My first visit to Bryce National Park was in 1948 on a road trip from Los Angeles to Minneapolis. I was traveling with my mother, father and sister and we were sightseeing and learning about each area as we traveled. This trip was one of the many cross country trips my family took while I was growing up and we became veteran travelers at a young age. You can imagine what the roads were like back in 1948, narrow, winding with very little traffic. I have continued my love of exploring on a road trip in our beautiful United States through out my life and decided to share my love of travel and trekking with you. I have traveled every state west of the Mississippi River and a lot of the states east as well. The more I travel, the more I learn about how much there is to see and do in our beautiful United States.
I began a quest about 20 years ago to see if I could run a marathon in each of our western states, and to this date I have only a few states left to cross off my list. This past July, I ran the Bryce Canyon Half-Marathon, and I was amazed at the beauty of this run. I will run it again in coming years.
Bryce National Park today is quite removed from the hustle and bustle of freeway travel and quite a ways off the beaten path. So you do have to work at visiting this exceptionally scenic Park. Visiting Bryce is best combined with a visit to Zion National Park and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The three parks historically – from the days of the Union Pacific Railroad’s transcontinental passenger service – have been combined for travelers to enjoy. The Union Pacific, to encourage passengers to travel on their line, advertised “See all Three – Bryce, Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks Combined in one low-cost Circle Trip”. The Union Pacific Railroad was responsible for building many of the hotels in these parks for the convenience of their passengers. Most of them are still operational today after some restorations over the years.
Bryce Canyon, despite its name, is not actually a canyon, but rather a giant naturalamphitheater created by erosion along the eastern side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Bryce is distinctive due to its geological structures, called hoodoos, formed from wind, water, and ice erosion of the river and lakebed sedimentary rocks. The red, orange and white colors of the rocks provide spectacular views to visitors. Bryce is at a much higher elevation than nearby Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon. The rim at Bryce varies from 8,000 to 9,000 feet (2,400 to 2,700 m), whereas the south rim of the Grand Canyon sits at 7,000 feet (2,100 m) above sea level. On my first trip to Bryce I remember standing on the rim of Bryce amphitheater looking at the expanse of hoo doos thinking – what a funny name for these pink and orange columns that looked like little people standing in a row.
Visiting Bryce National Park for the first time, I would recommend as stop at the Visitors Center located immediately on your left after passing through the entrance station. The visitors center will give you a quick overview of the park and it has some wonderful geologic exhibits and maps of the Park.
If you are only going to spend a half-day in Bryce I would recommend after your stop at the visitors center, to continue south on the park road to Sunset Point, Bryce Point and Inspiration Point. These three viewpoints have some of the best views in the park. The exhibits and placards at the viewpoints are very well done by the Park Service and worthy of reading. My personal favorite is Bryce Point as it juts out into the amphitheater looking northeast for some great surround views.
If you have a full day and want to get off the beaten path for some solitude and great views, after visiting Sunset, Bryce and Inspiration Points, you drive the park road all the way south to Rainbow Point, a distance of 14 miles. As you travel along this road you will see brief views of Bryce and there are 7 interim viewpoints. Each of these is worthy of a stop for photos. Rainbow Point is the highest in the park at 9,135 feet above sea level. You will have some wonderful views here to the east and north, however, there is also a short Bristle Cone Loop 1 mile hike. This is also one of the best places for a night sky viewing due to the lack of light pollution. If you have a telescope or just want to enjoy the night sky on a clear night, I highly recommend this point for clear air and miles and miles of visibility. If you look Southeast on a clear day you can see Navajo Mountain located on Lake Powell in Arizona.
Four Bryce Park Rangers, called the Night Sky Team, and 15 volunteers have a night sky program in Bryce Park. Each night from April thru October, when the skies are clear, they set up their telescopes and do their astronomy program for 100 to 300 people. Check with the visitor’s center to find out about times of these programs. I attended one of these programs in June of 2007 and was amazed at the information I learned from these Night Sky Rangers and the views I had of Jupiter and its rings.
Another item to put on your must do list if you like hiking is the Queens Garden Trail departing from Sunrise Point. This trail is considered the least difficult trail entering the canyon from the rim. You can do this as an in and back out for a distance of 1.8 miles or you may make it a loop hike connecting with the Navajo Trail at the bottom. If you do this hike it will add about another mile and half to your hike and you will come out at Sunset Point necessitating a hike along the rim from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point. I have done this loop and it is very beautiful and has some great photo opportunities.
