About MeI live in Jackson Hole, Wyoming where I explore the deeper reaches of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem while also trying to raise awareness about light pollution and the importance of dark skies through photography and video.
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One of the really great things about Capitol Reef National Park, and any national park for that matter, is that unless otherwise indicated, you’re free to explore anywhere you want. Inside the Waterpocket Fold, this yields massive opportunities that I didn’t even get to come close to realizing.
Surprise Canyon was my first taste of that kind of exploring in this particular national park. A rough and sandy trail leads back to the mouth of the canyon, but from there, where you head is up to you and your intuition.
Note: There is a lot of cryptobiotic soil in this area (also known as cryptogamic and microbiotic). This is a living soil that takes decades, at best, to even come close to resembling what you’re seeing. Please, stay off of it and do not damage it.
While the Peek-a-Boo Loop can be accessed from the Navajo Loop, the more standard route is from Bryce Point. I sat here before sunrise, waiting for enough light to begin hiking as car after car pulled up, their drivers hopping out and frantically scrambling to plant their tripods at the ideal spot before anyone else. Once there was enough light, I was happy to leave the frantic and stressful act of capturing sunrise behind where I was able to enjoy it for what it was, having both the trail and sunrise to myself. In the above photo, Bryce Point is at the top-left.
The trail descends from the same access that heads up to Bryce Point. It immediately begins to drop, leveling out for a short distance below the parking area, and then proceeding to descend steadily toward the hoodoos again.
Distance: 1 mile (loop)
Best time of year: Summer, Fall
The Bristlecone Pine Loop is probably the easiest trail in Bryce Canyon National Park. It’s located at the very end of the main road in the south end of the park, and over the course of a one mile loop brings you past a 1,600 year old bristlecone pine tree.
The trail starts along the canyon rim at Rainbow Point and follows the rim northward a short distance before winding into the ponderosa pine forest with the ground blanketed in manzanita. The crowd noise of the overlook fades away and the trail gradually descends a small amount of elevation until you come to an overlook where there’s even a small gazebo with information about the area inside.
Distance: 3.8 miles
Best time of year: Spring, Summer, Fall
Crowded. Loud. Disrespectful shortcutters. Yelling. This is most likely what you’ll encounter on the Queen’s Garden to Navajo Loop, and you should absolutely do this hike. It has its down sides (most of them just mentioned), but for the majestic splendor and wonder of Bryce Canyon, this loop is an absolute must see. Consider it a best-of for what Bryce Canyon National Park has to offer, in a hike that can be done even by novice hikers. For those novices, however, hiking out will prove to be a challenge.
Most people prefer to start at the Queen’s Garden trailhead, and I wouldn’t argue that. You descend through some of the most spectacular hoodoo formations found anywhere in North America, and possibly the world.
Distance: 1.1 miles
Best time of year: Spring, Summer, Fall
Artist Paint Pots is an appropriately named collection of mud pots that have some incredibly unique coloring and actually do resemble pots of paint. It’s one of the fantastic displays of mudpots in the park, where the water is so acidic it gradually eats away the ground around it.
The trail begins from the parking area and weaves in and out of a young lodgepole pine forest on its way to the geyser basin. The trail is easy to follow and well-maintained. You soon reach the thermal area where boardwalks begin to break up the natural trail in some areas to make passing near the features safer. The trail also makes a loop here, and most people will find that taking the route to the left is a little less steep than going to the right.