"Mossy Cave Falls"

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, USA

About “Mossy Cave Falls”


Hiking Distance: 0.6 miles round trip (both waterfall and "cave")
Suggested Time: 30-45 minutes

Date first visited: 2001-06-18
Date last visited: 2018-04-03

Waterfall Latitude: 37.66525
Waterfall Longitude: -112.11434

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“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.

Mossy_Cave_18_060_04032018 - Mossy Cave Waterfall and hoodoos
Mossy Cave Waterfall and hoodoos

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 the “Mossy Cave Falls” was its presence amongst hoodoos.

Hoodoos were spire-like pinnacles resulting from a particular way the cliffs of the Paunsaugunt Plateau interacted with erosional forces.

In particular, the manner in which the erosional forces of ice or snow as well as wind acted upon the limestone and sandstone of the Claron Formation yielded the hoodoos over time.

Bryce_Canyon_Inspiration_Pt_047_04032018 - The Mossy Cave Waterfall sat outside the main part of Bryce Canyon where there were many more hoodoos, but they shared the same reserve
The Mossy Cave Waterfall sat outside the main part of Bryce Canyon where there were many more hoodoos, but they shared the same reserve

That said, this waterfall really provided an excuse for me to showcase the cool scenery to be had within the boundaries of Bryce Canyon National Park and its surroundings.

Artificial Waterfall?

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 upon which the falls resided was part of the so-called Tropic Ditch.

The ditch channeled snowmelt or monsoonal rains to the nearby towns of Tropic and Canonville.

Mossy_Cave_013_04112003 - Looking at the Mossy Cave Waterfall when it wasn't doing so well during our visit in April 2003
Looking at the Mossy Cave Waterfall when it wasn’t doing so well during our visit in April 2003

The water diversion was done by Mormon pioneers in 1892.

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.

Mossy_Cave_18_014_04032018 - Looking downstream from the bridge over the Tropic Ditch. If you see water in the stream here, there's a good chance that the Mossy Cave Waterfall will be flowing
Looking downstream from the bridge over the Tropic Ditch. If you see water in the stream here, there’s a good chance that the Mossy Cave Waterfall will be flowing

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 so far.

Accessing Mossy Cave and the Waterfall

Accessing the “Mossy Cave Waterfall” from Highway 12 was pretty straightforward.

Mossy_Cave_18_028_04032018 - Looking back at the context of one of the bridges and the trail leading to both the Mossy Cave and the Mossy Cave Waterfall
Looking back at the context of one of the bridges and the trail leading to both the Mossy Cave and the Mossy Cave Waterfall

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 this waterfall will likely be flowing.

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.

Mossy_Cave_010_04112003 - On each of our first three visits to Mossy Cave (up through 2006), we managed to see the enigmatic Scooby-Doo Formation, but it was gone on our April 2018 visit
On each of our first three visits to Mossy Cave (up through 2006), we managed to see the enigmatic Scooby-Doo Formation, but it was gone on our April 2018 visit

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 appeared to be nothing more than just some random mini arches.

Mossy_Cave_18_094_04032018 - Looking back towards a false trail leading up to the former location of the 'Scooby-Doo Formation' at the Mossy Cave Trail
Looking back towards a false trail leading up to the former location of the ‘Scooby-Doo Formation’ at the Mossy Cave Trail

I guess this fleeting aspect of such formations was the reality of natural formations like this.

Nature constantly changes things over time.

Further upstream of the Mossy Cave Falls, we encountered more mini-cascades.

That was about as far as we ventured.

Mossy_Cave_006_09152006 - Mossy Cave Waterfall and hoodoos as seen during our September 2006 visit
Mossy Cave Waterfall and hoodoos as seen during our September 2006 visit

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.

Mossy_Cave_025_04112003 - When we first checked out the Mossy Cave in April 2003, we happened to see icicles within it
When we first checked out the Mossy Cave in April 2003, we happened to see icicles within it

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.

However, 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.

