Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah includes some of the most stunning views you will ever see. The Figure 8 Hike down in the canyon among the hoodoos ranks as one of our favorite hikes anywhere in the U.S.
Bryce Canyon National Park has eight day hike trails of short to moderate distance, and only two backcountry trails. It doesn't have the hiking diversity of Zion, but it may be the most visually stunning park in the National Park system.
The easiest way to view the park is from the canyon rim. There is a Rim Trail that runs 11 miles. You can walk any part of it from any of the viewpoints in what is known as the "Bryce Amphitheater Region" which basically runs from the park entrance to Bryce Point.
Or you can take your own vehicle on the 18-mile road and stop at any of the 15 designated viewpoints. In the summer, there is a free shuttle that runs from Bryce Canyon City (with a stop at Ruby's Inn RV Park) through the "Bryce Amphitheater Region". It starts on May 10 this year. Unlike shuttles at the Grand Canyon and Zion, this shuttle isn't "mandatory" to access certain areas, but it does save time when visiting the most popular area of the park in peak season.
Also during the summer, the Rainbow Point Shuttle runs twice a day. It's a guided, 3.5-hour tour that stops at many of the viewpoints in the southern section of the park where the main shuttle doesn't go.
If you want to view the park from down in the canyon, there are several trail access points. The most popular trail from the rim to the canyon and back out is the 1.3-mile Navajo Loop. The easiest hike into the canyon and out is the Queens Garden which is a 2-mile roundtrip (a mile down and a mile back up).
Several of the trails can be combined for longer hikes. Combining Queens Garden with the Navajo Loop makes a 3-mile hike which they call the "World's Best 3-Mile Hike". Today, we decided to do the 6.4-mile "Figure 8 Hike" which combines the Navajo Loop with the strenuous Peekabo Loop and the Queens Garden Trail.
The "Figure 8" is considered the best overall combination hike in the park, but it requires lots of up and downs and is strenuous. I'm not sure folks know what they are getting into when they descend into the canyon. With the rim at 8,000 feet and 70% of "normal" oxygen, climbing back out isn't easy. Just because Queens Garden is the "easiest" of the in-canyon hikes doesn't mean it's "easy".
The park newspaper has a top ten list of causes of Bryce injuries. Number four is "over exertion". Numbers 3, 2, & 1 are "Bad Choice of Footwear". Entries into the canyon are steep and good footwear makes it easier. Exits from the canyon are steep and require good lungs.
The Figure 8 Hike
Since the shuttles aren't running yet this year, we drove into the park and parked in the Sunset Point parking lot where the Navajo Loop begins. I used the Climb Utah website for guidance on this hike, and it starts with the Navajo Loop.
We started down the switchbacks into the canyon.
With Navajo Loop being the most popular hike in the park, there were lots of people on the trail. Tour buses stop at Sunset Point and several of their folks take the loop. But that doesn't take away from the beauty.
Here's a look back up at the trailhead before we got too far.
Soon, we came to the loop where the trail goes right or left. Unfortunately, the right side of the trail which is the "best" side and goes through "Wall Street" was closed. "Wall Street" is the part of the trail that goes through tall fins and is the closest thing to a slot canyon in the park. However, it's also the place where erosion from freezing and thawing of the rocks is most prevalent and where there are the most rock falls during the winter. So that section is closed until later in the year, and the Navajo Loop isn't a loop right now.
We had to turn left and take the other side of the loop known as the "Two Bridges" side. That took us down a section of short switchbacks.
Linda took her first video.
Looking back up the switchbacks at the gorgeous blue sky.
At the bottom of the switchbacks was an alcove and the "Two Bridges".
Moving on, Linda thought this hoodoo looked like a bassett hound.
For a moment I was thinking she was going to name every hoodoo and require me to take a picture of each one of them.
After .6 miles, we reached an intersection. At the intersection was a "Hike The Hoodoos" sign.
The park has a program called "Hike The Hoodoos" where you get a little prize if you complete the requirements. You have to hike at least three miles and prove it by presenting either a pencil rubbing of the gold "benchmark" on the signs or a picture by the sign.
There are a total of nine "Hike The Hoodoos" benchmark signs in the park and the rangers know how many miles you had to go to get to each one. What the heck ... we decided to see what our big prize would be. :)
Also, at that intersection we could take a hard left onto the Queens Garden Trail, or continue on the Navajo Loop (except the "Wall Street" side was closed about a quarter mile up), or we could turn left onto the spur trail to the Peekaboo Loop.
All the trail intersections were very well marked. Here's a look back up at the intersection where others were trying to figure out which way they wanted to go.
It was about a third of a mile on a flat trail to the Peekaboo Loop.
In my reading, it was suggested to do the Peekaboo Loop clockwise for best viewing, so we went to the left. Immediately, we started climbing.
At the top of each climb, was a lovely vista around each corner.
Near this twisted pine tree ....
was another "Hike The Hoodoos" sign.
Soon after that, we came to our first tunnel .....
which framed more great views.
Then we started back down again. Sort of a "dead tree" photo. :)
Every turn led to something worth taking a picture of.
From this relatively flat section, we could see Bryce Point (upper left in the photo below - that's the overlook we started with yesterday).
As we walked, we noticed someone had used pine cones to make the number "50" next to the trail. Since we will both turn 50 this year, I had to take a picture.
