Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southwestern Utah, approximately 2.5-3 hours from St. George, Utah. We decided that we would make this a family day trip, leaving around lunch time. There are a few options for travel when leaving from the St. George area. If you CLICK HERE, you can see the Google Map routes available (3 routes total). We traveled to Bryce Canyon via Cedar City and then through Duck Creek. This is a beautiful drive through the Dixie National Forest. Although it is about 30 minutes longer than driving up I-15, I prefer the landscape on this drive. We were also lucky enough to spot a herd of 30 or so deer grazing in a farm field about 30 minutes outside of Bryce Canyon. There are some flat grassy lands that, depending on the weather and time of year, fill up with pools of water. Apparently the deer love this and there were so many to see. It was quite the sight! Keep your eyes peeled on the route there. You never know what may be lurking out your window.
Once we arrived, it was time to nail down our trail of choice. We had a few in mind, but not having been on any of them, we had to scope them out to start. We began by walking up to the Sunset Point lookout along the Rim Trail. Imagine my “joy” when this was the first sign we saw. (Note: This is right by the parking lot where there are bathrooms and water. Get the kids taken care of before your adventure begins!!)
Given my fear (talked about here) I had a near panic attack. My husband kindly turned around and said, “You have been here before. Did you forget?”. Uhh…yeah…that was in my fancy free 20’s and now I have 4 crazy kiddos following me around! I took a deep breath and kept walking. I couldn’t spoil nearly 3 hours in the car for the rest of the crew.
As we reached the first marked trail at Sunset Point, I thought I was going to barf. It was marked as Navajo Loop and this is what I looked down at:
I’m sorry. You want me to dangle my children off what cliff?! Okay, that’s dramatic. However, this was not a great starting place for my poor heart. We continued down the Rim Trail, which is an excellent trail that is paved in areas and is easy (between Sunset and Sunrise Point; the entire trail is about 5.5 miles). It is only about 200 feet of an elevation gain, the walkway is quite large and has some fences on the edges, but they are open enough to be able to see the wonderful hoodoos. There are plenty of benches along the path; some are away from the edge and others are closer. Quite the variety so anyone can enjoy the view from where they are most comfortable.
We walked the Rim Trail from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point, approximately .5 miles. This is also the trail head for Queen’s Garden (Loop).
I say “(Loop)” because some websites and documents referred to this as a loop. However, if you only want to complete the short .9 miles to Queen’s Garden (1.8 miles round trip), you will be coming back the same way you went down. The Queen’s Garden trail itself is NOT a loop. Although the start of this trail head made my heart flutter a bit, I powered through and down we went.
As you can see from the trail pictures, the trail is very well maintained. The edges aren’t too “cliff” like (I type that now; if you had asked me on the trail whilst I was holding my 5 year old’s hand I would have told you it was a death trap). It is a bit of descent with a lot (A LOT) of loose rocks. My number one recommendation is to try (try being the keyword) to keep your kids from running down the enticing slopes. If they do run then odds are they will quickly learn about how slippery loose rocks are when on top of compact dirt trails. There are also a lot of rocks that are perfect for little hands to throw. As the sign in the picture above asks, do not let them throw the rocks. These trails zig zag and there always seems to be someone “below” you, so keep an eye out. Queen’s Garden Trail does descend around 320 feet. Remember that whatever you climb down…you have to climb back up. Maybe consider this before you start. The going down was easy-peasy. It was also so pretty that it really made me forget that I would have to come back up in some form.
Above is a picture looking back up the trail we had just come down. The rock walls built to help maintain the trail blend in well and were so beautiful. As you approach the garden, be careful…you might miss it. If you are thinking it is an actual garden, trust me…it’s not. Although it is a great place to stop, have a picnic, let the kids poke around, find rocks to climb and more.
