When it comes to traveling, one of my greatest joys is immersing myself in a new place. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a city or some remote wilderness that I’m visiting for the first time, setting off on foot allows me to discover things up close.
Whether I’m hiking, walking, strolling, meandering, or whatever pace I’m keeping at the moment, I love allowing my legs to transport me to exciting new visual delights .
Years ago, my son and I visited my parents in the Chicago suburbs and took the train into the city for a day of sightseeing. We walked, and walked, and walked some more…. no cab rides for us. According to my dad (who knows the city of Chicago like the back of his hand), Logan and I must have walked at least ten miles. By doing so, he and I observed so many unique details in this bustling city – from architecture, to art, to the beautiful parks and shops, to the sounds and smells. It was a memorial day spent with my son along with discovering the city’s special character.
My week spent in Bryce Canyon Country was equally memorable and just like that day in Chicago, I knew I had to get out on foot to immerse myself in this mesmerizing landscape.
I started off my Bryce Canyon National Park visit by stopping at every single overlook and getting a feel for the lay of the land.
Seeing Mother Nature’s work of art from the rim of the canyon is breathtaking, but hiking in the depths of her creation left me awe-struck and speechless. Around every corner was another perplexing sculpture. So many of the rocks seem to have faces and personalities. Then there are rocks that resemble people, things, or even a queen – Queen Victoria to be exact.
And now we know why the trail is called the Queen’s Garden Trail. It took me a moment to grasp the resemblance, and of course, the aid of a sign was helpful.
The Queen’s Garden trail is a fantastic hike that put me in the center of some of the most bizarre and interesting terrain that I’ve ever seen. It’s obvious why it’s the parks most popular trail. We saw hikers of all ages and ability on the trail, although I will say the 600 foot elevation climb back out of the canyon seemed to be a challenge for some, especially for those not accustomed to the 8,000 plus foot altitude. Note the pointy hoodoo in the photos below. The trailhead is high above that hoodoo.
Al and I enjoyed this hike so much so that we actually hiked it twice. On our first day, we started the hike at the Navajo Loop trailhead which will eventually meet up with the Queens Garden trail. The term “loop” is a bit of a misnomer because the return part of the Navajo trail loop has been damaged and eroded to the point it had to be closed off for safety reasons. Thus, no hiking loop at the time of this writing.
This land never rests due to weather and erosion. These statuesque limestone rock formations called hoodoos are caused by the extreme weather changes… from snow and ice melt, to soaring heat. The constant contraction and expansion causes cracks, collapses, and further sculpting. You won’t find any rock climbers around here considering the rock is soft, unstable, and ever-changing. Because of this instability, its vital hikers stay on the trails and wear proper footwear for traction.
Starting off at Sunset Point, we headed down the Navajo trail into the canyon floor via a series of switchbacks, and found ourselves hiking in a pine forest. The crisp fresh air scented with pine made for a very pleasurable hike.
Once we veered onto the Queens Garden trail, we exited the pine forest and the terrain became more stark and barren, but those hoodoos were up close and personal.
The next day, Al and I hiked the trail in reverse; starting at the Queens Garden trailhead and exiting at the Navajo trailhead. Is one way better than the other? No! Regardless of the starting and ending point, the scenery is out of this world and I can’t recommend this hike enough. The first day it took us a little over two hours to complete the hike because someone kept stopping to take photos 😉 The second go around took us less than two hours to hike, even though an equal amount of photos were taken!
BUT, if you’d like to start out with a couple of super easy hikes that are still beautiful, but won’t have the elevation change……
On highway 12 just east of highway 89 is the Red Canyon Visitor Center. There’s a series of short trails that interconnect allowing one to hike the short interpretative trail only or add a little more distance by continuing onto the Pink Ledges trail and/or the Birds Eye trail.
The scenery here is beautiful and worth the stop. Since we were camped just a few miles down the road, I found myself meandering around here a couple of times. It’s amazing the new sights I saw each time I hiked the same trail. The more I looked at the rocks, the more faces I saw.
Continuing east on Highway 12 past the turn off to Bryce Canyon National Park are more hiking trails. Year’s ago (I’m talking more than twenty plus), Al and I traveled Highway 12 through this part of Utah. It’s a stretch of road I’ve longed to revisit, but alas the weather this day would not cooperate.
I stopped in at the great visitor center in the town of Cannonville and picked up some local information then returned to the truck in a steady stream of rain. Feeling somewhat disappointed, I decided to head home. My exploration of Highway 12 will need to wait for another visit.
However, on my way home, the weather cleared just long enough for me to take a quick one mile (out and back) hike. Any disappointment I may have felt was quickly lifted after a brisk walk in this beautiful setting. The Mossy Cave Waterfall Trail was definitely a worthwhile hike in between rain clouds.
So that about wraps up my fabulous week spent in Bryce Canyon Country. Oh, we can’t forget the beautiful faces of wildlife……
FYI… the trails around here can get slick, gooey, and dangerous. Proper hiking shoes are a must. The weather can fluctuate to extremes and change rapidly. A 40 degree (Fahrenheit) change throughout the day is not unusual. Dressing in layers is a good idea. Bring plenty of water and expect high winds. Being prepared, allowed us to have a fantastic and memorable visit.
I’ll be back!