Moonlight Bridge is the tallest natural bridge in Death Valley and is located within a pretty side canyon of Moonlight Canyon. Difficulties encountered on the hike include route finding to reach the natural bridge and carrying out a challenging bypass in order to see an alternate view of the natural bridge from the ridge above. A Google Earth map of the hiking route can be found by clicking on the button above. Parking for the hike is located at the same spot where a hike into Lower Moonlight Canyon begins. GPS coordinates for the mouth of Moonlight Bridge Canyon are 36° 54.701'N, 117° 14.109'W. GPS coordinates for Moonlight Bridge are 36° 54.739'N, 117° 13.391'W.
The discovery of Moonlight Bridge has been major news in Death Valley in 2013. It is the 12th major natural bridge which has been discovered in the park. (For more information on all of the known natural bridges in the park, be sure and check out my special page on Death Valley's Natural Bridges.) Moonlight Bridge has the distinction of being the tallest natural bridge in the park. Estimates place Moonlight Bridge at being about 60 feet tall. As the name suggests, Moonlight Bridge is found in the vicinity of Moonlight Canyon. The good news for hikers is that it is relatively easy to access, requiring only about 1/2 day to visit the bottom of the bridge and spend some time taking photographs. However, since it is not in the main canyon but in one of several side canyons in the area, good map reading and navigational skills are required to get to the bridge. This is also not a recommended solo hike due to the presence of mountain lions in the area. A few days after I visited Moonlight Bridge on my own hike, it was reported to the park service that there was a dead Bighorn sheep near Moonlight Springs, which had been killed by a mountain lion. Mountain lion tracks were found nearby. Because of mountain lion concerns within the park, I have always carried a large bottle of bear repellant pepper spray with me on all of my hikes. But bear spray would only be useful against a mountain lion if you had enough time to take it out and spray it, and if there was no wind disrupting the force of the spray. On my hike, it was very windy and the bear repellant would have been useless and actually a hazard to attempt to use. For my hike to Moonlight Bridge, I started out at about 5:50am at the parking area for Lower Moonlight Canyon. Because my group needed to check out of our Furnace Creek hotel at 12:00 noon, I had limited time for this hike. Thus, I would have to make no mistakes but hike straight to the bridge, all the while monitoring the time guidelines that I had set. My plan was to turn around by 9:00am and begin the hike back, which would leave me a little over 3 hours to reach the bridge. If you are familiar with the Moonlight Canyon wash, then you know that it does not make for easy hiking, especially the first portion leading to the formed hillsides. But I ended up making good time, passing by Moonlight Springs about an hour after beginning my hike. I then counted the side canyons that I would pass on the right, having figured out that I needed to take the 4th side canyon on the right to reach Moonlight Bridge. It was a long hike up the wash and progress slowed quite a bit. Finally, I reached the junction and began hiking up the narrow 4th side canyon which is now known as Moonlight Bridge Canyon. This canyon is very steep. About 40 minutes later or so, I turned a corner and arrived at the bottom of Moonlight Bridge. It was extremely impressive to look up at it and see how the natural bridge connected the two sides of the canyon high in the air. From below Moonlight Bridge, it almost appears as if the bridge is very thin. But once I walked under it, I could see the thickness of the conglomerate rock. This bridge is going to be stable and here for a long time to come. From below the bridge, there are no safe (or even risky) bypasses to get to the other side of the bridge. Access in the canyon is blocked by an unclimbable dry fall. Thus, I headed back down the canyon until I found a safe way to attain the ridge on the left side. I ended up hiking along the ridge and around the hillside behind the bridge until I could see it from a long distance away. Reaching this viewpoint is somewhat difficult. But that's when things get even more tricky. In order to get into the upper canyon and stand on the opposite side of the bridge, a very challenging scramble down is necessary. This is not for all hikers. I did make it down after cliffing out on several routes. There really is only one specific route that goes through. And actually, once you get back into the canyon, you have to climb down a dry fall which some people might not be comfortable climbing back up. Basically, what I'm saying is that it is probably better to stick to the ridge view if you are determined to see Moonlight Bridge from another angle. Overall, it was a great hike and it was a privilege to be the 2nd person (or group) to reach Moonlight Bridge.
The surprising discovery of Moonlight Bridge is actually what brought me back to Death Valley in April of 2013. While I did have another DV trip planned during that time, I had pretty much decided to call it off until the Fall or Spring of 2014. But when Moonlight Bridge was discovered, I realized that I didn't want to wait a whole year to see it, so the trip went ahead as planned. Moonlight Bridge was discovered by Kauri, a girl who has had some incredible accomplishments in Death Valley. Kauri had previously discovered Rock Nettle Canyon, opened up hiking into Lower Foundry Canyon, pioneered the first part of the bypass to reach Tucki Bridge, and been one of the first to report on the major obstacle in Rockfall Canyon, just to mention a few things she has done. Those of you who are familiar with her reports are surely appreciative of all of the new areas that she has opened up for fellow hikers. The interesting thing about Kauri is that she was hoping to discover her own natural bridge someday. And she never gave up hope but just kept on exploring until she did it. That's amazing and really shows that if you explore undocumented areas in Death Valley, you never know what you might find, because there is a lot left to discover out there. And since the park service approved releasing a map to the location of Moonlight Bridge, hikers for years to come will benefit from Kauri's latest discovery. I don't think a hike up Moonlight Canyon will ever be the same again. As a side note, Kauri and I ended up co-discovering another major natural bridge a mere 7 months after she found Moonlight Bridge. We named our discovery Sunlight Bridge. My hike to Moonlight Bridge took place on April 18, 2013.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination. To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below. The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing. The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers). This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets. The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit. Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination. The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.
TRIP REPORT FORMAT