At dawn and dusk, mule deer graze the forested plateau along the road into Bryce Canyon. The alpine environment is home to dozens of species of mammals and birds, all acquainted with a spectacular truth: this is no ordinary forest. Water and wind over millions of years of freezes and thaws have carved into the plateau endless fields of the park's distinctive red rock pillars, called hoodoos, into the park's series of natural amphitheaters. Seek out the canyon floor on foot or stick to the overlooks by car. Bryce Canyon National Park invites discovery.
Every year, Bryce Canyon National Park awes visitors with spectacular geological formations and brilliant colors. The towering hoodoos, narrow fins, and natural bridges seem to deny all reason or explanation, leaving hikers gazing around with jaws agape in wondrous incredulity. This surreal landscape is what brings people from around the world to visit Bryce Canyon National Park.
How are those Hoodoos and fins formed? It starts with rainwater seeping into cracks in the rock. The water freezes during Bryce’s cold nights, expands and breaks apart the rock. The deep, narrow walls called “fins” result from rain and snowmelt running down the slopes from Bryce’s rim. Eventually the fins form holes (called windows), and when the windows grow larger they collapse and create the bizarre hoodoos that we see today.
Hiking in Bryce Canyon National Park is the best way to immerse yourself in the amazing geography. Day hikes range from easy 1-mile loops to challenging 11-mile round-trip adventures. As you hike, be sure to check out the bristlecone pine trees for which Bryce is known. Bristlecone pines are the oldest trees in the world, even reaching 5,000-years-old in some places!
An overnight stay in one of Bryce Canyon National Park’s campgrounds is highly recommended to experience the early morning and late evening in Bryce, when the pink-orange sandstone goes through a dramatic transformation of light, shadow, and color. A view of Bryce under a full moon is also an experience you will never forget. And when the moon is dark, Bryce is one of the best places in the nation for stargazing because of its pristine air and lack of surrounding development.
And because Bryce Canyon National Park is at an elevation of 8,000 to 9,000 feet, there are even opportunities for winter sports like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing — something you might not have expected in the Utah desert!
Must-See Bryce Canyon Guide
Hiking and Backpacking
Getting away from the road and hitting the trails is a great way to take in the superlative scenery Bryce Canyon National Park has to offer. The Mossy Cave Trail and Bristlecone Loop Trail are great short hikes for families with small children. The Rim Trail section between Sunset and Sunrise Points is paved and gives awesome views of hoodoos from above. And the Queen’s Garden Trail offers hikers the easiest access into the canyon. You might even see some royalty at the end!
One of the advantages of hiking in Bryce is that some of the most popular and scenic trails intersect each other and can be connected to form loops of varying distances and difficulties. For instance, the Navajo Loop Trail, Peekaboo Loop Trail, and Queen’s Garden Trail can all be combined with short excursions along connecting trails.
Bryce Canyon offers two primary trails for backcountry camping: the Riggs Spring Loop Trail and the Under the Rim Trail. The Riggs Spring Loop Trail makes a long day hike or a relaxed overnight trip. The 23-mile Under the Rim Trail can be traveled over two or three days or shortened by combining sections of the trail with the Sheep Creek, Swamp Canyon, Whiteman, or Agua Canyon connecting trails. Be sure to stop by the visitor center for a backcountry permit ($5-15) as well as a map and additional Bryce Canyon information that could come in handy on your hike.
A shuttle runs between the shuttle area outside the park and trails in the main, upper amphitheater, which makes an excellent option to avoid crowded parking lots during busy summer weekends. The shuttle can also conveniently drop you off and one trailhead and pick you up at another, negating the need to retrace your steps.
While the hiking in Bryce Canyon National Park is superb, those who are unable to hike can enjoy the park’s 18-mile scenic drive (Highway 63). The park brochure is full of useful Bryce Canyon information and describes in fair detail the many overlooks and trails along this road. It’s important to note that all of the overlooks lie to the east of the park road (left, as you drive south)–but that’s not to say that the western side of the road isn’t packed with jaw-dropping scenery.To avoid cutting across traffic, it is recommended that you drive all the way south, then stop at the overlooks on your way back. If you only have a short amount of time, make sure you stop at Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration, and Bryce viewpoints!
