Even with today's ultra light backpacks, tents and sleeping bags, freeze dried food, and sturdy footwear the 13-mile backcountry trail to Rainbow Bridge
is an arduous trek. I pity early commercial trips down the canyon, with their dusty mules and shoddy shoes. Yet surely the W.B. Douglas and Byron Cummings Party on their historic 1909 trip was also dazzled by the beautiful red and orange canyons, the sheer cliff walls and the green streambed. Guided by trader/archaeologist John Wetherill, Ute Jim Mike and Paiute Nasja Begay, the party struggled up and down the rugged fringe of Navajo Mountain before making the first publicized sighting of Rainbow Bridge.
This hike can be done as an overnighter, but only by experienced hikers. A beginner will want three or four days to cover the broken terrain. The trail wanders through a number of small canyons, and follows a long, uphill contour to the top of Sunrise Pass for the first four miles. The next mile and a half dive abruptly down an ancient talus slope into Cliff Canyon. The drop is steep enough to turn even the best knees into jelly as you go down. The rest of the hike through Cliff, Redbud, and Bridge canyons is docile except for one steep rise up Redbud Pass.
The Rainbow Bridge Trail is still as hard as it was in 1909, and relatively few people take the trail anymore. Today, most people travel to the bridge by boat on Lake Powell. But if you're willing to strain your legs to see some of Utah's most spectacular canyon country on the way to the crown jewel of Lake Powell, here's a guide from UtahWild.