Bryce Canyon National Park
|The hoodoos of Bryce Point in Bryce National Park, Utah (Ray Mathis/courtesy, NPS)|
The sky never seems so blue as when viewed through the window of a Claron sandstone pinnacle in Bryce Canyon National Park. Although it is the smallest of Utah's national parks at 35,835 acres, Bryce Canyon contains an outsized number of some of the most beautiful, unlikely rock formations on earth. This Dr. Seussian landscape of towering spires, fins, arches, and mazes is fodder for the imagination and a delight to the eyes.
The hoodoos will invariably grab your attention first. These brown, red, orange, yellow, and white pinnacles of limestone, sandstone, and mudstone shoot toward the sky in fanciful formation. Closer inspection of the park reveals horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters, views of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, as well as distinct ecological zones demarcated by changes in elevation. Ponderosa pines, high-elevation meadows, and fir-spruce forests border the rim of this canyon on the Paunsaugunt Plateau.
The park is smaller and more comfortable than its Utah neighbors Arches and Zion, which makes it easy to explore by foot, horseback, or car. The area is named for Ebeneezer Bryce, a Mormon pioneer and cattle farmer. Although Ebeneezer and his wife, Mary, stayed for only five years, the area retained his name and the oft-quoted description of the canyon as "a helluva place to lose a cow."
Take a Fairyland Hike
Fairyland Loop Trail begins at Fairyland Point, at the northern portion of the park, and takes you through spectacular hoodoos and scenery along the rim and into the canyon, including a spur trail to Tower Bridge. The Fairyland Loop Trail also includes a portion of the Rim Trail from Sunset Point to Fairyland Point. This hike is considered strenuous due to its length and meandering trails with multiple elevation changes. It is best to carry plenty of water, one quart (liter) for every two to three hours of hiking per person, as this hike typically takes four to five hours round-trip over its eight-mile (12.9 km) length. Sunscreen or large brim hats are recommended in the summer and are even a comfort year-round to avoid sunburn.
See the Canyon on Horseback
Get on a horse and explore Bryce in relative comfort. Canyon Trail Rides leads two-hour and half-day horse and mule rides in the spring, summer, and fall. First-time riders are welcome. Tours travel into Bryce Amphitheater along a dedicated horse trail and the Peekaboo Loop Trail. The trail winds among hoodoos below Inspiration and Bryce Points. Highlights include the Wall of Windows, the Three Wisemen, and the Cathedral.
Get the Big Picture
The 18-mile scenic drive makes seeing much of the park possible in one day. Because the overlooks are on the left side of the road as you begin your drive from the visitor center, it is advisable to drive the full 18 miles and then backtrack to see the views. Begin at the visitor center and drive all the way to Yovimpa and Rainbow Point overlooks. From Rainbow Point, take a short hike to the 1,800-year-old bristlecone pinethe oldest living thing in the park. From here, there are a multitude of stops worthy of gape-mouthed wonder including Inspiration Point, Bryce Amphitheater, Thor's Hammer, and Wall Street.
More on scenic driving in Bryce Canyon National Park
Learn from a Strolling Ranger
Take a walk along the canyon rim with a park ranger and learn some of Bryce Canyon's ecology, geology, and history. This rewarding excursion offers spectacular views of Bryce Amphitheater from above the canyon. You will walk from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point during the one-hour interpretive tour. Schedules are posted at the visitor center, general store, campgrounds, and Bryce Canyon Lodge.
More on hiking in Bryce Canyon National Park
Stay Up till Morning
Combine the night sky views with the magical effects of early-morning light on the canyon, and you have the best reason since final exams to stay up all night. Because the air quality is superior and there are few large light sources nearby, Bryce Canyon creates unparalleled opportunities for stargazing. Find well-known constellations or create your own in this sky that is nearly pollution-free. Later, stay awake and watch the world around you change as the sun rises. Sunlight illuminates the park in different ways throughout the day, but the day's first light brings out the color and texture of the hoodoos more vibrantly than any other time.
Spot Canyon Critters
Like most national parks, Bryce Canyon is home to a variety of wildlife. The ever-present mule deer travel throughout the park. Golden-mantled ground squirrels scurry along the canyon and often visit the campsites in the morning. You may see coyotes hunting or elk grazing from one of the overlooks. Some lucky visitors will catch a glimpse of the elusive mountain lion or a pronghorn antelope. Birders will delight in the variety of raptors, which includes golden and bald eagles. Reptiles of the park include the Great Basin rattlesnake and the mountain short-horned lizard.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication