With the new day came new adventures. This time we visited Bryce Canyon National Park, where I became so awestruck I wished I could have spent more time there.
Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southern Utah. In fact, despite its name, Bryce Canyon is not an actual canyon because there is no river running through it. The basin in which Bryce Canyon lies is called the “amphitheater,” formed over thousands of years as a result of chemical and thermal erosion. The area of the National Park filled with these unusual geological formations is 145.02 km².
This remarkable area was originally designated as a national monument in 1923 and later in 1928 established as a national park. It was named after Ebenezer Bryce, a Mormon pioneer among the first to settle around the canyon in the late 19th century.
Hoodoos – Bryce Canyon’s showpiece
“Hoodoo,” also called a tent rock, fairy chimney, or earth pyramid is a tall, thin rock spire protruding from the bottom of an arid drainage basin. While hoodoos are scattered throughout different places worldwide, nowhere are they so abundant as in the northern section of Bryce Canyon National Park.
For centuries, a group of Pajut Indians has inhabited warmer valleys near Bryce Canyon as far back as 1200 AD. They hunted and fished, but their way of life left few traces. They called the sacred land Angka-ku-wass-a-wits, meaning Red Painted Faces. There is a fascinating legend connected with the tribe. According to Pajut Indians’ beliefs, Bryce was previously inhabited by creatures that could take many forms, both animals and humans. However, these “legendary people” angered the coyote god and were turned into rocks as a punishment. This is why some of the Hoodoos look like they are standing in rows, sitting, or hugging each other.
Bryce Canyon climate and weather
Bryce Canyon National Park is located at a relatively high elevation of 2400 – 2700 meters above sea level. Thanks to that, it is colder than at Utah’s other national parks, such as Zion, Canyonlands, and Arches.
We were there in August, and the temperature oscillated around 20 °C, making it comfortable for a hike. Because of the elevation, it is essential to remember it is a little bit harder to breathe; hence take breaks and take it slow.
You can admire the beautiful formations from the observation decks at the canyon’s edge and the hiking trails along its bottom.
There are several vistas along the edge that you can just drive to or take a shuttle to, and from there, you can see the magnificent views of fairy-like red and orange landscapes.
Bryce Point – 2530 m
Inspiration Point – 2554 m
Sunset Point – 2414m
Sunrise Point – 2438 m
Initially, we wanted only to take a shuttle to all vistas, but our bus driver convinced us to hike. And we were super glad he did. The views were stunning, we had a lot of fun observing small squirrels and chipmunks running around, and we wished we had more time to go for an extended hike down the canyon. We stopped every couple of minutes for pictures of the gorgeously sculpted canyon floor plunging gently down the valley and observed tall, colorful rock formations.
You can take a shuttle bus to Bryce Point, from which you will follow the trail all the way to Sunrise Point. It’s a ~5 km hike on a relatively flat surface. The trails follow further to Fairyland Point, but we didn’t have more time to continue.
The Queen’s Garden Trail (~3.5km out-and-back trail) is considered the least strenuous of the six trails that descend into the Bryce Amphitheater. It descends for about 1.5km along a ridgeline down to a distinctive hoodoo that resembles Queen Victoria. The varied and colorful rock formations surrounding this hoodoo are described as many sculptures and other ornaments within the Queen’s “Garden”.
The Navajo Loop Trail is one of Bryce Canyon National Park’s most popular trails. It is a 2.4-km loop trail starting at Sunset Point and begins by dropping down into the Amphitheater and passing through “Wall Street,” a narrow switchbacked slot canyon between sheer cliffs. The trail passes near famous rock formations such as Thor’s Hammer and Two Bridges.
PS. The crossing of Wall Street is open only in summer.
Navajo Loop and Queens Garden Trail
It is a 5.0-km loop trail combining two famous routes in one.
Mossy Cave Trail
Easy, 1.4-km out-and-back trail near that ends at a mossy, seeping cave.
Peek-a-boo Loop Trail
The trail takes its name from the surprises that await around its many turns and elevation changes. It is a hiker and horse trail winding around hoodoo formations below Inspiration Point and Bryce Point, offering views of the famous Wall of Windows, the Three Wisemen, The Organ, and The Cathedral.
The trail is an 8.4-km loop trail. While some consider this a more moderate hike, the hike is strenuous due to the rapid elevation change and the length.
Under the Rim Trail
The longest trail in Bryce Canyon follows the foot of the Pink Cliffs through the southern reaches of the park. . Almost 40 kilometers of hiking, with breaks for overnight stays, for which you need to get a special permit.
If you are looking for a different way to see the landscape, you can join a horseback riding tour, see the beautiful area, and ride through the hoodoos on horseback.
The initial descent into the canyon is on a dedicated horse trail; then, it meets up with Peek-a-boo Loop, a hiking and horse trail.
Horses are not allowed on the famous Queens Garden/Navajo Loop Trail or the Fairyland Loop Trail.
Astronomy & Night Sky
Bryce Canyon is a sanctuary for natural darkness known for its perfect visibility and clarity of the air. There is not much light pollution, thanks to the high elevation, allowing you to see 7.5 thousand stars compared to the usual 2.5k.
For astronomy enthusiasts, the park has prepared free attractions in the form of night tours with park rangers combined with observing the sky through telescopes.
If you’re thirsty for adventure, join one of Bryce Canyon’s Astronomy Rangers for a nocturnal hike during the full moon.
Check out this website for more info.
We left our car at the visitor’s center, but I have heard that it might be hard to find a parking spot during the high season. There are also small parking lots next to trailheads, but they did not have much space available.
You can also leave the car in Bryce Canyon City and then use the Shuttle Bus, which will take tourists to all key points within the Amphitheater. It runs every 10-15 minutes. Check out this website for more details.
If you are interested in driving to the very end of the scenic route that runs through Bryce Canyon, you can navigate through the park with your car. After we were done hiking, we took the car and drove around, stopping at small parking lots spread around to marvel at the spectacular views.
As it is a National park, we used our “America the Beautiful” pass to enter the park.
The current pricing or general admittance tickets can be found on this website.
How long to stay
We planned our stay for only one day, and with fast-approaching cloudbursts, we had only enough time to hike along the rim of the canyon.
If I could go back in time, I would have spent a minimum of two days there. One day to walk around the rim and the other to venture into the canyon to fully admire the lunar-fairy-tale shapes and formations from close up. Additionally, we could have peacefully enjoyed the starry night, sunrise, and sunset.
I still feel hungry for more; if I manage to visit the USA, Bryce Canyon will be on my list. Out of all the places I’ve seen, it was my favorite.