliffs primarily by moving water erosion, such as a stream or river, whereas a natural arch is influenced by other forces of nature, like water, wind, chemical weathering, and frost wedging.
One of the best-known natural arches in Bryce Canyon National Park is ironically called Natural Bridge. This massive formation spans 85 feet and is sculpted from sedimentary red rock, rich in iron oxide, of the Claron Formation. Natural Bridge is a testament to a combination of natural forces—frost wedging, chemical weathering, and gravity—that prove how vulnerable even the most massive rock formations can be. You can view the arch from the Natural Bridge viewpoint, about three-quarters of the way along the park’s scenic drive. Other arches and bridges in Bryce Canyon National Park include Twin Bridges on the Navajo Loop Trail, Bryce Point Arch near the Wall of Windows, and Farview Natural Bridge. For the really adventurous, a hike down the Fairyland Loop Trail leads to Tower Bridge (named for its resemblance to the London Bridge).
At nearby Kodachrome Basin State Park, it’s about a half-mile hike to Shakespeare Arch. Barely visible from Scenic Byway 12, the 18-foot arch was actually undiscovered until 1976, when a park ranger stumbled upon it while searching for a coyote den. And since you’re in the vicinity, be sure to check out Grosvenor Arch, a massive Henrieville sandstone double arch formed by wind and water erosion. Standing overall at 152 feet high and spanning 92 feet, the larger of the two arches is about 100 feet. A paved path leads from the parking lot to the arch, where you can gaze up in awe at the massive formation.
In Escalante Canyon, Stevens Arch impresses with an unbelievable 220-foot span. This spectacular shelter arch is located at the junction of Coyote Gulch and Stevens Canyon. Plan a day to explore this truly spectacular arch, either by hiking from Forty Mile Ridge or backpacking from Coyote Gulch (just remember to get a backpacking permit from the BLM in Escalante). Escalante Natural Bridge (which is also technically an arch) is located at Calf Creek in the upper Escalate Canyon, just 1.5 miles upstream from the Scenic Byway 12 trailhead (near the Escalate River Bridge at the intersection of Scenic Highway 12 and Highway 54 between Escalante and Boulder). Maverick Natural Bridge is located about 1.4 miles downstream from the Escalante River Bridge. From Phipps Wash, it’s a half-mile hike to reach the natural bridge.
The Grand Staircase is home to more spectacular natural bridges and arches. The Jacob Hamblin Arch spans an impressive 100 feet in Coyote Gulch. Located about seven miles from the Coyote Gulch backpacking trailhead along the Escalante River, the massive arch can be reached from the Hurricane Wash trail or from the Forty Mile Ridge trailhead, which requires some climbing. The Golden Cathedral in Neon Canyon (about a mile from the Escalante River) is a triple pothole arch, with the largest opening about 30 feet in diameter. It’s a little tricky to navigate to the Golden Cathedral, but boy is it worth it. The rich red rock shimmers as the sun’s rays peek through the openings, for a magical experience you won’t soon forget.