Monday, June 10, 2013

Bryce Canyon National Park: Rim Trail to Sunset Point (Blog Hike #200)

Trail: Rim Trail
Hike Location: Bryce Canyon National Park
Geographic Location: Bryce Canyon, UT (37.63104, -112.16444)
Length: 1.4 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: May 2006
Overview: A fairly flat rim walk offering spectacular views of Bryce Canyon.
Park Information:
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: You can begin the Rim Trail at many locations, but this blog describes the short section of trail between Sunrise and Sunset Points.  To reach Sunrise Point, take the main park road south from the Visitor Center for 0.5 miles to the signed road leading to Sunrise Point.  Turn left at this intersection, and 0.2 miles later, turn left again.  Park in the large blacktop parking lot marked for Sunrise Point.  The trail to Sunrise Point begins along the right side of this parking lot.

The hike: Some places such as the Grand Canyon impress you with their marvelous grandeur.  Other places such as Carlsbad Caverns impress you with their delicate beauty.  But few places combine marvelous grandeur with delicate beauty as well as Bryce Canyon National Park.  In fact, on my recent tour of western canyons (Zion, Bryce, Grand, and a few other lesser-known attractions), I was just as impressed with the scenery at Bryce Canyon as I was with that at Grand Canyon.  The next time you are in the Canyonlands area of the United States, make sure not to miss all that Bryce Canyon has to offer.
Of particular interest is the fact that Bryce Canyon is not really a canyon.  Rather, Bryce Canyon is simply an 18-mile long escarpment rock.  Parts of this rock are easily eroded, while other nearby parts are less easily manipulated by wind, rain, thawing, and freezing.  Over thousands of years, the forces of erosion have removed the more easily eroded Cretaceous rock, leaving first ridges and then pillars of the more resistant sandstone.  Thousands of these pillars, called “hoodoos,” remain today, and offer, against the dark orange backdrop of the softer rock, the famous scenery of Bryce Canyon.  Even today, new formations are being created, as older ones become completely removed by the forces of erosion.  The scenery is in a constant state of evolution.
While the main park road passes some nice viewpoints, the best way to see the hoodoos is along the 11-mile Rim Trail that connects Bryce Point in the south with Fairyland Point in the north.  While the trail is linear and distance one-way, hiking the entire trail in one day is not impossible thanks to the park’s shuttle bus.  The best way to accomplish this feat is to park at the Visitor Center, ride the bus to Bryce Point, hike the trail north (losing 400 feet in elevation) to Fairyland Point, and then hiking along the road to the Visitor Center.  Fortunately, you do not have to hike the entire trail to get a good flavor for Bryce Canyon.  Hiking just the short 0.7 mile segment connecting Sunrise and Sunset points offers spectacular views that are not encumbered by large crowds at the more accessible overlooks.
From the parking lot at Sunrise Point, hike the well-marked path out to the rim where you will intersect the Rim Trail.  Immediately the orange and white striped hoodoos come into view in the canyon below you.  Notice how they all look the same at first, but as you examine each one individually, subtle differences in coloration and formation emerge.  Unlike the factories of man that spit out near-identical copies of the same item, nature’s factory molds each formation separately, with different ingredients (i.e. rocks) and different processes over long periods of time.
Sunrise Point, looking toward Bristlecone Point

Bryce Canyon wall at Sunrise Point
            Many people stop when they reach the rim, figuring they are at Sunrise Point.  In fact, the concrete overlook platform designated as Sunrise Point lies about 100 feet to the right down the Rim Trail.  Take an extra minute to observe the canyon from the platform, and then continue down the Rim Trail.  The trail proceeds in a southerly direction with the canyon ever-present to your left and the mountain forest on your right.
Who-dos near Sunset Point
            At 0.4 miles, the trail curves gradually to the left and climbs slightly as the overlook platform at Sunset Point comes into view.  All along the trail has stayed right along the rim, treading on top of the rock that, in a few thousand years, might have been eroded into new hoodoos and other formations.  You will soon arrive at Sunset Point.  Sunset Point gives the best view of Bryce Amphitheater, the largest collection of hoodoos in the park.  Make sure you do not make the mistake I did and use all of your film on your way down the Rim Trail, leaving nothing in storage for your final destination; with the canyon visible all along the trail, it is an easy one to make.
View from Sunset Point
            If you have some extra time, you can continue down the Rim Trail, which now climbs away from Sunset Point, heading for Inspiration Point.  For a different point of view, Sunset Point is also the trailhead for the Navajo Loop Trail, a 1.3 mile trail that represents the easiest trail to take you under the rim into the canyon itself.  If you choose to hike this trail, make sure to bring some drinkable water, as the word “easy” is very much relative.  In the end, you will have to retrace your steps along the Rim Trail to your car at Sunrise Point to complete the hike.


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  2. Wow, so beautiful and I'm betting it was 10 times better to the naked eye! Our family are hikers too and I love seeing other little ones out there on the trail.

    Map of Bryce Canyon