Before long, we were climbing again.
We came to another intersection. The Peekaboo Trail, if you do it by itself rather than part of a combination, starts from Bryce Point - a mile up at the rim (top of photo).
We continued on around the loop in our clockwise direction. That's the "Wall of Windows" in the background behind the sign in the photo below.
We continued to move in the direction of the "Wall of Windows".
We started down again and came to a horse corral and a sign for restrooms. That was a surprise - we didn't expect to have restrooms in the canyon. After a short break, we kept moving.
I took this shot just to show there is still snow in the canyon.
Here's a great look back up at Bryce Point.
The scenery with multiple colors against the bright blue sky continued.
Then we came to the "Wall of Windows" "Hike The Hoodoos" sign.
With a few more steps, we were below the "Wall of Windows" .....
and all the spires to the right of the windows.
Linda took another video.
And as we started the steep descent below the "Wall of Windows" she did another one.
Here's a little montage of other photos taken in the "Wall of Windows" area.
And now I'll throw in a better "dead tree" photo. I thought this one had some "personality".
We started up another incline ....
and came to another set of switchbacks.
At the top of the switchbacks was another tunnel.
Linda took a couple more videos.
A few photos after coming through the tunnel.
As Linda says in this last video, you definitely have to take time to stop and look back behind you.
Walking through a narrow passage where the trail just seems to disappear on the other side, but with another spectacular view waiting.
That's Inspiration Point in the upper left of the photos above and below.
Shortly thereafter, we came to the point where we could see the Navajo Loop and Queens Garden Trail intersection below.
But we still had a series of switchbacks to get down there. We completed the 3-mile Peekaboo Loop and then took a lunch break on the connector trail back to the Navajo Loop.
While sitting there, we met Karen & Hawk out of Massachusetts. We had a nice chat with them, and the extra break was welcome. The Peekaboo Loop has lots of ups and downs - that's what makes it "strenuous" - so it was nice to rest and get re-charged for our climb to the rim.
At the multiple trail intersection, we had 1.6 miles to the rim on the Queens Garden Trail. It was sort of leisurely stroll for awhile. We came to this little section where hikers created their own little garden of mini-hoodoos.
Eventually, we were back into the formations.
Queens Garden is on a very short little side trail at the half-way point of the main trail.
There is another "Hike The Hoodoos" sign there.
We definitely earned our "prize" whatever it might be.
This is a photo of the "Queen" - the lighter colored rock on the top of the hoodoo.
It's one of the smaller formations in the area, but fortunately there's a picture on the sign.
Many people just do the .8-mile hike down from the rim to here and back. Some walk the unofficial trails up into the hoodoos.
After a short visit with the "Queen", we went through another tunnel ....
and started the climb to the top amongst the colorful formations.
It was a gentle climb at first. Looking to our left, we had a great view of several formations and Sunset Point (upper right).
We passed through yet another tunnel.
This time the best view through the tunnel was behind us.
It was still a scenic, gentle climb for a little bit longer and then we hit some switchbacks.
And we went through another tunnel where the best views were behind us.
Here's a look back at that tunnel from above.
One last sign on our route to the rim.
Not long after that, the trail started to get steep. Here are a couple looks back down the trail.
We were getting closer.
Finally, we made it to the rim at Sunrise Point where the Queens Garden Trail starts.
It's a 320-foot climb from Queens Garden to Sunrise Point in .8 miles, and the last quarter mile is quite steep. I'm not sure how the tour bus folks go down the this trail in their street shoes without hiking poles. All I know is I'm glad we started on the Navajo Loop and didn't start from the top here.
All we had left was an easy half-mile, pretty flat walk on the paved Rim Trail back to Sunset Point.
Here's a shot from the Rim Trail that shows part of the trail we came up.
And here's one last photo from the rim before I put the camera away for good.
When we reached the Jeep, I checked the time. They say to allow 4 - 5 hours for the "Figure 8 Hike", and I suspected it would take us about 6 hours. But, even with all our stops for pictures and just to admire our surroundings, we finished in a little under five hours.
That has to be one of our all-time scenic hikes. Amazing. It was strenuous with several elevation changes between 7,000 and 8,000 feet, but at a little over 6 miles, it wasn't over-the-top hard. It's a bit crowded on the Navajo Loop and Queens Garden sections, but there weren't many people on the Peekaboo Loop.
As long as you are acclimated to the elevation, it's just a fantastic hike and we'd highly recommend it.
On the way out of the park, we stopped at the Visitors Center to claim our "Hiking The Hoodoos" prize. I thought they might take our word for it, but the ranger actually had me scroll through the nearly 200 photos on my camera and show him the pictures of Linda by the signs. He then congratulated us and handed us each a "Bryce Canyon National Park - I Hiked The Hoodoos" pin.
So, it certainly wasn't a thrilling prize, but then again it was about what I expected. The idea of a scavenger hunt during a hike does add a little bit though.
We have one more long hike planned and we want to do all the park overlooks in the southern section. With those plans and having completed the "Figure 8 Hike", that's pretty darn good coverage of Bryce Canyon. It doesn't take a week to explore this park, but it's certainly worth three or four days. I know Linda already has Bryce Canyon ranked in the top five of her favorite national parks.