Bryce Canyon is a US National Park and one of those places that when you see it, instantly knocks you back. It is unlike anywhere I have ever seen in the US. A vast canyon filled with hoodoos carved out over time by erosion via not a river (like most canyons) but the weather. For half the year Bryce has freezing nights and warm days, during this temperature change water seeps into the rocks and freezes as the temperature drops. Freezing causes the water to swell inside the rocks and the rocks crack in a process known as frost wedging. Considering the rocks are a deep sandstone red the canyon spends the day changing as the light alters the perception from every angle.
The canyon is also teeming with wildlife from jays which can be heard nutting the trees as you hike around, to rattle snakes, chipmunks, prairie dogs, pronghorns and mountain lions. It is a diverse habitat of nature meets drop dead gorgeous habitat, and for those looking to experience a slice of this magic you are in luck – There just happens to be a hike through the canyon just 3 miles long, on well maintained trails and it
Billed as the best 3 mile hike in the world the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop is a combination of two trails down into, through and then back out of Bryce Canyon.
According to the National Park guide the trek is moderate and should take between two and three hours. Realistically it is very easy and can be completed with an hour as it took us just 90 minutes and we were stopping constantly to take photographs. Also, we had no map and just sensed our way around.
Starting and finishing at two close car parks (sunset point and sunrise point) it is something you could do without interrupting too much of your day.
The guide suggests starting at Sunrise Point and finishing at Sunset Point taking a clockwise route. All the research I did suggested taking the route in the opposite direction and that is exactly what we did. It meant two things, first of all the steepest part of the hike was downhill meaning the ascent back up was much more gradual. Secondly the most stunning part of the hike is approached towards you, rather than behind you.
We stayed the night at Cedar city and then made our way to Bryce via Dixie National Forest which in itself is gorgeous and offers up rolling plains carved by rock and strewn with boulders all set to the back drop of jaw dropping mountains. It’s one of those places you think you’ll just drive through, but end up stopping every few miles for photos and stunning vistas.
At Bryce we parked at sunset point and then made our descent straight down into an opening between two huge monoliths which give the place its name and offers the hiker an imposing, somewhat claustrophobic feel of being Indian Jones for a few minutes. This part of the hike is the Navajo trail and you then wind round through the canyon listening to nature, seeing nature and feeling completely overwhelmed by unique beauty which has been attracting visitors for over a hundred years.
Germans are out in force on this hike and every now and again you’ll see a few blocking the path frozen in a state of confusion at where the trail goes next. Just stick to the trail until you see a junction and when you do, keep going to the right until you pass the left turn for the navajo trail. Those that are bored, cold (as we were actually) or just blown away can bail at this point, but I strongly urge you to continue on as the fun isn’t over yet.
The trail starts to gradually climb round to the left and through sparse pine trees before opening up to a tall structure which supposedly looks like Queen Victoria on her plinth, personally I didn’t get it. But there is a reassuring picture to show you the comparison – I still didn’t get it. However, what I did get, and got very quickly was the queens garden to the rear. A collection of hoodoos as tall as the canyon and akin to cocktail sticks on a huge scale. It was breathtaking. Walking amongst them felt surreal and as we ascended slowly out of the canyon I saw that Jack too was mesmerised. To be honest he was as usual in his element as he ran, climbed and just loved being somewhere different. When I asked him what he thought he responded “it’s like being on another planet” and I have to agree. It is just so unlike anywhere I have ever seen it was just special.
The trail winds up out of the Queens Garden and to Sunrise Point where there were loads of people looking out over Bryce in a trance like stupor wondering, perhaps wishing they had seen the canyon in a somewhat more intimate way. The way in which me and my 7 year old and 2 year old just had. A way in which we had navigated ourselves without a map, with just a bottle of gatorade each and without a care in the world. I had scheduled the day for our hike and it had taken just a fraction of that, but as we walked back along the rim to the car I looked at Toby running along in front, at Jack walking with me telling me that he was coming back when he was older and I kept peeking at one of the most unique and beautiful pieces of America that I have ever seen and had the privilege of walking amongst.