Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
We left Albuquerque at 8am driving west on I-40 to Flagstaff then north on Hwy89 to Page Arizona where we had decided to spend the night. This took approx 7 1/2 hours since we were pulling our camper and had to stop more often for gas. This would, also, give us only 3 hours left on the journey to Bryce Canyon NP in the morning, ensuring we arrive early to the campgrounds to get a spot. Our internet research had told us that the campgrounds are very popular at Bryce and arrival early in the day is the only way to find a spot. Our camper is 25' long and we knew that every spot would not work for us. Just another reason we needed to arrive early Thursday morning at Bryce. Tonight though we camped at the Lake Powell Wahweap campground. We had stayed there last year and knew it was nice and right on the way to Bryce, plus we could reserve it online ahead of time. Bryce, however, is all first-come spots so being there early had to happen for us.
We packed up after a quick breakfast, and off we went up HWY 89 towards Bryce Canyon in Utah. This drive is a MUST if you love the Southwest US. It is spectacular, every turn a different view of desert landscape, rocky pillars, and past some of Utah's southern National parks and Monuments.
Just west of Bryce, we exited Hwy 89 and drove directly east on Hwy 12, taking us through Red Rock state park. This is gorgeous, and just a tease of what we would find once we arrive at Bryce. Our mission was to get to the campground as quickly as possible and claim a campsite that would fit our 25' camper. We had seen many rental RVs on the Hwy 89, heading south so we believed those were all leaving Bryce. We pulled into the park and turned into North campground, the first campground inside Bryce. Loop A and B are the only campgrounds allowing RVs, so we started searching. After two loops through each we decided on a great site, #37 in Loop B. It was perfect for us. We had grabbed an envelope at the entrance, so we filled it out, put the tag on our campsite clip, put our cash inside the envelope which had to be deposited at the entrance, then headed over to the water fill station to fill up our tanks. We arrived back at the campsite, leveled and setup, the fixed a quick lunch.
North Campground is just a short walk over to the Rim of Bryce Canyon, north of Sunrise Point.
After lunch, we packed up our backpacks with water and snacks, put on hiking boots, then drove over to Sunset Point. Our goal was to get in the hike of Navajo Loop before it got too late or busy. Oh well...the parking lot was packed and cars were looping around trying to snatch up a spot to park. We did the same, taking us about 10 minutes to find one. Hundreds of people were there, at the picnic tables, on the walkways and walking down the trail. It was a zoo. This was what we expected as this is one of the most popular hikes, one of the most photographed, and since many visitors to Bryce stay only for the day, it was an easier way for them to see Bryce without much effort.
It was blazing hot! The trail wraps back and forth down down down through a very narrow canyon with hoodoos on both sides. At the bottom, less than a mile from the top, it enters a flat section with Ponderosa pines and shade. Quite different from the rest of the trail. Here Navajo trail ends, but it intersects with several other trails down inside the canyon. Since Wall Street trail was closed due to maintenance, hikers were heading back up the trail the way they came down. We did the same. BUT --- We would see this intersection again...
Back to our truck, and the zoo of a parking lot, we drove over to the camp store and lodge to check them out, then back to our camper. After a snack, we decided to go up to Fairyland Point, in the very north end of the park, to hike a little bit before dinner. It was already 3:30pm when we pulled into that parking lot and amazingly, only 3 other cars were there. What a difference! Fairyland trail is a long, strenuous 8 mile loop hike, but we wanted to get just a taste of it so we decided to hike down for an hour, then back up. OMG, what a gorgeous trail!
We hiked down a mile, which took an hour and we stopped constantly for photos. Wow wow wow! I can see why they named it Fairyland. It seemed like a magical movie set for a fantasy movie! The trail is well maintained, too. Switchbacks are nice and gradual and grated sloping away from the dropoff. We descended into the canyon about 900', then went back up the way we came. It is just beautiful there, and has much more shade than the hike we had done down Navajo due to all the Ponderosa pine trees.
