Bristlecone Loop Trail

Hiking Bristlecone Loop Trail in Bryce Canyon

Located at the very end of the national park, at the highest elevation of all of Bryce Canyon, you’re able to hike the Bristlecone Loop Trail through an ancient forest. This forest contains one of the oldest and most resilient trees- the Bristlecone Pine. These trees are 1,800+ years old which is actually middle-aged for the species. Elsewhere in the U.S. Bristlecone Pine are nearly 5,600 years in age!

The Bristlecone Loop Trail is only one mile in length and relatively flat. It will lead you on a peaceful walk under a shaded path, all the way to a viewpoint that many people miss out on. While not as impressive as the Sunrise and Sunset viewpoints, this viewpoint overlooks beyond the park and into Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

In this guide we’ll cover how to reach the trailhead, which way to hike the loop, and which season is best for hiking.

Bristlecone Loop Trail Stats

Difficulty | Easy
Hiking Distance | 1.0 miles
Elevation Gain | 92 feet (hiked clockwise)
Total Time | 30-45 minutes
Dog Friendly | No Dogs Allowed

Bryce Canyon National Park Info

Entry Fee | $35 per car for 7 days
Shuttle System | Free, runs April-October
Dogs Allowed | Only on paved paths

Since the Bristlecone Loop Trail sits within Bryce Canyon National Park you’ll have to either pay the park entrance fee upon arrival or have a National Parks Pass. The parks pass is very cost effective if you plan on visiting 3 or more National Parks within a 12 month period.

Bryce Canyon National Park is commonly referred to as a canyon, but it is actually a series of amphitheaters carved into the side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. The park is most popularly known for its large concentration of eroded rock spires referred to as ‘hoodoos’. While it is one of the less visited Utah National Parks and smaller in size than Zion National Park, visitors flock to Bryce Canyon to wander among the tall spire like hoodoos and through arches carved out of the orange rock.

If it is your first time visiting Bryce you’ll most likely be drawn to the famously popular Navajo/Queens Garden Loop and Sunrise and Sunset viewpoints. While these areas of interest do give you the best experience among the hoodoos, there is more to Bryce, and the Bristlecone Loop Trail proves that.

When To Hike Bristlecone Loop Trail

Due to its high elevation, Bryce Canyon National Park experiences cooler temperatures than the surrounding areas, and is enjoyable year round. The best time to hike Bristlecone Loop will come down to your preferences. I’ve had the opportunity to visit the park during all seasons and I’d rank them in order from favorite to least: Winter, Summer, Fall, and Spring.

Bristlecone Loop was bright and beautiful during the winter when I hiked it December of 2022. Since it is only one mile total you can wait until early or late afternoon when temperatures are favorable for a hike. One downside to this season is that the trees and other vegetation aren’t in full bloom. Summer or fall would be ideal and absolutely beautiful seasons to hike the loop…especially if you don’t enjoy the snow.

Certainly spring temperatures are favorable too, but early spring in Bryce Canyon can be very populated and muddy so it is my least favorite time to visit.

Interested in visiting BCNP during winter? Check out 8 Best Bryce Canyon Winter Hikes And Things To Do

Bristlecone Loop Trail map.

How To Get To Bristlecone Loop Trailhead

The Bristlecone Loop Trailhead is located at Rainbow Point, at the very end of the park’s Scenic Drive- an 18 mile long road that leads you through the park and all of its viewpoints. The Scenic Drive is paved and open to all passenger vehicles, however during the winter parts of it can be closed depending on weather conditions.

It is best practice to always check the NPS website for current closures and conditions before arriving!

While Bryce Canyon National Park does have a free shuttle system, it does not bring you all the way to Rainbow Point. You’ll have to drive yourself to the trailhead. Luckily the parking lot is a good size and isn’t usually crowded like others.

At Rainbow Point there will be a sign marking the beginning of the Bristlecone Loop. You can’t miss it!

Clockwise Or Counter-Clockwise?

With loop trails the question always remains- which direction to begin? When I hiked Bristlecone Loop I went clockwise as I naturally do on loop hikes. It was wonderful, but definitely the steeper way to go.

If you’re looking for an easy hike with little to no elevation gain, hike counter-clockwise. But if you don’t mind working your lungs a bit, clockwise is really nice. You’ll go up two steep sections but nothing that is too difficult.

Preparation saves lives. Know where you are going ahead of time and always have a way to keep yourself on trail. One way to do this is with a GPS system or app like Gaia GPS.

You can download my Bristlecone Loop hike and gain access to my library of all tracked hikes. Once downloaded, you can load it into your own trusty device for ease of mind!

Bristlecone Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park.

Hiking Bristlecone Loop Trail

To begin hiking Bristlecone Loop Trail you’ll embark from Rainbow Point. There is a large sign that marks the beginning of the trail near the southeast end of the parking area. Hop on this trail and follow it until you see a sign that marks the beginning of the loop.

You’ll have the choice to go either clockwise or counter-clockwise. Since I chose to hike clockwise this guide will describe the experience in this direction.

Other than Bristlecone Pine, you’ll get to see other species of trees- Douglas Fir, White Fir, Ponderosa Pine, and Blue Spruce. There are a few informational plaques along the trail that give you more information about the area and vegetation!

Overall the trail is well maintained and flat, that is until you’re led to the base of a very large hill. The trail continues up this steep hill, and once at the top you’re rewarded with a wooden structure and seating at the edge of the first viewpoint.

View from Bristlecone Loop Trail.

Continuing beyond this point, up another steep hill, and you’ll be atop the best viewpoint along Bristlecone Loop! If you were looking down at a map this one is situated at the very ‘point’ of the loop. It is on the edge of a very steep cliff and looks out towards the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I thought the views here were best!

From this viewpoint the trail continues to loop around to the trailhead, back under the canopy of the forest. You’ll hit another fork in the road where you can take a left to meander over to Yovimpa Point, or go straight to head back to Bristlecone Loop Trailhead.

If you head straight to continue the loop you will eventually hike upon the first fork in the trail where you decided to go clockwise or counter-clockwise. Turn left here to return to the parking lot!

Treat It Like Home!

When visiting don’t forget to treat the area like it’s your own. Help preserve and protect our lands by following the Leave No Trace Principals:

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimize campfire impacts
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of other visitors
Bristlecone Loop Trial.

Final Thoughts On Hiking Bristlecone Loop Trail

All said and done, I was pleasantly surprised by Bristlecone Loop. I love that it is an easy way to get out and stretch the legs in fresh air, especially after a long drive. And I had no idea that the trees were as old as they are! Winter was a fun experience due to stomping through the snow in parts, but I’m highly interested in hiking it during the summer bloom.

I also wasn’t expecting the viewpoint near the middle of the loop! Bryce Canyon has so many amazing viewpoints, it was nice standing at this one knowing only a handful of visitors see it. Many miss out because they aren’t aware of its existence. At the moment of my visit I didn’t mind since I was able to stand alone in silence and take it all in.

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I’d love to hear from you!

Are you planning a trip to Bryce Canyon soon and putting Bristlecone Loop on your itinerary? Or have you hiked it before? Share in the comments below.

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