If you head to Bryce Canyon National Park, you will undoubtedly be going to the main park road. After all, aside from the diversion to the small area that includes the Mossy Cave Trail, it really is the only way to enter the park and get a good look at the hoodoos.
It’s rare to talk to people who don’t go to Sunrise and Sunset Points and get a good look at the Amphitheater. However, quite often we find that visitors don’t take the time and drive to the end of the main park road and get to Rainbow Point. While it does take a bit of time to get out here, it really is worth the trip if you have the time.
The Bristlecone Loop Trail is an easy hike that includes Rainbow Point and Yovimpa Point. From these vantage points you have different (and great!) views. Plus, along the way you’ll be among the twisty Bristlecone Pines. While you won’t have the same breathtaking experience as you will on the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop Trail, we highly recommend heading out here, getting out of the car and taking this short walk to see a different part of Bryce Canyon!
BRISTLCONE LOOP TRAIL DETAILS
- Difficulty: Easy
- Distance: 1.3 miles (round-trip)
- Trail: Loop
- Elevation gain: 121 feet
- Peak elevation reached: 9,103 feet
- Best time of year to hike: Late spring through fall
- To beat the crowds: Arrive before 11:00 am or after 4:00 pm
- Footwear: Sneakers
- Watch out for: Sun exposure
- Restrooms: Located at the trailhead, but not on the trail
- Pets: Not allowed
- Time needed: 45 minutes
The Bristlecone Loop Trail is a small part of what there is to see and do in Bryce Canyon National Park. In our downloadable itinerary for Bryce Canyon National Park, we also cover the best hikes, recommendations on where to stay, what to pack and what else to do in the area. Be sure to download it ahead of your trip!
PARKING AND TRAILHEAD FOR RAINBOW POINT AND THE BRISTLECONE LOOP TRAIL
Bristlecone Loop Trail parking area, courtesy of the National Park Service
The trailhead for the Bristlecone Loop Trail is shared with the parking area for Rainbow Point. It is located at the end of the 18-mile Park Road. The parking area is at the end of the road-you really can’t miss it.
On the way to Rainbow Point, there are plenty of viewpoints to tempt you into stopping, but all of them are on the east side of the road (left). We recommend just driving straight down to Rainbow Point and stopping at the viewpoints on the return trip.
- Directions from the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center to Rainbow Point (this will take about 30 minutes without traffic or any stops along the way; traffic moves pretty smoothly here, so it shouldn’t be a problem)
The parking lot for Rainbow Point and the Bristlecone Loop holds about 60 vehicles and includes parking for RVs. The parking lot does fill up, but since many are just here to look at the viewpoint, spots will open up regularly and the wait to park shouldn’t be too long.
Some hikers start multi-day treks from this area, meaning that some spots will have the same car in it all day. Still, you should be able to find a spot quickly.
Restrooms are available at Rainbow Point, but there aren’t any on the short trail.
BRISTLECONE LOOP TRAIL: TRAIL SURFACE AND ACCESSIBILITY
- Trail surface. The trail is packed dirt with little in the way of obstacles. While you do need to be ready for small rocks, the trail is very easy to traverse.
- Accessibility. The trail is not wheelchair accessible, but for those using a cane, the trail is very doable.
PREPARATION FOR HIKING THE BRISTLECONE LOOP TRAIL
This hike is short, and since Bryce Canyon has fairly mild temperatures, you don’t need to pack much. That being said, there are a few essentials that we recommend:
- Water. It can be very dry at Bryce Canyon, and at an elevation of over 9,000 feet it can be easy to get very tired if you are not used to it. Hydration is the key to preventing headaches or altitude sickness. We recommend taking a water bottle or a hydration pack with you. Refill stations are available in the park, but they tend to be not available when you need them, so fill up whenever you have the opportunity.
- Sun Protection. You should definitely wear sunscreen or bring a hat with you, even though you’ll only be on the trail for a short time. Sunburns can happen fast at this elevation.
- Shoes. This trail is flat and relatively easy, and any footwear will be fine. However, we do recommend closed-toed shoes (we love these hiking shoes as they are not too bulky). You can also wear hiking sandals, which have become quite popular lately as well.
At 9,115 feet in elevation, Rainbow Point is the highest point in Bryce Canyon National Park. If you only have time or energy to get out of the car for a few minutes, the view is well worth it. The Bryce Canyon National Park site has some great information about Rainbow Point and the surrounding geology.
HIKING THE BRISTLECONE LOOP TRAIL FROM RAINBOW POINT
Bristlecone Loop Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service
After stopping and taking in the expansive view from Rainbow Point, the trail starts to the right of Rainbow Point, near the restrooms.
