BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK -- Come for the views, but linger for the hikes.
Most visitors to this spectacular place, covering nearly 36,000 acres of the Colorado Plateau, barely get out of their cars. They drive to one of the 14 official viewpoints along the 18-mile park road, take a few steps outside to gawk at the scenery, then get back in their cars and drive to the next one.
That's no way to visit a national park, be it in Central California or Southern Utah.
Nope. To truly appreciate Bryce Canyon, you have to snuggle up to it. Get up and close and personal. That means parking the car and taking one of several trails that venture down into the amphitheater.
(Notice I wrote "amphitheater" and not "canyon," since Bryce Canyon technically isn't a canyon because it wasn't carved by a river. Small point, yes, but let's be accurate.)
Bryce Canyon's signature hike combines the Queen's Garden Trail with the Navajo Trail into a 3-mile excursion billed by the park newspaper as the "world's best 3-mile hike." After completing it, you won't disagree.
Begin at Sunset Point and walk a half-mile along the flat, paved Rim Trail to Sunrise Point. Along the way, you'll gaze down at the famous hoodoos -- thousands of eroded standstone spires colored red, orange, yellow and brown -- that dominate the landscape.
After admiring the hoodoos at a distance, now's your chance to walk among them. The Queen's Garden Trail drops 320 feet, winding its way past numerous hoodoo outcroppings before reaching the bottom of the amphitheater. Here, at the end of a spur trail, you'll find Queen Victoria, a hoodoo that (at least from certain angles) bears slight resemblance to the famous monarch.
The trail continues along a flat section of forest before joining the Navajo Trail for a steep 520-foot climb back to the canyon rim. Take the leg signed "Wall Street," and you'll soon pass through a narrow slot canyon lined by hoodoos that serve as de facto skyscrapers. It's a steep series of switchbacks -- a not-so-gentle reminder that we're at 8,000 feet elevation -- but you'll be inspired by how the sunlight reflects off the glowing red and orange canyon walls.
The switchbacks end at Sunset Point, where you either left the car or exited the shuttle. The majestic view will seem even more grand after you've immersed yourself in it.
IF YOU GO: QUEEN'S GARDEN- NAVAJO LOOP
Location: Bryce Canyon National Park, southern Utah
Length: 3 miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate, ending with 600-foot climb
Fees: $20 per vehicle, good for seven days
Trailhead: Park at Sunset Point, then walk along Rim Trail to Sunrise Point
The reporter can be reached at marekw@fresno bee.com or (559) 441-6218.