We returned to the camper and fixed dinner, and planned the hikes for the next day. The campround was full but luckily, very quiet. The temps finally dropped and it was chilly enough to bring out jackets.
After a good night sleep, we fixed a big breakfast, then packed up our gear for the first hike of the day, the south end of Fairyland Loop to Tower Bridge. This hike is 2 miles down, and then back up the same way. To reach the loop, we needed to park at the Sunrise Point parking lot. We arrived at 7:50am to find many people already there to view the sunrise. Duh, Sunrise Point. Also there we discovered, the people riding horses down into the canyon and guides were loading up for their adventure. Next to Sunrise point is the stable area and a special Horse ONLY trail. We stopped to watch then head down their trail at 8am sharp, as we walked up the Rim trail to the start of the Fairyland loop to Tower Bridge in the bottom of the canyon.
I have to confess, I am in love with gnarly trees! Probably too many photos of them, but I don't care. I am in love.
It was a fantastic hike, and still early so we decided to go back to the camper, freshen up, and have lunch at the lodge restaurant. The lodge restaurant opened for lunch at 11:30 and we were there in line a few minutes early. A buffet is available for $15pp which includes salads, hot food for sandwiches (like meatloaf and fish), as well as soups. It looked nice but we decided to order off the menu. Ron went for the bison burger and I had a chicken sandwich. Both were good, service was good, and we were back at the camper ready for an afternoon hike pretty quickly.
For the afternoon, we decided we needed to do the drive all the way south along the Rim to see all the overlooks, including the famous Natural Bridge, which you could only see from the drive overlook. We planned to stop at the last overlook, at Rainbow Point, the highest point inside the park, and do a short hike there on one of the trails.
Of note for Bryce Canyon NP -- Signs are everywhere in the park. It is wonderful to see, at each trail junction, a sign. Many of the signs even have milage on them to the next trail. I can't say enough about how well maintained all the trails are and how well marked. Beginner hikers to Advanced hikers can rest assured, they always know which trail they are on, it will be easy to follow, trail conditions are smooth and when there is a steep dropoff it is grated at a slant away from the edge. Bravo, well done, Bryce Canyon National Park Rangers and employees!
At Rainbow Point we hiked Bristlecone trail which is only a mile long but very pretty and at 8000' elevation with only a few ups and downs. It was a nice easy hike with great overlooks.
After the hike, we drove back north through the park to the campground, fixed dinner, and relaxed. Our plan for out last full day at Bryce was a long, more strenuous hike and we had not decided exactly which one to do yet. We pulled out the maps and found that we could do a full crossing of the Bryce "Amphitheatre" if we started at either Sunrise or Sunset Point and finishing at Bryce Point. The map they hand out at the gate had a few suggestions of hikes and this one was there, but recommended to start at Bryce since it is the highest point. We decided to do this, since we would have to ride the shuttle bus at the end of the hike back to pick up our truck, we had to consider timing. The bus does not start running in the park until 8am. This would mean that we would not be arriving at Bryce Point to start the hike until 8:30am most likely. We wanted to be on the trail before that. After much consideration, we decided for us, it would be better to start at Sunrise Point, hike down Queens Garden, then up Peekaboo to Bryce Point. That would give us the more gradual "down" and more steep "up" but that would be better for my knees anyhow.
Our Last Full Day in Bryce!
We both up early, fixed a big breakfast, packed up and drove to Sunrise Point. There were already several vehicles in the parking lot but most people were just there for the view. We started down Queens Garden trail and Wow Wow Wow... gorgeous trail and sunrise, so perfect!
There were some people down on the trail, but it was early and not crowded yet. This trail, Queens Garden, is the least steep trail into the "Amphitheatre" area. It is also the recommended trail in the guide for those only wanting to do one hike. Knowing that this would be bumper-to-bumper with newbie hikers later, it was nice to hit the trail early to avoid the traffic jam. And what a gorgeous hiking trail... did I mention gorgeous?