If you would like a more strenuous hike, the Peek-a-boo loop trail is one I have done and I love it for its diversity. It really gets the heart pumping. In the 5.5 miles you gain 1,555 feet and lose 1,555 feet and at 7,800 feet starting point, you will know you have had a good workout. The photo opportunities on this trail are also fantastic. One word of caution, you will meet the mule riders at the bottom where they take a break and have a snack. There is also a restroom facility located at this point.
There is a backpacking hike that my wife and I have done in Bryce, called the under the rim trail. This trail is 23 miles in length from Rainbow Point to Bryce Point. It may be broken up into shorter segments for day hikes with a shuttle. We added the section from Bryce Point to Sunset Point adding another 5 miles. We did this hike over a memorial day holiday weekend and found it to be strenuous but peaceful. We camped three nights on the trail in wilderness campsites. National Park Service permits are required for any backcountry hiking, and we had to have a Park Ranger give us an orientation before we embarked on this adventure. During the three days on the trails, we only saw a handful of people on the trail doing day hikes and primarily on the northern portion of this trail.
The first night we camped at Natural Bridge campsite, it was cold and cloudy so we did not spend a lot of time outside our sleeping bags. No fires are allowed except a backpacking stove. The Ranger orientation included a section about hanging all of your food and items that give off an odor from a tree so no bears or mountain lions could get at your food. We diligently did this, however, in the middle of the night we were awakened by some fierce yowling and growling. It was a couple of mountain lions trying to get to our food. The next morning when we got up there were mountain lion tracks all throughout our campsite. However, they did not get our food. This experience was the most excitement we had on this backcountry backpack. The weather was cold so we kept moving most of the day to keep warm. We camped two more nights and enjoyed the solitude of being the only campers in our area. We did see a couple of people each day on day hikes, but we did not encounter anyone else backpacking on this trail.The last day as we were hiking from the bottom to Bryce Point, it started to snow – this is on Memorial Day weekend – the last weekend in May, so you can see what a difference a few thousand feet in elevation means to the temperatures and the weather.
After exiting Bryce and after our hot showers in the park service campers showers, we stopped at the Visitors Center and told a Ranger about our mountain lion experience. The ranger told us that the spring is matting season and the two lions could have been courting! Wow! What a great experience in this spectacular wilderness area.
My wife and I have also have hiked most of the trails in Bryce amphitheater and we go back time after time to hike them again as the hikes are so spectacular and the air so clear and unpolluted. This Park is one you will also want to visit more than once.
The best time of year to visit Bryce National Park is in mid to late April, May, September and October. The weather is usually cool to cold, the air is clear and you can see for hundreds of miles, and there are fewer visitors so the roads are not jammed, the parking lots are open and the trails are not busy. The summer months, June, July and August are the busiest with families and people from all over the world. The shoulder season is also less expensive at the motels as well.
There’s two campgrounds operated by the National Park Service inside the Park boundaries – North campground and Sunset campground. There is one lodge within Bryce National Park – the Bryce Canyon Lodge located a short walk from Sunset Point. During the summer months the campgrounds fill up and the Lodge is usually sold out months in advance. You might get a last minute cancellation, however, if you plan to travel during this time period, you are well advised to make your reservations months in advance.
Just outside Bryce Canyons entrance gate a short distance is a privately operated campground and hotel. Other campgrounds and motels are located a short drive from Bryce in the towns of Tropic and Cannonville. These also are usually sold out in the busiest time of year, so advanced planning is recommended. If you are going to visit in the summer, just outside the entrance to the Park is a rodeo grounds and most evenings there will be a rodeo for you to enjoy. In this same area you will find scenic helicopter flights, horseback rides and ATV rentals.
I hope you have found my information about Bryce National Park helpful and will encourage you to visit, explore, see and photograph, or just sit on the rim and enjoy the shadows over the hoo doos. If you have suggestions or recommendations for me regarding this article, please feel free to comment on my blog or email me, I will respond to your email or comments. Thank you for letting me share my love of this beautiful part of Southern Utah with you.