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Bryce is a day hiker's park. It's not a backpacker's park. There's only one backpacking trail, the Under The Rim Trail. But it's magnificent. Despite its misleading title, the trail meanders through this unreal landscape, sometimes pulling out to look back at it, sometimes climbing to the same level as the rim, sometimes threading its way amid the hoodoos, sometimes entering deep forest.

You need permits to hike it and, depending on when you apply, you may have trouble getting them. Only so many per week are granted.

It is not a trail to hike in June, July or August. Days are over 100 degrees and streams, springs and pools have long since dried up. You can do it --- hard cores do it every week --- but it's more of an endurance contest than fun.

The trail is 23 miles long. This might not seem like more than a weekend excursion, a classic two nighter. Don't be misled. The heat and constant uphills and downhills wear you down fast. Plus, you're hiking this trail to see parts of the park no one else sees. You'll want to stop often for photos and to just soak in the stunning scenery.

The trail is divided into convenient segments, with steep connector trails leading up to the park road. So you can either place caches along the way, or have someone meet you once a day with fresh water. You could even hike it as a series of day hikes. So having a support person driving a van up above and either camping or staying at the lodge each night would be ideal.

There's plenty of wildlife along this trail. You'll either see Mountain Lion and Bear, see their tracks and tufts of hair, or hear them at night close to your campsite. There are Deer, Elk, Antelope, and an assortment of birds, snakes, lizards, Prairie Dogs, Porcupines and the usual small mammals.

So you'll want to hang your food or use a bear cannister. Keep your boots in your tent, because Porcupines will gnaw on them for the salt left by your perspiration. Don't pitch camp, then leave it while you go exploring. You may return to find animals have been rummaging through your tent and kitchen supplies. They can gnaw through your plastic containers and carry off metal or ceramic ones so they can leisurely figure out how to get them open. The Kangaroo Rats, Deer Mice and three kinds of Voles are especially clever at raiding campsites and they have no fear. Yes, they're cute, with their big eyes and big ears,and their habit of sitting upon their hind legs and studying you. But they can leave you with no food. They also love shiny things, especially keys, small flashlights, pocket knives, glasses, and carabiners. Park rangers who uncover their nests find incredible collections of treasures stolen from backpackers.

There are eight beautiful campsites along the trail. You need permits to use them, and it can be tricky to get three or four nights in the sequence you need. Reserving the proper campsite sequence may dictate exactly when you make this hike. Obviously, backpacking in Spring or Fall makes it easier to get permits. But you can't reserve in advance by phone, email or mail. You must do it in person exactly 48 hours in advance. This means you may come to Bryce, get up every morning and try for your campsites, then spend the day hiking and try again tomorrow. After several days you'll usually get lucky. But, this may not be all bad. Hiking the day trails lets you adjust to the altitude and heat and get your legs in shape.

Fire is a constant danger in the park. You won't be sitting around any campfires. Come with your stove and cannisters of fuel. Sometimes, in the Spring, if they've had heavy snowpack or rain all Winter, campfires may be allowed. But by June the canyon has begun drying out, and fires are banned for the rest of the season.

Hiking for several days below the rim, you'll be in for some surprises. The biggest one will be the streambeds. There are actually five creeks flowing down there : South and North Forks of Willis Creek, Ponderosa Creek, Sheep Creek and Yellow Creek. If you hike in the Spring or after a day or two of rain, they'll be filled with water. There will actually be waterfalls, pools and riffles. During June, July and August they'll mostly be dry or just a trickle, with isolated pools that retain water permanently. But hiking the day trails, like Queens Garden or Navajo Loop, you see a desert terrain with no water at all. It always comes as a shock to people that Zion has streams.

And the streams have fish. Brown Trout are the most common but there are Brook Trout. Now, if you're looking for serious fishing, the Under The Rim Trail won't provide it. For that, you need to go over to the western and southern sides of the park. There, the streams are larger and flow year round, so support a significant fish population. You can catch trophy Brown and Brook and even some Cutthroat Trout. Nevertheless, it always comes as a shock to visitors that you can see fish in Bryce.

Because of the lower elevations and abundant water, you'll also see much greater plant diversity along the Under The Rim Trail than up on the Rim. If you're not familiar with Utah botany, you may want to bring a guidebook so you can identify all of them.

Backpackers are also surprised by the terrain. This is not a level trail. You'll be climbing and descending constantly. You have to be in shape and have good boots and several pairs of socks to hike Under The Rim. You'll want to change those socks often and use lots of foot powder. A pair of hiking sticks also helps.

Don't expect any cell phone reception. Assume you'll be out of touch for the several days it will take to hike the trail. Depending on what kind of phone you're carrying, you might luck up and get a signal in a few places. These signals will probably come from the little town of Tropic, down at the base of the park. But don't count on it.

If you're really concerned about a phone connection, investigate Satellite Phones. Yes, they're expensive. But they do work. And in the Bryce back country they're your only option. But you'll need to take care of that back home. Rural southern Utah is no place to be shopping for electronics.

You'll need lots of sun block. Yes, you'll be in forest some times, and in the shadows of large rock formations some times. But you'll also be out in bright sun much of the time, and on a multi day trip you cannot afford sunburn. Remember Bryce is at high altitude and the air is pollution free, so the sun is much more intense.

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