“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.
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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