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"At first, this canyon known as Water Canyon, looks like any ordinary Bryce Canyon     
kind of canyon. But it's not. From 1890-1892 Mormon pioneers labored with
picks and shovels to carve an irrigation ditch from the East Fork of the
Sevier River, through the Paunsaugunt Plateau, into this canyon."
~ from the Bryce Canyon National Park website

This irrigation canal is known as the Tropic Ditch and it has supplied water to the downstream towns of Tropic and Cannonville ever since being built.

Several miles of the ditch flow through Water Canyon in the northern part of the national park. It's the only stream I've seen in the park with water flowing through it this fall (or during two subsequent visits in 2016). The ditch dried up in a major drought in 2002 but that's apparently the only time in over a century.

Water Canyon's "ditch" just above the waterfall on the Mossy Cave Trail has a lot of silt in it.

The Mossy Cave Trail follows the irrigation canal -- which looks like any normal creek through Water Canyon -- from the trailhead to a pretty waterfall and beyond. Visitors can take a fork in the trail to the "cave," with is essentially an overhanging rock with dripping water and lots of moss inside.

I was more impressed with the little waterfall and colorful sculpted rock walls, hoodoos, and windows along the trail than I was with the cave but since everything is visible on this short trail and spur, go explore both trails at the fork when you're there.


Many visitors probably miss this trail because it is located outside the main area of the national park on US 12 about three miles east of Bryce Canyon Road:

On the other hand, since it's outside the entry gate you don't have to pay to get in -- good for anyone without a park pass.

There's actually the potential for more visitors than those just inside the main area of the park because the parking area for Mossy Cave is on a busy National Scenic Byway that connects many visitors to all the natural wonders of southern Utah's canyon country.

The views along US 12 between Bryce Canyon Road and Mossy Cave are very scenic. I liked the rock walls visible from the highway as much as those at Mossy Cave; they are on park property, too.


Note that the parking area at Mossy Cave is relatively small. It will hold about 20 passenger vehicles or small RVs. People driving larger RVs have to get there at just the right time to find room to park. People don't spend a lot of time here, though, since the trail is rather short.

The trail is listed as "easy" because it is only about half a mile long (one way) to the waterfall and cave, with just a 200-foot elevation gain.

The main trail is rather wide above the creek to the first bridge, then along the water on the other side to a second bridge crossing the creek. The trail switchbacks up a little hill to a fork in the trail. The path to the right goes to the top of the waterfall and the one on the left climbs up farther to Mossy Cave, as shown in this diagram from a sign at the trailhead:.


These photos are from the one hike I did at Mossy Cave in late September. Let's start at the trailhead and hike back to the waterfall first . . .








Above and below:  first views of waterfall



Water has carved a trench through the dense dolomite bedrock (limestone fortified with magnesium)
above the waterfall. Dolomite is also the rock forming the capstones on Bryce's hoodoos.

Above and below:  looking back at the second bridge


Windows in the rocks above the waterfall and creek; that's a renegade path.

Another narrow renegade path climbs the hill above the waterfall; I didn't go any farther.


Back at the fork in the trail another path goes uphill a few hundred feet to Mossy Cave, an overhanging rock with some dripping water and moss underneath. This is the description on one of the interpretive panels at the site:

"This grotto forms as an underground spring permeates the bedrock and 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 form 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"

When I visited the cave in late September there wasn't a lot of moss left and only a little dripping water since there hadn't been much rain recently.

The next photo is a weird close-up of the bedrock at top and some of the moss below it:

I took the next two photos on the narrow cave path going back to the main trail:


This trail packs some interesting features into a relatively short distance and is easier to hike than most other trails in Bryce Canyon National Park. If you have your own vehicle I highly recommend taking the time to drive around the north end of the park to see it.

If you can't climb the little hill below the fork in the trail you can see the waterfall and some of the rock formations from the second bridge.

And if you're super short on time you can still see some beautiful rock walls and hoodoos from the parking area and within a couple hundred feet of the trailhead, as well as along US 12 on the ride to Mossy Cave.

Next entry: day trip through colorful Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

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2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil