Fairyland Trail, Bryce Canyon: Trail Review

On Black Friday this year we took a family trip to Bryce Canyon. It was a sunny day with temperatures in the 60’s so it was perfect running weather. The Fairyland Trail has been on my “to run” list for a while, and my wife agreed to drop me off at the trail head while she had a picnic with the rest of the family.

Most descriptions of the Fairyland Trail involve completing the loop by running from Sunrise Point (about mile 5) back to Fairyland Point along the rim trail (dotted white line on the map below), but instead I took the Queens Garden Trail and ended up at Sunset Point where I met back up with my family. This ended up being about 7.5 miles in total, including three fairly good climbs.

Fairyland map
To explore the map in more detail, click here.

Fairyland elevation profile

Fairyland Trail

DSCN0264The trail starts off by dropping about 500 feet in the first mile and a half down into the canyon through a beautiful landscape. “Fairyland” is a good description, as it feels like you are running through some mystic land. The red dirt is sparsely populated by the twisted bristlecone pines, and the hoodoos shoot up from the ground like some kind of giant fungus. You wouldn’t be surprised to run into  gnome or an elf in that landscape.

DSCN0266All of the trails at Bryce Canyon are well-maintained, and the Fairyland Trail is no exception. It is 3-4 feet wide and smoothly graded the whole way. I passed a group of hikers every 2-3 minutes, and the trail was generally wide enough that it was easy to pass them without too much trouble. It was a busy day in Bryce, but the Fairyland Trail was quiet enough to give me the solitude I crave from my runs. (Yeah, I’m sort of an antisocial runner.)

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This rock was at about mile 3 along the trail. I’m not sure whether it has an official name, but I propose “Garfield Rock.”

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The landscape varies a bit as the trail winds south through the canyon. Some places are thick with hoodoos and some have few or none at all. Vegetation also ranges from extremely sparse to reasonably thick. One string of hoodoos is so straight and tall that it has been called the “Chinese Wall.” It can be seen at about mile 4.5 along the trail, right as you are starting the 1.5-mile 700-foot climb back up to the canyon rim at Sunrise Point. The grade is definitely runnable, but runners who train in the lowlands will find the oxygen is thin at 7000 feet above sea level. I live and run at about 6000 feet, so I didn’t go anaerobic like I might have done a few years ago on this trail. Everyone else on the trail was hiking, and they looked at me like I was some kind of weirdo for running. I wonder why there were no more trail runners out that day?

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The Chinese Wall, about mile 4.5. Note the barren landscape dotted by bristlecone pines.

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Queens Garden Trail

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Switchbacks on the way up to Sunset Point

Once I reached the canyon rim at Sunrise Point I descended back down along the Queens Garden Trail, dropping 500 feet in 1.5 miles again. This trail was thick with tourists, and I nearly tripped over someone taking a picture every 500 feet or so along the trail. Queens Garden is beautiful, and I definitely recommend that you take this trail, but the high density of visitors makes it less runnable than the Fairyland Trail. In retrospect I should have just taken the rim trail back to Fairyland Point like apparently everyone else does, but it did add some challenge and adventure to dodge between all of the people. The other “benefit” to taking the Queens Garden Trail was that I got an additional 500-foot climb at the end of my workout. Those switchbacks are killer! They are runnable, but you have to put it in low gear to avoid going anaerobic.

When I met back up with my family near Sunset Point I was pleased to find that they had saved me enough turkey to make two sandwiches. I ate my recovery meal as they took a little hike down the Navajo Loop Trail.

Summary

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Thor’s Hammer near Sunset Point

Bryce Canyon is a drop-dead gorgeous place to run. The Fairyland Trail, because it is significantly longer than other hikes, tends to be less crowded and therefore more runnable. Another interesting fact, which I didn’t mention before, is that Fairyland Point Road is outside of the park’s fee area, so you can get there without paying the entrance fee.

Be prepared to climb several hundred feet up to the canyon rim. If you run in summer it will be crazy hot and dry, so bring plenty of water. (I ran out of water twice on the Bryce 50K last year.) Black Friday was a cool fall day, so I got by with a 24 oz bottle, but you should probably bring two bottles or a hydration pack during the summer months.

Be safe and have fun out there!

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Alan Sanderson is a trail runner in Enoch, UT.

 

 

 

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