Bryce Canyon offers the perfect hiking mix for amateur and expert hikers alike. Weekend warriors will find plenty to challenge them while offering great views of the scenery of the park and plenty of variation in terrain. With peaks of elevation over 9000 feet, there are also short trails that are intense just because of the altitude. It isn’t just the elevation that takes hikers’ breath away, the sights over the canyon and the otherworldly hoodoos rising like columns across the canyon are just as inspiring.
Bryce Canyon is a remarkable National Park nestled in the wilderness of Utah with pretty much nothing else around. It’s convenient to visit on a trip with Zion, only a couple of hours past it. There isn’t much nearby to distract, though overlooking the hiking trails in the area within the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument would be a mistake. Bryce itself offers plenty of hiking from long trails along the rim to shorter ones overlooking the entire canyon and surrounding area. Even the area just around the main parking lot is exciting with views deep into the canyon offering amazing views at sunrise and sunset.
On a recent visit, I caught the sun setting over the rim of the canyon just as the rising super moon came over the lip, looming monstrously large over the hoodoos. These pillars of rock are unique and not found many other places across the country, making Bryce unique. They form over eons as wind and rain slowly erode downward and around the top of the harder base rock beneath the surface. Traveling down into the canyon from the sides, the sun catches the edges of the rock offering dancing patterns around the canyon. Hiking through the rocks is a lifetime experience not soon to be forgotten.
These hikes are the perfect way to experience the sights and terrain of Bryce in it’s full glory.
Moderate – Navajo loop & Queens Garden Trail: 4 mi
The absolute pivotal hike of Bryce Canyon, this loop winds around the canyon, meandering down from the rim. Starting at Sunset Point, the trail follows the Navajo loop down the canyon walls, switchbacking quickly down into the Canyon. Hikers get up close to massive pine trees, getting a feeling for how huge the canyon really is as the pines look tiny from the top. The trail joins the Queens Garden trail which slowly winds back up the canyon past a variety of huge boulders, baking in the sun. There are no shortage of incredible vistas on this trail which offer great views over the entire canyon and surrounding area. This trail is the most immersive in the area and most feels like a true tour of the park even though it only touches a small portion of the lands.
Moderate – Fairyland Loop trail to Tower Bridge: 3 mi
For another dive into the canyon, this one even further down, the path to Tower Bridge brings hikers down to the floor and into the trees. It’s a good hike for when the sun is high as the trees and high rock walls offer a bit more shade than the Navajo loop. The trail is an out and back, but can be extended to a 6+ mile loop that eventually rejoins the rim at Sunrise point. The elevation change makes this a bit more strenuous, so good hikers know to bring plenty of water. More great views of the rocky walls and hoodoos abound on the descent down.
Easy – Bristlecomb loop trail: 1 mi
This one mile loop isn’t quite as easy at it might sound thanks to the 9000+ foot elevation. I tried running 500 feet along it and couldn’t catch my breath for minutes. The loop traverses the highest part of the park with vertigo inducing views down the canyon walls. Ravens and other massive birds circle above and the terrain totally changes from the rest of the park to more of an alpine feel this high. The vegetation is much thicker as well and makes this walk feels more like a forest walk than a canyon hike. The small elevation change along the trail is enough to get the blood flowing.
Bryce Canyon is a park of many different looks and atmospheres. The rim is perfect for inspiring views as the sun rises and sets. The canyon floor is wonderful when the sun is high and blazing to stay cool and get up close to the features of the park. The top of the park makes for a moody and atmospheric walk as the sun is setting and casting lengthy shadows through the pines. The hoodoos speak from another time and place, perhaps another world and are incredible to see up close and from below. As the sun sets over the canyon, stop and take some time to appreciate the grandeur of nature that abounds across this country and appreciate how time seems to stand still.