Did you know that Bryce Canyon National Park is home to the largest number of hoodoos on the planet? Hoodoos are rock formations shaped like totem poles formed from erosion, with heights varying from as tall as a human to up to 10 stories high. Their color also varies depending on the minerals they have, from pink and orange to white and other colors. The word “hoodoo” also has a spiritual origin related to a few legends of the Native Americans.
Bryce Canyon sits on an average elevation of 7,664ft feet, although it reaches as high as 9,100 feet at some points. Despite being much smaller than Zion, it packs a lot of punch for the jaw-dropping canyon vistas it offers and makes it worth your while.
Queens Garden and Navajo Loop Trail
There are lots of trails to choose from when hiking in Bryce Canyon. We chose to do the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop Trail and apparently, it is the most famous trail in the park! While walking through canyons and stone arches and, we were spoiled with varying landscapes and scenic views, with some underneath shadows of hoodoos and the canopies of pines trees. If you don’t have a lot of time in Bryce and you can only do one trail, this is the trail we highly recommend.
We had initially planned to doing this trail immediately after sunrise to catch the hues of golden hour and fewer crowds. Unfortunately, we were under-dressed, thinking that the temperature in Bryce Canyon was the same as in Zion, where we were staying. We were so wrong! With the elevation in Bryce, it was 20 degrees Farenheit colder in Bryce Canyon! We waited for the sun to rise and warm up the temperature, and took our time doing the scenic drive south to north of the canyon in the meantime.
Difficulty: Easy (Moderate in the Navajo Loop switchbacks)
Distance: 3.3 miles
Elevation Gain: ~600ft up and down
Length: 2 – 3 hours
How To Get There
The trail is located in Bryce National park, and you can easily access the trailhead a short walk from either the Sunrise Point or Sunset Point parking lots. We recommend parking at Sunset point, then walking to Sunrise point and start from there.
The Beginning of The Trail
For the first mile, it is mostly a downhill walk among Hoodoos and varying vistas. You will soon see a fork in the road, with a horses-only trail to the left and the rest of the Queen’s Garden trail to the right.
After passing through a few amazing stone arches, you will find another fork on the road — Queen Victoria to your right or Sunset Point to your left. Stay on the trail to Sunset Point path and soon, you will be under the canopy of pine trees. The shade they provide is pleasant, but in the early morning of Spring or Fall, it can become a bit cold. This trail is mostly flat, and will ultimately bring you to the Navajo Loop Trail. You can see the Two Bridges and Thor’s Hammer along this route. When you pass a bench on your left, there will be a sign nearby where you can take a photo to collect a badge based on how many miles you hike Bryce Canyon. There will also be a sign nearby for an option to take the Wall Street. This side was closed when we were there. Follow the arrow pointing back to Sunset point. You will eventually see a series of switchbacks, the reason why the Navajo Trail Loop is well known. They ascend 500 feet in .6 miles, making it fairly steep. The best place to take a photo of them is from the highest point.
Note that the Two Bridges are located towards the right on a small fork in the road just before the start of the switchbacks. It’s easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled!
After exiting the switchback canyon, you will see some expansive views to your right, most especially, Thor’s hammer, and a paved trail that will lead you back to Sunset point parking lot.
You can do this loop in reverse, beginning with the Navajo Loop Trail first and ending with the Queen’s Garden Trail, but there are good reasons why you should do it in a clockwise manner, the way we did. You will have better expansive views of the Bryce Amphitheater from the Queen’s Garden trail. Also, instead of looking over your shoulders as you pass them, you will be looking at them while walking. The Queen’s Garden is also less steep than the Navajo Loop, and this is better for your knees.
Scenic Drive in Bryce Canyon
One of the things we loved about Bryce Canyon National Park is that you can do a scenic drive by all the major points without needing to ride the shuttle system. The points below are ordered in increasing distance from the Visitor’s Center, with increasing elevation. It takes 50 minutes start to end, one way. The time it takes to do the whole drive depends on how long you will spend in each stop. Most of the major scenic points are on the left side so we suggest that you drive all the way to Rainbow point and make all your stops on the way back down.
- Sunrise Point
- Sunset Point
- Inspiration Point
- Bryce point
- Natural Bridge
- Rainbow Point
From Sunrise Point to Rainbow Point, the elevation will gradually climb up to 9000 feet. It will be colder as you get higher, and you might also feel out of breath and dizzy if you are sensitive to altitude changes.
If you begin this Bryce Canyon itinerary right at sunrise, you can be done around midday. Afterward, you can proceed to Zion National Park, a 2-hour drive away.
- Remember that the elevation in Bryce makes it colder than Zion, so make sure you bring extra layers. If you are sensitive to high altitudes, take it easy. Symptoms of sensitivity include shortness of breath and lightheadedness.
- Always have snacks (nuts or bananas, for example) and water when you hike. Even though it is only a 2-hour hike, it is best to be prepared just in case something unexpected happens, and you cannot return to the parking lot immediately. Dehydration and low sugar levels are very serious thins.
- In the cooler months, always dress in layers and be ready when it gets cold. Hypothermia is an emergency situation. In the same way, you can have heat stroke in the summer so make sure you are hydrated well.
- Do not stray off the path! If the trail is closed, do not enter! They are closed to keep you safe.
- If you are riding the shuttle to access the trails, take note of the bus schedules as they sometimes change.
What to Wear and Use While Hiking
We are middle-aged adults (the parents, at least) with knee and back pains but we don’t let these things stop us from hiking. Having said this, here are the tried and tested things we use while hiking – https://wanderingchicken.com/hiking-clothing/