The Tropic Trail & Stone Canyon Inn - The Best Kept Secrets to Bryce Canyon
Tropic Trailhead Sign
I visited southern Utah in late November, 2012, during some remarkably wonderful weather (mostly clear skies and temperatures in the upper 50's). I chose to stay at the Stone Canyon Inn for two reasons: 1) the location to the east side of Bryce Canyon NP and the Tropic Trail and 2) the very good traveler information on the Stone Canyon website.
I drove up from Zion NP. On the way, I hiked the short, but scenic, Arches Trail in Red Canyon. This late-afternoon hike was full of great rewards and well off the beaten path (i.e., no fellow visitors at all). This is a family-friendly trail and a good alternative to the crowds at Bryce Canyon during peak season (and not a long drive from Stone Canyon Inn).
I was immediately welcomed by Dixie and Mike Burbidge and made to feel at home. Although I had planned out my hikes for the next two days, I received valuable information from Dixie on specific things to watch for. Additionally, she did a little salesmanship and convinced me NOT to do my second hike in Red Canyon, but instead, take an additional hike in Bryce on another trail.
The next morning, after a wonderful breakfast at the Inn, I set out on my first hike: a bottom-up view of Bryce Canyon via the Tropic Trail. From the Stone Canyon Inn, one drives about 2½ miles down Bryce Way (southwest, away from Tropic) until it dead ends at the boundary of the Park. Entry into the park is via a small ladder over the barbed wire fence. A sign notes "TROPIC TRAIL, SUNSET POINT 2.8 MI., SUNRISE POINT 3.6 MI."
The Tropic Trail is a little-used, but well-maintained trail that follows Bryce Creek (dry during my hike) to the base of several popular trails in the park. It cuts east-west through the Ponderosa pine and juniper and, to the north, offers glimpses of what's in store. The trail runs about 1.6 miles to the first trail junction which takes you to either the Navajo or Peek-a-boo loops.
On this hike, I took the Wall Street section of the Navajo Loop up to Sunset Point and had a short break there (enjoying the extra breakfast pastry from the Inn!). I then made my way to Sunrise Point and then down the Queen's Garden trail. There was a surprise in the forested area of that trail that I won't describe here, but has only been there for a couple of years, according to Dixie. You'll want to spend a little extra time looking around; it was fun to see!
I followed the Queen's Garden trail back to the Navajo Trail junction and then from there back to the Tropic Trail and out. The total hike was around eight miles, round-trip, with several side excursions along the way.
Because of the beautiful weather and clear skies, I set out before sun up the next day in order to watch the sunrise from within the park. Again, I hiked the Tropic Trail (with a headlamp) but then headed northwest on a horse trail about 1.2 miles on the way. This crosses the Bryce Creek wash and then makes several switchbacks up a ridge that faces the Queen's Garden amphitheater. Standing alone in the crisp, cold silence of the park and experiencing this view was truly amazing and well worth the four-mile round trip hike.
I got back in time for breakfast, during which we were all entertained by Mike's wonderful presentations of cowboy poetry ("Cowboy Time" was appropriate!). Then I was further entertained as I watched Dixie show fellow guests various hand-drawn maps of great trips and hiking in the area.
I set off on my third hike into Bryce - again via the Tropic Trail - this time up the western side of Peek-a-Boo loop and to Bryce Point. This was Dixie's suggested hike to me. It was a little more difficult, seeing as there was over 1400' of ascent on the way up! But Dixie was right: the view at Bryce Point was breathtaking and was all-the-more worth it for having made the trek on foot.
I had lunch, helped take a few photos for fellow visitors, then made my way down and then on to the eastern side of Peek-a-Boo loop and back to the Tropic trail head. Total distance was just over nine miles.
I can't say enough good words about Dixie, Mike, and their family, who were all so gracious to us travelers during Thanksgiving. I am very much looking forward to returning and staying again at Stone Canyon Inn and visiting the beautiful vistas that southern Utah has to offer.
PS I would be remiss if I didn't also mention Bryce (my name), the stray cat that made himself at home at Stone Canyon Inn. He greeted me each time I returned to the Inn and I hope he makes a home there!