Dripping water or needle-like icicles hanging from cave’s ceiling was enough to persuade me to hike the Mossy Cave Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park. A secret waterfall on the opposite side of the trail further inspired me to check out this isolated area of the park.
Off the Beaten Path in Bryce Canyon National Park: Mossy Cave Trail and Waterfall Hike
Sun was still shining as brightly as a few hours ago when we had arrived at Bryce Canyon National Park. The temperature, however, increased. Or at least it felt like it. After spending the whole morning and early afternoon at a higher elevation, the northern part of Bryce Canyon National Park – where the Mossy Cave Trail with the adjacent waterfall nestled – finally felt like spring was about to arrive.
We didn’t hesitate to straighten up (no more ducking our head into our shoulders) after the Bryce Canyon’s winter wonderland just a few miles away. Our scarves and extra layers of clothes also took break and stayed in the car until the evening.
While we still had to experience Utah’s snowy and cold winter in early April later that day when we drove to Panguitch, the hike along the Mossy Cave Trail and toward the nearby waterfall provided a temporary, but oh so welcoming warm contrast.
A Word about the Mossy Cave Trail and Waterfall Hike
Unlike the majority of the hikes in Bryce Canyon, the Mossy Cave Trail, including the side trail to the seasonal waterfall, starts at hoodoos’ foot level. Here, the famous pillars tower over the trail. No longer you look down to see the reddish-yellow formations. Instead you look up, from where the hoodoos look grander and even more imposing.
With that said, the Mossy Cave Trail as well as the hike to the waterfall give a much-needed break to by now tired hikers. No steep inclines like those you find along the Navajo and Queen’s Garden Loop Trail exist here. Some gradual ascents and descents are still present. But even with them both the Mossy Cave Trail and the waterfall hike feel easier to tread. Even kids and seniors attest to it.
The Mossy Cave Trail and the adjacent waterfall hike are hidden in the northern corner of Bryce Canyon National Park. The trailhead with a small parking lot sits right off UT-12. It’s so close (about 7 miles), yet so far away from the Bryce Canyon Entrance Point that it may feel like this hiking area doesn’t belong to the park. The pointed hoodoos, however, indicate on the opposite.
HOW TO HIKE ALONG THE MOSSY CAVE TRAIL AND TO THE SEASONAL WATERFALL NEARBY
Mossy Cave Trail
- Distance: 0.8-mile, round-trip trail
- Elevation gain: 300 feet
- Difficulty: Easy
- Time: 40 minutes
Hiking the Mossy Cave Trail
A rather broad, well-trodden path starts right at the far end of the parking lot and swirls into a thin forest. Although already prominent, the reddish hoodoos still look distant at this point. Hiking along the first section of the Mossy Cave Trail is a matter of walking up and down a series of small hills. Yet the change in elevation is manageable for almost every hiker.
The trail is wide and hard-packed enough to attempt at least a portion of the hike to the Mossy Cave area and later the waterfall with a stroller or in a wheelchair. During our trek to these secret spots in Bryce Canyon, however, I didn’t notice neither of them. Yet given a chance, I wouldn’t hesitate to put Dylan in a stroller.
The farther you hike, the closer the Mossy Cave Trail comes to the famous hoodoos, towering right over the path now. At first, they allure you from the opposite, right side of the Mossy Cave Trail. A sparkling river – if you hike to the Mossy Cave and the seasonal waterfall right after spring run-off or during monsoon season – separate the trail from the peculiar sandstone formations.
In winter and early spring, the river is dry. Without a trace of any water in it, the depression become another point of exploration for those who choose to pave their own Mossy Cave Trail in the middle of the sun-baked river.
Footbridge and the Trail Past It
About 0.2 mile into the hike, the Mossy Cave Trail and the path to the waterfall run across a footbridge. Closer to the hoodoos now, you can fully appreciate their magnificence. The path, however, doesn’t linger in the area for long. Soon it stumbles upon the second footbridge. Shorty after it, a trail junction forces the visitors to choose where they want to hike first.
The majority of the hikers whirl to the left and hike toward Mossy Cave. The trail that by this time becomes narrower sprints downhill, becoming one the easiest stretches of the entire hike. The Mossy Cave with the dripping water or massive icicles hanging from the ceiling awaits the hikers at the end of this short section of the trail.
The occurrence of the moss or hanging icicles inside the small cave depends on the season. When we hiked to the Mossy Cave at the beginning of April, the icy formations still claimed their rights on the peculiar depression in the cliff wall.
Keep in mind, though, that the cave is tiny. The trail stops right next to it. A small observation point with railings separates the hikers from this hidden gem in the northern part of Bryce Canyon.
TIP: Past the second footbridge, the strollers and wheelchairs should stay off the trail, though. Some tree roots and the uneven surface of the Mossy Cave Trail doesn’t inspire the leisurely hike from now on.
From the Mossy Cave Trail to the Waterfall Hike
- Distance: Roughly 0.2-mile from the Mossy Cave Trail junction
- Difficulty: Easy
- Time: 15 minutes
Hiking the Waterfall Trail
From Mossy Cave, hike back along the same trail until you reach the trail junction. The right forks takes you back to the parking lot. Skip it for now and continue on straight.
The waterfall trail takes you to Water Canyon. Although the path is not as popular as the Mossy Cave Trail, it’s visible enough to hike along it to your next destination – a roaring waterfall or a hardly visible trickle.
As it’s the case with the river, the waterfall is fueled by the melted snow and seasonal rains. We had to satisfy our quest for the Bryce Canyon’s waterfall with views of the subtle trickle. But the waterfall in the Mossy Cave Trail area can be a roaring attraction as a few articles I had come across while preparing our itinerary claim.
Once you’ve done with the sightseeing, return back to your car the same way you came.
The Best Time to Hike the Mossy Cave Trail and Waterfall Trail in Bryce Canyon
Mossy Cave is a beautiful sight whether it’s filled with the dripping from the ceiling water or the long icicles. The latter adorn the final section of the hike during the colder months, from October through early April.
The waterfall is at its humblest during this time, though. The roaring waterfall becomes the highlight of the Mossy Cave hike between May and October.
Things to Know before Hiking the Mossy Cave and Waterfall Trails
Admission Ticket is Required
The Mossy Cave Trail and the waterfall area sit off UT-12. Although no official ranger station marks the entrance to the northern corner of Bryce Canyon National Park, Mossy Cave and Water Canyon are a fee area. A day ticket is requires to explore the waterfall and hike along the Mossy Cave Trail.
No Pets on the Trail
Dogs are not allowed on the trails in national parks. The smaller and less popular waterfall area and the Mossy Cave Trail are not exceptions.
No Hiking Equipment is Needed
The waterfall area and the Mossy Cave Trail are easy to hike through. No special skills or equipment are needed. Yet if you need something to lean on, bring along a pair of hiking staffs.
Park only in the Parking Lot
No parking is allowed along UT-12. If the parking lot is full, leave the area and try to hike to both Mossy Cave and the waterfall latter in the afternoon or early in the morning. The area is normally busy during the day, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
The Mossy Cave Trail and the waterfall area welcome only day hikers. No camping is allowed in the northern section of Bryce Canyon.