Mossy Cave trail is one of the lowest elevation hikes in the park as well as one of the only hikes that begins with a climb and ends with a descent (most day hikes in the park begin with a descent and end with a climb). It is also the northernmost hike in the park, located just off of SR 12 as it winds its way through the park boundary. The trail is 0.4 miles (0.6 km) in length one-way, and forks to provide access to Water Canyon in one direction and to view a sheltered overhang known as Mossy Cave in the other. This area is filled with mosses in the summer and icicles in the winter. Due to the presence of an irrigation ditch dug by local pioneers in the early 1890s, water flows seasonally through Water Canyon on its way from the Tropic Reservoir east of the park to communities in the Paria Valley.
Visitation Impacts at Mossy Cave
Mossy Cave has become an increasingly popular area in Bryce Canyon due to several factors including overall increased visitation at the park and a surge in social media postings about the trail. As a result, visitation has significantly increased over the past two years. Since last June, visitation increased by 20% with 6,000 more visitors visiting this small area in one month than in 2019. The increased number of visitors on the trail itself has led to vegetation trampling, litter and other impacts caused by crowded conditions.
At first, this canyon known as Water Canyon, might look like any ordinary Bryce Canyon kind of canyon. 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.
The presence of water alone is what makes Water Canyon unique. Although you might not see them (animals tend to avoid busy trails - especially in daylight hours), a wide diversity of animals come here regularly to quench their thirst. The supply of water is still recent enough that nature hasn't quite caught up yet. Eventually more riparian trees like willows and cottonwoods will probably grow here. In the meantime you'll be surprised to see some plants that you might expect to find along a brook in a mountain meadow, such as Mountain Death Camas and Watson Bog Orchid.
As you hike up the Mossy Cave Trail, notice how the higher elevations of this "canyon" have the lumpy, broken, and random texture typical of Bryce Canyon and its hoodoos. You will also see how the lower section is without hoodoos, and has smooth angled sides looking like a 'V' in cross-section. Because of this little water course, it is unlikely that any more hoodoos will form here. The existing hoodoos will eventually crumble and Water Canyon will have completed the metamorphosis, becoming a "real canyon."
Last updated: July 23, 2020