"Mossy Cave Falls"

Bryce Canyon National Park / near Tropic / Garfield County, Utah, USA

Rating: 1     Difficulty: 1.5
Mossy Cave Waterfall with lots of hoodoos including the Scooby Doo formation on the topright

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

"Mossy Cave Falls" is an unofficial name I associated with this tiny 15ft waterfall near the Mossy Cave attraction. The "cave" was really more of an alcove in the presence of hoodoos in the far northeastern corner of Bryce Canyon National Park near Tropic. The waterfall itself was kind of an incidental attraction to the "cave" though I'd argue that the waterfall was the bigger draw provided that it was flowing.

What was unusual (and memorable) about this waterfall was its presence amongst hoodoos, which were spire-like pinnacles resulting from a particular way cliffs of the Paunsaugunt Plateau interacted with erosional forces - namely ice or snow and wind acting on the limestone and sandstone of the Claron Formation. Really, this waterfall provided an excuse for me to showcase the cool scenery to be had within the boundaries of Bryce Canyon National Park as well as some of the surrounding scenery outside of the park.

Now with all that said about the unusual juxtaposition of hoodoos and a waterfall, it turned out that the Mossy Cave Falls was not natural. That was because the watercourse on which the falls resided on was part of the so-called Tropic Ditch. The ditch channeled snowmelt or monsoonal rains to the nearby towns of Tropic and Canonville. The water diversion was done by Mormon pioneers in 1892, and since then, it has been said that ditch has provided water pretty reliably except for the worst drought years.

That said, in our experiences, we saw the ditch flow well in September 2006 and April 2018. However, it did not have much water (at least from a waterfall viewing standpoint) in April 2003 and June 2001. My explanation for this was that the flow was highly dependent on how much snow or ice or monsoonal thundershowers accumulated in the drainage of the Tropic Ditch. Combining this runoff with the timing of a visit would be the key variables to consider when desiring to see this waterfall perform. Apparently, we had about a 50% success rate based on our sampling of visits.

Accessing this waterfall from Highway 12 was pretty straightforward. After finding the small trailhead parking lot by the highway (see directions below), we briefly hiked uphill alongside the watercourse before crossing over a bridge traversing the Tropic Ditch itself. If there's water flowing under the bridge, then there will be a waterfall. Beyond the bridge, we went up a few switchbacks to a trail junction. The left fork went up to the Mossy Cave while the right fork continued along the rim of the ditch towards the waterfall.

Opposite the Tropic Ditch, there were some interesting (and strange) formations in the hoodoos. In three out of our first four visits, we noticed a series of small natural arches that were arranged in such a way that they reminded me of the animated cartoon dog "Scooby Doo". Unfortunately on our latest visit in April 2018, it appeared that a good deal of the formation fell apart (especially Scooby's nose, mouth, and head) so now they appear to be nothing more than just some random mini arches. I guess that's the reality of natural formations as things constantly change over time.

Further upstream of the Mossy Cave Falls, there were more mini-cascades. That was about as far as we ventured. We also noticed a false trail leading right up to the arches of the Scooby Doo Formation (or what's left of it) though I never recalled there being such a trail going up there before. Now, there's a sign prohibiting off-trail scrambling though that didn't stop some tourists from ignoring the signs anyways and going up there.

Back at the Mossy Cave, its short spur trail would dead-end right at the alcove itself. In the colder Spring months, we noticed icicles within the alcove as there appeared to be springs dripping in from the top. We used to be able to walk within the alcove, but in our latest visit in April 2018, a fence was erected to keep people out of the Mossy Cave due to the obvious erosion that was evident.

After checking out both the cave and the falls, we returned to the car. According to my GPS logs, we had hiked about a mile total, but if we didn't count the brief interlude further upstream from the Mossy Cave Falls, then we probably hiked roughly 0.8 miles or so, which would corroborate the trailhead signage.




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PHOTO JOURNAL

It's definitely worth a visit to the main area of Bryce Canyon, which is minutes from Mossy Cave by car.  This is a lookout towards the Silent City from Inspiration PointIt's definitely worth a visit to the main area of Bryce Canyon, which is minutes from Mossy Cave by car. This is a lookout towards the Silent City from Inspiration Point
Impressive arch formation (actually mislabeled a Impressive arch formation (actually mislabeled a "natural bridge") seen by the road in the southern portion of the main part of Bryce Canyon
Just east of Tropic at the town of Canonville, a short road leads to Kodachrome Basin State Park where there are spires and arches like this one here called Shakespeare Arch.Just east of Tropic at the town of Canonville, a short road leads to Kodachrome Basin State Park where there are spires and arches like this one here called Shakespeare Arch.
A somewhat short (but bumpy) drive south of Kodachrome Basin State Park on the dirt road known as Cottonwood Canyon Road (also Road 400) is the impressive Grosvenor ArchA somewhat short (but bumpy) drive south of Kodachrome Basin State Park on the dirt road known as Cottonwood Canyon Road (also Road 400) is the impressive Grosvenor Arch
The trailhead parking for the Mossy Cave right besides the UT12 between Bryce and TropicThe trailhead parking for the Mossy Cave right besides the UT12 between Bryce and Tropic

