Natural Bridges - Sipapu/Kachina Loop

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 6.5 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 5660 - 6252 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Usage: Hiking - No dogs on trails
Time: 4 hrs. 30 mins.
Facilities: Flush toilet (Visitor Center)
        Vault toilet (Kochina Overlook)
Trailhead: Sipapu Bridge Overlook
Fee: $5 individual - $10 vehicle - $25 annual pass
Attractions: Natural bridges, Indian ruins, petroglyphs, wildlife, wildflowers
   

View Sipapu/Kochina Loop in a larger map

The Sipapu/Kachina Loop trail is located in Natural Bridges National Monument which is about 35 miles west of Blanding, Utah. Blanding is well positioned in southern Utah with plenty of accommodations to function as a base camp for visiting the surrounding sites like Hovenweep and Natural Bridges National Monuments. The roads are all paved between Blanding and Natural Bridges and the drive typically takes less than an hour. A longer loop can be made by including Owachomo Bridge in the hike but it makes for a very long day and adds considerably to the difficulty due to the extra distance.


From the Sipapu trailhead hikers have the option of either hiking the entire loop or simply hiking down to the first set of Indian ruins where they can get a much closer look at Sipapu Bridge and returning right back to the trailhead for a total distance of about 1.2 miles.


The trail departs from the parking are and begins a gradual descent down the slickrock of the upper rim of the canyon. While looking down at Sipapu Bridge there doesn't seem to be an apparently easy way of getting down there. As it turns out the route the trail takes is very well engineered and very exciting as it traverses various bench areas and descends to each new level. A person in moderately good physical condition should have no trouble.


Even though the trail is high up on the walls of the canyon it is well protected and seems very safe.


Metal stairways have been installed and well anchored so even a novice can accomplish what would otherwise require the skills of a mountaineer.


Other areas are protected by handrails.


There are a series of wooden ladders, much like what the natives would have used, that have been made more sturdy with the use of modern nuts and bolts and secured to the rock that they are providing easier passage over.


Just over a half mile from the trailhead are the first set of Indian ruins.


This vantage point provides a very nice view of Sipapu Bridge and is also the turning around point for most of the visitors. Sipapu is the second largest natural bridge in the world. The name Sipapu comes from Hopi mythology and means 'a gateway through which souls may pass through on their way to the spirit world'.


Stairs made of hewn stones ease some of the difficulty for those venturing further down into the canyon.


As trail continues to work its way down to the bottom of the canyon it varies from slickrock to well packed dirt. The steeper spots provide the assistance of handrails and a couple more ladders. Here is a shot of one of the ladders taken after descending it.


Once in the bottom the trail follows the meandering drainage of the canyon toward Kachina Bridge. Hikers might be able to spot deer and bighorn sheep throughout this area.


This picture should help you imagine what it is like being in the canyon during a flash flood. This canyon drains most of the mesa above it. If a cloudburst should occur you can see how high up the side of the trail you need to get to stay safe.


There are a set of pictographs in an alcove that is very easy to miss about 1.65 miles from the trailhead. The alcove is hidden away above a sandy bank that may be about 8-10 feet high on the right side of the wash.


Horsecollar Ruins provide a nice distraction as you are proceeding through the canyon toward Kachina Bridge. It is possible to climb up to them and get a better look but the climb is a little difficult and requires using a single log as a ladder. These ancestral Puebloan ruins get their name from two granaries with uniquely shaped doors.


Kachina Bridge is a little obscured by vegetation and a large slide of dirt and rocks as you approach it from this direction. The shade of the bridge makes for a nice spot to enjoy a break. The word 'Kachina' refers to any of the deified ancestral spirits in the mythology of the Puebloan Indians. They are represented by Kachina dancers that play a central role in the Hopi religion.


As you pass beneath the bridge it is important to follow the was to the left. If you go the the right you will eventually end up at the Colorado River. That is of course a huge distance away.


Watch for a trail sign on the left side of the wash where the trail departs from the bottom of the canyon.


The accent up to the Kochina trailhead is much shorter and more direct than the drop in was from the Sipapu trailhead. The nature of the trails construction is much the same though with several wooden ladders, carved steps and handrails.


There are even areas of more carefully placed stones to make stairways.


 There is a nice view of Kochina Bridge and the surrounding area from the overlook near the trailhead.


The trail continues across the road from the trailhead. The distances shown on this sign are for following the trails and not the roadway.


The trail comes to a 'T' junction within after hiking one mile from the Kachina trailhead. The trail to the right leads to Owachomo Bridge and to the left leads back to the Sipapu trailhead.


The trail across the mesa from Kachina to Sipapu is not at all a trek over level ground. The trail gradually climbs 200 feet in the 1 mile distance from the Kachina trailhead to the Owachomo junction. While the highest point on the trail is only about 20 feet more than the elevation at the junction the trail still has one spot where it gives up about 100 feet and regains it before descending down to the Sipapu trailhead.


There aren't too many hikes where you can hike among Indian ruins and natural bridges while exploring the steep slopes and bottoms of scenic canyons. Even if you don't think you have the stamina to complete a hike like this it is still worthwhile to visit Natural Bridges National Monument and enjoy its scenic overlooks and shorter hikes. The canyons and mesas of the southwest have been inhabited off and on for thousands of years. It is always exciting to explore the area keeping an eye out for signs of the past inhabitants. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.