From August 3rd through 10th, 2018, I traveled solo across Southern Utah. This blog mini-series is a snapshot of my adventure that is meant to encourage other female travelers to embrace adventure. Please reach out if you have more specific questions about my itinerary or details about my trip.
The first word I use to describe my experience at Bryce Canyon is: otherworldly.
The landscape, the colors, the geology. It is an incredible experience and one that I wish I had had more time to explore. Bryce was mind-bogglingly beautiful, jaw-dropping at times, and I had to pinch myself on several occasions to remind myself I was not dreaming of far off planets.
My adventure to Bryce began at 4:30 in the morning. The milky way looked down upon me while I woke up in my tent – my third night of sleep officially concluded in Zion National Park.
I had packed my car, laid out my clothes and made my food the night before. I changed, brushed my teeth, packed up my tent, and 30 minutes after rising, hit the road.
The darkness was incredible.
I turned right out of the South Campground onto Route 9, sad to know my time of sleeping in national parks was over, but excited at what the day ahead would bring. About a mile into my drive, high beams coating the air in front of my car, I quickly began to climb. And climb. And climb some more.
The road through Zion, Mount Carmel Highway through the tunnel and up past Checkerboard Mesa is something that I’m kind of glad I experienced at night – if only because I didn’t have the opportunity to fully grasp how high, and how exposed, I was.
The switch backing mountain climb brings you up and over the cliffs in Zion, which based on my hiking, means around 2,000 feet – straight up. At a conservative 15 to 20 mph, I slowly crept up the mountain, thankful there were no cars behind me to rush me up. I gripped the steering wheel and prayed to whatever God oversees Zion that I would make it to the top.
Once up and over and out of Zion, the remainder of my drive to Bryce was easy and uneventful, albeit beautiful.
I pulled in to Bryce around 7:30AM, early enough to beat the official opening of the park. That meant I had easy parking at the Sunrise Overlook parking lot, first access to trails, and at least early on, beat a good portion of the crowds.
- Hike Time: ~6 hours
- Hike Distance: ~15.5 miles
- Overall Rating: 100% would recommend, and suggest allocating some good time to explore this park.
I only had one day in Bryce, so I aimed to get in as much as I could. I hit the Navajo, Peekaboo, Queens Garden, Sunrise, and Fairyland Loops – the hikes in the uppermost section of the park. Ultimately, I hiked around 15 miles by mid-day, and suffering from a bit of heat exhaustion, called it a day.
- Navajo, Peekaboo, Queens Garden & Sunrise Loops: These loops are all technically independent, separate trails. If you read a park guide, they are each billed independently. However, they are all connected to one another, and I would suggest that anyone planning time in this section connect them all in their minds as they plan out the trails for the day.
I started the morning heading down the Navajo Loop, going clockwise around the loop to see Thors Hammer. Dropping steeply into the canyon, the morning sunrise over the hoodoos was a spiritual moment. The deep orange of the rocks complimented by the morning orange, red and yellow sun, with shadows cast across the canyon as the sun crept higher into the sky. After a short hike down, I came to a junction in the trail, and followed the ‘connector trail’ to the Peekaboo Loop – a moderate length trail that explored the canyon beyond the rim.
Peekaboo was beautiful. I had my reservations at first, because it is billed as a highly trafficked, horse caravan route. However, thanks to my early arrival, there was neither heavy traffic nor horses. And I’m so thankful for that. I was able to stop, observe and soak in the landscape, the incredible geologic formations and panoramic views of the canyon. Only about 4 miles in length, this loop was a perfect introduction to the park, and one I would highly recommend. I took the clockwise route to this loop as well, branching off to the left when I first came to the formal loop trail.
Coming back to the start of the Peekaboo, I headed back down the connector trail to the original junction I hit on my way down Navajo in the early morning. Instead of hitting the second half of the Navajo Loop, I continued straight along the canyon floor, to see what Queens Garden had in store. This trail was flat and fast and filling up with tourists. I powered through quickly. There was a junction in the trail maybe a mile down that I was originally not expecting (I only had a National Geographic map of the park, as the Visitors Center was not open). The junction suggested Sunrise Point was to my right, maybe .6 or so miles.
Not knowing if that was an out and back distance, or a loop, I decided to hook right and see what this had in store. The trail meandered for a bit, then began to climb, eventually taking me back up to the top of the canyon, to Sunrise Point along the Rim Trail. I stopped for some photos here, then made the .5 mile walk back to my car to rest, re-evaluate and decide my plan for the rest of the morning.
All told, these trails combined took me around 2.5 hours for the 6.2 miles. I was running out of water and starting to feel the heat and exposure of this location.
At the Parking Lot, I filled my two water bottles and my hydration bladder for a total of 4.5L of water total. I chugged my 1L bottle, headed to my car, drank a Gatorade, sat down and turned on my air conditioner for a bit.
It honestly was not that hot there, I just was feeling tired, exhausted and the dry heat was getting to me. I spent some time in my car, thinking through my options, contemplating my next hike, how far I wanted to go, and what I would do with the rest of my day.
