Bryce Canyon is the land of the Hoodoos. These highly interesting and strange rock formations look like God decided to turn what’s left of a forest after a fire into stones. It also reminds me of Hong Kong, where tall, thin building rise from the ocean into the hillsides of Victoria Peak that form the city’s skyline. The Hoodoos are spires of rocks that often look top heavy, like it’s about to topple over at any time. When seen for the first time, it’s jaw dropping, other worldly, and totally inspiring.
Red Rock Eye Candy
The different layers of rock exposes different colors, from red to white and shades in between. With daybreak, the rising sun casts its soft light on the red rocks as it chases away the darkness of night. As the sun gets stronger and rises further into the sky, the colors get more brilliant and the shadow from the hoodoos get shorter. The contrast of the deep blue sky, the red and white rocks, and the dark green pines form a colorful scene that just begs you to stop and appreciate the beauty God created. Snowfall brings another layer of beauty to the canyon, adding bright white to the pallet of red, blue and green that is even more unforgettable.
Easy Touring and Human Sized
Bryce’s claim to fame are the hoodoos, but what makes Bryce one of my top five National Parks is the inviting nature of this park. The park is very accessible with some of the best hiking trails anywhere. The main auto touring road is only 18 miles from the park entrance, terminating at Rainbow Point at 9115 feet in elevation, the tallest point in the park. This highly scenic road runs along the western rim of Bryce Canyon, provide one spectacular view after another.
Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, and Bryce Point form the heart of the park, with the most spectacular scenery and the best trails. A walk along the Rim Trail, which stretches 5.5 miles from Fairyland Point in the north through Sunrise, Sunset and Inspiration Points to reach Bryce Point in the south, offers dramatic views from the rim, overlooking Fairyland Canyon, Boat Mesa, and Bryce Amphitheater. The section from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point is a flat half mile trail, with only 34 feet change in elevation and wheelchair accessible. Continuing south for just a couple of miles leads to Inspiration Point and Bryce Point, both with super vistas of points east and north. The various view angles enables different perspectives and different color pallets depending on the times of the day. Early morning and late afternoon sun bring out rich, colorful reflections from the rocks contrasted with the shadows cast by the hoodoos. A cloudy day brings yet another set of colors, muted in tone without the harsh shadows. Cloudy skies actually allows better distance viewing, especially enjoyable in the clear air not yet significantly affected by air pollution.
Unlike the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon is human sized. The hoodoos are close enough to see clearly but still dramatic. The intricate contour of the thin rock spires, juxtaposed with the cliffs just below the rim, gives the canyon an intimate feel. Where the Grand Canyon is huge and foreboding because of its scale, Bryce Canyon is real and intimate.
Among the Hoodoos
Sunrise Point is the start of one of the best trails of any National Park, the Queens Garden trail. Together with the Navajo Loop trail and the Rim trail, it forms a nice loop back to Sunset Point. The Queens Garden trail descends 320 feet from the rim to the canyon floor over a short 1.8 miles. Shortly after leaving the rim, the trail snakes around hoodoos. It seems that around each hoodoo and each turn, a fresh vista presents itself. The perspective gradually changes, from looking down at the canyon to looking up from the canyon floor. It’s amazing to walk among the hoodoos with the opportunity to view them up close and see the different layers and colors of the rock formation. The different density at different layers causes the rock to erode at different rates, resulting in the spires. Walking among the hoodoos feels like walking in a forest of tree trunks made of stone. As the trail winds among the hoodoos, imaginations run wild trying to see what each spire looks like. Does that hoodoo really look like Queen Victoria?
Tall pines dominate the canyon floor, where a stream provides the necessary life giving water. Many species of birds call for their mates and nestle among the pine branches. The place would be serene if not for the number of hikers, but hikers are generally respectful to nature and each other, so some serenity is preserved even among crowded trails.
Heading Back to the Rim
At the end of Queens Garden trail, there are several choices for the ascend back to the rim. There are two branches of Navajo Loop to choose from that leads to Sunset Point. The third option is the connector to Peekaboo Loop trail that offers two paths back up to Bryce Point.
The Navajo Loop goes up 550 feet over 0.5 miles. One branch passes Wall Street, where narrow switchbacks run between sheer cliffs. The other branch passes Two Bridges, where a natural bridge spans between two slot canyon walls. Wall Street is the more interesting path, but it is generally closed in the winter.
