Bryce Canyon National Park
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Bryce Canyon National Park is an enchanted wonderland. Even though it is often overshadowed by Utah's other National Parks, it is a truly special place, filled with magical trees that smell good enough to eat, charming fairy chimneys, sweeping vistas, Norse mythology, and the best stargazing ever. Bet you never guessed that this little National Park had all that (and more!)...
Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southwestern Utah. The major feature of the park is Bryce Canyon, which despite its name, in not a canyon, but a collection of giant natural amphitheaters. Bryce is very distinctive due to geological structures called hoodoos. The red, orange, and white colors of the rocks provide spectacular views for park visitors. The rim at Bryce varies from 8,000 to 9,000 feet. The park covers 35,835 acres.
Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos are up to 200 feet high. A series of amphitheaters extends more than 20 miles north-to-south within the park. The largest is Bryce Amphitheater, which is 12 miles long, 3 miles wide and 800 feet deep.
Rainbow Point, the highest part of the park at 9,105 feet is at the end of the 18-mile scenic drive. From there, Aquarius Plateau, Bryce Amphitheater, the Henry Mountains, the Vermilion Cliffs and the White Cliffs can be seen. It is spectacular.
More About Bryce Canyon
Words can barely describe the desert wonderland that awaits in southwest Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park. The park is known for breathtaking amphitheaters filled with spectacular labyrinths of red, orange, and white hoodoos standing in defiance against the erosive forces of nature. Hoodoos are tall, thin pinnacles of rock that arise from the desert floor, formed when soft rock is capped by harder, less easily eroded stone that protects it from the elements. Bryce has the largest concentration of these magical spires in the world.
Bryce Canyon National Park is an enchanted wonderland. Even though it is often overshadowed by Utah's other National Parks, it's a truly special place, filled with magical trees that smell good enough to eat, charming fairy chimneys, sweeping vistas, Norse mythology, and the best stargazing ever.
How do I Tour Bryce Canyon?
Most visitors to Bryce just stick to the 18-mile scenic drive, sightseeing from the 13 viewpoints over the amphitheaters. It really makes for an amazing day of sightseeing. However, there are 50 miles of trails to enjoy, including eight marked and maintained hiking trails that can be hiked in less than a day. For quick, easy hikes, look to the Mossy Cave, Bristlecone Loop, and Queens Garden trails, all less than two miles long. For a longer adventure, the aptly named Rim Trail overlooks the entire Bryce Canyon amphitheater for 5.5 miles.
The 18 Mile Scenic Drive provides access to 13 viewpoints over the amphitheaters. Bryce Canyon has eight marked and maintained hiking trails that can be hiked in less than a day.
There are two campgrounds in the park, North Campground and Sunset Campground. Bryce Canyon Lodge is another way to stay overnight in the park.
If solitude is the goal, the Fairyland Loop drops down into the amphitheater and treks through hoodoos, deep canyons, and past natural bridges. The highlight is the China Wall, an imposing row of ridge-top hoodoos reminiscent of the Great Wall of China. The hike is considered strenuous with 2,309 feet of elevation gain in its eight miles.
Amateur and pro photographers alike flock to Bryce. A good rule is: arrive early, stay late. Some of the best shots happen before the sun comes up, and after it dips below the horizon. Popular spots also get crowded, set your tripod early. There is a Sunset Point and Sunrise Point but Sunset Point is excellent for both. Bryce Point and Inspiration Point are both perfect for huge, sweeping panoramas. Bryce Point is also great for evenings and sunsets. After shooting the rising sun, head to the 1.3-mile Navajo Loop for some mid-morning light in the amphitheater. The trail begins at Sunset Point and descends a slot canyon and steep switchbacks to a stellar view of the most famous hoodoo in Bryce Canyon, Thor’s Hammer. Nighttime is special too. The inky dark skies guarantee Milky Way shots and star trails. There is something to shoot in every season in Bryce. Spring brings wildflowers, with summer comes dramatic thunderstorms, fall has golden aspen leaves contrasting sharply against dark evergreens, and winter snow is surreal and serene.