The group on the trail towards the Mossy CaveThe group on the trail towards the Mossy Cave

Looking downstream from the bridge over the Tropic Ditch towards some hoodoos. Note the amount of water in the ditch. The waterfall was actually flowing pretty well on this day in April 2018Looking downstream from the bridge over the Tropic Ditch towards some hoodoos. Note the amount of water in the ditch. The waterfall was actually flowing pretty well on this day in April 2018

Looking along a low-flowing Tropic Ditch towards hoodoo formations in April 2003 from the bridge near the start of the trail. The waterfall was barely flowing under this conditionLooking along a low-flowing Tropic Ditch towards hoodoo formations in April 2003 from the bridge near the start of the trail. The waterfall was barely flowing under this condition

After the bridge, we hiked a short distance before crossing another bridge then needing to climb up these brief switchbacks. At this fork, the trail behind me was for the waterfall, but the trail ascending straight ahead was for the Mossy CaveAfter the bridge, we hiked a short distance before crossing another bridge then needing to climb up these brief switchbacks. At this fork, the trail behind me was for the waterfall, but the trail ascending straight ahead was for the Mossy Cave

Looking back towards the second bridge and Tropic Ditch from the spur path to the Mossy CaveLooking back towards the second bridge and Tropic Ditch from the spur path to the Mossy Cave

The group approaching the Mossy CaveThe group approaching the Mossy Cave

As of our April 2018 visit, they fenced off the Mossy Cave to prevent any further erosion underfootAs of our April 2018 visit, they fenced off the Mossy Cave to prevent any further erosion underfoot

Now on the trail approaching the Mossy Cave WaterfallNow on the trail approaching the Mossy Cave Waterfall

This was the Mossy Cave Falls scene as of our latest visit in April 2018. Notice the missing Scooby-Doo Formation on the topright of this pictureThis was the Mossy Cave Falls scene as of our latest visit in April 2018. Notice the missing Scooby-Doo Formation on the topright of this picture

The dry Mossy Cave Waterfall before hoodoos in April 2003The dry waterfall before hoodoos in April 2003

The Mossy Cave Waterfall before hoodoos seen in September 2006The waterfall before hoodoos seen in September 2006

Side view of the Mossy Cave FallsSide view of the Mossy Cave Falls

Going upstream alongside the Tropic Ditch towards some mini cascades and some residual ice and snowGoing upstream along the Tropic Ditch towards some mini cascades and some residual ice and snow

The kids enjoying themselves by this mini cascade just downstream of some melting snow and iceThe kids enjoying themselves by this mini cascade just downstream of some melting snow and ice

Heading back towards the top of Mossy Cave Falls. Notice the absence of Scooby Doo along the top of the cliffsHeading back towards the top of the waterfall. Notice the absence of Scooby Doo along the top of the cliffs

Approaching the first footbridge over the Tropic Ditch as we were headed back to the trailheadApproaching the first footbridge over the Tropic Ditch as we were headed back to the trailhead


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS


Right to left sweep following the Tropic Ditch Stream towards the former Scooby-Doo formation and the Mossy Cave Waterfall


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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

The small trailhead parking for the Mossy Cave is about 3.6 miles east on Hwy 12 from the Hwy 63 turnoff for Bryce Canyon National Park's main area and Bryce City (roughly 1.2 miles south of the UT63 and UT12 junction). We had to keep our eyes peeled for that parking lot on the right side of the road as we were descending towards Tropic.

Coming from Tropic, the trailhead parking was about 3.6 miles north of the town along the UT12 on the left side.

For some additional context, Bryce City was about 47 miles (under an hour drive) west of Escalante, 83 miles (under 2 hours drive) northeast of Springdale, 149 miles (2.5 hours drive) northwest of Page, Arizona, 258 miles (4 hours drive) northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada, and 267 miles (over 4 hours drive) south of Salt Lake City.




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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MAP OF THE FALLS



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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES




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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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