At the bottom of the canyon, about a mile down, the trail enters the Ponderosa Pine forest. From there we saw less people, and the smell of the ponderosas was intoxicating. (for those of you who don't know - ponderosa pines smell like vanilla and butterscotch). It was a nice cool morning and the forest was so inviting. In the next mile we passed the junctions with Navajo trail and Wall street. At the two mile mark into our hike we came to the Peekaboo trail junction. Peekaboo Loop would take us up to the rim at Bryce Point. The trail is a large 5 mile loop into the canyon. We decided to take the longer side of the loop as in the guide it said it was more spectacular with more hoodoos. We started our big ascent out of the forest after a short snack break. It had only been an hour into the hike but we knew the final couple of hours would be filled with lots of up and downs with a total ascent of close to 2000'. We were ready for the adventure!
Can I saw WOW any more? This trail was just a continuous "Wow, look at that!" with every turn a new spectacular view. Wow, just wow.
We saw quite a few hikers as we got higher and higher on this trail, but the trail was one of the more beautiful hikes I have ever done. We both thought this was the BEST hike we did all week and a perfect ending to our fantastic trip.
We finished the hike and arrived at the shuttle bus pickup spot just as the bus pulled in. It was a 20+ minute ride back to Sunrise Point to pick up the truck, then we drove the short distance back to our camper for a hearty lunch. What a HIKE!!!!!
Total hike = 5 miles, total elevation loss 1000' and gain 1900'. What a hike!
After taking quick showers, we decided to drive out of the park to Ruby's. It is a large complex, right outside the gate, with a hotel, campground, restaurant, and gift shop. We both found nice t-shirts, filled up the gas tank at the gas station nearby, then went back into the park to stop at the Welcome Center. There we also grabbed a few t-shirts, then headed back to the camper to start packing. The North campground is right near the Rim trail at the north end of the park. We both wanted one last short hike, so we walked over to the Rim trail and walked south for a half mile, then back north for another half mile, then back to the camper. We spoke with a few hikers who were finishing up the Fairyland loop hike. It was actually the first day we had some clouds! Weather report said we might get rain later, and sure enough, after dinner it began to get windy and we could hear thunder. The rain was very brief off and on all night. What a perfect day!
Travel day, boo. We packed up the camper, went to the fill/dump station and emptied our water tanks for the trip home. Since it was over 10 hours back to Albuquerque, we had decided to spend the night along the way, at the halfway point, Flagstaff. I made reservations at the KOA there which was right on Hwy 89. We are not usually people who like commercial campgrounds, but for one night we thought this would be fine, plus it was cheap for having both water and electric hookups. We arrived at lunchtime, setup and headed into town for lunch and a stop at the Flagstaff train station-welcome center. Flagstaff is a huge destination for travelers because it is the closest city to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Traffic was insane with out-of-state cars and campers, all just passing through. We returned to the campground, relaxed, and cooked dinner.
Our last part of the journey started early and with windy conditions, we were glad we only had 5-6 hours left to drive. It was a GREAT trip, we
both loved Bryce and got in 15-16 miles of hiking, plus took hundreds and hundreds of photos.
Plan to visit Bryce in the off-season. Summers are insane from what we were told by the Rangers. Also, if you are camping, be sure to arrive early in the day as campsites are snapped up quickly. If you don't get one in the park, either NORTH or SUNSET campgrounds, then look at Ruby's just outside the gates. There are also other campgrounds a bit farther away.
Use the shuttle bus between May and Sept to all the major hiking trails and overlooks. Parking is limited and you may spend too much time and gas circling and circling. Don't park in a no-parking zone - we saw Rangers giving out tickets.
Stay on the trail and off the hoodoos.
No dogs allowed on any trail into the canyon, NONE. Don't be that person who tries.
Go for more than just a day, there is so much to see and standing at the Rim only gives you a view like a postcard. Get down there in the formations and really experience them in 3-D. It is so amazing!