Deviating often means taking a different path. But sometimes the best way is to deviate down the same path backwards.
I found this out when I took an alternate trail to hike into Bryce Canyon National Park this past summer. I went by instinct. I skipped the main park entrance and found an alternate trail. The trail cut a path to the main trail that looped backwards around the park.
I avoided the $30 park fee and was gradually introduced to the scenery rather than forced to view it up front. This way, the epic views at the halfway point served as a hard-earned, well-deserved reward.
Overnight In Kenab, Utah
Erin and I spent the night in Kenab, Utah. We had booked a room ahead of time at an Airbnb with a raised deck for stargazing. We picked up some yummy food to-go from the Rocking V Cafe.
Then we ate in our room and shuffled up the stairs to the deck.
The area was not void of light pollution. The experience could not compare to stargazing in the dark sky reserve in New Zealand in 2015. But I always feel completely relaxed when I star gaze.
And we were able to spot some satellites and constellations.
Driving Into Bryce Canyon National Park
The next morning, we woke super early to drive about 2 hours to Bryce Canyon National Park.
We watched as the sun rose. The shadowy shapes of distant mountains came into view against the Paunsaugunt Plateau.
As we neared the park, the landscape dramatically changed. Bryce Canyon's famous hoodoos protruded out of the Earth before us.
Hoodoos are 1.5 to 45 meter tall rock formations that form a chimney-like spire with a flat, rounded, or peaked shape at the top. They are common in hot and dry areas like deserts and badlands.
Bryce Canyon is actually not a canyon at all. It's an amphitheater of these natural rock formations. The hoodoos in Bryce formed from frost and stream erosion.
I had the GPS take us passed the main entrance to the park and into the nearby town of Tropic. A dirt road called Bryce Way toward the back of town took us to the Tropic trailhead. Maps show the trail would lead us to the main trails of the park, avoiding the main park entrance fee. Glorious!
Tropic Trail Is The Best Way Into Bryce
We parked off to the side of Bryce Way's circular dead end.
We sucked down some water, had a quick energy-boosting snack, and snapped a quick selfie. Then we set off on our hike around 9am.
There's a reason why Tropic Trail is the best way to hike into Bryce. Of course, avoiding the park fee is a welcomed bonus for any budget traveler. But the real benefit is the way in which the trail gradually introduced us to the scenery. It didn't give anything away up front. You had to work for the epic views.
The trail starts out as a straight path through Bryce Canyon's "wilderness area." Sparse forest and distant cliffs of hoodoos flanked the trail. With the hoodoos set so far off as a back drop, I was able to gain an increasing appreciation for them.
Eventually, the trail split into Horse Trail and turned toward Navajo Loop Trail.
We hit Navajo Loop trail at its halfway point and chose to follow it toward Sunset Point. This would take us up into the main section of hoodoos that paid visitors see on their way in from the start of the loop.
Backwards Along Navajo Loop Trail
Going backwards along the trail meant hiking at a steady incline. We had finally caught up to be face-to-face with the hoodoos. We could walk between them as we traveled upwards.
At one point we came across a very bold chipmunk. It let us get super close without trying to run away. It's comfortable with people since over 2 million visitors come through the park each year.
The hoodoos felt so alien at this proximity. It was as if I were an insect walking through a city of giant, golden termite hills.
And I loved the way random trees tipped over across parts of the trail.
Soon, we hit a series of man-made switchbacks reminiscent of amphitheater-style seating.
I won't deny hiking up these was tough on the quads and calves. But I hardly cared. The walls and peaks shooting into the sky on both sides made for the perfect distraction.
The View from Sunset Point
After the switchbacks, the trail curved around to give us an Eastern view of the park. It was the view we had been waiting for at Sunset Point. For me, hiking is all about the pay-off. And going backwards up the Navajo Loop Trail meant getting these views as a reward for our hard work.
The ball-shaped rock formation on top of the prominent hoodoo you see in the photo is "Thor's Hammer." It's one of the main attractions at this site.
We walked further up and found the beginning of the trail. It was a large parking lot with vantage points to take photos, restrooms, and water fountains. This was the perfect half-way point for us. By now we were ready to refill our water bottles, take a bathroom break, and have another snack.
We checked out the view from the Rim Trail—another vantage point looking South at the park.
The Return Loop
After our break, we returned to the Navajor Loop Trail which would take us downhill for the rest of our hike. Again, it was ideal to have gotten the uphill part of the hike finished first. Those who started at the parking lot had to hike uphill at the end.
The trail took us Southwest down a second set of switchbacks. The switchbacks led through an archway cut into the wall and then down a narrower set of switchbacks.
Once out of there, we emerged back to where we had started. We retraced our steps along the Tropic Trail, making it back to the car by noon.
There's no better way to hike Bryce Canyon than to do it backwards and for free. Set your GPS to the town of Tropic. Take Tropic trail in to Navajo Loop. Then reward yourself after a steady incline with views at Sunset Point. Have a break at the parking lot up top before making the easy downhill hike back to your car.
You'll be deviating from what the majority of tourists do when visiting Bryce. And you'll thank yourself for it!