“A lengthy point-to-point endeavor that explores all of Bryce Canyon's hidden corners and hoodoos.
— Mike Harcarik
Birding · River/Creek · Views · Wildlife
The Under the Rim trail offers a chance to experience Bryce from a perspective most visitors miss; the bottom-up instead of the top-down. That said, while beautiful in its own right, the trail offers more solitude than sheer beauty as the most scenic and iconic parts of Bryce are found along the trails surrounding Sunset and Rainbow points at the north and south ends.
If you're thinking this is a stroll through the red desert sandstone, think again. The trail winds its way up, down, across, over and through a literal forest of delight. Young trees, old trees, big trees, small trees, short trees, tall trees, green will be the color dominating your senses. Remember to look up however, because the looming red/white hoodoos and pink cliffs high above make sudden appearances around many a corner.
Not your everyday trail run, this one requires skill, strength, stamina, planning and patience. Many logistical decisions must be made before setting out including which direction to run, north to south or south to north, how long to plan for, what to wear, how much food and water to bring and how to coordinate transportation.
The trail offers challenging terrain with loose rocks, sand, brush, snow (seasonal) and the occasional downed tree. At an average elevation above 7,000 feet and with more than 4,000 feet of gain/loss, hills are steep and tough on the quads, the knees, the ankles and the lungs. In addition, while marked, some trail sections can be long and difficult to follow w/o proper navigation equipment and skill.
That said, those who seek adventure will find it, along with a vast array of other nice surprises including hidden campsites, surprising views, fellow adventurers and an intimate, close-up look at many of the parks less-seen arches and hoodoos. Enjoy!
If heading north-to-south, the more common route, the trail starts from Bryce Point
at an an elevation of 8,331 feet. You'll begin with an immediate and steep descent through a stunning, white hoodoo area known as the "Hat Shop" as you head south towards Yellow Creek, the first campsite and one of only a few water sources along the trail.
While descending, the urge to look skyward may overtake you, but keep one eye on the ground for safety. Arriving on the main forest floor you may assume it's flat and steady the rest of the way, but runner beware; the trail from here embarks upon mile-after-mile of steep passes and hogback ridges that may leave your legs shaky and lungs breathless. For this reason, the park offers 7 additional campsites along the way for maximum rest and refueling time.
About 10 miles in, just about when you've grown tired of the ups and downs, you'll reach Sheep Creek, another campsite, water source and the first of three connector trails allowing escape for those ready to raise the white flag ( Sheep Creek Connecting Trail
). The good news is from here the trail finally lets up and provides several miles of easier terrain as you continue south past the Swamp Canyon and Natural Bridge campsites, and the Whiteman Bench Connecting Trail and Agua Canyon Connecting Trail
This section is worth slowing down for, as the straight trail, easy grades, and open views are a welcome experience from the constant climbs, descents and traverses of the previous hours/days. From Agua canyon there is no turning back or escape. The remaining 7 miles or so offers a heart-pounding ascent to the trail's finish and the park's highest elevation at Rainbow Point at 9,115 feet.
Flora & Fauna
As part of the Colorado plateau, Bryce Canyon's high elevation, but southwestern location make it an extremely diverse region for plants and animals. Though it's a small chance you'll actually see any, you can expect the usual compliment of desert dwellers like rattlesnakes, lizards and coyote, but also pay attention for high-country wildlife like deer, mountain lion and back bear.
Plant life here carries the same diversity and the only thing that's different is that you're sure to see it all along this trail. Of the many different trees and bushes you'll find include aspen, ponderosa/pinyon pine, cottonwood, willow, birch, douglas fir, blue spruce, juniper, manzanita and more. Together they make a beautiful contrast to the red-spired hoodoos above.