Bryce Canyon National Park : Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail
The Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail were at the top of our list when we visited Bryce Canyon National Park this past December. This trail is made up of two separate trails that connect at the bottom of the canyon: Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden. If you only have time for one big trail I would highly suggest this one. There’s a reason why it’s the most popular trail. All the famous sites are here and the trail loops around back to the top of the rim so you don’t have to walk back. We only had one day with good weather so we wanted to make sure we picked the trail that had the most bang for our buck.
NAVAJO LOOP AND QUEEN’S GARDEN TRAIL DETAILS
PARK ENTRANCE FEE : $35/vehicle, $30/motorcycle, $20/person on foot, or $80 for the annual pass
DISTANCE : 3.5 miles roundtrip
ELEVATION : 662 ft
TYPE : Loop
DIFFICULTY : Moderate
TIME : AllTrails quotes about 1.5 hours, but we took so many pictures along the way that we probably took 2.5-3 hours.
Photo Credit: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/utah/navajo-loop-and-queens-garden-trail
GETTING TO BRYCE CANYON
It took us about 1.5 hours by car to get to Bryce Canyon from Zion National Park. The drive is relatively easy and there are a lot of picture opportunities right when you start on State Hwy 9. Just a side note, it was snowing when we were at Zion and they will not let you drive on Hwy 9 unless you have the appropriate car or tires so be prepared.
Once you exit out of Zion, you will continuously gain elevation until you reach Bryce Canyon. Zion National Park’s elevation is around 4,000 feet above sea level while Bryce Canyon is at an impressive 9,100 feet. If you are prone to altitude sickness, you should be careful not to overexert yourself. Zion had a bit of snow when we went only because it snowed the night before. Once we got to Bryce, absolutely everything was covered in deep snow. It felt like we were up in the mountains ready to go snowboarding.
STAYING AT BRYCE CANYON
As mentioned in our previous blog post, we stayed at the Lodge at Bryce Canyon. The price during this time was about $131/night which is almost $100 cheaper than usual so we decided to go for it. Be aware though that during the wintertime, they only have the Sunset Lodge portion of their hotel open. Suites and cabins are unavailable and their only restaurant is closed. Even though the location was convenient to all the sights, the area is pretty much dead at night. You will have to drive outside the park to go get dinner. We ate at the Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn every night and actually enjoyed it. It’s definitely not fancy, but the menu was decent and the portions were big. Also, if you’re a wine drinker like I am, there’s a small wine shop near the lobby of the hotel that was shockingly affordable for being out in the middle of nowhere.
WHAT TO WEAR & BRING TO BRYCE CANYON IN THE WINTER
For the most part, I wore whatever I did for our Angels Landing Hike in Zion. I can honestly say for this trail, everything I wore was sufficient and comfortable. If you already have crampons, they would be nice for this hike, but not necessary. All we had were a pair of walking sticks that we split and it was enough to get us through the hike. I would say the crampons are nice just so you can free up your hands if you plan on taking a lot of pictures.
Bryce had way more snow than Zion did, sunglasses are almost a must especially at the time of day we went. The whole trail is covered in snow so you will have bright light hitting your face for hours. You don’t want to be squinting the whole time.
WHAT I WORE: Uniqlo Heattech Long Sleeve / Northface Fleece Zip-Up / Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Parka / H&M Fleece Leggings / Uniqlo Heattech Leggings / Columbia Just Right Hiking Pants (Short) / Beanie / Flip Over Mittens/Gloves / Darn Tough Hiking Socks / Columbia Hiking Shoes / Gator
BEST TIME OF DAY TO GO
Since we caught the sunrise at Inspiration Point earlier that morning, we planned to do the Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail in the early afternoon. The trailhead was pretty much at our doorstep so we didn’t feel the rush of needing to drive somewhere. We started the hike around 12:00 p.m. and finished around 3:00 p.m. The sun was very strong and the whole area was super bright. The canyons were beautifully lit up with glowing yellows and oranges. Even though our start time wasn’t the most ideal for pictures, it ended up being pretty decent. You’re going to be inside a canyon anyway so a lot of the sights will either always be in the sun or the shade regardless of the time of day. Also, since it’s winter, the sun is actually coming around lower across the sky versus in summer where it’ll be right over your head. Overall, can’t say when the best time to go would be, but the time we went wasn’t bad.
NAVAJO LOOP AND QUEEN’S GARDEN TRAIL CONDITIONS IN WINTER
Yes, there’s a lot of snow and ice on the trail during the time we went. As mentioned above, if you have crampons, that’s awesome. If not, no big deal. We made do with walking sticks. Some people didn’t have anything and they were fine. I would just make sure you have at least hiking shoes on with good tread. The trail is well-maintained and there’s plenty of room for you to pass other people in regards to COVID.
In regards to timing, the whole trail took us about three hours, but you can finish this hike faster than we did. We stopped A LOT to take pictures. Especially at the beginning of the Navajo Loop trail. We probably took 50 different pictures of Thor’s Hammer. Why? I don’t know, but we did.
NAVAJO LOOP PORTION
The Navajo Loop is a loop that you can separately do without doing the Queen’s Garden portion. During the winter though, half of this loop is closed (on the Wall Street side). So essentially, you are forced to continue on towards the Queen’s Garden.
Navajo Loop is where you’re going to see Thor’s Hammer and the Instagram-famous switchbacks. The trail is a slow and steady descent into the canyon. Make sure you start at Sunset Point so you are walking down the switchbacks rather than walking up to them. Reviews that I read also suggest you start at Sunset Point just for better views and pictures overall.
QUEEN’S GARDEN PORTION
Once you get to the end of the switchbacks, you’ll end up at the bottom of the canyon for a while. There are fewer hoodoos and more trees, snow, and flat ground. It’s a good area if you are planning to each lunch somewhere. I would say it’s at least a 20-minute walk until you start the ascent up Queen’s Garden. Here you’ll begin hiking up another ridge of hoodoos. This side provides you with a whole different landscape than Navajo Loop. Queen’s Garden felt shallower and that you were almost at eye level with the hoodoos. There are also a lot of tunnels and holes you get to walk through. Navajo Loop had taller features so it felt more like you were in a deep canyon.
The Queen’s Garden portion is a slow uphill climb the whole way. It will be super sunny and not as shaded so make sure you’re drinking enough water. Also, it’s called Queen’s Garden because there’s a hoodoo that’s supposed to look like Queen Victoria. Let’s just say, the queen was not as big as expected. It was kind of hard to spot her, to be honest. If it wasn’t for the information plaque, we would have totally missed her. Also, the queen is a little off the main trail and ends up at a dead end. Not knowing this, we kept walking past the queen for a few minutes and ended up having to turn back.
This was a super fun hike! It was nice and relaxing unlike Angels Landing in Zion. There are a lot of picture opportunities and places where you can really explore. If I were to do this hike again, I would probably start earlier in the morning or right before sunset to see what the lighting would be like. Overall, great for all ages and the scenery kept you interested the whole way.