Bryce Canyon National Park is named for one of a series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah. Erosion has shaped colorful Claron limestones, sandstones and mudstones into thousands of spires, fins, pinnacles and mazes. Collectively called "hoodoos," these unique formations are whimsically arranged and tinted with dozens of colors. Ponderosa pines, high elevation meadows and fir-spruce forests border the rim of the plateau, while panoramic views of three states spread beyond the park's boundaries. This area boasts some of the nation's best air quality. Coupled with the lack of nearby large light sources, unparalleled opportunities for star gazing exist, so bring your imagination. Go directly to the Bryce Canyon Photo Gallery.
Hoodoo—a pillar of rock, usually of fantastic shape, left by erosion. Hoodoo—to cast a spell. At Bryce Canyon erosion forms an array of fantastic shapes known as hoodoos. Surrounded by the beauty of southern Utah, the hoodoos cast their spell on all who visit. Geologists say that 10 million years ago forces within the Earth created and then moved massive blocks we know as the Table Cliffs and Paunsaugunt plateaus. Rock layers on the Table Cliffs now tower 2,000 feet above their corresponding layers on the Paunsaugunt. Ancient rivers carved the tops and exposed the edges of these blocks, removing some layers and sculpting formations in others. The Paria Valley was created and later widened between the plateaus. The Paria River and its tributaries still carve the plateau edges. Carrying dirt and gravel, rushing waters gully the edges and steep slopes of the Paunsaugunt Plateau where Bryce Canyon sits. With time, tall and thin ridges called fins emerge. Fins then erode into pinnacles and spires called hoodoos, that, weakening and falling, add their bright colors to the hills below.
The best way to get to Bryce Canyon is on US Hwy. 89 to Utah 12. From there it is approximately 14 miles to the park turnoff at Bryce Canyon City on Utah 63. The 18-mile main park road winds along the edge of the plateau, terminating at the south end of the park. Return to the entrance via the same road. The total size is 55 square miles, a comparitively small park. Spur roads and pullouts offer opportunities for viewing and trailhead parking. In summer, parking at most viewpoints is extremely congested. Your best chance of finding a parking space is before 10:00 a.m. and after 5:00 p.m. There is a free NPS operated shuttle bus if parking becomes an issue. Due to steep grades and limited parking, trailers are not allowed beyond Sunset Campground. The park has over 50 miles of hiking trails that offer close encounters with hoodoos with a wide range of distances and elevation change. The elevation within the park ranges from 6,620 feet in the Yellow Creek basin, to 9,115 feet at Rainbow Point. Assess your ability and know your limits. Use caution and breathe deeply if you are unaccustomed to the high altitude.
Visitors can enjoy Bryce Canyon during any season. Summer days are pleasant and nights are cool at 8,000-9,000 feet. July is the warmest month with an average daytime high temperature of 83° F. and a nighttime low of 47. Much of the area's precipitation comes as afternoon thundershowers during mid to late summer. Spring and fall weather is highly variable. Cold winter days are offset by high altitude sun and dry climate. Winter nights are sub-freezing. Alaskan cold fronts can descend on the Colorado Plateau bringing temperatures as low as 30 degrees below zero. The area can have snowstorms from October through April; annual snowfall averages 100 inches.
The Internet Brothers have visited Bryce Canyon National Park a few times, first in 1998, most recently in July 2009. On our most recent visit we enjoyed the 8-mile Fairyland Loop trail and the many awesome overlooks that comprise the amphitheater.
Fairyland Point lies one mile off the main road between the entrance station and the park boundary, so many visitors miss it. Highlighted by the Sinking Ship, with the Aquarius Plateau and distant Navajo Mountain as its backdrop, the scenery found here rivals anywhere in the park. Fairyland Point is also the beginning of the Fairyland Loop trail, a five hour strenuous hike that has more than 2300 feet of elevation change. Along the way, you will see the China Wall, Tower Bridge, and many tall hoodoos from ground level. Because the trailhead lies outside the boundary, this is one of the less crowded, but no less spectacular trails at Bryce Canyon. We encountered only 30 other people during our five hours on the trail, with 80% of those in the last hour. In mid-July, the temperature ranged from high 50s when we started at 7:00AM to low 80s when we finished at noon. Here is a video of our adventure.
Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration, and Bryce Points encircle the Bryce Amphitheater, the largest collection of hoodoos in the park. Paria Point looks out over other hoodoos carved by Yellow Creek. The Paria Valley and Table Cliffs plateau form its backdrop. Agua Canyon displays contrasts of light and color among the most enjoyable in the park. Yovimpa and Rainbow Points offer expansive views of southern Utah. On most days you can see Navajo Mountain and the Kaibab Plateau 90 miles away in Arizona. Mid-July is peak wildflower season. Look for paintbrush, nootka rose, manzanita, balsamroot, and rabbitbrush.
Being far from civilization, Bryce's night skies are not only dark, but the high desert location makes the thin air very easy to see through. Consequently, Bryce Canyon is a phenomenal place for stargazing. Behold, the Milky Way. In most places it's never dark enough to see, but at Bryce, only hours after sunset, your eyes will be able to see 2.2 million light years to the Andromeda Galaxy. It is easy to feel insignificant underneath such vastness, yet ironically, it is within our power to help preserve such a view. In most places, all it takes to restore visibility of the night sky is a shared passion for the dark and responsible management of light.
Proceed to the Bryce Canyon National Park Photo Gallery
National Parks Conservation Association — The gradual, accelerated warming of our planet will have disastrous consequences for America's national parks. But all is not lost. Although the situation seems dire, NPCA's report, Unnatural Disaster, says we can still halt the most severe effects of climate change if we take action now. The national parks offer a unique opportunity to draw attention to America’s priceless resources at risk, and to showcase opportunities to act to protect them.