We arrived in Bryce – home of Bryce Canyon National Park – around 2pm starving and in need of a toilet. Bryce is tiny and would hardly be classified as a village in England. It is 4 linear blocks of outdated hotels, a petrol station, campgrounds, a handful of restaurants, and a cheeky old west themed attraction for children.
Bryce is not a location where you will want to be for more than 24 hours. As Peter so eloquently stated, “Bryce Canyon is the Iguazu Falls of Utah”. Peter and I both feel the planning of our trip matched our wants and needs almost perfectly but I think if we had to do it again, we would have packed up Mario Kart in Moab, drove to Mesa Arch for sunrise and then drove directly to Springdale (Zion National Park).
We would have then added an extra night to our Springdale stay and visited Bryce Canyon as a day trip from Zion (two-hour drive each way). Springdale is the most desirable city of the three we stayed in (Moab, Bryce and Springdale). You still won’t find any alcohol besides wine and beer in Springdale though! Give up on your dream of sipping a nice refreshing mojito after a long hike in 97° F heat right now!
We arrived at our extremely expensive $240/night hotel (a Best Western!) in Bryce, dropped off our luggage and walked across the street to a fast food restaurant and ate mediocre food at a table with swivel chairs. We then boarded the Bryce Canyon shuttle bus via the stop in front of the restaurant (there was also a stop in front of our hotel, the Best Western Grand).
The shuttle ran frequently and was as efficient as any shuttle or bus service can be. This is the part of the blog post where I feel I need to educate the 98 percent of Americans who do not understand how buses work. We saw this firsthand on the shuttle.
- Just like buses, the shuttle runs on a loop. In other words, the shuttle route is a big circle and has designated stops on the circle. It just keeps driving in a circle!
- Because the shuttle runs on a loop, there is no “end of the line”. If you desire, you can board the shuttle and ride it all day long in circles just like the homeless people do on Seattle buses!
- It is unlikely that your shuttle driver will be the same shuttle driver when the shuttle comes ’round again because there are multiple shuttles driving the route.
- The shuttle will be at stops long enough to allow people to board and alight. Do not ask the shuttle driver “how long they will be at the stop” because they will literally drive away as soon as you get off of the shuttle.
- The shuttle route is posted at every shuttle stop and above the windows in the shuttle.
Here is the shuttle route map for the 2018 season:
Now for some advanced shuttle tips:
- The shuttle fare is included with your Bryce Canyon National Park admission fee but you must have purchased an admission ticket before boarding the shuttle.
- There are three “bridges” which connect one side of the shuttle loop to the other side of the loop. One example is stops 2 and 5. If you are at Bryce Point (3) and take the shuttle to Inspiration Point (4) and then decide that you want to go back to Bryce Point, then what you need to do is get on the shuttle at Inspiration Point (4) and get off the shuttle at Sunset Campground (5). Walk across the road to Sunset Campground (2) and then board the next shuttle which will take you to Bryce Point (3).
There are parking lots at almost every shuttle stop, however, they fill quickly at peak times and the park strives to reduce traffic (they also do not want to use more land for car parks) so they really want you to use the shuttle when the park is busy.
Bryce Canyon National Park
A few basic bits of information about Bryce Canyon National Park:
- It is located on the Paunsaugunt Plateau.
- Despite its name, it is not a canyon. It is an eroding plateau.
- The elevation on the rim is 8,000 – 9,000 ft (2,440 – 2,743 m).
- Temperatures regularly soar above 90° F but due to its elevation, it is cooler and receives more rain than Arches National Park and Zion National Park.
- The ground is covered in khaki sand which accumulates as it falls from the hoodoos.
- The park is home to the largest collection of hoodoos in the world.
- It is 56 square miles (about half of the size of Arches National Park).
- It is open every day of the year except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Years Day.
- Hoodoos are tall rock spires that can range in height from human height to 10-story building height.
- The average rate of erosion of a hoodoo is calculated at 2-4 ft every 100 years.
- Rain is the primary cause of hoodoo erosion.
Hoodoos begin their life as a plateau and then erode into a fin. Below are examples of fins.
Over time, fins further erode into windows which are holes in the fins. There are two windows in the fin in the photo below.
The tops and bottoms of the windows further erode and create hoodoos which are rock spires. Below are examples of hoodoos.
Queen’s Garden-Navajo Loop Trail
There are a lot of trails in Bryce Canyon and we completed two hikes during our 24 hours in Bryce. The first hike was a combo trail hike where we started on Queen’s Garden Trail from Sunrise Point and connected to the Navajo Loop Trail which we followed up to Sunset Point (clockwise).
The park recommends to do this combo trail hike clockwise as we did but most people do this hike counterclockwise which is a more difficult hike and I think less scenic. I believe this is because Sunset Point is the most popular overlook on the Rim Trail so people go there first and then decided to descend into the canyon (some descend completely unprepared – I’m talking to you Tom’s shoes guy and Birkenstocks girl!).
The Queen’s Garden Trail begins with long sweeping switchbacks that take you down into the “canyon”. Canyons are created by a river that cuts through stone and as mentioned above, Bryce Canyon is an eroding plateau, not a canyon (no river is present). The most surprising thing to me was the vegetation growing out of stone and sand.