Queen’s Garden is given this name because of the huge rock/hoodoo that looks like a Queen Victoria statue. We had a family debate about which hoodoo was the actual one. There are 2 that look quite similar, so I guess you’ll have to decide for yourself. Also, make sure to bring a camera or paper and pencil/crayon. If you find 3 of these plaques with the gold benchmarks, you can bring pictures of yourself with the benchmarch or rubbings back to the Visitor Center for a surprise. We didn’t make it to the Visitor Center before it closed, so you’ll have to let us know what the goodie is! You can also get the surprise if you don’t pass 3 benchmarks, but go 3 miles.
Make sure that once you are in the Queen’s Garden you look around for wildlife. We saw a few chipmunks who really, really wanted our crackers. One even found a rogue Teddy Graham that had fallen to his death below our feet. Those chipmunks mean business! This is also the time to decide if you want to head back up the same trail, or continue through on the Navajo Loop. I highly recommend continuing on to the Navajo Loop. The “forest” area after the Queen’s Garden is delicious. So beautiful and an easy trail. The kids love playing around here and weaving through the rocks. This is a great place to have a scavenger hunt if you have the time.
The rock above is enormous and looks like it could come crashing down any moment. Naturally I told my kids to go under it and sit on the log bench perfectly positioned under the rock. This is another great place to take a water break and relax. Just beautiful. As you come out of the “forest” area (as we called it), you will see a quick sight on your right, but I missed it and had to back track. Make sure to pay attention to trail signs for “Two Bridges”. They are down a slot canyon and if you aren’t looking for them, you’ll miss it!
Navajo Loop is a loop all its own that begins at Sunset Point. However, half of the loop was closed off for winter (should open in Spring). When at the base (where this sign is), there are 2 directions. One to your left (going back up) and one to your right (also going back up). The one on the right is where the Navajo Loop was starting for most people we were passing. They marked off the closed trail quite well, so if it happens to be closed when you visit, you shouldn’t have trouble finding which route to take to the top.
Remember when I said you will have to go back up that descent you first came down over at Queen’s Garden? Here it is! With 4 kids that were about to be done and more done, this looked incredibly daunting. I knew I could do it (even with all those unprotected edges), but I was worried about those 8 little legs following me. The hubs and I acted like it was nothing and kept telling the kids how fun it would be (not lying — encouraging — not lying). Up and up we went. Know what? They did UH-MAZING and it actually was a lot of fun. I had the following ages with me: 4, 5, 8, and 10. They each walked all the switchbacks on their own and with no issues. Make sure you pace yourself, don’t push it to get up fast, and take water breaks. There are plenty of areas where you can perch out of the way to take a little break.
Nearly at the top and I completely missed that this area was called “Thor’s Hammer”. Thanks to my 10 year old taking this panoramic picture, I didn’t miss the hoodoo shaped like Thor’s Hammer. I know that’s a lot of zig-zagging as you are walking up, but stop and look up!! There are some amazing structures to see.
When it was all said and done, we traveled around 2.8 miles, descended 320 feet, climbed up 550 feet and had so, so, so much fun! It took us almost 2 hours exactly. Mind you we parked it down at Queen’s Garden for about 30 minutes to play around and we were in no rush to move at a quick pace. I would highly recommend this trail to all families. Younger kids that aren’t as stable (say 1-2 year old) should probably be in a pack on the descent and ascent. However, with a helping hand, I’m sure they could even walk this if you had the patience to go at their pace. They definitely could walk between Queen’s Garden and the start of the incline at Navajo Loop. I am calling this trail moderate because of the descents and inclines. Other than that it is an easy trail.
- Well-maintained trails
- Bathrooms and Water at trail heads
- Trail heads close to parking lot
- Lots to see (perfect I spy or scavenger hunt trail)
- Challenging for little ones (in a good way) and not boring for the older kids
- Shade in areas depending on time
- Cooler than St. George weather (spring/summer)
- Fee ($25/day) to visit the park (But it is worth it! Buy an annual pass if you will be going often!)
- Can be chilly! Bring a sweatshirt/jacket!
- Busy (but this isn’t really a con unless you are looking for solitude)
- There are unprotected edges (FYI for scaredy-cat mom’s like me)
- Going up the switchbacks can be taxing, especially if you don’t do this often. Take your time. Pace yourself.