After visiting Zion, Arches, and Canyonlands on previous long fall weekends, Bryce Canyon called to us as the next destination. I had fond memories of visiting Bryce as a child, and Kyle had never been. Despite both of us having colds, we enjoyed three days of hiking in Bryce and a stop at Cedar Breaks National Monument on the way back to the airport.
On Thursday, November 2, we flew into Las Vegas. We landed around 6:30pm, picked up the rental car, and made the five hour drive to Bryce. We checked into our hotel — the Best Western Plus Grand Hotel (TripAdvisor.com | Hotels.com | Booking.com) — and fell asleep quickly.
Day 1: Riggs Spring Loop
I woke up with the beginnings of a cold. Over the good and ample breakfast at the hotel, we decided to go ahead with our day as planned.
Driving into the park, we made a short stop at the visitor center. After that, we made a couple of other short stops at viewpoints. Natural Bridge was the highlight among these. Agua Canyon Viewpoint, where a large raven kept us company, and Rainbow Point were also beautiful.
From there, we drove to Yovimpa Point (9000′), at the southern end of the main drive in Bryce Canyon. Because it is so far south, the views at Yovimpa Point differ from the classic Bryce Amphitheater views, mixing rock and vegetation more. After enjoying the view, we set out for our day hike of the Riggs Spring Loop (~8.5 miles and 2300′ of elevation gain).
We hiked counterclockwise. This route descends gradually to Yovimpa Pass (8334′), before descending more steeply to Riggs Spring (7514′). Along the way, we passed a badger — I think the first I’ve seen in the wild. Once below the rim, hoodoos in the rim walls towered above us, with a spruce, bristlecone, and fir forest between us and them. As we rounded the bend and began climbing back to the point, we could see back toward the main amphitheater and the Aquarius Plateau in the distance.
Though we were done with our hike by mid afternoon, I was feeling progressively worse. We decided to take it easy for the rest of the day, stopping for views and short walks at Inspiration Point, Bryce Point, and Sunrise Point. For sunset, we wandered between Sunrise and Sunset Points.
After sunset, we walked to the nearby Bryce Canyon lodge for dinner. We were in luck — it was one of the final nights the lodge would serve dinner for the 2017 season. Dinner was good and filling, though we paid a premium for the location. It was worth it. After we ate, we could walk back out to Sunrise and Sunset Points to admire the stars. A bright moon and high, wispy clouds somewhat obscured the stars, but the moon lit up the rock below beautifully.
Day 2: Queens Garden — Peekaboo Loop — Navajo Loop
I woke up the second day feeling no better, and I had managed to get Kyle sick as well. Despite this, we stayed with our plan of an early start. After breakfast, we drove to Sunset Point, arriving in time for sunrise. From just a couple of hundred yards down the trail, we watched the sun rise through a window in a hoodoo. We then shifted slightly in time to see Thor’s Hammer and the entire amphitheater light up an intense, golden orange as the first light of the day reached them.
From Sunset Point, we proceeded to Sunrise Point — the start of our hike for the day, a 5.8 mile combination of various loop trails. From Sunrise Point, we followed the Queen’s Garden Trail 0.9 miles to a side trail, leading to the “Queen Victoria” Hoodoo. We then followed the trail another 0.8 miles to a junction with the Navajo Loop Trail.
Rather than following either branch of the loop back up to the rim, we took another trail down to the start of the Peekaboo Loop. In summer, the trail must be hiked clockwise. It is also shared with horses, though we did not encounter any.
As the name implies, the Peekaboo Loop winds its way in and out of the rock. At times, we looked out over the hoodoos to the east. At other times — especially in the return part of the loop — we were dwarfed by hoodoo that towered above us in the amphitheater wall.
From the Peekaboo Loop, we returned to the junction with the Navajo Loop trail. This presented us with a choice of how to ascend: by Two Bridges and Thor’s Hammer, or through the Wall Street section?
I had such fond childhood memories of the Wall Street section that I encouraged us to choose that route. It’s a gorgeous stretch of trail through a slot canyon. A few trees have somehow climbed up past the canyon walls, becoming towering monuments themselves.