There is little shade on the trail until you reach the bottom of the canyon. From the bottom, you can choose to take the Navajo Loop Trail up to Sunset Point or venture off for a longer hike following the Peekaboo Loop Trail.
Peter and I were a little too adventurous thinking we could complete the Peekaboo Loop Trail before reconnecting with the Navajo Loop Trail up to Sunset Point. It is a 1/4 mile flat hike from the junction of the Queen’s Garden Trail and the Navajo Loop Trail to the Peekaboo Loop trailhead. We walked to the Peekaboo Loop trailhead and then decided it was not in the cards for us that day and then walked back to the Queen’s Garden Trail/Navajo Loop Trail junction and onward to Sunset Point.
On our ascent to Sunset Point via the Navajo Loop Trail, we stopped to see Two Bridges. Another tourist muttered that the bridges were created by hoodoos that fell over but I have not been able to confirm or deny that in my research.
After our tiny detour to Two Bridges, we began our ascent up the switchbacks of the Navajo Loop Trail thinking the top of the switchbacks would be the Rim Trail. Ha! We were only halfway up the canyon when we reached the top of the switchbacks.
At the top of the switchbacks, is one of the park’s most popular attractions, Thor’s Hammer.
People will be jockeying for position to take photographs of themselves with Thor’s Hammer in the background and to take photos of the Navajo Loop Trail switchbacks from the top. Due to this congestion, the top of the switchbacks is dangerous.
Another 5-10 minutes up from the switchbacks and we were safe and sound at Sunset Point. Everyone has their favorite overlook from the Rim Trail. I tend to go against the grain with things like this so my favorite overlook was Inspiration Point (versus Sunset Point) because I feel it provides the best visual of Bryce Canyon as an eroding plateau. I also dig the rainbow-layered plateaus in the distance. Their colors are muted versions of the fins and hoodoos of the Bryce Canyon amphitheaters.
We were pretty knackered after our 4:30am rise for sunrise at Mesa Arch, our four-and-a-half hour drive to Bryce and our hike and decided to escape the heat and catch the shuttle back to our hotel. The day was fairly standard after that: shower, dinner, sleep.
Peekaboo Loop Trail-Bryce Point Trail
We “slept in” until 6:30am the following morning and then it was go time! We devoured breakfast, checked out of the hotel and drove Mario Kart into Bryce Canyon National Park instead of taking the shuttle. This decision was based on the availability of spaces in the various parking lots the prior day. Most parking lots were not full and we took our chances and it worked gloriously.
We parked at Sunset Point and set out on our plan which included:
- Hike down the Navajo Loop Trail and connect to the Peekaboo Loop Trail
- Hike the Peekaboo Loop Trail and reconnect to the Navajo Loop Trail
- Hike up to Sunset Point
- Hike the Rim Trail to Bryce Point, stopping at Inspiration Point along the way
- Take the shuttle to Sunset Point
- Get in the car and drive to Zion National Park
I do not know if it was exhaustion or the 8,000 – 9,000 ft altitude or the heat or multiple days of hiking in a row but we were out of steam about midway through the Peekaboo Loop Trail.
Even though we were hiking early in the morning, we could feel the temperatures increasing with every passing minute. The cherry on the top of the Peekaboo Loop Trail cake was that horses are allowed on the trail and they shit all over the fucking trail. In fact, we had to step off the trail to allow a brigade of 30 horses to pass by.
I have expressed my dislike for horseback riding, however, I understand that many people actually enjoy that godforsaken activity. Some people do it for fun?! Why?!
I can tell you in all honesty that not a single person was smiling on their horseback ride on Peekaboo Loop Trail that morning. They all looked miserable. The horses looked miserable. The trail looked miserable being flooded with horse poop. Everything was miserable at that point.
The horse brigade passed us near the Peekaboo Loop Trail and Bryce Point Trail junction. Peter and I had a little chat to discuss if we should complete the Peekaboo Loop Trail as originally planned or ditch it and head up the Bryce Point Trail. We chose the latter and that hike up to Bryce Point was so fucking hard. The sun was out in full force and it was a constant and uncomfortable incline. Swear words were flying around my head.
I felt like we were never going to reach Bryce Point. The trail was relentless. The sun was relentless. I thought my legs were going to stop working and I’d be stranded there and birds were going to start feeding off of my body.
After taking a few photos at Bryce Point, we boarded the shuttle and rode it to Sunset Point where we got in the car and drove to Inspiration Point for a few more photos before departing the park with our sights set on Zion National Park.
What I learned from my 24 hours at Bryce Canyon National Park is that the best photos are taken from the Rim Trail or just slightly below the Rim Trail. If you are pressed for time, have young children or are unsure if you can physically hike down and up the canyon, know that it is entirely possible for you to visit Bryce Canyon for a couple of hours and walk away with beautiful photographs that are representative of this majestic natural landscape.
Do I recommend hiking in Bryce Canyon? Yes. Hiking down into the canyon gives the perspective of the height of the voodoos and the expansiveness of the park. Then again, you can get a similar perspective from the Rim Trail…