National Parks are often places families get out of the car and just walk to an overlook. Bryce Canyon National Park has a variety of trails that are family-friendly. The easiest and most beautiful is the Queen’s Garden Complex that mixes family-friendly with something a little more challenging for those sojourning further.
People talk often of Zion National Park, but the more beautiful of the two southeastern Utah national parks is Bryce Canyon National Park.
Zion is beautiful and its nickname as “the Yosemite of Utah” is well-deserved. Its less-crowded back country is breathtaking, the towering canyon walls and cliff-side hikes are worth the sore calves.
My heart yearns for Bryce Canyon, its hoodoos, spires and red rock colors contrasting with the vivid pine greens. A trip to the canyon will capture yours as well.
It’s being discovered more and more, and that means peak travel seasons are seeing greater crowds, but the park is lovely in the shoulder seasons and even winter has its unique beauty when the snow covers the red rock like frosting on an orange cake.
Let’s take a hike—Family easy Queen’s Garden Trail Complex
The park service rates Queen’s Garden trail as “easy,” which means family-friendly. The nearly two-mile (3 kilometers) loop is a drop and climb of over 300 feet (98 meters) from the overlook into Queen Victoria’s Court.
The well packed trail has benches and boulders for resting, making it an easy trek from the Sunrise Point overlook down to the garden. The shapes and colors of the hoodoos and spires make for great conversation, amazing photographic backdrops and the entire hike worthwhile.
The switchbacks are easy to navigate. The wide trail makes it possible for side-by-side hiking, perfect for holding hands. Despite a pretty good crowd on the summer day we took the trail, there was plenty of space for taking pictures, and even with language differences, other hikers gladly exchanged photo-shoots to get everyone in parties in the photos.
The Queen’s Garden trail is described as the easiest descent into the Bryce Amphitheater. Dropping down the trail crowds thin. Many like to go down to the first saddle between clusters of spires where photos capture the unique landscape of Bryce Canyon. The crowds thin, the deeper the trail dives into the canyon.
The bottom of the trail is a royal court of hoodoos arranged in a semi-circle on each side of a spire named “Queen Victoria.” The contrasting red-orange color of the red rock with the cool, dark green of the trees makes a picture-perfect setting.
The Queen’s Garden-Navajo Connector
Many hikers turn around at the Queen’s Garden and hike out the switchbacks.
For us, this is where the trail became more beautiful. Walking through a cedar forest, the Queen’s Loop Connector trail is an easy hike to the Navajo Loop trail base. It’s about a mile (1.5 km) along the connector. Most of the hike is in the cool shade of the cedars and pines.
The landscape changes dramatically from the bright colors of the rock to the rich, lushness of an evergreen forest. The trail has a few ups and downs, but is essentially following a terrace at the base of the canyon wall. The ease of travel is deceptive, because of what awaits the hiker.
Getting up the Canyon Wall – Navajo Loop Takes Breath Away, Literally
At the base of Navajo Loop, the trail changes from easy to moderate. This is suitable for older children. Young children may find the climb ahead to be very strenuous. There are few resting places once starting the canyon climb on Navajo Trail.
The Navajo Trail has iconic photo settings of lone trees stretching skyward within the walls of slot canyons. The trail weaves its way up the side of the canyon wall, and at the moment it appears to be a dead end, the trail turns into a slot canyon cut into the cliff walls. This is called “Wall Street” for a reason. It’s the only slot canyon in Bryce Canyon National Park.
The easy walk through Wall Street to the slot canyon is deceptively peaceful. It has a gentle rise, car-size boulders worn into comfortable resting places. The sun penetrates deep into the canyon, making the walls of the slot appear to glow. The final steps from the slot are just that, water-carved, man-improved steps to climb out the entrance.
Awaiting is a steep canyon-wall switchback rising more than 500 feet (150 meters) to the rim. The switchbacks are steep, and even in good shape, the 7,500 foot (2,300m) elevation rising to 8,000 feet (2,500m) will take breath away. Close to the top of the switchbacks, the trail has railings to help make the final rise.
It’s worth every step, every muscle ache and each opportunity to stop, recapture breath and look into the descent and out across the ledges to the amazing views that are uniquely Bryce Canyon.
Hiking Bryce Canyon National Park
Overall, the park offers varying options to see the sights. The main road runs the length of Bryce Point with numerous turnouts and overlooks. The most popular are Bryce, Sunrise and Rainbow points. They are also the most crowded during peak seasons, and the Park Service now runs free shuttle buses to the most popular overlooks.
The park’s trail guides separate the hiking opportunities into day and overnight hikes, and three levels of difficulty. Assistance is available at the visitor center, and there are numerous hiking guides to the park.
Bryce Canyon National Park is a wild and natural setting. While going to walkable overlooks and picnic areas are like visiting a park, hikes are not walks around the neighborhood. Nature is totally unforgiving and will kill the unprepared.
- This is high desert. The rim elevation is in the 8,000 foot (2,500m) neighborhood. The thinning air and low humidity will create significant thirst. Summer days can be very hot in direct sunlight. Wear sunscreen and light color clothings.
- Carry 1 liter of water per person per hour when hiking. Always have water in the car. Even without hiking, drink about 3 liters of non-caffeine liquids per day. Sugary drinks, like soda, will dehydrate you as well.
- Remember it takes twice as long to hike up the canyon wall as it does to hike down to the bottom.
- Be weather aware, especially in the summer. Lightning strikes often and is deadly. When thunder is heard, take shelter until the storm passes. Do not take shelter under trees, and watch for areas of obvious run-off from the canyon wall. Plummeting runoff water flows can carry rocks and boulders. If rain is forecast—check the boards in the visitor center—be sure to carry rain ponchos.
- Wear layers. Temperatures can drop or rise suddenly depending on where the hiking trail leads. Be prepared to remain warm or cool down as necessary.
- Queen’s Garden is an easy hike, and we observed people wearing open-toed shoes, sandals and flip-flops. It’s possible, but better to be in a shoe holding the heel firmly and supporting the arch. Hiking boots are recommended. For the Navajo Trail, hiking without proper hiking shoes or boots is an invitation to foot injury.
- We’ve hiked the trail in the spring with snow on the ground. Trekking poles were an absolute necessity. We would not have made it up the Navajo Trail without them. The Queen’s Garden trail is mostly in sunlight, and mud was the biggest challenge at some locations. It would have been smarter to have crampons for the boots to come out through Wall Street, but the trekking poles made it possible. They are not necessities on Queen’s Garden, but sure made the hike down more comfortable.
Getting to Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southwestern Utah east of U.S. 89 between Panguitch and Tropic. It’s just a couple of hours drive north of Zion National Park, and three hours west of Capital Reef National Park.
The nearest major airport is Las Vegas, Nevada, on Interstate 15 to the southwest. St. George, Utah, which is near Zion National Park, also is served by commercial carriers.
Depending on the length of a vacation, it is possible to spend a week of quality time at Zion, Bryce Canyon and Capital Reef national parks on one trip looping south from Salt Lake City or north from Las Vegas. Also nearby by are Arches and Canyonlands national parks in Utah, and Monument Valley Tribal Park and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. Five national monuments and three Utah state parks are also worth visits in the same vicinity.