Take a short, family-friendly hike on the Mossy Cave Trail at Bryce Canyon National Park. See colorful rocks, pine trees, a flowing stream, small waterfall, and a drippy, “mossy cave” grotto.
Mossy Cave Trail Guide
MAP: Trails Illustrated
DESIGNATION: Bryce Canyon National Park
BEST SEASONS: summer, spring, fall (icicles and solitude in winter!)
DISTANCE: one mile round trip
WATER: flowing creek, but this is a short hike
ACCESS: paved roads to the trailhead
DIRECTIONS: From the junction of Route 63 and Route 12 (North of Bryce’s main entrance) turn right (east) on Route 12. Follow 12 for 3.5 miles and keep your eyes out for the trailhead on the right (south).
Or from the town of Tropic, follow Route 12 west for 3.8 miles and look for the trail on the left.
The Mossy Cave Trail should register in most GPS navigation apps too.
ROUTE: well maintained, crowded trail
GUIDEBOOK: Moon Zion & Bryce
The sign says:
Follow the stream bank to the fork in the trail. The left path leads to Mossy Cave, where ice draperies often last until summer and delicate moss grows year-round. The right-hand spur reaches a low waterfall – dramatic after a storm or spring snowmelt.
Along the trail there are views of Bryce Canyon Hoodoos – eroded red pinnacles. Look for windows weathered through the thin rock walls.
It’s not stated explicitly in the sign above, but the left fork of the trail goes to Mossy Cave. The so-called “cave” is actually just a large overhang. The waterfall is about 15 feet high.
The Mossy Cave Trail is technically within the boundaries of Bryce Canyon National Park, but the trailhead lies outside the Park gates along Route 12. There’s no fee station here, so you can probably explore without paying the main park fee.
The stream here in Water Canyon is man-made. Settlers diverted it from the East Fork of the Sevier River in the 1890s. In this way they irrigated towns to the east when the Paria River went dry.
Geologists confirm that the flowing water will eventually go on to carve an even deeper canyon.
Here’s what an NPS interpretive sign has to say about Water Canyon:
Completed in 1892, pioneers using primitive tools labored for more than two years to complete a canal, known as the Tropic Ditch, to bring water to the semi-arid valley below. To reduce the amount of necessary digging, they planned the route using natural water courses whenever possible, including the normally dry wash known as Water Canyon.
Within Bryce Canyon National Park, the water still flows along the original route envisioned by those hardy souls. Except for the severe drought of 2002, the water has flowed continuously for over a century, and the lives of families living in and around the town of Tropic still benefit from the efforts of those pioneers.
The Geology of Mossy Cave
Additionally, here’s what a similar NPS plaque says about Mossy Cave:
This grotto forms as an underground spring, and permeates the bedrock. Water slowly dissolves the calcite that bonds the silts and muds of the Claron Formation. During the short spring and summer season, in this otherwise arid landscape, a cool, moist environment becomes a perfect place for mosses to grow. By late fall, icicles begin to from as water continues to seep through the rock. Sheltered from the sun, even as the days are growing warmer and longer, these icicles sometimes last until June!
My Trip Notes and Photos of the Mossy Cave Trail
Late in the day of August 11, 2008, Michael and Jamie and I had time for just one more hike. We’d spent most of the day doing the Peek-A-Boo Trail Loop and the Fairyland Trail to Tower Bridge.
The Mossy Cave Trail sounded like a good, small outing to finish the day, here on our first visit to Bryce Canyon.
We had a good little hike, but the so called “cave” was a little disappointing. I guess we expected something more than an overhang. The waterfall was unimpressive too – more of a cascade. Finally, the short trail was somewhat crowded with riff-raff.
Still, it was great to be near flowing water in such an otherwise arid desert climate. Our hikes earlier in the day were very hot, and the stream was refreshing.
It’s hard to complain when you’re among such wondrous outdoor scenery in the Bryce Canyon country.
I bet this trail would be an especially nice, quiet jaunt in the winter months when there’s significant snow and icicles!
I think we drove all the way back to the South Rim of Grand Canyon this evening.