9 Top-Rated Hikes in Bryce Canyon National Park
The dramatic scenery of Bryce Canyon National Park is an enticing landscape for hikers. A bowl of glowing orange and gold hoodoos beckons as you gaze out over the main amphitheater from Sunrise or Sunset Points and see the twisting trails that snake through the canyon. Hard-packed paths on the tops of ridges wind their way through a fairyland forest of towering hoodoos. Mixed into the scene are a scattering of huge pines, dwarfed by the size of the stone formations that surround them.
Hikes in Bryce Canyon range from easy paved paths to more lengthy and heart-pounding half-day trails. Below is a list of easy, moderate, and strenuous hikes, all of which offer outstanding views and are well worth the effort.
1. Queen's Garden/Navajo Loop Combination Trail
The Queen's Garden/Navajo Loop is the most popular hike in Bryce Canyon National Park, running through the most spectacular section of the park. This hike takes in outstanding views from the rim and then descends along ridges into the canyon and meanders among the towering hoodoos. The total length of the hike is 2.9 miles, and the elevation gain is about 600 feet. It's long enough and diverse enough to give you a good feel for the park but easy enough that anyone in reasonable shape can do it. Although this a technically easy hike on a solid and obstacle-free path, the park ranks this hike as moderate, but this is likely due to the length of the trail and the elevation.
The best way to do this hike is in a clockwise direction beginning at either Sunrise or Sunset Point. From Sunrise Point, the trail winds down the canyon on the Queen's Garden trail, with fabulous perspectives at every turn. At the bottom, you can see a short detour to the Queen's Garden, where you'll find a hoodoo resembling Queen Victoria. At this point, the trail joins with Navajo Loop and eventually begins a gradual ascent up the canyon. On the last section of Navajo Loop, two trails lead up to Sunset Point; the most popular is Wall Street; the second option is Two Bridges. Both of these eventually lead to a series of switchbacks, where you gain considerable elevation over a short distance. The trail then pops up at Sunset Point, and if you've parked at Sunrise Point, you can walk along the paved Rim Trail back to where you started.
2. Sunset Point to Sunrise Point
If you have limited time in the park and only want to do one quick and easy walk, this is the place to do it. This paved walking trail, which is part of the Rim Trail, runs along the top of the canyon and looks out over the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater and one of the most impressive vistas in Utah. Burnt orange and cream banded hoodoos rise up from the floor and walls of the canyon, and in the background rolling hills give way to distant mountains. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Navajo Mountain, 80 miles away.
Looking out from this trail, you can also see sections of the Queen's Garden trail as it snakes along the ridges off to the left, as well as the switchbacks of the Navajo Loop Trail to the right. Great photo opportunities present themselves all along this half-mile walk (one mile return trip). Bryce Canyon Lodge, the only accommodation in the park, is located just behind Sunrise Point.
3. Fairyland Loop
Fairyland Loop is a favorite trail with hikers interested in a longer hike. This path takes you on a wonderful route through hoodoos and along ridges that provide awesome views and close-up looks at the strange formations. In some sections, the trail feels like a canopy walk through a forest of hoodoos, putting you at eye level with balancing rocks on the tops of spires. The orange, gold, cream, and pink hues are particularly vibrant along this trail. If you want, you can add on a spur to Tower Bridge, which can also be done as its own separate hike.
Fairyland is an eight-mile hike, with an elevation gain of approximately 2,300 feet. Although it is not technically difficult, it is listed as strenuous by the park due to the distance and elevation. If you are camping at Bryce's North Campground, you can pick up the trail right from the campground. Otherwise, you can start from Fairyland Point or Sunrise Point, although starting from Sunrise Point will mean adding a bit of distance to the hike.
4. Peek-A-Boo Loop Trail
This 5.5-mile trail is a nice alternative to the busier Queen's Garden and Navajo Trails. A steep descent takes you into the depths of the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater, through the massive hoodoos. One of the highlights along Peek-A-Boo Loop is the Wall of Windows, where arches and cracks in the upper portions of connecting hoodoos frame the blue sky behind. With more than 1,500 feet of elevation gain, most of it occurring over a very short distance, this is a strenuous hike.
This hike can be combined with the Queen's Garden/Navajo Loop, in what is referred to as The Figure 8 Combination Trail, for a 6.4-mile double loop that will give you a more complete tour of the amphitheater.
5. Queen's Garden
Queen's Garden is an easy, out-and-back, 1.8 mile trail, but the views in each direction are completely different, so it feels more like a loop trail. This is comparable in beauty and diversity to the Queen's Garden/Navajo Loop Combination Trail, but less than half the distance, making it perfect for anyone short on time.
The hike descends from Sunrise Point, along the tops of mud and limestone ridges that wind down into the canyon. Colorful hoodoos rise up all around you, and the ridges are dotted with pine trees. The trail is a moderate width in most sections, and although there are drop-offs on one or both side of the ridges, they are not sheer cliff walls, just steep slopes of crumbling rock and mud. In a couple of places, you pass through man-made arches. This trail is incredibly scenic, with photo opportunities everywhere. At the far end of the trail is the Queen's Garden, where a dense patch of pines provides lovely shade for a few benches. From here, you can look up to see a hoodoo that resembles Queen Victoria sitting on her throne. Head back on the same trail to return to the parking area.
