Bryce Canyon National Park – Tropic Canal, an Excellent Morning Hike

Bryce Canyon National Park sits in bowl with a mostly southern exposure. This makes it difficult to capture stunning sunset images.

The Navajo Loop, Fairyland Loop, Rim Trail, and Queens Garden are all great morning hikes. They may also be crowded.

The Tropic Ditch Canal is an excellent morning hike away from the crowds. As an added bonus, you can stand behind a beautiful waterfall or hike to an arch.

Feature Image Details

The Tropic Canal

The Tropic Canal is outside the main park. The parking area is the same for the Mossy Cave on located on Highway 12, approximately 4 miles east of the intersection of Highways 12 and 63. Look for a small parking area on the right-hand side immediately after crossing a little bridge. The Mossy Cave itself is at the end of a short trail.

A path continues from Mossy Cave to the Tropic Canal. To walk behind the waterfall one needs to hike in the stream not the regular trail which leads to an arch and the other waterfalls in this post. I crossed down to the stream from the bridge near the Mossy Cave.

The water level is no more than a foot deep. Depending on the flow, you may be able to avoid getting wet.

Tropic Canal History

The canal has interesting history and there are some historical markers along the main trail.

Park literature explains that from 1890-1892 Mormon pioneers labored with picks and shovels to carve an irrigation ditch from the East Fork of the Sevier River, through the Paunsaugunt Plateau, into this canyon.

Approximately 40 men, digging with hand tools, began work in 1889. On May 23, 1892 their work was completed, and water from the plateau flowed down through the canyon. The canal became known as the Tropic Ditch, taking its name from the new town, Tropic, Utah, whose future this precious water secured.

Additional Images

The amount of water on the falls and ditch varies greatly.

The above images were all taken on May 28. Just one month earlier, the water was still a trickle.

I made the following image on April 29.

Spring comes late at Bryce Canyon. The Winter snow and ice melt unleashes a big flow in the canal in late May and early June.

Every year since its completion in 1892 (except during the drought of 2002), this canal known as the Tropic Ditch has supplied the communities of Tropic and Cannonville with irrigation water.

On both occasions, I started the hike at sunrise. To explore the Mossy Cave and the Tropic Canal, allow a couple hours depending on how much time you spend in the canal.

You can also hike to the arch visible in a couple of my images. For the hike to the arch you will have to cross the canal. If the flow is high, you will have to get wet.

Unlike the hikes in the main park, I saw very few people on these trails. This is a great morning solitude hike.

Photographer’s Perspective

It takes a very wide angle lens to make most of these images, especially standing behind the falls. 16 mm is barely sufficient. Spray is problematic so keep checking the front of the lens for water drops.

I used a polarizer in all of the above images. I also took multiple exposures and blended them. If there is any sky in the picture, you made need to do so.

What About Sunset?

Looking for a great sunset spot in Bryce Canyon National Park? You are not alone. It’s a struggle. Bryce Canyon overlooks are mainly to the South or East and in a bowl. The Amphitheatre is in shadow long before the sun hits the horizon at sunset. Bryce Canyon is definitely more of a sunrise/early morning location.  

However, Red Canyon, about 9 miles away in the Dixie National Forest has some excellent trails that glow at sunset. The Buckhorn Trail to the top of the Golden Wall offers 360-degree views, superb in all directions.

The Buckhorn trail starts in the campground near the visitor center and ascends to the top of the Golden Wall. You can make a loop back to Highway 12 or do an out-and-back to the campground.  

The Golden Wall trail combined with the Buckhorn Trail and the Red Canyon Bicycle Trail makes a scenic five-mile loop. One can add the Castle Bridge side trail to the combination without adding much extra length.  

For discussion and many images of the Buckhorn Trail, please see Red Canyon, a Perfect Sunset Spot Near Bryce Canyon

Happy Hiking!


Those interested in my equipment and recommendations can find it here: Mish’s Equipment List.

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock

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