The trail descends for the first 0.5 mile as it heads to the southeast. At the 0.2-mile point the trail has an option of splitting off to the right. While this is the fastest route to Yovimpa Point, we recommend continuing straight to head along the steep cliffsides and get the best views. At the 0.3-mile point, the trail intersects with the Riggs Spring Loop and Under the Rim Trail. These are very challenging hikes, with the latter being a multi-day hike that requires a permit. Continue straight to stay on the Bristlecone Loop Trail.
The trail continues until it reaches its most southeastern point at 0.6-miles. Shortly before you get here, the trail starts to climb up again slowly. While there is some climbing and change in elevation on this trail, it is only about 120 feet, so don’t let the thought of having to go up and down scare you!
What you should be slightly concerned about in this area (and from here on out) are keeping an eye on your children. There are some steep drop-offs and if kids venture too far to the edge, it can ruin your day quickly.
On the way back, you’ll see plenty of greenery and Bristlecone Pines. We loved how gnarled looking their trunks were!
At the 1.1-mile point is Yovimpa Point. This is a great vantage spot to take photos of the Grand Staircase, which extends as far as the eye can see. We loved this view in particular.
From Yovimpa Point, the trail heads directly north and back to the parking lot for the last 0.2-miles of the hike.
In total, the hike is 1.3 miles long-many consider this just an easy walk rather than a hike. Either way, it’s short and easy with amazing views. Make sure you do this!
ABOUT THE BRISTLECONE PINE
Bristlecone Pines are known for being able to live in harsh environments and rocky soil with little rain. They also live for a very long time, with some trees living for more than 5,000 years. The trees in this area are only up to around 1,800 years old, though.
They are easy to spot, with their twisty trunks. Our kids loved spotting them and noticing the individual features with each tree.
BRISTLECONE LOOP TRAIL: TOP LIKES AND DISLIKES
- Amazing Views. If you are looking for a good trail to get your family members interested in hiking, this is a great one. There are views around every corner, and some of them you truly can’t see without hiking.
- Quick and Easy. This trail is quite easy and terrific for families. Even at a slow pace, you can finish it in under 45 minutes, and after a long drive from wherever you came from to get to Bryce Canyon, it is a great way to stretch your legs.
- Greenery. The green brush provides a great contrast to the beiges and oranges around you, and it just looks beautiful.
- Gnarled Old Trees. The bristlecone pines are stunning to look at, especially when you ponder over how long they’ve been on earth!
Crowds. Though not as many people venture out to Rainbow Point as probably should, it does draw attention from many park visitors. Therefore, the trail can be a bit busy. Don’t let this scare you away, though!
THINGS TO DO NEAR THE BRISTLECONE LOOP TRAIL
Most of the great things to do in Bryce Canyon National Park are along the park road. Our recommendations include:
- The Viewpoints along the park road are quick stops. Each one is different, and each stop will only take you about a minute or two. We recommend stopping at whatever looks interesting, but definitely don’t miss the Natural Bridge, Fairview Point, Bryce Point or Sunrise and Sunset Points.
- If you are looking for more of an adventure, then taking the Riggs Spring Loop Trail may be what you are seeking. Starting from Rainbow Point, the trail descends over 1800 feet as it travels through the hoodoos and the forest. The trail loops back around to Yovimpa Point after climbing back up for the last 4-miles. Overall, the trail is 8.6 miles long and is rated as difficult. There is backcountry camping and a spring along the way, though be advised that you need to get a backcountry permit if you plan on spending the night out here.
OTHER RELEVANT INFORMATION ON BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
- To read more about the nearby viewpoints in Bryce that are not to miss, you can see the My Utah Parks website, which has some great information.
- We found the Grand Staircase fascinating, and reading about it on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Website was very useful to help understand a bit more about the area.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Ahead of your trip, we recommend getting one of our itineraries to help you out with your planning. Our most popular itinerary is our Utah’s Big 5 National Parks Itinerary, which covers Bryce, Zion, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Arches National Parks.
- We loved the days we spent in Bryce Canyon, and you can read about it in our blog Two Days of Hiking and Riding in Bryce Canyon National Park. There are also two other hikes that we cover in detail as well: Hiking the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop Trail and Hiking the Mossy Cave Trail, which is a little-known hike near Tropic, UT and away from the crowds. We cover detailed camping information in our blog on Camping in Bryce Canyon National Park. Finally, we have a great overview of hiking in Bryce Canyon in our blog, the Best Hikes in Bryce Canyon National Park.
- If you like Bryce Canyon, you’ll also want to check out our blogs on nearby Zion National Park.
- After your trip, send us a photos and we’ll create a vintage-style travel poster from one or more of your photos. If you love remembering your trips, this is a great way to do so forever!