Fairyland Loop and Tower Bridge Trail - Bryce Canyon National Park

Today I needed a break; a long nature walk - get the endorphin's working - break.  It started just a little over a week ago with the death of a friend and client from brain tumors.  We had talked the weeks before and for the past 6 months he had known it was over.  That was Monday.  On Thursday, I got a call from one of my most favorite clients and they had just discovered she is riddled with cancer.  On Friday, I decided to take a small hike, a - re-balance my center - type of hike.  It couldn't be long because I was scheduled to hike the Englestead Canyon with friends on Sunday.  Saturday morning Linda and I awoke to the news that one of our expected group members for Englestead had died in a canyoneering accident on Friday.  The remainder of the group had lunch on Sunday instead of doing any hiking and toasted our lost companion.  That was a week ago.  I needed a break. The trail had to be long enough to shut off the mind, but not so long I couldn't complete it - after leg workout day on Tuesday that was a very important component.

I turned to the guide book "Favorite Hikes in and around Zion National Park" by Tanya Milligan and Bo Beck. Full of good ideas for my local area, I browsed for a hike where it wouldn't be to difficult, but long.  Beautiful, but not to much thinking involved.  I didn't want to do a canyon or drive to far.  I settled on the Fairyland Loop and Tower Bridge Trail. 

Bryce Canyon National Park is about the same distance as Zion National Park from my front door.  I rarely go to Bryce Canyon.  I suspect it's because there are not that many mountains to climb at Bryce.  Bryce Canyon is a drop below the rim, wander among the Hoodoos and hike back out the canyon type of experience.  The trail can be crowded, "freeway trails" I once heard them called.  I hoped that wouldn't be the case today.

I arrived at Sunrise point around 11:00 am.  Sunrise is the alternative Trailhead for this hike, but the very limited parking lot was already full.  Doubling back to Fairyland Point, I was hopeful to see only a few vehicles parked and even fewer people at the view site.  Rarely do people wander off the rim.  Most are content to look down upon the labyrinth of twisted posts and rocky spires from above, and that is okay.  Bryce Canyon and Zion are indeed National Parks where it is possible to be richly rewarded in views and never leave the car.  However once under the rim or off the trail the true wonder and beauty of these Hoodoo's will bring wonder and inspire awe to the soul.

Just below the rim on Fairyland Loop Trail.  Looking back toward the parking lot and viewing area.

Just below the rim on Fairyland Loop Trail.  Looking back toward the parking lot and viewing area.

According to the guide, the best way to hike this trail is in a clockwise fashion.  Following the trail on the northern end of the view area, the trail follows a ridge line east as it descends into the canyon. The descent is moderate, but it doesn't take long to remember that what goes down must also come back up.  It also doesn't take long to forget or even care about the ascent.  The views are incredible and every turn in the trail leads to changing views of this wondrously alien landscape. 

The hiking is easy, the weather is perfect.  The blue bird sky is making my eyes water even through my sunglasses as I feel the weight of this past week lift from my heart.  I'm grateful to have known my friends who passed away this week.  Their time on this wonderful earth seemed short and for one a struggle.  But I'm grateful.  My heart aches for friends and family members I know who struggle with health and other type of issues.  But I'm grateful.  I'm grateful in the knowledge that "None of us are getting out of here alive, so please stop treating yourself like an after thought.  Eat the delicious food.  Walk in the sunshine.  Jump in the ocean.  Say the truth that you're carrying in your heart like hidden treasure.  Be silly. Be kind.  Be weird.  There's no time for anything else." - Nathen Hoffman.   

Along the path I notice the distinctive shape of a Bristlecone pine tree.  The long arm of short and tightly spaced needles are easy to spot among the firs, juniper and ponderosa trees.  There is something special about cradling one of their long limbs knowing you are shaking hands with one of the "longest-lived life form on Earth".  The "oldest individual {tree} is more than 5,000 years old, making it the oldest known individual of any species." 

Bristlecone pine

Bristlecone pine

The trail soon turns south and meanders horizontal to the rim,  this is a stunning section of the trail with very little effort. The occasional hike up and over a ridge line, but for the most part the trail is level and flat. 

Dropping down into another gully, the Tower Bridge can be seen from the switchbacks. This iconic landmark is roughly halfway if hiking the entire Fairyland loop or about 1.7 miles from Sunrise Point if hiking down and back.  The bottom of the wash is shaded by trees and the short 200 yard trail is worth the small detour for the view.  One is able to hike up and under the structure.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

I've traveled 4 miles to this point, but the trail is all up hill now.  Sunrise Point is 1.7 miles up to the rim again.  The way is stunning, but more crowded, as many hikers elect the down and back version of the hike.

The Chinese Wall is beautiful as the trail runs directly below the ridge.  This gentle increase in elevation is off set by the occasional switchback and steep section, but for the most part the trail is well laid out and fun to hike.  This route however, is full sun most of the day, so come prepared.  The temperature is about 73 degrees today, but I am acutely aware of wearing the wrong type of pants.  Electing to wear jeans instead of shorts.  

At Sunrise Point, the sign is indicating another 2.5 miles back along the rim to Fairyland Point parking lot.  It is going to be a longer hike than I expected, but the weather and views are spectacular.  Now I know why the guide recommended hiking the route in a clockwise fashion.  As I begin the 2.5 mile descent (after climbing to the high point), I pass several people who I passed before on the trail.  They electing to hike in a counterclock wise fashion.  I for one was grateful to be hiking downhill the last 2 miles vs. slogging up hill to my car.

The rim continues to offer stunning imagery as I stop and take picture after picture. I am almost alone on the trail, only passing those I have passed before and yet these stunning views are only a short hike from the traditional viewpoint.

Reaching the parking lot, I glanced at my GPS tracker, 9.09 mi with a lumbering stroll of 4h:33m:45s from car to car.  A total ascent of 1,795 feet is a little surprising to me, but I am grateful for the day.  Linda, and nature are true tonics in my life and I end the day happy and grateful that I have been blessed with at least one more day, and hopefully another one tomorrow.