Bryce Canyon National Park

Location: Tropic, Utah
Dates: January 14, 2011
          April 17-18, 2011

Bryce Canyon from the trail below Bryce Point

Bryce Canyon National Park is famous for its amphitheaters of red rock hoodoos at the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah.  Bryce Canyon is a two hour drive northeast of Zion National Park and three hours southwest of Capitol Reef National Park.  The weather at Bryce is much different than at Zion because the elevation along the park road in Bryce ranges from 7700 to 9100 feet compared to 4000 feet in Zion Canyon.

Queens Garden-Navajo Loop

Bryce Canyon is not actually a canyon and has formed out of the Pink Cliffs at the uppermost end of the Grand Staircase, the sequence of rock layers from Bryce to the Grand Canyon that represent nearly 2 billion years of Earth's history.  The change in rock layers are seen as a series of cliffs, including the Pink, White, Grey, Vermilion, and Chocolate Cliffs.  Being at the upper end of the Grand Staircase, the rock at Bryce Canyon is young and very brittle, leading to relatively rapid erosion and the formation of hoodoos.

Bryce Canyon from Bryce Point

The road in Bryce Canyon travels south from state route 12 along the edge of the plateau until it reaches Rainbow Point at an elevation of 9115 feet in the southern part of the park.  There are many overlooks along the course of the road, which may or may not be open past the Bryce Point intersection during winter, depending on weather.  During my visit on January 14 there was maybe a foot of snow near the park entrance, but all the roads and overlooks were open and cleared.  By the time I reached Rainbow Point the snow was nearly 10 feet deep, yet the trails to the Rainbow Point and Yovimpa Point overlooks were both cleared.

The northern section of the park is the most visited as well as the most stunning.  During the summer this area has two campgrounds, Bryce Canyon Lodge, and a shuttle system open.  Four primary overlooks surround the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater: Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point.  Sunrise Point and Sunset Point are a short, flat walk from the parking areas, while Inspiration Point requires some elevation gain.  Bryce Point is the highest and has the most encompassing views.

From Rainbow Point

The Rim trail connects the overlooks around Bryce Canyon Amphitheater (in addition to the road), and there is a fairly extensive network of trails through the amphitheater, including a horse trail.  However, you should check on current trail conditions since some may be closed due to landslides.  I strongly recommend walking down a trail below the plateau edge and among the hoodoos because it gives you a very different and interesting perspective than staying at the top.

Northeast from Sunset Point

During my visit in January I hiked from Sunset Point down the northern section of the Navajo Loop Trail past Thor's Hammer, across to the Queens Garden trail, up to Sunrise Point, and back to Sunset Point.  Despite having some snow, the hike was not any more difficult than it would have been otherwise because much of the snow had been compacted, but not to the extent that it was icy.  In fact, this hike was much easier than my short hike down from Bryce Point into the amphitheater during April when some snow remained on the trail, but everywhere else was very muddy.

An arch called "Natural Bridge"

The northernmost viewpoint is Fairyland Point, overlooking the most recently eroded parts of the plateau.  From state route 12 a short trail in the lower section of the park in Tropic Canyon goes a short distance to Mossy Cave, a small, lush alcove where water seeps through the rocks.  Next to Mossy Cave is a small waterfall that is located on what is now a permanently flowing stream thanks to the Tropic water diversion.

A tree at Fairyland Point that has lost its ground

The threatened Utah prairie dog, the rarest prairie dog in the United States was reintroduced to the park and can be seen in meadows along the road in the northern part of the park during the summer.

Bryce Canyon from Inspiration Point

Hoodoos below Bryce Point

© Copyright 2017 Matthew Pintar. All rights reserved.


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