6. Navajo Trail
Navajo Trail leads through similar topography as the Queen's Garden, with multihued hoodoos rising up on all sides as you walk down into and through the amphitheater, below Sunset Point. The main difference between the two hikes is Navajo's steeper grade and greater elevation gain. This is a 1.3-mile hike with 550 feet of elevation gain over an extensive series of heart-pumping switchbacks. The park rates this hike as moderate, but if you take your time, it's an easy trail. The trail begins at Sunset Point.
7. Bristlecone Pines Hike
Bristlecone pine trees are not a common sight in this area of Utah, but this hike will give you a chance to see some of these ancient trees, some of which are 1,800 years old. The hike begins at Rainbow Point, at the south end of the scenic drive through the park, which is also the highest area in the park. The elevation here reaches 9,100 feet, but fortunately this one-mile loop trail has less than 200 feet of elevation gain, making it an easy hike.
The trail meanders through a forest of blue spruce, Douglas fir, and white fir, but also offers incredible views over the canyon and opportunities to see birds and other wildlife. The temperatures up here can be cooler than other areas of the park, and snow tends to linger. As a result, this hike may be inaccessible through the winter and into the spring.
8. Tower Bridge
If you aren't up for the entire Fairyland Loop Trail, consider the out-and-back Tower Bridge Hike, which covers a portion of the Fairyland trail, before veering off on a spur to a dramatic stone structure known as the Tower Bridge. Bristlecone pines can also be seen along this three-mile hike as it weaves through hoodoos and past a colorful stone wall called the Chinese Wall.
This is a moderate out-and-back hike with 800 feet of elevation gain and some shade near the Tower Bridge.
9. Mossy Cave
As the name suggests, this hike leads to a cave, which is really more of a moist overhanging shelf. However, the real beauty of this easy trail is the waterfall and river cutting through the landscape at the base of the hoodoo-covered hills. The trail follows the river most of the way, crossing a bridge at one point, and then climbs up to the mossy cave. Along the ascent, the trail splits. To the left is the cave and to the right is an overlook with views over the falls and river.
Mossy Cave is outside of the park gates, along highway 12, towards the town of Tropic, making it a nice, brief stop if you are on your way to Capitol Reef National Park. The total distance of this out-and-back hike is just under one mile, with an elevation gain of 300 feet.
Finding the Best Hiking Boots
For the most enjoyable hiking, making sure you have decent hiking shoes or boot. People debate about whether or not they like hiking with poles or what to wear, but no one disputes the necessity of having comfortable and sturdy hiking shoes. See our articles on the Best Men's Hiking Boots of 2019 and the Best Women's Hiking Boots for 2019 for a look at the different types of hiking boots and to help figure out which are right for you.
Where to Stay near Bryce Canyon National Park
- In the Park: The only accommodation option in the park is the historic Bryce Canyon Lodge, with a quaint and rustic charm. Set amid huge pines trees are a number of luxury stone and wood cabins and a more traditional hotel style complex. The dining room makes a nice stop for lunch or dinner regardless of whether or not you are staying at the lodge.
- Bryce Canyon City: The closest town to Bryce Canyon is Bryce Canyon City, just under three miles from the park. The best option here is the Best Western Plus Ruby's Inn, which is much more than just a standard hotel. The property has a Western theme and offers cowboy shows in the evening and casual entertainment in the lobby, as well as horseback riding; mountain biking; and a variety of guided tours, including helicopter tours. Ruby's also operates a general store, restaurant, large campground, and much more. It is a huge operation in Bryce Canyon City.
- Budget and Mid-Range Options Nearby: For more reasonably priced lodging, it's best to base yourself in the towns of Tropic (15 minutes away) or Panguitch (30 minutes away). In Tropic, Bryce Pioneer Village offers basic small rooms, a pool, and complimentary breakfast. In Panguitch, the Western-style Quality Inn Bryce Canyon is conveniently located on the highway, east of the city, towards Bryce Canyon, and features comfortable rooms. For a more budget-friendly option, try Church's Blue Pine Motel, right in the town of Panguitch.
- Camping: For the best places to camp, see our article on the Best Campgrounds near Bryce Canyon.
More Related Hiking Articles on PlanetWare.com
Finding the Best Hiking Boots: Utah is a place where you definitely want to have a good pair of hiking boots. Hikes can be challenging and the terrain can be rugged. If you are in the market for a new pair of hiking boots, be sure to see our articles on the Best Men's Hiking Boots of 2019 and the Best Women's Hiking Boots of 2019. These are sure to make your journeys more enjoyable.
Exploring Utah's Hiking Trails: Hikers with more time should consider stopping off at some of Utah's other great hiking destinations. At the top of the list is hiking in Zion National Park. To discover less well-known, less crowded, but almost equally impressive scenery, check out the hiking trails around St. George. You'll also find great campgrounds around Zion and St. George. For a more comprehensive look at the state, see our articles on the Best Hikes in Utah, the Best Parks in Utah, and the Top Attractions in Utah. Travelers heading north should not miss a stop at Arches National Park, and the nearby town of Moab.