Bryce Canyon National Park is a small park nestled in between some of bigger attractions like Zion, which is less than a 45-minute drive away. One of the most vivid things about my drive to Bryce (from Zion) was the changing landscape from lush green to the orange earth that is unique to Utah.
This was not a great year to visit National Parks in the West Coast because there was an abundance of fires. Although they didn’t prevent me from visiting any National Parks, my access was limited in some cases. Bryce National Park was one of those places. Despite the limited access, I got to see the hoodoos, hike and ride a horse among them!
I’d definitely put Bryce on the list of places to visit on any Utah trip.
NAVAJO LOOP AND QUEENS GARDEN HIKE
Although I intended to hike the Figure 8 Loop, which combines the Navajo, Queens Garden and Peek-a-boo Loops, I only hiked the Navajo and Queens Garden trail. I started at the Sunrise Point and went downhill on the Queens Garden Trail and hiked to the top of the rim (Sunset Point) on the Navajo Loop. The total distance is 2.9 miles. If you tack on the Peek-a-boo trail, the distance will be 6.4 miles.
Queens garden gives you pretty dramatic views of the hoodoos. You can get fairly close to them and take as many pics as your heart desires. Remember to practice the Leave No Trace rules and don’t touch the hoodoos! One of my favorite parts of the hike was walking through the many tunnels. Each time I walked through one, it felt like I was stepping into a magical place. Once you get to the hoodoo floor, you’ll be looking up at some unbelievably amazing sites. Did you know snow and rain alone carve the hoodoos?
On the climb up through the Navajo loop, you’ll see some dramatic things including the Wall Street, narrow passage in between giant slabs of stone that’ll make you feel very small and some famous hoodoos including Thor’s hammer.
Although the hike is short, make sure to bring plenty of water! The hike back up, especially when the sun is out in force can be tough and requires plenty of water. The only water filling stations are at the rim, so make sure to take an adequate amount before you descend.
PEEK-A-BOO TRAIL HORSE RIDE
Although I didn’t hike this trail as part of the figure 8, I did get to ride a horse for the first time in my life!
The horse ride begins at the horse corral a short walk behind Bryce Canyon Lodge and picks up the Peek-A-Boo at Sunrise Point. The two-hour ride follows the loop, while the three-hour ride will give a complete tour of Bryce Canyon and wind through the Wall of Windows, The Chessmen, Silent City, and the Bristle Cone Pine Trees. It’s quite the experience to see the hoodoos on horseback. While there are about thirty horses that leave at each assigned time, every five to six riders are assigned to a cowboy lead. The cowboys not only ensure the rider gets comfortable with his/her horse but also help identify the individual hoodoos as well as provide a history of the hoodoos and Bryce Canyon. Beware, they also have plenty of dad jokes to tell!
The horses are well-behaved and are used to the routine. I barely had to guide my horse. She knew where she was going and followed the horse in front of her well. It’s important to keep pace with the horses and follow the order prescribed by the cowboys both of which ensures the horse stays on the trail. I did the two-hour ride and it was plenty of time for me because my thighs started to get sore about two-thirds of the way.
Reservations to ride the horses can be made online at canyonrides.com starting on January 1 of each year. Horseback rides are available from April through October, weather permitting. You can also make a walk-up reservation at the Bryce Canyon Lodge, which is what I did. However, if you’re planning a visit during peak season, I’d recommend making a reservation online. The two-hour ride is $65/person and the three-hour ride is $90/person. Riders have to be seven or older to join the two-hour ride and nine or older for the three-hour ride.
There are several lodging options. The Bryce Canyon Lodge is located inside the park only a short drive from the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center. For your stay at the Lodge, you can choose from private cabins ($230/night), motel rooms ($223/night), suite ($271/night) or studios ($176/night). Each of the room options have a quaint and rustic feel with outdoor seating space but the Lodge does not offer Wi-Fi or TV in the rooms. The lobby area of the Main Lodge does provide free Wi-Fi, however during my visit the signal was weak to non-existent.
The town of Bryce, Utah has several hotels and motels. Be careful – the names are deceiving. I made reservations at the Bryce Canyon Resort when I had spotty internet reception and wasn’t able to quite research my options. The Resort was just below a motel experience and was not anything close to a resort. 🙂 Because options are limited, prices are extremely high even at the end of the peak season. Our two-night stay at Bryce Canyon totaled to nearly $275.
If you’d prefer sleeping in the great outdoors, there are several options. Bryce Canyon has two campgrounds – North and Sunset – and close to the visitor center. Reservations open six months in advance and usually are gone fairly soon after they become available. A number of limited first come, first serve walk-up spaces are available but usually fill up by afternoon. Each regular campsite costs $20. There is one group site at the Sunset Campground and price varies based on the group size. Hook-ups are not available in either campground but a fee-for-use dump station is available during the summer months.
Just outside the park is the Dixie National Forest, which has both dispersed camping (not in a developed campground) and campground tent spaces. There are over a dozen campgrounds in the Dixie National Forest and the fees range from $15-20/night.