I eventually decided to go with my original plan of hiking the Fairyland Loop, but figured I might just do an out-and-back on it, rather than the entire 8 mile loop as advertised.
2. Fairyland Loop – I headed from the parking lot back towards Sunrise Overlook and towards the junction with the Fairyland Loop Trail. I hooked right and headed down the canyon and onto the trail. Pretty quickly, I ran into another solo female traveler. She asked me to take her picture, then asked if I was planning on doing the whole loop. I told her, probably not. That comment however, sat with me, and ultimately led me to hiking the whole loop. I am thankful, and also regret, letting that comment guide my ultimate decision to do the whole loop, primarily because I was already hot and tired, and didn’t need to be doing so much hiking.
Regardless, I continued downwards, past the China Wall, which was jaw dropping, and down to Tower Bridge. At Tower Bridge is where I made my decision to keep going. After some photos, I hopped on the main trail, and instead of going back from where I came, I pushed forward. It was so hot at this point, I actually took my shirt off and hiked in just my sports bra. If you know me, you know how big of a deal this was. I was pretty self-conscious of my attire whenever I passed an occasional hiker, but it was so darned hot I couldn’t imagine putting it back on.
It was around this time that anxiety set in for me. I don’t talk a lot about my anxiety, but this experience stands out to me because of the irrational nature of it, the impact it had on my hike during the rest of this loop trail, and a recognition that my thoughts are sometimes a bit crazy.
Earlier in the morning while sitting in my car, I was trying to charge my solar charger which had not been working the whole trip. I set it on my bashboard while hiking the first loops that morning, and when I was resting, I grabbed it and tested the charge. In my mind, all I could remember was how HOT the charger was, having sat in the morning sun. That HEAT stuck, and caused me to panic while hiking. I set it back on the dash, and headed to the Fairyland Loop. While I was hiking, I had this thought that the heat was going to cause my charger to catch fire, catch my car on fire, then catch the park on fire. For 6 or so miles, this is all I could think about.
My pace per mile had averaged around 25 minutes for most of the morning. Once anxiety took over, my desire to go back and check on my car kicked my walking pace up to 17 minutes per mile at one point. I was practically jogging. I kept glancing over my shoulder to make sure plumes of smoke were not rising from the rim, and straining my ears to hear if there were emergency vehicles moving into the park to put out the blaze I knew for sure was going to be ignited from my car.
Obviously, this anxiety was irrational. But for someone who suffers from pretty extreme anxiety, compounded by being alone in a wilderness area, exhaustion and heat muddled my brain and made it worse.
I eventually made it out of the canyon to sweeping, incredible views from Sunset Point. At this point, my anxiety had dissipated to some degree (primarily because I just couldn’t keep the pace up and resigned to jail should my solar charger be the cause so burning down Southern Utah).
Walking along the top of the Rim Trail, through the pine forest, overlooking the mars-like landscape of the canyons below was breathtaking in every sense. I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich under a pine tree while watching birds fly over the canyon. I walked slowly, soaked in the views, and eventually returned to my car.
After taking some time to calm down after realizing jail wasn’t my destiny, Southern Utah was still standing, and my car was still in its original manifestation, I drove down the road to the main entrance of the park, stopped by the visitors center for some air conditioning, and then headed to my campsite to check-in.
All of the National Park camp sites were booked up when I planned this trip, so I had to find a commercial location to pitch my tent. I found what I am assuming is the monopoly of RV campgrounds in the Bryce area – Ruby’s Inn – to be my resting place.
I pulled into the campground, surrounded by huge RV vans and trailers, headed to the main office and checked-in. They showed me where the individual campsites were, which I could pick out myself, and suggested I avoid the group campsites, as they were large and exposed. I drove around the gravel road that housed the tent sites, examining pros and cons of the open sites, and eventually chose a spot nestled next to a bunch of Europeans who had pitched a few tents and planted a flag of a country origin I am unsure.
I pitched my tent, then drove over to the bath house, where I enjoyed my first shower in 4 days. I was impressed by the cleanliness of the showers and bathrooms, pleased to see they had outlets in the bathroom for me to steal some charge for my phone, and felt incredibly refreshed after a nice shower.
The rest of that night was uneventful. I read my book at my picnic table for a while, headed to a gross fast food place where I had a ‘vegetable sub’ (sub roll with romaine lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayo) and French fries. I also grabbed a Sprite, which surprisingly made me feel a lot better – I guess I was lacking some fried food and sugars in my life.
I went to be pretty early that night. I wasn’t waking up early the next morning, but my body had been through a lot that day, and couldn’t handle being awake much past 8.
This was the only night on my whole trip that I regretted not bringing a sleeping bag. The temperatures that night dropped to ~45 degrees. I put on all my long clothes (long shirt, sweatshirt, Patagonia jacket and sweatpants along with socks) and curled in a ball most of the night shivering under my blanket. Pro tip: Bring something warm for the upper desert nights.
Ruby’s wasn’t horrible, but I’d like to grab a site in Bryce proper next time around. And, I’d make my own dinner next time too.
I highly recommend Bryce Canyon, and suggest to any traveler that they should spend a few days there. I only scratched the surface of the park and can’t wait to go back and see the rest.