There is one hiking trail you MUST DO when visiting Bryce Canyon National Park because it is the best way to see the hoodoos up close.
The views overlooking the Amphitheater along the Rim Trail are spectacular, but the experience of looking up at the hoodoos from the canyon floor is awe-inspiring.
The Navajo Loop Trail, or adding on the Queen’s Garden Loop, is the one Bryce Canyon hike we always recommend!
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HIKING GUIDE: Navajo Loop – Queen’s Garden Trail
Duration: 2-3 Hours
Distance: 2.9 miles
Ankle injuries are extremely common due to loose rocks that act like marbles under your feet. Always wear well-fitting hiking boots with ankle support, and lace boots all the way up.
You can begin the hike from either Sunrise or Sunset Points, but the National Park Service suggests the safest and most scenic route begins at Sunset Point, hiking north along the rim before descending into the canyon at Sunrise Point and finally ascending via the Wall Street switchbacks.
Wall Street is a narrow canyon named for the resemblance to New York City and its skyscrapers. It’s the only slot canyon in the park.
Keep in mind the Wall Street switchbacks are closed during the winter. When Wall Street is closed, you must use the Two Bridges Trail section of the Navajo trail.
Don’t miss seeing Thor’s Hammer if you only take the Wall Street section! It’s worth the extra bit of hiking to see this famous structure.
We hiked this trail in April and Wall Street was still not open. I really wanted to see the glowing light reflected off the gold and orange canyon walls in that narrow section. And I wanted to see the famous Douglas firs, 500 years old, growing between the towering cliffs.
We did not know the recommendation from the National Park Service to begin the hike at Sunrise Point so we started at Sunset Point, following a counterclockwise loop down the Two Bridges part of the Navajo Loop Trail, connecting with the Queen’s Garden Trail up to Sunrise Point, then returning back to Sunset Point along the Rim Trail for the 3 mile round-trip hike.
We felt the steeper descent to the canyon floor from Sunset Point, compared to the more gradual one from Sunrise Point, would be easier going down than coming back up.
Regardless of where you begin, the trail descends nearly 600 feet into the iconic amphitheater. I’ve read the climb back to the rim is not considered difficult, but I found myself stopping to catch my breath quite often. It is important to hike at a pace that suits your level of fitness.
Carry one liter of water for every two hours of hiking time. STAY HYDRATED EVEN IF YOU DON’T FEEL THIRSTY. Pack plenty of high-energy snacks that will help to keep your energy up all the way back to your car.
As we descended down the Two Bridges side of the Navajo Loop Trail, we passed the iconic Thor’s Hammer, Three Gossips and Thor’s Window.
The switchbacks on this part of the trail were still impressive, just not as narrow as what you see along the Wall Street section.
I was excited to hike DOWN the switchbacks, but knew the ascent back out to the Rim Trail at Sunrise Point would not be easy either (and I was right).
At the bottom of the switchbacks, the trail evens out and meanders through the ponderosa pine forest along the canyon floor.
Follow the signs to the Queen’s Garden Trail.
Watch for a short spur trail that will take you to the Queen’s Garden.
Look for the formation known as Queen Victoria. It’s a lightly colored rock formation that bares a resemblance to the many statues of Queen Victoria found in Europe.
Take time to enjoy the beauty that surrounds you in the Queen’s Garden.
Once back on the main trail, it is only 0.8 miles to Sunrise Point, a gain of 320 feet in elevation.
The remainder of this amazing hike is no less spectacular than the start, winding through sculptured spires and colorful pinnacles, passing through tunnels…..
….., and walking through a landscape of Seuss-inspired trees.
Soon you are back on the rim at Sunrise Point where you can catch your breath from the ascent and gaze at the magnificent landscape.
Take the Rim Trail south toward Sunset Point where you started. You can see the trail you just hiked below and feel a sense of accomplishment!
