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Must-See HAPPENINGS February 2017

Morning Glory Natural Bridge
by Laurie Schmidt

Hiking Distance (round-trip): 4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Cautions: High temperatures during summer; poison ivy

The Moab area is surrounded by national parks, providing enough awe-inspiring hikes to keep you occupied for weeks. But the trail to Morning Glory Bridge offers a different sort of experience: no entrance fees, fewer people, and cool water to splash in if you’re hiking during the hot summer months.

Just five miles from Moab, the BLM-managed trail begins on the east side of Highway 128 and follows a year-round stream through a picturesque canyon. With a cool stream and thick vegetation that provides shade, this is one hike that will ease your suffering a bit on a scorching desert day—and the payoff at the end is a natural bridge that towers above a spacious shady alcove.

Hiking to the Bridge
The trail begins on the left side of the creek bed, and the first section is fairly level and wide. You’ll cross back and forth over the creek many times, so plan to get wet. Most of the crossings are shallow and easy, but after a heavy rain it can be more challenging, so use caution.

After about five stream crossings, the canyon will turn to the left and you’ll see a side canyon heading off to the right. This is not the canyon where Morning Glory Bridge is located; continue following the main channel. After 1.5 miles, you’ll come to a more obvious “Y” split where you’ll cross the creek one last time and head up the side canyon on the right. From here, it’s another half mile to Morning Glory Bridge and involves a moderate climb.

Because the bridge is very close to the cliff behind it, you probably won’t see it until you’re almost right in front of it. Once you’re standing under it, you’ll see that it’s a pretty impressive chunk of sandstone. At 243 feet across, Morning Glory is the seventh-largest natural rock span in the world, according to the Natural Arch and Bridge Society.

A few words of caution about this hike: First, be sure to pay attention so that you don’t accidentally veer off into the wrong side canyon. For the most part, the trail is well marked, but there are a couple of places that can be a bit confusing. This is a popular trail with local folks, so don’t hesitate to ask someone for directions. Second, poison ivy is fairly prolific in this canyon, especially in the alcove where the bridge is located. Be sure you know what it looks like so you can avoid brushing against it. Given the heavy vegetation on many parts of the trail, you might want to consider wearing long pants to protect your legs.

A bonus for pet owners is that you can bring your dog on this hike, unlike the trails in the national parks. But don’t expect Fido to stay by your side—based on what I’ve witnessed, splashing in the stream is apparently a version of doggie heaven.
If you want to go back home with a real adventure to brag to your friends about, consider a canyoneering trip that will drop you 120 feet down from a ledge near the top of Morning Glory Bridge. The trips depart from Moab and take you to a place where you’ll do a short hike through fins and sandstone canyons to the first drop. Here, the guides will suit you up with ropes and climbing gear, and you’ll rappel 100 feet into a hidden chamber that brings you out near the top of Morning Glory Bridge. Next, a free-hanging rappel drops you 120 feet down to the canyon floor below the bridge. Finally, you’ll hike with your guide two miles to the trailhead on Hwy 128, where a shuttle will take you back to Moab.

Several guide companies in Moab offer these half-day trips (note that the trip is known by a variety of names including Ephedra’s Grotto and Medieval Chamber). If you’ve never done canyoneering before, I can tell you from experience that the moment you first look over the edge can be a bit unnerving, but once your brain adjusts to the unnaturalness of lowering yourself off a 120-foot cliff, it’s an exhilarating adventure.

Getting There
From Moab: Drive north from Moab on Hwy 191 and turn right onto Hwy 128. After about 3 miles, a sign indicates the parking area for the trailhead on the right side of the road.


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