Rim Trail: 0.5 to 5.5 miles one way. A popular trail above Bryce Canyon that connects all the scenic overlooks from Fairyland Point to Bryce Point. The 0.5 mile section between Sunrise and Sunset points is paved and accessible to those with wheelchairs.
Queens Garden Trail: 1.8 miles. A short trail descending below the canyon rim that takes hikers to fascinating rock formations including Gulliver’s Castle, the Queen’s Castle, and Queen Elizabeth herself.
Navajo Loop Trail: 1.4 miles. A popular trail that makes a short 1- to 2-hour loop from the rim at Sunset Point down to the floor of Bryce Canyon. The trail visits favorite hoodoo formations such as Wall Street, Twin Bridges, and Thor’s Hammer.
Bristlecone Loop Trail: 1 mile. A short loop that stays entirely above the canyon rim as it traverses a subalpine fir forest. The trail is names after the bristlecone pine trees, the oldest tree species in the world, which is found more frequently along this trail than along other trails in Bryce Canyon National Park Utah.
Mossy Cave Trail: 0.8 mile. A short stroll into the reddish pinnacles of Bryce Canyon from UT 12 in the northern end of the park that ends at a mossy, seeping cave, offering a smaller-scale sampler of Bryce grandeur for travelers unable to travel into the main area of the park.
Weather and Climate
The best time of year to visit Bryce Canyon National Park is probably during the fall. That's when the brutal summer heat starts to die down and crowds clear out, meaning easier parking and cheaper rates. Of course, spring and summer aren't bad times to visit, as long as you have plenty of water and sunblock. Winter is not a bad time to visit either: the NPS is pretty good about plowing the roads, and the sight of the red hoodoos capped with snow is pretty awesome!
The national park is located in southwestern Utah about 50 miles northeast of and 1,000 feet higher than Zion National Park. The weather in Bryce Canyon is therefore cooler, and the park receives more precipitation: a total of 15 to 18 inches per year.
Yearly temperatures vary from an average minimum of 9 deg F in January to an average maximum of 83 F in July, but extreme temperatures can range from –30 to 97 F. The record high temperature in the park was 98 F on July 14, 2002. The record low temperature was –28 F on December 10, 1972.
Hiking Tip: If you're hiking, especially down in the canyon, definitely remember water, snacks, sunscreen, and tons of water... and maybe take advantage of the bathrooms on the rim before you hike down. Amenities inside the canyon are few and far between! -And bring a map, just in case you lose your orientation among the hoodoos. The pioneer who discovered Bryce Canyon described it as a "heck of a place to lose a cow" so come prepared. GPS might not be reliable in the park, with limited reception.
-During the summer, park rangers offer stargazing programs. Take advantage, because the night skies in Bryce Canyon are incredibly bright, and you can see thousands of stars. They'll even set up telescopes for you to use! -There's a free shuttle that runs around the park. This is a great way to get between scenic overlooks and trailheads in the park. It cuts down on congestion on the roads, and saves you gas and money! In some cases you have to reserve seats, so plan ahead.
More Tips: Riding a mule down into the Grand Canyon gets a lot of press, but it's crowded, expensive, and overhyped. Exploring Bryce on horseback transports visitors back to the rugged days of the wild old west, and turns city slickers into rough-and-tumble cow pokes. There are two or three-hour tours that tackle steep, narrow trails into the maze of Bryce and its geologic wonders. The sore backside might be worth it.
Recommendation: Stop at Subway on the way into the park, pick up lunch and eat it on one of the many benches overlooking the stunning scenery. You won’t be sorry!
Hydration: Bryce sits at around 8,000-9,000 feet above sea level. The combination of altitude and dry desert air makes dehydration a serious threat. Also, temp swings of 30 degrees between day and night are not unheard of, pack accordingly.