For those who seek a more challenging way back to the rim, the end of the Queens Garden trail connects to the Peekaboo Loop trail via a short connector. The Peekaboo trail ascends 1,555 feet to Bryce Point over 2.5 miles. There are two branches from the connector that are about the same. While the scenery is not as dramatic as the Wall Street section of the Navajo Loop, the trail offers one amazing scene after another as it rises from the canyon floor. It starts out among the large Ponderosa Pines and quickly rises towards the rim. With each turn of the switchback, a new perspective presents itself. The higher the altitude, the grander the view. The trail is designated as strenuous by the National Park Service simply because it’s steep, but it is well maintained and there are no rocks or boulders to climb. Each rest stop is simply another chance to soak in the grand view. This trail is shared with the mules, so be careful to dodge mule droppings. It’s a challenge to hold your breath passing the mule droppings while going up the steep incline.
The Queens Garden / Navajo Loop / Rim Trail combination is probably the single best 3 mile hike in the US, and maybe the world. The scenery is a feast for the eyes at every turn. The elevation change is enough to be interesting without being intimidating. Opportunities abound for bird watching. This two to three hour hike is a must do for anyone that is moderately fit.
Consistent with being “human scaled”, Scenic Drive is just the right length and packed with lookouts that have different views of the canyons. Rainbow Point offers a spectacular view of the entirety of Bryce Canyon looking north. Nearby is Yovimpa Point and the Grand Staircase monument to the south. The 0.8 mile, flat, Bristlecone Loop that starts at Rainbow Point goes through tall Bristlecone Pines that are 1800 years old. Black Birch Canyon, Ponderosa Canyon, Swamp Canyon, and Agua Canyon overlooks provide excellent views of their respective canyons. At Agua Canyon viewpoint, there is a sign that names two hoodoos the Hunter and the Rabbit. I did not see anything that looked like a hunter or a rabbit. Some people have an over-active imagination.
At Farview viewpoint, as the name implies, gives very far views. Grand Staircase is visible to the south and the Kaibab Plateau, which forms the north rim of the Grand Canyon, is also visible. The clear air enables a view of 160 miles. Natural Bridge viewpoint has…. you guessed it, a “bridge”. It’s really an arch and of course, it’s natural, thus the name.
Thought for Bryce Canyon
Look for the right fit in life. The biggest, grandest, tallest, or richest are not necessarily the best. The best choice is one that fits, just like Bryce Canyon is just the right size for human scale appreciation.
Impressions of Bryce Canyon
Simply put, I love Bryce Canyon National Park. When we first visited in 2001, I vaguely knew there were these weird rock formations called the hoodoos but really didn’t expect much. I was blown away with the beauty and the enjoyment factor of this park. Our return visit is even more enjoyable because we could do more hiking without young children and explore the park deeper (although we miss not having our sons with us – they are grown and have their own lives). The deeper exploration makes me appreciate the park even more. We wondered around the hoodoos, appreciating each turn. Bryce has its unique features, but it’s more. The smaller canyon, the smaller park, the generally shorter trails, and the relatively short main drive all contribute to the “fit” and the feel of quality over quantity. Bryce is on my top 5 National Parks list.
Practical Info for Visiting Bryce
- The town of Bryce Canyon is the main hub for services, restaurants and hotels. It’s only 3 miles from the park entrance and easily accessible.
- During peak summer season, the shuttle service is an excellent choice. It stops at the town of Bryce Canyon so you can leave your car behind.
- The shuttle service is great for one way hikes. If you start at Sunrise Point and end up at Bryce Point, no problem. Just take the shuttle back.
- The best parts of the park can be visited in one long day.
- Start your day by driving to Rainbow Point and work your way back to the visitor center. Most of the crowd will start at Sunrise Point and end up in Rainbow Point in the afternoon. By reversing the order, you will avoid some of the crowd
- Queens Garden trail + Navajo Loop or Peekaboo Loop is a must do.
- Mule rides are available but plan ahead. I prefer hiking to the canyon floor. The hike is very reasonable. You don’t really need the mule.
Bryce Canyon Facts
- Size: 35,835 acres, ranked 50th
- Visitors: 1,745,804 in 2015, ranked 14th. 2016 will set a record for visitation of well over two million.
- Peak Month in 2016: June with 385,814 visitors
- Low Month in 2016: January with 24,285 visitors
- Entrance Fee: $30 per vehicle. $15 per person not in a vehicle
Date Visited: October 14, 2016