There are Five National Parks in Utah. They are referred to as the Mighty 5. Most people have heard of Arches National park and have seen photographs of the iconic Delicate Arch.
Bryce was established as a park in 1923. So, this year, it turns 100. Before preparing for this trip, I had never even heard of Bryce Canyon. It’s a hidden gem of the National Parks. It’s often overshadowed by Arches and Zion. But, in my opinion, the best of the Mighty Five is Bryce Canyon.
Where is it?
Bryce is located off Highway 63 in Bryce, Utah. It is only 78 miles from the East Entrance of Zion National Park. So, Bryce and Zion are a great pair of parks to tackle in one trip.
What is There to Do?
Hiking and Sightseeing
Bryce Canyon’s draw is it’s hoodoos. Hoodoos are irregular rock spires. Bryce has the greatest concentration of these formations in the world. Scientists believe that a recipe of millions of years, plate tectonics, and erosion made up these magical rocks. However they were formed, they are stunningly beautiful.
The most incredible hike I’ve ever experienced was here. It’s called the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop. The National Park Service calls it the “World’s Best 3-Mile Hike.” This hike takes you through the natural amphitheater, above and below the hoodoos, and through a slot canyon. It’s amazing.
This loop can be accessed from Sunrise or Sunset Point. There are parking lots at both points and there are also shuttle stops at both points for those utilizing the shuttle. Essentially, you will be traveling down into the amphitheater on one end and up on the other. So, switchbacks and elevation changes are inevitable. The Park Service ranks this as a moderate hike. Keep in mind, this park is located in high elevation and can get very hot. So, you’ll need to hydrate. Also, wear appropriate shoes.
Thor’s Hammer is the name of a popular rock formation here. You’ll see it on the Loop. But, you can also view it from the Rim Trail near Sunset Point if you aren’t up for the longer hike.
Red Rocks meet blue skies all over the park. There wasn’t a single trail that we hiked that wasn’t breathtaking. If you have limited mobility, you can still enjoy multiple overlooks and a scenic drive to appreciate the gorgeous landscape. If you geek out over rocks and minerals, there’s an annual Geology Festival held every July.
Beyond hiking, the park is popular for viewing the night sky. It has gained International Dark Sky status by the International Dark Sky Association. The clean dry air, high elevation, and remote location allows great visibility at night. You can easily see the Milky Way here. There are Ranger programs to help you enjoy the stars in the Summer season. In June, there is an annual Astronomy Festival with a full schedule of cosmic activities.
For a memorable ride, there are are 4.5 miles of dedicated horseback riding trails. You can book guided trail rides through the park concessioner or bring your own horse or mule.
Other activities include camping, the Junior Ranger Program, and birdwatching. Bryce participates in an annual citizen science program called the Christmas Bird Count. This is a nation-wide program lead by the National Audubon Society. Other wildlife in the park include mule deer, pronghorn, and short-horned lizards. If you are a history buff, check out the exhibits and video in the visitor center and check the park activity calendar for ranger talks. There’s also great videos and information on the park website about Native American and Pioneer history as well as land-use history. http://www.nps.gov/bryc
When Should I Go?
When to Go
You’ll want to time your trip to Bryce carefully. I’m writing this blog post on May 3rd and currently the entire Navajo Loop Trail is closed because of damage caused by melting snow. There’s also a connector trail closed because of ice. I wouldn’t have thought that snow and ice would be an issue in May in the desert. But, apparently the high elevation climate can cause issues. It’s not unusual to have snowstorms in October. According to the NPS website. Summer is the best choice. In June, temperatures typically range from the high 60s to low 70s. Late Summer can bring temperatures to the low 80s. September is pleasant as well. July and August usually bring frequent but brief thunderstorms. So, “when thunder roars, go indoors.” Lightning is dangerous.
While Winter may not be the ideal time to visit because of road and trail closures, the park is open 24hrs a day 365 days a year. If you are willing to brave it, I’m sure a blanket of fresh snow on the red rocks of the amphitheater is a sight to behold. Ranger-led snow shoe hikes and even full-moon snow shoe hikes (including equipment!) are offered free of charge.
As of this writing, my family has visited twenty-eight official National Parks as well as dozens of National Park Service Sites. Bryce Canyon National Park ranks among our favorites parks. The scenery is spectacular.
It’s so beautiful and otherworldly.
If you ask anyone in my family which they liked more the Grand Canyon or Bryce Canyon, we will all say Bryce.
We love Bryce Canyon!