Reflected Light – Watch for bounce light along the trail. Focus on the hoodoos, fins, windows and trees. Be creative with composition by taking pictures through rock holes, tunnels, windows and between cliffs. Unusually shaped frames can add drama to the shot.
Focus on the details – When the light isn’t ideal, it’s the perfect time to capture the bold color and fine details of the various formations by taking close-up shots.
Look up – Remember to look up and photograph the hoodoos and fins from below. These photos will provide a different aspect of Bryce Canyon than those shots you take from the viewpoints along the amphitheater rim.
Stay on the trail – It’s important to Leave No Trace when visiting National Parks.
Top 10 Causes of Injuries at Bryce Canyon
The injuries listed on the National Park Service – Bryce Canyon website mostly relate to hiking:
#1 AND #2 – Wrong Footwear
Wear hiking boots with good ankle support and traction. Sport-sandals, flip-flops and sneakers are NOT safe hiking footwear. Wearing shoes or boots not designed for hiking is the NUMBER ONE cause of rescues and injuries that require hospital visits at Bryce Canyon National Park.
#3 – Over-Exertion
Park elevations reach 9115 ft, subjecting you to 70% of the oxygen you might be used to. The trails at Bryce Canyon start at the top which means you must return by hiking back uphill. Stop the hike and turn back BEFORE you become tired. Know and respect your own physical limitations.
#4 – Leaving the Trail
Stay on designated trails and away from cliff edges that include crumbly rock, slippery slopes and sheer drop-offs. All visitors are strongly cautioned to remain on trails and behind railings. Even on seemingly gentle slopes, it can be impossible to keep your footing. Carry maps to avoid getting lost. We use the National Geographic series of maps because they are waterproof, tear-resistant and provide a wide variety of information for the area – trails, roads, campgrounds, lodging, etc.
#5 – Dehydration
Drink 1 quart (liter) every 1-2 hours. A body must be well hydrated to better regulate body temperature and resist heat exhaustion. Sunburns also lead to dehydration. Wear a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses to protect from the sun overhead and reflected UV light. Hydration Stations to fill your water bottles are found in several locations in the park. Check for locations on the map in the park newspaper.
#6 – Lightning
When thunder roars, go indoors! You are not safe anywhere outside. Run to a safe building or vehicle when you first hear thunder, see lightning or observe dark threatening clouds developing overhead. Stay inside until 30 minutes after you hear the last clap of thunder. Do not shelter under trees. At Bryce Canyon, the building could be the Visitor Center, Bryce Canyon Lodge, or even the bathroom at Sunset Point (which has electricity and plumbing). A bus shelter with open sides will protect you from rain, but not from lightning!
Lightning is a year-round danger especially during summer monsoon storms! Bryce Canyon thunderstorms usually happen in the afternoon so plan to get up early and go hiking in the morning.
#7 – Ignoring Extreme Weather
Layered clothing is recommended for the Bryce Canyon temperature extremes and frequent strong winds. It is possible for the difference between the daily high and low to be as much as 50°F!
#8 – Feeding Wildlife
When you feed an animal it become aggressive. Even a small animal’s bite can require stitches or transmit disease. Watch wildlife from a distance and discourage animals that approach you. Please Enjoy the Great Outdoors – Be a Responsible Visitor.
#9 – Climbing or Sliding Down Cliffs
The rock cliffs at Bryce Canyon are crumbly with many steep slopes. Climbing the rocks and sliding on the slopes is not only illegal but also dangerous.
#10 – Unsafe Driving:
Speeding (posted limits are 15 to 45 mph).
Failure to wear seat belts.
Passing on a double yellow line.
Auto vs. Animal. Watch for Wildlife!
Stop in pullouts, never in the road.
Reduce speed on wet or icy roads.
If you only have time for one hike on your trip to Bryce Canyon, this is the one! We have already planned the hike we want to do the next time we go to Bryce Canyon: Fairyland Loop.
Be sure to use our Hiking Gear List if you take your kids! And our friends at Just Go Travel Studios share their experience at Bryce Canyon hiking and horseback riding.