The main attraction and most spectacular portion of Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park is the sweeping and colorful Bryce Amphitheater, which spans an area roughly 12 miles long, 3 miles wide, and 800 feet deep. Here the Pink Cliffs, composed primarily of Claron Formation limestone, yield dramatically to a wonderland of multi-hued hoodoos, spires, and deep fissures. Doubling as a horse and hiker’s trail, the Peekaboo Loop Trail forms a circuit through a particularly majestic section of the amphitheater; though still one of the park’s most popular hikes, the nearly 5-mile stem-and-loop hike sees fewer visitors than the nearby Navajo Loop and Queens Garden Trails, owing to its relative rigor and distance from the park’s main overlooks.
While possible to reach the Peekaboo Loop from Sunrise or Sunset Points in the most popular part of Bryce Canyon National Park, the hike described below tackles Peekaboo from Bryce Point, a spectacular overlook in itself that is a roughly four-mile drive from the Visitor Center. (Note: Bryce Point can also be accessed via the park’s free shuttle.) Before beginning the hike, wander out to the Bryce Point viewpoint, which offers one of the most expansive views in the park. From here, return to a spot just before the parking area, where a sign indicates the start of the main trail heading off to the east.
The trail briefly descends a set of wooden steps, then levels off as it bears southward, below the stone wall that parallels the parking area. From here the trail cuts across chalky white sands, skirting an initial ravine with views north toward the pink-and-orange-hued amphitheater. Then the trail edges into a pine forest and forks: bear left (the Under-the-Rim Trail heads right). It’s a short walk back to the rim of Bryce Amphitheater, where the trail begins a steady descent.
At around 3/10 mile, the chalky white gives way to deep orange and rounds a sharp switchback, high above a minor drainage dotted with the park’s iconic hoodoos, here relatively clumped together in lines. Now making its way northwest, the trail cuts through the first of several archways on the hike—presumably what gives “Peekaboo Loop” its name?—revealing views of a second drainage beyond.
At ¾ mile, the trail climbs to a saddle below Bryce Point (the overlook is visible overhead), leading into a third drainage and inaugurating another steady descent. From here the trail traces around a set of long switchbacks, with the Wall of Windows coming into clear view to the west. The imposing skyline reveals two sandstone arches, a prominent icon of Bryce Canyon.
Meanwhile, the wide path has by now dropped to a point level with the tops of the smattering of hoodoos that dot the drainage, and—roughly one mile from Bryce Point—the trail forks. This is the start of the Peekaboo Loop section, a nearly three-mile circuit through some of Bryce Canyon’s most stunning terrain.
The loop comprises two sections, a longer (1.7 mi.) and shorter (1.1 mi.) portion, interrupted by a junction that provides access to the Navajo Loop, Queens Garden Trail, and northern reaches of the park. Head left, tackling the longer—and more interesting—section first.
The loop portion begins with a continuing descent that tracks through the hoodoo formations en route to the Wall of Windows. Upon reaching the base of a side ravine at 1.2 miles, hikers will find a large horse corral and pit toilet. Though now having covered most of the elevation loss from the rim, the trail embarks on a series of ups-and-downs that are required to traverse the Martian landscape on the western side of the drainage.
The first uphill brings hikers to the Wall of Windows benchmark, a wayside at the base of the two arches. From here the Peekaboo Loop descends into another dry wash and repeats the uphill again, climbing steadily up through a narrow notch. The winding switchbacks here resemble the wiggles of Wall Street, a scenic section of the nearby Navajo Loop Trail. The ravine is interspersed with towering ponderosa pines and Douglas firs, adding a touch of green amid the sea of red-orange.
At about 1.7 miles, the switchbacks end as the trail cuts through another archway and drops again to clear another side wash. Beyond, it’s uphill again as the trail approaches a constellation of hoodoos known collectively as the Hindu Temples. At mile 2, the Peekaboo Loop Trail cuts through a narrow slot, revealing another new landscape ahead.
Instead of descending to the next drainage, this time the trail stays relatively high, hugging the ridgeline on the right. The trail climbs to a sun-soaked hill below a towering feature called The Cathedral. From here the path makes its final, meandering descent to complete the 1.7-mile section of the loop. Ahead, the main drainage of Bryce Creek separates the Peekaboo area from the rest of the amphitheater. Here the sounds of other voices are likely to get louder, as the trail is now a stone’s throw ahead from the popular Navajo Loop and Queens Garden Trails.
At the junction at 2.7 miles, stay right, embarking on the 1.1-mile return route to complete the loop portion. The section begins with a persistent climb that may be unwelcome in the hot summer sun, but hikers are rewarded with up-close views of wiry pinnacles as the path crests an exposed ridge at 2.9 miles.
A steady descent ensues and then the trail largely flattens for a bit as it crosses a series of sandy washes. This section, deep in the heart of the amphitheater, is shadier than the rest, with tall pines and firs scattered across the canyon floor.
After passing the third and widest of the successive drainages, the trail begins a gradual ascent again, then climbs more steadily up a set of switchbacks, returning to the start of the loop portion, with 3.8 miles now in the books.
From here, it’s a mile-long slog back up the entry route to Bryce Point. Even as you retrace the terrain the same terrain as earlier, the changing sun is likely to yield different views from before. Take your time, enjoying the splendor of the hoodoo-studded landscape, as you return to Bryce Point and the canyon rim.
The entire stem-and-loop clocks in at just under five miles, but because of the significant up-and-down, plan to take at least a half-day to complete the strenuous hike.
Pingback: Top 10 Hikes in 2020 | Live and Let Hike
Pingback: Chiricahua Big Loop (Chiricahua National Monument, AZ) | Live and Let Hike