In Bryce many people use the road mostly to access the trailheads, but if you’re not hiking, here’s a tip to help you get a good look at some of the best scenery: Just after passing the park boundary (and before the entrance/fee station) watch on your left for the road to Fairyland Canyon. Many visitors, in their eagerness to enter the park, miss this viewpoint just 1 mile off the main road that allows you an up-close view of the red rock spires. The fantastic hoodoos you see below, and for which Bryce is so famous, were explained by the Paiutes as “legend people” who had been turned to stone. As you study the twisted maze of canyons, consider the words of early Mormon pioneer (and park namesake) Ebenezer Bryce, who described it as “a hell of a place to lose a cow.”
Due to congestion on the park road, trailers are not allowed beyond Sunset Campground, and vehicles longer than 25 feet are not allowed at Bryce Point or Paria View. You may leave your trailer in the visitor center parking lot. As noted above, a free voluntary shuttle bus system, operating May through early October (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily), will take you from Ruby’s Inn or the visitor center to all the park’s overlooks and trailheads. So if you want to experience scenic driving through Bryce Canyon National Park but don’t want the hassle of dealing with traffic, take the shuttle.
A camping experience in Bryce Canyon National Park is one you won’t forget. Nothing beats seeing the sunrise and set while throwing otherworldly pink and orange light off the hoodoos, or stargazing on a moonless night.
Bryce has two campgrounds, Sunset Campground and North Campground, and both have drinking water and pull-through sites, but no hookups. Both campgrounds also accept reservations — a good idea, because these campgrounds are popular and fill up fast. If you don’t have a reservation, make sure you arrive early in the morning to increase your odds of securing a site. The campgrounds are both located in ponderosa pine forests that offer some shade.
Sunset Campground is located 1.5 miles south of the visitor center and has 100 sites for RVs and tents. This campground includes sites that are ADA compatible for people with special needs. Reservations are accepted early May through late September and the fee is $15 per night per vehicle. This campground is a great choice for those interested in hiking the trails near Sunset Point.
North Campground is located just east and across the road from the visitor center. The campground has 99 sites for RVs and tents. Reservations are accepted early May through late September, and the campground has at least one loop that is open year-round. North Campground also has an RV dump station (open summer only). The Rim Trail runs near the campground, and North Campground offers access to other popular trails as well.
Bryce Canyon offers world-class stargazing due to its exceptionally high air quality and long distance from sources of light pollution, leading some to call it the “last grand sanctuary of natural darkness.” Amateur astronomers will find Bryce to be a prime destination to set up a telescope and observe celestial events, but if you are not equipped to do that, you can sign up at the visitor center for one of the educational and entertaining stargazing programs organized by the park’s “Dark Rangers.”
After a one hour multimedia show, the Dark Rangers will lead you through a 90-minute telescope session where you can observe some of the 7500 stars that can be seen on a moonless night, along with the incredibly bright, silver Milky Way stretching across the sky. Planets like Venus and even Jupiter shine bright enough to cast your shadow on the earth! No vacation at Bryce Canyon National Park is complete without some stargazing.
Because Bryce Canyon National Park is at an elevation of 8,000 to 9,000 feet, when it snows there are wonderful opportunities for winter sports like snowshoeing and cross country skiing–something you won’t find in many other national parks.
If you don’t own snowshoes you can sign up at the visitor center for one of the hikes led by the Bryce Canyon Snowshoe Rangers. When conditions warrant, these snowshoe hikes take place at 9:30 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays. The hike is one mile and takes about two hours.
If you’re on your own, the Rim Trail between Bryce Point and Fairyland Point is a good option for cross country skiing or snow shoeing, as well as the Bristlecone Loop and Paria Ski Loop.
Sometimes the snow conditions are firm and better for hiking in boots. If you are winter hiking in boots, it’s a good idea to put on a traction device so you don’t slip. Such devices are available for sale at the visitor center.
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Bryce Canyon National Park
Unnamed Road, Bryce
Bryce, Utah 84764