Rainbow Bridge National Monument

One of the seven wonders of the world can be found in the canyon-lands of southeastern Utah. Rainbow Bridge is the world's largest natural bridge, standing 290 feet tall and spanning 275 feet; the top of the bridge is 42 feet thick and 33 feet wide. Rainbow Bridge is made of salmon-pink sandstone, with dark red and brown vertical streaks of iron ore. These particles, called "desert varnish," may have leached from the rocks, or they may have been carried by the wind as dust that stuck to the moister areas of the rock. Subtle shades of purple and orange are brought out by the afternoon sunlight, turning the bridge into a rainbow of stone.

Rainbow Bridge National Monument
©National Park Service
Nearly as long as a football field, Rainbow Bridge may be reached by boat,
foot or horseback.

For many Native Americans, Rainbow Bridge is a sacred place. The Navajo believe rainbows represent the guardians of the universe. The base of Rainbow Bridge was built by nature hundreds of millions of years ago, as layers of reddish-brown sands and muds, called Kayenta Sandstone, were deposited and compacted. The span of the bridge, composed of Navajo Sandstone, was formed as wave after wave of sand was deposited, forming dunes up to 1,000 feet high. Over the next 100 million years, the base and the dunes were buried under more than 5,000 feet of rock layers. The heat and immense pressure further compacted and hardened the rock of these formations.

Around 60 million years ago, the area now known as the Colorado Plateau began to uplift. Streams cut into and eroded the layers of rock as they lifted above sea level. As these massive layers rose and tilted, streams gained more momentum and force. Water flowing off Navajo Mountain formed Bridge Creek. As the creek meandered toward the Colorado River, it slowly eroded the sandstone, creating thin rock walls as it nearly looped back on itself. Rushing water during floods pounded away at the walls until the loosely cemented Navajo sandstone gave way, creating a hole. Over the centuries, as the creek flowed through the hole, it continued to work away at the sandstone until Rainbow Bridge was formed.

Most people travel by boat from Lake Powell to the rather remote Rainbow Bridge National Monument, though it is possible to hike a grueling 13 miles to reach the monument. Hikers must get a permit from the Navajo Nation and should carry the topographical "Navajo Mountain Quadrangle Map," available from the Park Service. Hiking either to and from or just around the 160-acre monument allows visitors to experience some of the spectacular scenery of the Colorado Plateau. Steep rock walls form a labyrinth of canyons -- some dry, some alive with cottonwood, ash, western redbud, serviceberry, and other plants.

Rainbow Bridge National Monument Information

Address: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Lake Powell, AZ/UT
Telephone: 928/608-6200
Hours of Operation: The monument is open year-round. The visitor center at
Glen Canyon is open, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Labor Day to Memorial Day and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. the rest of the year
Admission: Free; permit required to hike trails

Learn about these other national monuments:

­Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

Colorado National Monument

George Washington Birthplace National Monument

Natural Bridges National Monument

Scotts Bluff National Monument

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument

Devils Postpile National Monument

George Washington Carver National Monument

Ocmulgee National Monument

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve

Dinosaur National Monument

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Oregon Caves National Monument

Timpanogos Cave National Monument

Booker T. Washington National Monument

Effigy Mounds National Monument

Grand Portage National Monument

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Tonto National Monument

Buck Island Reef National Monument

El Malpais National Monument

Hohokam Pima National Monument

Petroglyph National Monument

Tuzigoot National Monument

Cape Krusenstern National Monument

El Morro National Monument

Homestead National Monument

Pinnacles National Monument

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Capulin Volcano National Monument

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

Hovenweep National Monument

Pipe Spring National Monument

Wupatki National Monument

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Fort Frederica National Monument

Jewel Cave National Monument

Pipestone National Monument

Castle Clinton National Monument

Fort Matanzas National Monument

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Poverty Point National Monument

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Fort Stanwix National Monument

Lava Beds National Monument

Rainbow Bridge National Monument

Chiricahua National Monument

Fossil Butte National Monument

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Russell Cave National Monument

To learn more about national monuments, memorials, and historic sites, and other travel destinations in North America, visit:


Eric Peterson is a Denver-based author who has contributed to numerous guidebooks about the Western United States.