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Five Backpacking Trails in Bryce Canyon Country

Backpacking has become a more common pastime in the last few years. Friends have probably shared their backpacking trips across Europe and all over the world, but some of the most adventurous backpacking occurs in the backcountry of Bryce Canyon Country, Utah.

Backpacking refers to long-distance hiking trips lasting one or multiple nights. In the different terrains of the Bryce Canyon region, there are multiple different backpacking trails and experiences with numerous scenic views the mass public doesn’t see.

If backpacking is a new experience, make sure to plan the trip carefully and choose a hike that appropriately suits your skill level while it also strengthens abilities and increases endurance for more frequent backpacking experiences in the future. Select trails may also require a backcountry permit that can easily be obtained for free before the trip.

In exploring the Bryce Canyon Backcountry, here are five trails that might pique your interest.

1. Coyote Gulch / Hurricane Wash (Hiking Only)

Length: 19.5 miles
Difficulty: Intermediate
Permit Required

Coyote Gulch is by far the most popular hiking destination of all the Escalante Canyons. You can expect multiple other visitors in the spring and fall when hiking here. However, it is recommended that a minimum of three days be spent exploring this advanced hike. A stream runs consistently 1 mile down from the Red Well trailhead.

Hurricane Wash joins Coyote Gulch approximately 5 miles from the Hurricane trailhead and it is highly likely that you will be walking in and out of ankle-deep water all the way to the Escalante River. Therefore, it is important to be prepared with the right footwear. This hike has a remarkable natural bridge, two arches (Jacob Hamblin Arch is pictured above) and several waterfalls, making it a popular day hike for many. Don’t forget your camera to capture the beauty.

A free backcountry permit is required for this backcountry hike and can be obtained at the Interagency Office at 755 West Main Street in Escalante. Fires are not permitted on this trail, but a pit toilet and camping sites are available for use.

2. Willow Gulch (Hiking Only)

Length: 21.7 miles
Difficulty: Hard
Permit Required

Hike on the Willow Gulch Trail through the forest over slick rock and sand that drops down to a streambed with the stunning Broken Bow Arch at the end. Once at the streambed, hikers can see numerous signs of wildlife and majestic canyon walls. The foliage provides shade for hikers to avoid the direct sunlight on hot days. Awaiting at the end of the trail is the beauty of Lake Powell making this backcountry trail a high-priority for lake lovers. A free backcountry permit is required for this trail and can be acquired at the Interagency Office at 755 West Main Street in Escalante.

3. Paunsaugunt Trail (Hiking, Biking, ATV, Horseback)

Length: 20-75 miles
Difficulty: Intermediate

The Paunsaugunt Trail begins at Tropic Reservoir and consists of loops that are perfect for ATV riders, bikers and horseback riders. These loops are also great for hikers because it allows the trail to range from 20-70 miles for any experience-level. The trail follows the cliffs with vistas of Pink Cliffs, Arizona and the Grand Canyon on the horizon. As the path turns back north, it opens to views of Markagunt Plateau and Cedar Mountain. On this trail, camping and water are available at King Creek Campground. However, ATVs are only allowed to ride in and out.

4. Under-the-Rim Trail (Hiking Only)

Length: 22.9 miles
Difficulty: Intermediate
Permit Required for Overnight Trips

On Under-the-Rim Trail, experience the solitude of the park as well as some popular public sights that should be on any hikers’ bucket list. The hoodoos are part of landscapes to the west and the path meanders through the valley floor of the canyon, forests and meadows. In addition to the park entrance fee for Bryce Canyon National Park, a permit is required for the trail and can be purchased for five dollars at the Visitor Center for ages 16 and older. There are eight campsites on this trail available for use and reservations may be made up to 48 hours in advance and only at the Visitor Center.

5. Fremont Trail (Hiking, Biking, ATV, Horseback)

Length: 50 miles
Difficulty: Intermediate

Ride ATVs, bikes, horses or hike the Fremont trail traveling north from Tropic Reservoir, crossing Scenic Highway 12 for a unique adventure. This rugged trail is on existing roads but is remote as you view sceneries of red rock cliffs, Ponderosa pine forests and quaking Aspens and sage flats. The trail weaves in and out of canyons that range in elevation and are a great backcountry activity. Camping and water is available at King Creek Campground. However, ATVs are only allowed to ride in and out.

As you travel through the backcountry of Bryce Canyon Country, make sure to actively preserve the wilderness by executing Leave No Trace principles. This may require packing out your own waste but is worth keeping the Bryce Canyon area in good quality for the wildlife in the ecosystem and the adventurers that come to explore the area after you.

To learn more about planning for your hiking trip, read A Hiking Guide for Garfield County.

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