This post will be another hike up memory lane, inspired by an article I saw on Facebook about the most beautiful national parks to visit in winter. Bryce Canyon National Park was of course on the list, with photos of snow-covered hoodoos and bright blue skies. We visited in summer a few years ago, and I would argue that while Bryce Canyon is lovely in those winter photos, it is stunningly beautiful any time of the year.
Bryce Canyon National Park is one of Utah’s ‘big five’ national parks located in southern Utah. The park lies within a region known as the Colorado Plateau, which spans across the Four Corners states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, and contains the highest concentration of national parks and monuments in the West. It is about a two hour drive from St. George, and about an hour from Zion National Park. When we visited Utah on our awesome national parks adventure, we stayed in St. George, and the drive from St. George to Bryce took us through some really pretty scenery along some winding roads.
Despite the name, Bryce Canyon is not actually a canyon, as a river didn’t work to form it. Instead it is a series of amphitheaters carved by erosion from water and wind on the southeastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Over millions of years, the iconic hoodoo rock column formations were sculpted by the freezing of water from the rainy season and the cracking of the limestone. This erosion process continues to this day.
As Bryce Canyon spans over 2000 feet in elevation, there are different ecosystems within the park, characterized by different types of vegetation. The three climate zones are spruce forest in the higher altitudes, Ponderosa pine forest in the middle zones, and pinyon pine forest at the lower elevations. The kids were charmed by the variety of wildlife we saw in the park. The girls loved watching the prairie dogs playing in the canyon, and the boys were excited to find a young rattlesnake on the side of the Queen’s Garden Trail. I was a little annoyed to watch folks get within striking distance of the snake to take photos, but that is a risk they take. Along with the Utah prairie dog, other mammals that reside within the national park include the golden-mantled ground squirrel, Uintah chipmunk, cougar, coyote, pronghorn antelope, and ringtail. In addition to the Great Basin rattlesnake, there are ten species of reptiles, and four species of amphibian that call Bryce Canyon home.
Before we arrived in Utah, the husband figured that we would spend only a couple hours in Bryce. He way underestimated. We ended up taking a full day at this impressive park, and even then, I don’t feel like we really got to explore everything. From the time we stepped out of the car and beheld the hoodoos in the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater, to our drive through the park at the end of the visit, there was no shortage of beauty in the scenery or adventure to be had.
Hikes within Bryce Canyon:
Rim Trail- 5.5 miles- The Rim Trail follows the edge of the Amphitheater. We did the trail from Sunset Point to Sunrise Trail, which is only about a mile, and is flat and paved. There are some great views along this easy trail.
Bristlecone Loop- 1 mile- This is a hike through the forest, which leads to bristlecone pines. It’s a nice short, easy hike.
Queen’s Garden Trail- 1.8 miles- The Queen’s Garden Trail takes you down into the canyon and I thought was the most populated area on the day that we visited. It is considered the easiest way to hike among the hoodoos.
Navajo Trail- 1.3 miles- We somehow ended on this trail, and found Thor’s Hammer. The husband of course took a cheesy photo with it, as he was wearing his superhero dad shirt. The loop begins at Sunset Point and takes you through a slot canyon with Douglas fir trees growing high within the canyon.
Some things to consider:
Bryce Canyon National Park is open year-round, however the entrance booth and visitor center are closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas. The roads remain open during the winter, however, there may be road closures as a result of heavy snow. For visitor center operating hours, visit here.
Bryce Canyon has a junior ranger program. Just stop by the visitor center for your booklet. We had a great time participating in the junior ranger program. In addition to earning their junior ranger badges, the kids received a really cool “I hiked the Hoodoos” pin for hiking down in the canyon and completing the Queens Garden and Navajo Trails. The husband and I were disappointed to get only a postcard. To be fair, it was a pretty nice postcard; and that’s not why we completed our hikes anyway.
We took our car into the park, which was great because we were able to drive through the park and do more exploring after we finished our hikes. However, while Bryce Canyon isn’t as popular as Zion because of its more remote location, the trend in visitation is upward. It is recommended during the busier summer months to take the shuttle into the park.
Please remember to follow Leave No Trace principles. I was shocked to witness visitors going off trail and even pestering wildlife. Most folks are very respectful of the natural environment, but it only takes a few disrespectful acts to ruin millions of years of geology and evolution. Stay on the trails. Don’t feed the wildlife. Take only photographs, leave only footprints, and kill only time. And let’s leave the splendor of Bryce Canyon National Park to enjoy for many generations to come.
For more information, visit the National Park Service.
The Haas family