Hiking Bryce Canyon: Queens Garden/Navajo Trail Loop
There’s no two ways about it: Bryce Canyon is incredible. Located in the high desert of southern Utah, Bryce is a place where your imagination can run wild. A Paiute Indian tale explains how the hoodoos of the canyon came to be:
“Before there were any Indians, the Legend People… lived in that place. There were many of them. They were of many kinds — birds, animals, lizards, and such things — but they looked like people…. For some reason the Legend People in that place were bad…. Because they were bad, Coyote turned them all into rocks. You can see them in that place now, all turned into rocks; some standing in rows, some sitting down, some holding onto others. You can see their faces, with paint on them just as they were before they became rocks. The name of that place is Angka-ku-wass-a-wits. This is the story the people tell.”
A strange story, to be sure. And one that invites exploration. Perhaps the best way to get close to the Legend People is to take a hike on the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop Trail. It’s only three miles long, but what the trail lacks in length it makes up for in mind blowing scenery.
The hike begins and ends at Sunset Point, just a short drive south of the Visitor Center. There are full amenities in the parking area (flushing toilets and running water!). Peer into the canyon at one of the numerous overlooks to get an idea of the strange land you will soon be hiking through. The park service recommends doing the loop in a clockwise fashion, and who am I to argue with their expertise?
The Queens Garden Trail is accessed from the canyon rim at Sunrise Point, and hikers are immediately sent switchbacking down the trail almost 400′. Right off the bat the views are superb. Hikers stroll by an amazing variety of hoodoos and other rock formations on their way to the bottom. On the way down you will pass through small doorways carved right through the rocks… cool stuff, indeed.
Upon arriving at the bottom you maybe be surprised by the landscape. Instead of the standard slick rock and sand terrain of southern Utah you will find large groves of Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pines thriving in the area. Scrub oak and numerous wildflower species complete the diversity of the region. Continue hiking south and let your mind wonder. The tale of the Legend People is brought to life before your eyes as you scan the area for formations. Hikers soon arrive at a four way junction; Navajo Loop or Wall Street will take you back to the top.
I cannot recommend the Wall Street trail enough. Turn the corner and get ready to be amazed: two close, high walls give the impression of a slot canyon. Smack dab in the middle of the crack are a few gigantic Douglas Fir trees that extend all the way to the light above. Take a rest under one of these giants and get ready for the steep hike out. The NPS has done a great job easing the pain of the ascent. Switchbacks are well worn and wide enough to accommodate two lanes of foot traffic, something that the Wall Street portion of the trail is never short on.
Hikers from all over the world make the trip to Bryce, and Wall Street is a big attraction. On your way back to the top you pass Thor’s Hammer, one of the most well known hoodoos in the park. Make sure to stop at the overlook near Silent City, a group of rocks that lives up to the name. The visitor center at Bryce boasts that the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop Trail may be the most beautiful 3 miles in the entire park system, and quite honestly, it’s tough to argue with that claim.
To get to Bryce Canyon from Salt Lake City head south on I-15 past the town of Beaver. Take Exit 95 towards the town of Panguitch. From Panguitch, take Route 12 Scenic Byway to Bryce Canyon. There are tons of developed campsites, and even a few resort/hotels complete with swimming pools for those of you seeking luxury. Free camping can be found just outside the park on BLM land near the Tropic Reservoir. $25 will get you into the park, but don’t forget that on September 25th (Public Lands Day) and November 11th (Veterans Day) visitors can enter for free.