Back up at Sunset Point, we considered descending the 0.6 miles (round trip) to Two Bridges on the other section of Navajo Loop. Our colds were getting the better of us, though, so we decided to make a brief stop at Pariah View and return to the hotel. There, we spent the rest of the day trying to nap back to health.
For dinner, we drove to Bryce Canyon Pines for steak and pie. The steak dinners were sufficiently filling that we did not have time for the pie after we were done. The pie had great reviews, though, and we’d seen several appealing looking pieces go by. So, undeterred, we ordered two pieces to go. We did not regret this decision.
Day 3: Fairyland Loop
On Sunday, our alarms again woke us for a pre-sunrise breakfast. We ate and drove to Fairyland Point, again arriving in time for sunrise. In contrast to the sunrise at Thor’s Hammer, sunrise here was more yellow and muted.
After sunrise, we started down into the Fairyland Loop (8 miles, 1700′). On the descent, we had great views to the distance and to Boat Mesa. Soon, the trail brought us back among the hoodoos.
After four miles, we reached a spur trail to Tower Bridge. While we could see Tower Bridge from the main trail, we followed the spur trail around to a better vantage. Tower Bridge features a natural bridge connecting two spires of hoodoos, with an additional arch off to the side. This made a good spot for an early lunch break.
From Tower Bridge, the loop trail continues another 1.5 mile back to the rim near Sunrise Point. Instead of turning left to the point, though, we turned north at the junction and followed the trail 2.5 miles along the rim, back to Fairyland Viewpoint and our car.
With the early start, we still had much of the afternoon ahead of us. Feeling better than the previous day, we drove back to Inspiration Point and then Bryce Point to see them in different light. In the early afternoon sun, we did not get the long shadows of early morning or late afternoon. Instead, the entire amphitheater was illuminated so we could see down among each hoodoo.
With plenty of time left in the day, we also went back to Sunset Point and the start of the Navajo Loop Trail. We followed the trail down to Two Bridges, completing the portion of the trail we had missed the previous day. This section of the trail — the orange canyon walls, the tall trees — was gorgeous in the late afternoon light.
Once back at Sunset Point, we considered driving out to the Mossy Cave section of the park. Our bodies were reminding us that we were getting over colds. We drove back to the hotel for a short nap. Working from a short list of well-reviewed restaurants we had not visited and that were open, we decided to drive to Tropic for dinner at Rustlers (TripAdvisor.com). Rustlers offered up friendly service and decent burgers, and then we were off to sleep.
Day 4: Departure and Cedar Breaks
While we had enjoyed the sunrise at Fairyland Point, our sense was that the sunrise would have been better about a half mile down the trail, among the hoodoos. So, on Monday, we woke up even earlier to drive to Fairyland Point and head partway down the trail.
From the trail, the hoodoos glowed spectacularly as the sun appeared from behind Sinking Ship Mesa. We stayed just under an hour before returning to the canyon rim.
After that, it was time to start making our way back to Las Vegas and our flight home. We stopped at the hotel for breakfast and to check out.
From there, we drove to Cedar Breaks National Monument. Like Bryce, Cedar Breaks is a large amphitheater filled with hoodoos. It is somewhat smaller (about three miles versus twelve miles), higher at the rim (10,000′ versus 9,000′), and deeper (2000′ versus 8000′), and more eroded than Bryce’s main amphitheater, resulting in different rock layers being exposed. In November, it was also considerably colder.
Working our way from north to south, we stopped at most of the main overlooks: Chessmen Ridge, Sunset View, and Point Supreme. From Point Supreme, we followed the Ramparts Trail down as far as Spectra Point. The trail continued further to Rampart Overlook, but it was icy and we didn’t want to risk missing our flight. We decided this was a good turn around.
From there, the remaining four hour drive back to Las Vegas was uneventful. Having arrived in good time, we stopped at In-and-Out for a late lunch / early dinner, returned the rental car, and went to the airport for our flight.
For this trip, we stayed at the Best Western Plus Grand Hotel (TripAdvisor.com | Hotels.com | Booking.com). Off-season prices were good ($91/night including taxes). It’s huge, but comfortable and convenient to the park. The breakfast was tasty and had many more choices than other Best Western or similar hotels at which we’ve stayed.