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Bryce Canyon National Park - Fairyland to Water Canyon

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Distance: 7.9 miles


This 7.9-mile one-way thru-hike takes in the best section of the Fairyland Loop Trail, then heads cross-country to finish down a seldom-hiked slickrock stream.
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Bryce Canyon's "hoodoo" pinnacles and pink sandstone cliffs create some of Earth's most exotic scenery, but solitude is non-existent on its main trails. To escape, you need to get creative, ala the following jaunt, which combines rare loneliness, off-trail travel, and a unique desert stream.

Begin from the tourist kiosk (FLW001) near the Ranger Station just south of Bryce Canyon Lodge. Walk 500 feet East to the Fairyland/Rim Trail sign, turn left/North, and follow the Rim Trail briefly along the edge of Bryce's distinctive Pink Cliffs. A quarter mile after starting, turn right at a Y junction and descend along the wide, well-graded Fairyland Trail past increasingly spectacular walls of pinkish siltstone, and small arches that frame the cirques further south. Within a mile and a half you'll encounter a junction with the Tower Arch spur trail. Tower Arch is a popular destination, but not particularly striking, so if misanthropy is your bag, keep on walking.

You'll begin a series of rising traverses that proceed counter-clockwise around the impressive backdrop of Boat Mesa. Some of the best places to linger are near the eastern (far) end of Boat Mesa, where gravel ridges allow you to walk away from the main trail to more rewarding rest breaks.

Just beyond the eastern end of Boat Mesa, 4.31 miles after starting, the trail wraps left/North beneath a cliffy promontory and descends to a small, nondescript wash (FLW005), where it immediately begins climbing again. Leave the trail, turning right/East  down the wash. Go 150 yards to broad, eroded Fairyland Canyon. You'll recognize this by a distinctive lone ponderosa pine standing in the middle of the barren wash bottom (FLW006).

Walk North up the broad wash, taking the right-hand fork after half a mile (FLW007). Continue for nearly a mile, then cross one of several saddles on the low ridge ahead, which separates Fairyland and Water Canyons. The ridgetop makes an excellent lunch break, with good views across Bryce's empty northern amphitheaters.

Continue northward, descending off the ridge into the obvious drainage ahead. Small pouroffs are easy to detour around. Whenever you're presented with a fork in the canyon, take the right/downstream option.

At mile 6.51 (FLW011), you'll encounter Water Canyon, and a swift clear stream flowing down from cliff rims to your left/West. This is actually the "Tropic Ditch", irrigation water diverted from the East Fork of the Sevier River to alfalfa fields surrounding the small hamlet of Tropic. Despite the mundane name, it forms a gorgeous de facto creek down the natural gorge of Water Canyon.

Immediately cross to the left/North side of the stream and climb to ridgelines 100-200 feet above, in order to avoid slickrock rapids and pouroffs in the main streambed. After less than a quarter mile, descend back down to a timbered bench, and continue along the river.

Enjoy the watery stroll, which involves occasional fording, and plenty of superb riverside lounge locations. There's only one brief tough spot, where a distinctive U-shaped canyon comes in from the left/North. Walk upstream 200 yards to cross it. After two miles of delightful riparian walking, you'll emerge onto well-trod tourist trails, and the Mossy Cave Trailhead off UT 12, 3.8 miles East of the Bryce Canyon turn-off.

To Trailhead: Drive UT12 to the turn-off for Bryce Canyon and Ruby's Inn. Enter the park ($20/per car, or Golden Eagle Pass) and continue to the Visitor Center. Continue past the Visitor Center for .40 miles, then turn left and drive to Bryce Canyon Lodge. Park where possible, which might mean Sunset Point, a quarter mile distant.

Bike shuttle note: If doing the 8.78-mile shuttle by bicycle, hike this loop in the opposite direction, from Mossy Cave to Bryce Lodge, in order to avoid a long grueling uphill ride with intense traffic. It's much safer and more enjoyable on the downhill. Remember to bring your park entrance pass; Bicycles are charged for entry as well.






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