Bryce Canyon National Park in southwestern Utah is famous for its unique (and colorful) geological formations which create the mysterious landscape. Bryce Canyon is found in an unsuspecting location. Far removed from main roads, it takes a bit of driving to get there but is well worth the effort. You wouldn’t know it was there until you park your car, walk to the edge of the rim and peer down.
Only then can you witness the wild views laid out before you. Brace yourself, your jaw may drop. It is far more magnificent in person than in photos (I still included a million in this post, despite that). A snowcapped plateau frames the backdrop off in the distance. But before you lies an otherworldly land of glowing pink, orange and red stone structures. Peaceful and daunting; holding time, history and legend within.
This is a place that I’ve been wanting to visit for years. I’ve been to nearby Zion National Park several times, but until this past November, I had never made the 1.5 hour journey from Zion to check out Bryce. Bryce Canyon doesn’t get the publicity like its nearby counterparts (counterparks?) ie. Zion or the Grand Canyon. Regardless, it still has a large volume (about 1.5 million/year) of visitors who come to take in the hoodoo-filled landscapes. The most popular section of the park is the Bryce Amphitheater area, but the park extends to farther reaches and offers more terrain to explore and discover.
What is a Hoodoo? Hoodoos are a great example of Mother Nature’s artistic hand at work. They are created when rainwater seeps into the cracks of the plateau rock and freezes (remember, Bryce gets really cold). As the ice expands in these cracks, it breaks apart the rock. This is called frost wedging. Rain and runoff are another weathering force which participate in hoodoo formation; eroding and washing away sediment and creating fins from the rim walls. Fins are worn into windows which eventually erode away and become the column-like hoodoos.
Most visitors will drive to the rim, snap a couple of photos and take in the view. Others will hike down into the mystical land of spires and hoodoos and be treated with an altogether different experience. I had scheduled a one day visit to Bryce and wanted to take in as much of the popular trails and sights as possible. I did this by combining three separate trail loops to create one larger loop. The three trails in and of themselves are worth doing if you a short on time. BUT, if you are looking for a longer trek requiring a bit of effort, then this is for you.
H@H Tip: When visiting Bryce Canyon, check the forcast and don’t expect the hot, desert-like climate you would find in Zion. Because of its higher elevation (8000-9000ft), Bryce is significantly cooler than nearby parks. Summer can be about 80 degrees but cold temps and snow can be expected into April and late fall. When I visited in November, the day time highs were in the upper twenties (F).
Where: Bryce Amphitheater Area, Bryce Canyon National Park,
What: Figure 8 Loop combines Queen’s Garden Trail, Peek-A-Boo Trail and Navajo Trail.
Distance: approx 6.4 miles
Awesomeness Factors: Hoodoos, incredible views, unique rock formations (windows, rock bridges and Thor’s hammer), various canyon vegetation.
Caution: Dehydration and thunder and lightning storms are common risks (especially in summer). Foul/cold weather and icy patches are common risks in the fall, spring and winter. Dress and pack appropriately. Trails can be steep and/or narrow in places. Good hiking footwear is a must.
I’ve been told that sunrise and sunset over the Bryce Amphitheater area is breathtaking (why else would they have a sunrise and sunset point?). I didn’t participate in this magic simply because: I didn’t feel like freezing my face off. Being that I visited in November, the early morning and evening temps were in the teens. I waited until mid-morning to hit the trails when the temps rose into the 20’s. Snow blanketed the rim and the shadowed slopes, creating a photographic masterpiece of contrast and colors. My hike began at the Queen’s Garden trailhead near Sunrise Point. The views descending into the Queen’s Garden were my favorite of the entire hike. From the trail, you stand above the hoodoos, looking down at them as you make the decent to the floor of the amphitheater.
As you descend, the hoodoos grow taller and taller around you, until you are encapsulated by towering rock. Pass through doorways carved into the rock along the trail. Vegetation greets you at the floor and the landscape takes on a different scene vs the rim.
After a 1.7 mile decent, you will reach a 3 way junction with the Peekaboo loop and Navajo loop. Take the 0.3 mile connector across a river bed to the Peekaboo loop.
Peekaboo loop was the most strenuous section of the day, with lots of ups and downs. The trail ascends to the rim and back down, along several series of switchbacks. The pay off for the workout is the incredible views you are granted from the higher reaches of the rim.
You have an option about halfway through the Peekaboo loop to take a side trail to Bryce Point. From the point, there are more great views and another perspective of the amphitheater (but this adds about 2.3 miles to the trek-return). Back on Peekaboo loop, the Wall of Windows is the most dramatic scene, like a castle wall looming overhead. The Peekaboo loop is a total of 3 miles without the side excursion to Bryce Point. When you have completed the Peekaboo loop, the trail returns to the connector trail which leads back to the 3-way junction you reached earlier in the day.
You have two options via the Navajo trail to return to the rim. Both are short, but have steep, strenuous switchbacks to the top and will get your heart rate up. Wall street trail (0.7 mi) is a narrow rock corridor. The other trail option is called two bridges (0.6 mi) and it passes two rock bridges (as the name suggests).
I didn’t find the bridges overly impressive, but beyond there, the trail gets significantly more steep and climbs rapidly to the rim, providing expansive views. Pass by Thor’s hammer and take in the vibrant colors of the amphitheater as you reach Sunset point. The half mile Rim Trail back to Sunrise point and the parking lot where you started has tremendous views the entire way. The Rim trail is wide and paved, perfect for those who want to experience Bryce’s great views, but cannot undertake a difficult hike.
I successfully completed the 3 trail loop just in time for the temps to start dropping about an hour before sunset. I left this hike feeling like I had taken in a large variety of views and features in Bryce canyon. I was one satisfied hiker. Bryce is a landscape I’ve never experienced before. It felt special, new and exciting. On my next trip, I plan to visit in warmer months to backpack and camp along some of the trails here. I want to experience the colors of sunrise and sunset. They say that the light of a full moon illuminates the entire canyon for night walking. What an incredible sight that would be (perhaps a bit intimidating also!). Try out one or all of these great hikes if you plan on visiting Bryce. They are conveniently connected; allowing you to do as little, or as much of an adventure as you please. Enjoy !
What other trails have you hiked in Bryce Canyon? Do you have a favorite backcountry campsite to share ? Help me plan my next Bryce Canyon adventure !