No other national park showcases what natural erosion can build than Bryce Canyon National Park. Giant sandstone creations, known as hoodoos, attract more than one million visitors annually. Many take to the trails choosing hiking and horseback riding to get an up-close-and-personal look at stunning fluted walls and sculptured pinnacles.
The park follows along the edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Heavily forested lands reaching 9,000 feet high are on the west, while carved break drop 2,000 feet into the Paria Valley on the east. And no matter where you stand in the park, something seems to grab hold creating a sense of place. Standing amidst a sea of brightly colored rocks the planet seems quiet, resting, and at peace.
History of Bryce Canyon
For millions of years, water has, and continues to, carve the area’s rugged landscape. Water can split rocks, flowing into cracks, and as it freezes those cracks expand. This process occurs around 200 times each year creating the famous hoodoos so popular with visitors. Water is also responsible for the creation of large bowls around the park, formed by streams eating into the plateau.
The natural creations are famous for their unique geology, yet the area failed to gain popularity until the 1920s and early 1930s. Bryce was recognized as a national park in 1924 and was named after the Mormon Pioneer Ebenezer Bryce who came to the Paria Valley with his family in 1875. He left his mark as a carpenter and local’s would call the canyon with the strange rock formations near Ebenezer's home "Bryce's Canyon".
When to Visit
The park is open year-round and each season has something to offer tourists. Wildflowers peak in spring and early summer while over 170 species of birds appear between May and October. If you are looking for a truly unique trip, try visiting during the winter (November through March). Though some roads may be closed for cross-country skiing, seeing the colored cliffs covered in sparkly snow is about as amazing as it gets.
If you have the time, check out Zion National Park located about 83 miles west. From there, follow Utah 9 east and turn north on Utah 89. Continue east on Utah 12 to Utah 63, which is the park entrance.
Another option if coming from Capitol Reef National Park which is 120 miles away. From there, take Utah 12 southwest to Utah 63.
Cars will be charged $20 per week. Note that from mid-May through September, visitors can leave their vehicles near the entrance and take a shuttle to the park entrance. All park passes may be used as well.
Bryce Amphitheater is the largest and most striking bowl that has been eroded in the park. Encompassing six miles, this is not only one tourist attraction but an entire area that visitors can spend a full day in. Check out some of the must-sees of the area:
- Aquarius Plateau: The highest plateau in North America at over 10,000 feet
- Grottoes: Shallow caves along the rim of Bryce Amphitheater
- The Alligator: You will know why this sharply carved butte got its name when you see it
- Thor’s Hammer: This rock formation seems as if it were built by man and appears as if it could tip at any minute
- Silent City: A gridwork of deep ravines that some suggest may have been an ancient metropolitan area
For the outdoorsmen and women looking for the backcountry camping experience, try the Under-the-Rim Trail near Bryce Point. Permits are required and may be purchased for $5 per person at the Visitor Center.
North Campground is open year-round and has a 14-day limit. Sunset Campground is another option and is open from May through September. Both are first come, first served. See their website for prices and more information.
If you aren’t a fan of the tent but want to remain within the park walls, try Bryce Canyon Lodge which offers cabins, rooms, and suites. It remains open from April through October.
Areas of Interest Outside the Park
If you have the time, Utah offers some of the nation’s most stunning national parks and monuments. Here is the short-short version:
- Arches National Park – Witness the largest concentration of natural arches.
- Canyonlands National Park – Redrock pinnacles and cliffs create stunning formations.
- Capitol Reef National Park – Giant sandstone creations stand in beauty and solitude.
- Grand Canyon National Park – Visit one of the Natural Wonders of the World!
- Mesa Verde National Park – This historic site offers cultural attractions from the Puebloan-era.
- Zion National Park – One of the nation’s most beautiful parks, visitors will enjoy stunning vistas, canyons, and pools.
Cedars Breaks National Monument is located nearby in Cedar City and contains an immense amphitheater in a 10,000-foot plateau. Tourists can choose from scenic drives, hiking, or guided tours to view unbelievable rock formations.
Also in Cedar City lies Dixie National Forest which actually stretched across four sections of southern Utah. It contains the remains of a petrified forest, unusual rock formations, and sections of the historic Spanish Trail.