Here’s a hike that offers the outstanding scenery of Bryce Canyon National Park in a free, less crowded and dog friendly package. This five mile loop in the Dixie National Forest is a perfect introduction to the area’s famous landscapes, notably the “hoodoo” formations – the bizarre rock towers characteristic of the desert. Other highlights include wide-ranging mountain vistas, bristlecone pine woodlands and an optional spur to an overlook that may test the nerves of even veteran hikers.
TIPS FOR L.A. HIKERS
Getting to Dixie National Forest: This hike originates from the Golden Wall Trailhead on Utah Highway 12, in the western end of the Powell Ranger District of the Dixie National Forest. The trailhead is a little over 500 miles from downtown Los Angeles. The drive is 7 hours, not including breaks or traffic. (Note too that Utah is one hour ahead of L.A. in the Mountain time zone). The trail head is about halfway between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas (250 miles, 3.5 hours driving from either). The nearest airport with regular service from L.A. is in Cedar City (CDC), about an hour and fifteen minutes drive from the trailhead. Bryce Canyon has an airport (BCE) but flight options are very limited.
Staying in or near Dixie National Forest: The loop passes by the Red Canyon Campground, which is open from May to September and costs $20 per night. (The campground, when open, serves as an alternate trail head). The towns of Panguitch and Hatch are respectively about 10 miles north and south of the trail head and both offer several options for accommodation as well as gas and groceries.
Weather: At 7,000+ feet, this hike is in a mountain climate with temperatures ranging from an average low of 9 degrees in January to an average high of 78 degrees in July. The average precipitation is 16.4 inches annually, comparable to Los Angeles. However, snow and ice can present a serious hazard on this hike, especially on the knife-edge spur leading to Buckhorn Point.
Cell phone reception: None for most of the route. The nearest reliable cell phone reception is in Panguitch and even then it is somewhat weak.
Dogs: Allowed but exercise caution on warm days (even if the temperature is low, the trail is largely exposed). Some dogs may have difficulty on the loose and steep terrain.
Approximately 5 miles with 1,000 feet of elevation gain; allow 3 hours
This write-up assumes that you will be starting from the Golden Wall Trailhead on Utah Highway 12. By going clockwise, you can get the least interesting (but still enjoyable) part of the hike out of the way first: 0.7 mile on a bike path that runs parallel to the highway. While you will hear and see plenty of traffic, you also get a taste of the scenery to come with the hoodoos on the opposite side of the road. The gradual climb – just over 100 feet – is a good way to acclimate to the high altitude.
Enter Red Canyon Campground (bypass the gate if it is closed) and walk to the eastern end, where the signed Buckhorn Trail starts next to site #24. The trail ascends steadily, picking up 350 feet in 0.7 mile, mainly along pine-shaded switchbacks. A few benches allow you to stop and enjoy the scenery. At 1.6 miles from the start, you reach the top of a ridge where you enjoy views to the south. At this point, the Golden Wall Trail heads downhill while the Buckhorn Trail makes a 0.2 detour. If conditions are good and you don’t have a fear of heights (or want to work on overcoming it) take the detour, which traverses a knife-edge before making a final climb to an overlook beneath a large hoodoo. The best vistas of the hike can be found from this spot, including the Sevier River Valley to the west and Red Canyon to the north.
After enjoying the view and cautiously returning along the ridge (the loose terrain can be quite unnerving), pick up the Golden Wall Trail and make your descent. The trail drops around the southeast side of the Golden Wall, a long and narrow formation of several hoodoos that have been fused together. You dip into a forest of mixed pines and junipers and then make a steep ascent up a ridge, including a small staircase, to a vista point beneath a hoodoo formation. Here you can enjoy more views similar to those from Buckhorn Point. The trail then makes another descent into the pines, passes an arch rock known as “Alpaca Rock” and makes its way around the south end of the Golden Wall.
After curving around to head back north, the trail reaches another ridge point with views of Red Canyon. On the descent, the trail makes a few sharp switchbacks, some of which can be easy to miss, and reaches a junction with the Castle Bridge Trail (3.9 miles from the start). The Castle Bridge Trail climbs up to get a closer look at the hoodoos and also passes its namesake feature, a small natural bridge, while the Golden Wall Trail continues its descent, entering a wash where the route may be a little vague at times. (The Castle Trail adds 0.2 mile and 100 feet of elevation gain). The trails merge half a mile from the parking lot, making a pleasant descent through pines before returning to the starting point.
If you were wondering how a national forest in Utah is known as “Dixie” the name comes from Utah’s Dixie, a nickname for the southwestern corner of the state. With a warmer climate than the rest of Utah, the area allowed growing of cotton, grapes and other crops similar to those grown in the Deep South.
Text and photography copyright 2018 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.