Otho Natural Bridge is one of those places you just have to see in person, pictures do not do it justice. The bridge is only half the adventure, the scenery getting to the bridge is stunning.
For this trip I had been staying our 10A7 Moab Vacation Rental for about a week and I had done several good hikes but I was still looking for the one hike to make the trip. I have seen a few post online about the Otho Bridge but not much describing the hike to get to it or how long the hike was. I had also seen that some people access Otho Bridge from down stream on Mill Creek and others from Sand Flats Road. I decided to get my wife to drop me off on Sand Flats Road and through hike out past the Mill Creek day use area.
If you are only interested in bagging the bridge and nothing more, I would recommend starting from Sand Flats Road and hiking down. If you have a capable vehicle you can save 0.6 miles each way by following an old Jeep road to the edge of Mill Creek Canyon. The vistas as one nears the edge of the canyon are awesome, there is one huge amphitheater shaped arch that is forming in a giant sandstone fin.
The next point to interest is the overlook into the canyon. Spend a little time here and try to workout the lay of the land, this will help you with the decent into the Mill Creek Canyon. The overlook should also mark this as the first time you will loose the trail, well to be honest there really isn’t a trail for the next few miles. With no cairns, it is difficult to tell what is a hiker made trail and what is an animal trail.
To your right there will be a sandstone shelf, get on it and follow it around. A huge sandstone dome that kind of looks like three monsters fighting to get out of the ground will come into view, walk toward them. This is where I made my first major mistake, I turned down canyon too soon and got punched out and was forced to backtrack. Look for the fin with the towers at the end, you will want to walk fully around the fin before drop into the canyon.
Notice that at no point have I mentioned following a trail. There are faint paths here and there but nothing that makes you think, awe this is the way. Once I climbed down to the canyon floor I thought the route finding would become more straight forward, wrong! Now you are dealing with cow paths going every which way. Just keep going down stream as best you can, all the while keeping an eye out for a canyon on your left. You will know it’s the right canyon as you will see more defined trails going up it.
As you go deeper into Otho Bridge side canyon the trees start to become much larger. Also the canyon begins to get more and more narrow. When I saw this I started to think the bridge was just going to be wedged into the back of the canyon like nearby Morning Glory Bridge. To my surprise just before the back of the canyon is reached, the walls open up and you are greeted with a huge arch forming on the left wall.
This huge forming arch is vey magnificent to look at by itself. This incomplete arch pails in comparison to the site you will see when you turn around and get your first view of the large Otho Natural Bridge. The bridge acts as a gateway into the a lovely oasis in the desert, it almost seems like Mother Nature’s patio. When I got back behind the bridge I had to sit down for a few minutes so I could take in such a wonderful place. This area makes a great lunch stop. One thing that I found very interesting about the bridge was the bedding planes of the sandstone. There is one group of rocks sticking out of the upstream side that simply don’t look like they belong.
After spending a little time exploring the area and some of the alcoves in the area, I returned to the main canyon. The next mile or two was the most frustrating part of the entire hike. Hiking with no trail is one thing, hiking with cow paths in every direction is another. After what seems like a hundred wrong turn I was able to make steady progress down stream.
This might sound like I’m giving the hike a bad name but I’m not. The canyon is just so lovely. Every direction one looks you are greeted with fancible rock formations. If you let your imagination take off you can make out all types of interesting designs in the rocks.
The next point to interest I came to was Cliffhanger Arch. At 40 feet this arch was very impressive by itself. Normally I would climb up the side of the canyon to get to an arch like this one. However, by this point I was start to feel the hike and all of the wrong turns, so I kept going.
Once past the arch, the trail starts to take shape and becomes easier to follow. I wonder if some hike up to this arch and mistake it for the bridge? Now that I had a trail to follow I was able to do a better job scanning the canyon walls for rock art. The first I found was a group of handprints painted in red in an alcove. Next I was greeted by a panel of goats, a common site in the Moab area.
Now you can tell the trail is getting a lot more use. Somehow, I followed a trail and got way high on the edge of the canyon. Down below I could see a lovely cascade, it looked like a great place to enjoy Mill Creek away from the crowds that can form at the waterfall.
I really felt I had gone the wrong way and was going to have to backtrack yet again. However, to my surprise I found a path down from the bench back to the main trail. That’s right I said trail, there was actually a trail in the canyon now. By now I was just above the falls and I could tell I was to the heavily used area around Mill Creek Falls. There are several good rock art panels below the falls with the best being on some boulders immediately upstream of the two creeks. Also, just as you exit the canyon there is a large panel on the far wall.
In the end I would rate this as a 4 star hike. If there was a better trail I might would give it 5 stars, well maybe I should give it 5 stars since there was no trail. If you are wanting to hike this trail, know that it is 9 miles as described here. Many of these miles are bushwhacking miles that are unlevel at best and are very physically draining. I would only recommend this for strong hikers. Don’t drag an intermediate hiker or reluctant friend along. It’s not for kids and your marriage may depend on you not doing this hike as a couple.