Distance: 3 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 8015' (Sunrise Point)
Elevation Gain: 885'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.7
Round trip time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Recommended water: 16 oz.
Parking/Fees: $30 National Parks (per vehicle, one week pass)
This was our first trip to Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. The park is famous for its hoodoos, pinnacles of weathered rock, standing in unearthly and uneven columns. The Navajo Loop to Queens Garden trail is considered a must do. The route starts at Sunset Point, descends into the canyon, takes the Queens Garden trail and short spur, ascends to Sunrise Point, then back to Sunset Point along the rim trail. The entire track is wide, smooth, and family friendly. However, our kids were quite unfriendly when we woke them up at 6:00 AM for breakfast. While Bryce doesn't attract as many people as Zion, we still wanted to beat the crowds. After much grumbling and groaning, we got Shelby and Parker up and made it to Sunset Point at 7:30 AM. There were no cars in line to enter the park when we went through, and only a small number of other hikers on the trail.
The view into Bryce is stunning, a rival to the Grand Canyon on a much lesser scale. The forest surrounding it reminded me a lot of the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The strange formations are mostly a product of freeze-thaw cycles at high elevation, plus normal erosion from wind and wet winters. We started our descent on the Navajo Loop trail and quickly submerged into the pines and hoodoos. Dozens of golden mantled squirrels begged for attention and dropped food. It's a short hike and soon we started up to Queens Garden, named because one of the hoodoos allegedly looks like Queen Victoria. I didn't see the resemblance. At the end of the Queens Garden spur, I scurried up a ridge to get some photos on the other side. Then, we followed the trail up to Sunrise Point. Parker got bored along the way and started climbing gullys and rocks. There is some potential to be developed there. It was hard to pick out Thor's Hammer on the way down, but I was able to get a pretty good shot of it from the rim on the way back. On the way out of the park, the line of cars to get in was at least 20 deep.