Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Natural Bridge - Yellowstone National Park


Geysers and waterfalls aren't the only interesting natural features in Yellowstone National Park.  The park also has a natural stone bridge.  The bridge is 51 feet high and 29 feet across. You can reach the bridge via an easy 1.5 mile trail along an old road. The trail starts at the aptly named Bridge Bay.

Location: The trail head for the hiking trail is located at north side of the Bridge Bay Marina Parking lot. A bicycle trail starts just south of the Bridge Bay Bridge on the Grand Loop Road.  Bridge Bay is on the eastern side of the lower loop of the Grand Loop Road.

Hiking Distance and Time: The trail is 3 miles round trip.  Plan for your hike to take about 2 to 3 hours.

Open Season: Late June through September.  The trail is closed in the spring due to bear activity in the area.  Check with the park visitor centers to make sure the trail is open.

Date of Visit: Friday June 23, 2017

In the summer of 2017 I received a job with Xanterra Parks and Resorts in Yellowstone National Park. I moved there with my husband and our four young children. We lived in a 25 foot RV and spent all our free time exploring the park. This is the 19th of many posts that I will write about specific features within Yellowstone National Park. At first these aren't going to be in any particular order, but in a few months I'll start grouping them into lists. This one would probably fit into a list such as best day hikes in the park.



One of the best parts of living/working in Yellowstone was that as soon as I was done with work I could head out on an adventure with my family. I could switch to vacation mode just by changing my clothes.

After almost a month in the park I decided it was time for my family to visit Natural Bridge. We hadn't done this hike yet because the trail is closed each year until late June due to bear activity.  I didn't know if the trail was open yet so I stopped in at the Canyon Village Visitor Center on my way to work to find out. The ranger at the info desk made a quick phone call to the Bridge Bay area and then told me that the trail was open.  I texted my husband and told him to plan for a hike that evening.

When I was done with work I hurried home to the RV, changed out of my work uniform, ate a quick dinner, and then hoped in the car with my family.  We headed down to the Bridge Bay area as all the tourists in the park were finishing their sightseeing.

The trail head for Natural Bridge starts north of the parking lot for the Bridge Bay Marina.  There is another trail head just off of the Grand Loop Road on the south side of the bridge.  This is the trail head for the bicycle part of the trail.  You I don't recommend parking here if you are hiking.  The bike trail parking area is very small.  You are better off parking in the lot for the Bridge Bay Marina.  It is a huge parking lot and so you won't have a headache trying to park like you would at the bike trail. Plus you'll have access to restrooms with flushing toilets in the Bridge Bay Marina Parking lot.
 
The trail takes you near the Bridge Bay campground before swinging to the southwest and joining with an old gravel road. This old road is also the bike trail
The trail is uphill most of the way, but it's not very steep.  You'll pass through woods and a few meadows.  My kids were excited to find a butterfly.  I love their smiles in this picture. They smiled so much during our summer.
After 1.5 miles of hiking we found the Natural Bridge.
I was surprised to see that the trail continued up the hill/cliff next to the bridge.  I'd just assumed that we would only be able to see the bridge from a distance.  I had no idea we could get close to it.
The trail actually took us behind the bridge.  There were stairs that led down to the small creek that runs under the natural bridge.  This was a really cool area.
Here's the view looking through the bridge.  Fun Fact:  Natural Bridges have water running under them.  If the creek wasn't there this would be called an arch. Water from the creek is what has helped form this bridge so if the creek wasn't there the bridge probably wouldn't exist.
There were many signs instructing us to stay off of the bridge.  I was impressed that we'd been allowed behind the bridge. The trail continued past the bridge and down a ridge on the other side.  Then it wrapped around and joined up again with the main trail.  

When we met up with the main trail we headed back the way we came.  Towards the end of the trail we had a great view of the Bridge Bay Marina.  A month and a half later we came back here to rent a boat to take out on Yellowstone Lake. 
Bridge Bay is also the location of a camp ground. This is where my family stayed when I first visited Yellowstone when I was 17 years old.  It's also the campground that I stayed in on my 2010 trip to the park with my sister and her family.  It's a good campground with lots of trees.  You'll probably see bison near your campsite if you stay here.  A herd of elk also frequents this area.
What's crazy is that I never went on the hike to Natural Bridge while I was camping so close to the trail head.  I didn't even know there was a natural bridge in Yellowstone when I visited the park as a teenager.   I didn't put the hike on our plan in 2010 because I was 6 months pregnant with twins.  I'm glad I was finally able to do the hike during our summer in the park.

Recommendation: Natural Bridge is not a "must see" feature in the park. If you are pressed for time then you can skip this hike.  However, this is an excellent place to spend an afternoon when the more popular parts of the park start getting too full of tourists.

The trail to the bridge is easy and so I recommend it to anyone who is okay walking on a slightly inclined trail.  However, the trail up behind the bridge is more difficult. Definitely plan on going up there if you have the mobility, but if not you will still get a good view from down below.

Directions: Bridge Bay is on the eastern side of the lower loop of the Grand Loop Road.  Bridge Bay is 4.5 miles south of Fishing Bridge and 17 miles north of West Thumb.  The turn off for the road that leads to the marina and campground is just a couple hundred feet north of the Bridge Bay Bridge.

Places Nearby: If your budget allows, you should check in with the Marina to see if there are boat tours or rentals available.  You can also get great views of the lake from Gull Point which is accessed via a road that starts south of the Bridge Bay Bridge. 

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I would love to hear what you think. Did I get it right, or was I dead wrong? What was your experience like?

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