Authorities

The Mossy Cave Falls resided in Bryce Canyon National Park near Tropic in Garfield County, Utah. It is administered by the National Park Service. For information or inquiries about the park as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Mossy_Cave_18_004_04032018 - Looking towards a toilet facility nearby the parking area at the Mossy Cave Trailhead as seen in April 2018
Mossy_Cave_18_009_04032018 - The group on the Mossy Cave Trail heading towards the Mossy Cave in April 2018
Mossy_Cave_18_027_04032018 - After the bridges over the Tropic Ditch, we hiked a short distance before climbing up these brief switchbacks. At this fork, the trail behind me was for the Mossy Cave waterfall, but the trail ascending straight ahead was for the Mossy Cave
Mossy_Cave_18_029_04032018 - The group approaching the Mossy Cave during our April 2018 visit
Mossy_Cave_18_036_04032018 - Looking into the Mossy Cave formation, which actually still had an icicle within its shady confines as seen in April 2018
Mossy_Cave_18_039_04032018 - As of our April 2018 visit, they fenced off the Mossy Cave to prevent any further erosion underfoot
Mossy_Cave_18_044_04032018 - One thing that was conspicuously missing from our April 2018 visit was the Scooby-Doo formation.  It wasn't until later when I realized that it had eroded away
Mossy_Cave_18_045_04032018 - Now on the trail approaching the Mossy Cave Waterfall after having had our fill of the Mossy Cave on our April 2018 visit
Mossy_Cave_18_053_04032018 - Looking towards the flowing Mossy Cave Waterfall as seen in April 2018
Mossy_Cave_18_066_04032018 - Looking towards the Mossy Cave Waterfall with someone standing near its top for a sense of scale during our April 2018 visit
Mossy_Cave_18_069_04032018 - Broad contextual look at 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
Mossy_Cave_18_073_04032018 - Looking down across the Mossy Cave Waterfall during our April 2018 visit
Mossy_Cave_18_080_04032018 - Side view of the Mossy Cave Falls with some mini arches way on the topright of this photo as seen in April 2018
Mossy_Cave_18_093_04032018 - Going upstream from the Mossy Cave Waterfall alongside the Tropic Ditch towards some mini cascades and some residual ice and snow during our April 2018 hike
Mossy_Cave_18_096_04032018 - The kids enjoying themselves by this mini cascade just downstream of some melting snow and ice and further upstream from the Mossy Cave Waterfall as seen during our April 2018 hike
Mossy_Cave_18_094_04032018 - Heading back towards the top of Mossy Cave Falls. Notice the absence of Scooby Doo along the top of the cliffs
Mossy_Cave_18_110_04032018 - Another look at the Mossy Cave Waterfall as we were starting to head back to the trailhead to end our April 2018 visit
Mossy_Cave_18_123_04032018 - Yet another look back at the Mossy Cave Waterfall backed by a hoodoo during towards the end of our April 2018 visit
Mossy_Cave_18_132_04032018 - The crew approaching the first footbridge over the Tropic Ditch as we were headed back to the Mossy Cave Trailhead to end our April 2018 visit
Mossy_Cave_003_09152006 - The Mossy Cave Waterfall before hoodoos seen in September 2006
Mossy_Cave_005_09152006 - Focused look at the Mossy Cave Waterfall looking muddy in September 2006
Mossy_Cave_019_09152006 - The Mossy Cave Waterfall seen between foliage in September 2006 just as the sun momentarily broke through and really lit up the scene
Mossy_Cave_002_04112003 - On our April 2003 visit to the Mossy Cave, we noticed what appeared to be a hidden natural arch in the hoodoos seen near the trailhead
Mossy_Cave_003_04112003 - Looking up at what we thought was the Scooby-Doo Formation as seen during our April 2003 visit to Mossy Cave
Mossy_Cave_016_04112003 - Another focused look at the Scooby-Doo Formation as seen in April 2003
Mossy_Cave_017_04112003 - Approaching the Mossy Cave Formation back when they used to let you go into its alcove on our April 2003 visit
Mossy_Cave_022_04112003 - Inside the shady confines of the Mossy Cave during our April 2003 visit
Mossy_Cave_031_04112003 - 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 condition

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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.

Mossy_Cave_18_002_04032018 - The parking area for the Mossy Cave Trail
The parking area for the Mossy Cave Trail

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.

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

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Tagged with: bryce canyon, utah, garfield, waterfall, tropic



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