Though not a park filled with endless miles of trails, Bryce Canyon National Park has a potpourri of wonder-filled hikes that take you down into, and then wind through, an incredibly eroded land of color.
Bryce Canyon is not your typical national park for backpacking. Most of the park's hikes are short. After all, it doesn't take much to walk down into the intricately carved amphitheaters (the hard part is hiking back out!).
As park officials will quickly tell you, most of the hikes are combinations of different trails that take you past the most incredible hoodoos -- Thor's Hammer, through Wall Street, across the Queen's Garden, and through the Hat Shop. There's one "long" trail, the Under-the-Rim Trail, but it only wanders for 23 miles. Still, that's a good distance for a two- or three-night trip.
As with hiking in any of Utah's national parks or monuments, you'd be wise in summer to carry a quart or more of water with you, and some salty snacks you can much on. The sun is hot here in the higher elevations, so you'll also want good sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat if possible, and a sturdy pair of hiking boots to grip the trails.
Come winter, you can still explore many of the hikes, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to carry a pair of YakTrax or something similar that will bite into icy or snow-covered sections.
Bryce Canyon Hikes Featured on the Traveler
Under the Rim Trail
While the view down into the ruddy and tawny maw of Bryce Canyon National Park is pretty spectacular, you should try looking up at the park's colorful ramparts! And one of the best places to enjoy this view is along the park's lone long-distance backcountry trail, the 23-mile-long Under-the-Rim Trail that rises and falls down along the floor of the park, an area that few folks actually get to see because they prefer not to hoist a pack on their back.
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Queen's Garden-Navajo Loop
If you visit Bryce Canyon National Park in winter, and there is snow on the ground and blue sky overhead, the one hike you must take is the Queen's Garden-Navajo Loop Trail.
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Here's a glimpse at some other hikes in the park, courtesy of the Bryce Canyon staff:
Mossy Cave Trail
At first, this canyon known as Water Canyon, might look like any ordinary Bryce Canyon kind of canyon. It's not. From 1890-1892 Mormon Pioneers labored with picks and shovels to carve an irrigation ditch from the East Fork of the Sevier River, through the Paunsaugunt Plateau, into this canyon.
As you hike up the Mossy Cave Trail, notice how the higher elevations of this "canyon" have the lumpy, broken, and random texture typical of Bryce Canyon and its hoodoos. You will also see how the lower section is without hoodoos, and has smooth angled sides looking like a 'V' in cross-section. Because of this little water course, it is unlikely that anymore hoodoos will form here. The existing ones will eventually crumble and Water Canyon will have completed the metamorphosis, becoming a "real canyon."
Take the left fork of the trail up to Mossy Cave. Mossy Cave is not a cavern but a shelter cave. Here depending on the season, you will either see a large overhang filled with moss, or filled with giant icicles. Mossy Cave is a grotto, created by an underground spring.
Take the right fork of the trail and you'll end up above a small waterfall. Here, the rapid trenching of this stream has been delayed by a layer of Dolomite. Dolomite is a special form of limestone that is fortified by magnesium. Dolomite is not only harder than regular limestone, it also can't be dissolved by slightly acidic rainwater. Dolomite is what has created this waterfall and it is also the cap rock for our more famous and durable hoodoos.
The Rim Trail offers hikers the opportunity to see Bryce, encompassing the main amphitheater, from "on top". The entire trail extending from Fairyland to Bryce Point has several steep elevation changes and is 5.5 miles/9.16 kilometers one way. One section between Sunrise and Sunset points is considered an "easy" hike with minor elevation changes.
The Bristlecone Loop, accessible from Rainbow Point at the southern end of the park, meanders through the forest atop this highest portion of the park, reaching elevations over 9,100 feet (2778 m). Here you will pass by Bristlecone Pines up to 1,800-years-old and experience vistas reaching into the Four Corners area.
The forest here is dominated by Blue Spruce, Douglas-fir and White Fir, making this good habitat for grouse, woodpeckers, owls, and a variety of squirrels and chipmunks. Here you are also sure to see Ravens and Steller's Jays. These bird species are important reminders to the fact that although many plants and animals are limited to certain types of habitat, other kinds can range through several different habitats. Remember, please don't feed the wildlife.
This trail may be inaccessible during mid-winter due to snow depths ranging from 2-15 feet (.7-5 m)
While hiking, please be mindful at all times of the loose rocks that can roll on the trail beneath your feet, and rocks that might fall from cliffs above you.
Navajo Trail begins at Sunset Point and travels down into the main amphitheater. This is one of the more popular trails and extra caution is advised due to the fact that more rocks fall on this trail than any other trail in the park! A major rock slide occurred in 2006, and subsequent rockslides occurred in 2010 and 2011. This trail may also be combined with the Queens Garden Trail which will create a longer, but more varied, loop.
Swamp Canyon Trail
Bryce Canyon's backcountry trails offer solitude, forests, meadows, wildlife, wildflowers and interesting geologic features. There are 8 campsites on the 22.9 mile (36.9 km) Under-the-Rim Trail. There are 4 campsites on the 8.8 mile (14.2 km) Riggs Spring Loop Trail. The trails are strenuous, with multiple changes in elevation. Elevations range from 6,800 feet (2,073 m) to 9,115 feet (2778 m).
Permits are required for all overnight stays. Permits may be purchased at the Visitor Center from 8 a.m. until one hour before closing. We do not accept advance reservations via the internet or mail. Reservations may be made up to 48 hours in advance, in person, at the visitor center.
- $5 - per permit / 1-2 persons / 7 nights maximum
- $10 - per permit / 3-6 persons / 7 nights maximum
- $15 - per permit / 7-15 persons (Group sites ONLY) / 7 nights maximum
Camp only at designated campsites. Leave no trace.
For a rundown on each of the available campsites, head to this page.