Bryce Canyon Hiking
Hikers enjoy close-up views of the wonderfully eroded features and gain a direct appreciation of Bryce Canyon National Park’s geology. Because almost all of the trails head down off the canyon’s rim, they’re moderately difficult, with many ups and downs, but the paths are well graded and signed.
Hikers not accustomed to the 7,000- to 9,000-foot elevations will find the going relatively strenuous and should allow extra time. Be sure to carry water and drink frequently—staying well hydrated will give you more energy.
Wear a hat and sunscreen to protect against sunburn, which can be a problem at these elevations. Don’t forget rain gear; storms can come up suddenly. Always carry water for day trips, as only a few natural sources exist. Ask at the visitor center for current trail conditions and water sources; you can also pick up a free hiking map at the visitor center.
Snow may block some trail sections in winter and early spring. Horses are permitted only on Peekaboo Loop. Pets must stay above the rim; they’re allowed on the Canyon Rim Trail only between Sunset and Sunrise Points.
Special hazards you should be aware of include crumbly ledges and lightning strikes. People who have wandered off trails or gotten too close to the drop-offs have had to be pulled out by rope. Avoid cliffs and other exposed areas during electrical storms, which are most common in late summer.
Overnight hikers can obtain the required $5 backcountry permit at the visitor center (camping is allowed only on the Under-the-Rim and Riggs Spring Loop Trails). Backpacking stoves must be used for cooking; wood fires are prohibited. Although there are several isolated springs in Bryce’s backcountry, it’s prudent to carry at least one gallon of water per person per day. Ask about the location and flow of springs when you register for the backcountry permit.
Don’t expect much solitude during the summer on the popular Rim, Queen’s Garden, Navajo Loop, and Peekaboo Loop Trails. Fairyland Loop trail is less used, and the backcountry trails are almost never crowded. September and October are the choice hiking months—the weather is best and the crowds smallest, although nighttime temperatures in late October can dip well below freezing.
Bryce Canyon Rim Trail
This easy trail follows the edge of Bryce Amphitheater for 5.5 miles between Fairyland and Bryce Points; the elevation change is 540 feet. Most people walk just sections in leisurely strolls or use the trail to connect with five others. The half-mile section near the lodge between Sunrise and Sunset Points is paved and nearly level; other parts are gently rolling.
Fairyland Loop Trail
This trail winds in and out of colorful rock spires in the northern part of Bryce Amphitheater, a somewhat less-visited area one mile off the main park road. Although the trail is well graded, remember the 900-foot climb you’ll make when you exit. You can take a loop hike of eight miles from either Fairyland Point or Sunrise Point by using a section of the Canyon Rim Trail; a car shuttle saves three hiking miles. The whole loop is too long for many visitors, who enjoy short trips down and back to see this “fairyland.”
Queen’s Garden Trail
A favorite of many people, this trail drops from Sunrise Point through impressive features in the middle of Bryce Amphitheater to a hoodoo resembling a portly Queen Victoria. The hike is 1.5 miles round-trip and has an elevation change of 320 feet, which you’ll have to climb on the way back. This is the easiest excursion below the rim and takes about 1.5 hours.
Queen’s Garden Trail also makes a good loop hike with the Navajo and Canyon Rim Trails; most people who do the loop prefer to descend the steeper Navajo and climb out on Queen’s Garden Trail for a 3.5-mile hike.
Trails also connect with the Peekaboo Loop Trail and go to the town of Tropic.
Navajo Loop Trail
From Sunset Point, you’ll drop 520 feet in three-quarters of a mile through a narrow canyon. At the bottom, the loop leads into deep, dark Wall Street—an even narrower canyon, one-half mile long—then returns to the rim; the total distance is about 1.5 miles.
Other destinations from the bottom of Navajo Trail are Twin Bridges, Queen’s Garden Trail, Peekaboo Loop Trail, and the town of Tropic. The 1.5-mile trail to Tropic isn’t as scenic as the other trails, but it does provide another way to enter or leave Bryce Canyon National Park; ask at the visitor center or in Tropic for directions to the trailhead.
Peekaboo Loop Trail
This enchanting walk is full of surprises at every turn—and there are lots of turns! The trail is in the southern part of Bryce Amphitheater, which has some of the most striking rock features. You can start from Bryce Point (6.5 miles round-trip), from Sunset Point (5.5 miles round-trip via Navajo Trail], or from Sunrise Point (seven miles round-trip via Queen’s Garden Trail). The loop itself is 3.5 miles long with many ups and downs and a few tunnels. The elevation change is 500–800 feet, depending on the trailhead you choose.
This is the only trail in the park where horses are permitted; remember to give horseback travelers the right-of-way and, if possible, to step to higher ground when you allow them to pass.
The longest trail in the park winds 23 miles below the Pink Cliffs between Bryce Point in the north and Rainbow Point in the south. Allow at least two days to hike the entire trail; the elevation change is about 1,500 feet with many ups and downs.
Four connecting trails from the scenic drive allow you to travel the Under-the-Rim Trail as a series of day hikes, too. Another option is to combine the Under-the-Rim and Riggs Spring Loop trails for a total of 31.5 miles.
The Hat Shop, an area of delicate spires capped by erosion-resistant rock, makes a good day-hike destination; begin at Bryce Point and follow the Under-the-Rim Trail for about two miles. Most of this section is downhill (elevation change of 900 feet), so you’ll have to climb on the way out.
Bristlecone Loop Trail
The easy one-mile loop begins from either Rainbow or Yovimpa Point and goes to viewpoints and ancient bristlecone pines along the rim. These hardy trees survive fierce storms and extremes of hot and cold that no other tree can. Some of the bristlecone pines here are 1,700 years old.
Riggs Spring Loop
One of Bryce Canyon’s more challenging day hikes or a leisurely overnighter, this trail begins from Rainbow Point and descends into canyons in the southern area of the park. The loop is about nine miles long, with an elevation change of 1,625 feet. Of the three backcountry campgrounds along the trail, the Riggs Spring site is most conveniently located, about halfway around the loop. Day hikers may want to take a shortcut bypassing Riggs Spring, saving three-quarters of a mile.
Great views of Bryce’s hoodoos, lots of aspen trees, a couple of pretty meadows, and great views off to the east are some of the highlights of this hike.
Mossy Cave Trail
This easy trail is not on the main park road; it’s just off Highway 12, northwest of Tropic, near the east edge of the park. Hike up Water Canyon to a cool alcove of dripping water and moss. Sheets of ice and icicles add beauty to the scene in winter.
The hike is only one mile round-trip with a small elevation gain. A side trail, just before the cave, branches right a short distance to a little waterfall; look for several small arches in the colorful canyon walls above.
Although Bryce Canyon National Park lacks perennial natural streams, the stream in Water Canyon flows even during dry spells. Mormon pioneers labored three years to channel water from the East Fork of the Sevier River through a canal and down this wash to the town of Tropic. Without this irrigation, the town might not even exist.
From the visitor center, return to Highway 12 and turn east and go 3.7 miles toward Escalante; the parking area is on the right just after a bridge (between Mileposts 17 and 18). Rangers schedule guided walks to the cave and the waterfall during the main season.
© W.C. McRae and Judy Jewell from Moon Utah, 9th Edition