With 2.6 million visitors in 2017, Bryce Canyon National Park ranks among the most popular national parks in the United States. What many people don’t realize, however, is that there are some other spectacular places just a short drive from the park. Next time you’re in the Bryce area check out these four hikes, including one that’s officially in Bryce Canyon but outside the main park entrance, one in a national monument, and one in a state park.
Mossy Cave Trail (Bryce Canyon National Park)
Many people whiz right past this trail as they drive Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 towards Bryce Canyon National Park. But if you’re ready to stretch your legs before you get to the main park entrance, this easy stroll takes you through beautiful red and pink rocks to a small waterfall in less than half a mile. Note that depending on season and rainfall, the waterfall might be dry, but it’s still a worthwhile walk with great views of the hoodoo rock formations. About four miles north of the town of Tropic, you’ll see a small pullout and parking area on the left side of the highway. Follow the marked path, and you’ll eventually reach a fork in the trail. Turn right to get to a scenic view of the waterfall below. The left fork leads to the trail’s namesake, Mossy Cave (which is actually a grotto created by an underground spring), but the cave has been closed off since 2015.
Trailhead location: Off Scenic Byway 12, 4 miles east of Tropic
Hiking distance: .8 miles round-trip
Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop (Bryce Canyon National Park)
The views into the Bryce Canyon amphitheaters from the rim are stunning, but there’s nothing like walking among the hoodoos. And the Queen’s Garden Trail allows you to do just that. Beginning from Sunrise Point, you’ll descend 320 feet into a maze of colorful rocks in every shade of orange known to nature. The trail descends fairly steeply down a ridge, and you’ll have panoramic views in all directions. Eventually, the trail ends up in the “garden” of hoodoos, including the large “Queen Victoria” at the end of the trail. You can also see Thor’s Hammer, the park’s largest hoodoo, which stands at 150 feet tall. You can do the 1.8-mile hike (round-trip) to Queen’s Garden and then head back up the way you came, or you can turn it into a 3-mile loop hike by combining it with the Navajo Trail.
Trailhead location: Sunset Point in Bryce Canyon National Park
Hiking distance: 2.9 miles (loop)
Grosvenor Arch (Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument)
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is one of the best locations in the world to get a close-up look at features such as arches, slot canyons, and “hoodoo” rock formations. One of these erosion-carved formations stands like a grand sandstone cathedral in the middle of the desert. At 152 feet high, Grosvenor Arch is a prime example of a geologically rare double arch—a pair of arches that share the same rock base on one side. It would be sort of comical to call this a “hike,” as it’s actually just a short stroll from your car. However, getting to the parking area does require driving about 10 miles on the unpaved Cottonwood Canyon Road. Depending on weather conditions and when the road was last graded, the drive can be a bumpy washboard, but if you drive slowly the route is typically suitable for most vehicles.
Trailhead location: 17 miles from Cannonville, off the Cottonwood Canyon Road (unpaved)
Hiking distance: 100 yards from parking area to base of arch
Grand Parade Trail (Kodachrome Basin State Park)
Of the more than two million people who visited Bryce Canyon in 2017, only about 100,000 of them went to Kodachrome Basin State Park, which is just 20 miles from Bryce. This state park got its name when a National Geographic Society expedition photographed the area in the late 1940s. They found the area’s colorful features to be so photogenic that they named it after Kodak’s popular color film. Kodachrome Basin is known for its stunning rock spires called sand pipes, which geologists believe are the solidified remains of sediment that filled ancient geysers. You’ll find several hiking trails here, and the Grand Parade will give you views of some of the park’s picturesque rock formations, including sand pipes.
Trailhead location: 9 miles from Cannonville, in Kodachrome Basin State Park
Hiking distance: 1.5 miles (round-trip)
Interested in reading about the best sites in southern Utah? Utah Canyon Country: 20 Must-See Sites and Short Hikes will be released in May 2018.