Bryce Canyon NP – Fairyland Loop Trail
Date: April 22, 2017
Elevation Gain: 2,000 ft
Start Time: 10:50 am
Duration: 4:07 hours
Although we have been to Bryce Canyon several times over the years this is the first time we have ever hiked the Fairyland Trail. It’s just to the north of the main amphitheater where we have always hiked before. Although we got a later start than almost any hike we have ever done the temperature was still cool and could not be more perfect for hiking.
We got the late start because we spent the morning down in Kanab at the Ranger Station attempting to get one of the ten walk-up permits that they give out each day for the Wave. We have been rejected five times now on our attempts with win the online lottery so we thought that if we planned our vacation this time so that we could try and get walk up permits for two days in a row that we would more likely than not get a Wave permit on one of those days. As it turns out we were there from 8:30 to 10:00 am with around 150 people attempting to get permits. I knew when I was walking out of the ranger station without permits that we would not be wasting another half of a hiking day going through that again. If I’m going to be rejected it feels much better through an email than crammed into a room with 150 people that was designed for maybe 30 people. We will eventually get to the Wave. Here is a short video of the experience.
We arrived at Bryce behind a large convoy of RV’s and cars but expected that since it was later in the morning. We received discouraging news at the entrance when they told us that it was “Free National Park Weekend” so there would be no entrance fees. We have an annual national park pass so this just meant there would be more people than normal. Fortunately for us we were planning on a less popular trail and we lucked into a parking spot right next to the bathrooms near the trailhead.
I pre-loaded the map on my GPS so when we got to the rim I noticed the trail right about where my map said it was only the only sign at the trailhead was, “Horse Trail” rather than, “Fairyland Loop Trail”. This was more good news since less people would likely know that this was the trailhead so it served as a good filter for the generally uninformed masses. The trail was very steep, very dusty and very full of horse crap. It took about a quarter mile before it was clear that this trail was going to head south rather than north causing me to refer to my GPS. Sandy was amused to hear from me that we were on an trail that was not on the map but it certainly wasn’t the Fairyland Trail. Well, I guess amused wouldn’t be the best word to describe the pride that she felt in my navigation skills at the time. The hike up the steep crap filled trail seemed to go by much quicker than the decent.
Once back on top we found a very well marked “Fairyland Trail” sign just about 100 yards north of the horse trail. Unfortunately there were a lot more uninformed masses who were hiking this trail. We started down at the same time as a group of about six young people who were hiking at the same pace as us. We prefer to hike alone so after about a half mile we stopped to take photos of a less than photogenic overview. After giving them ample time to get ahead of us we took to the trail again to only find them resting along the trail just around the first corner. They, of course, started walking again just as we got to them. We immediately veered off the trail again the next lookout. Fortunately, by this time we were down in the hoodoos and found a great place to take some pictures.
While the Fairyland trail didn’t necessarily offer the same bang for the buck that the main amphitheater does it was still like visiting another planet. As we continued to make our way downhill the trail curled and twisted through and around some very interesting sandstone formations. Once we reached the bottom the trail continued to meander around the hoodoos taking us up and down while still heading in an easterly direction. We could see the Boat Mesa Plateau to our left most of the time which is at the same level as the rim on top and marks the center of the loop that we will be hiking around.
Near the halfway point we took a side trail over to Tower Bridge. Soon after Tower Bridge the trail turned more northerly as we began ascending up through even more beautiful rock formations. Eventually the trail led up to the east face of Boat Mesa giving us some excellent views to the south. We then crossed over to the valley on the north side of the mesa which gave us the best views of the hike. We spent several minutes soaking in the view and taking pictures.
After the overlook the trail descended into a small cedar forest where it leveled off and then emptied out onto a northern slope of the canyon below. We then continued down for about a mile into the labyrinth of hoodoos in the valley below. From there we began our 2.5 mile climb out of the canyon. It never really got steep and the temperature still wasn’t too warm even though it was in the afternoon but with the full sun exposure it felt hotter than it really was. I couldn’t imaging doing this in the summer.
The trail emptied out onto the rim at Fairyland Point. There was a small parking lot near the trailhead but there was no outhouse. That meant that the two miles along the rim, which was uphill most of the way for us, was taken at a brisk pace as if one of us need to be some place (I won’t name names). There were a few nice views down into the canyon along the rim but the better views were nearer the trailheads at each end.
Although this trail didn’t offer the same bang for the buck per mile that the main amphitheater at Bryce offers I think it is now our favorite. It’s a nice distance and elevation gain for a nice day hike, has fewer people and it still presents some incredible views and all hoodoos you can take in on one hike.
Here’s a YouTube Video of our hike: