Hiking Bryce Canyon National Park: The Beauty of Utah
I’ve visited a few places on my travels that make you feel like your on another planet: Joshua Tree National Park has its expansive rock formations while Iceland is made up of lava fields. While hiking through Bryce Canyon National Park, a 50-something-year-old man passing by on the trail phrased it perfectly: “It’s like we’re on Mars!” With soaring spires of red rock clusters, it’s easy to feel like you’ve been teleported to a far-away planet during your hike.
We began our trip flying into Salt Lake City and then stayed in Provo, Utah overnight. From there we drove the first of many stretches of car rides over the weekend that would be lined with snow-capped mountains and gorgeous vistas. Even along desolate highways, you can pull over for an impromptu hike with trails marked clearly along the road.
As we approached Bryce Canyon, we entered Dixie National Forest, which lines Bryce National Park to the East. It's here that the red rock Bryce is famous for really comes into view. Part of the drive is located on National Scenic Byway 12, Utah's only All-American Road. There are only a total of 31 All-American Roads in the U.S. which are given the designation because they have features along them that can't be found anywhere else in the U.S. and those features are important enough to be tourist destinations. The drive into Bryce is a beautiful one even in gloomy weather. Mike and I had planned to stay in the Park until sunset, snapping photos as the light bounced off the rock into the night. However, the one day we had to visit was cloudy, a bit rainy and without a glimpse of sun. When a National Park can blow your mind with its beauty even on such a dreary day, you know you’re experiencing something special.
Seek out your favorite photo-op
Bryce is a versatile National Park in that it’s both driver-friendly and hiker-friendly. If you’d rather not get dirty (and covered in red sand) you can drive the 18 mile road along the top rim of the canyon. Along the way you can pull over to different scenic viewpoints to see the canyon below. We took the time to check out a lot of the stops and hiked around the ones we could. Our favorites included Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, Bryce Point, Natural Bridge, and Rainbow Point. All provide stunning views of the fire red canyon as well as views for over 150 miles into the distance. Traveling in the beginning of March, we got to witness a lot of snow on the canyon, providing a stark contrast to the bright red rock.
At almost 9,000 feet up, the Natural Bridge viewpoint is a bit of a drive from the visitor center but provides the perfect view of the bridge rock formation: a stunning arch created by nature that frames the landscape and canyon in the distance. The color of the arch and the rest of the rock in the park comes from iron oxide minerals. Though this is one of many archways in Bryce, this one gives you the best view.
Rainbow Point is also well worth the drive all the way to the south end of the park. This viewpoint hits almost 10,000 ft and allows you to see for miles and miles. The changes in elevation are apparent as the ecosystem within the canyon changes. We could even see a thunderstorm in the distance off to the right. This is also a great place to view the Grand Staircase rock formation and the hills on the horizon are actually the north rim of the Grand Canyon!
Hike the Hoodoos
Bryce National Park is a canyon made up of rock formations known as hoodoos. These spires are made from thousands of years of erosion from melting snow and ice as narrow walls split off from the canyon cliffs. These walls eventually grow larger and larger holes within them (known as windows) and the hoodoos emerge. These hoodoos look just as mythical as their name sounds (one hoodoo in particular is even known as Thor's Hammer). Some look like a massive boulder balancing on top of a thin rock needle while others look like massive sets of elephant teeth. Either way, it's pretty insane to be surrounded by these naturally formed structures as they tower upwards to the sky.
The Navajo Loop Trail is your best option for seeing all types of hoodoos in all shapes and sizes. This 1.3 mile loop will take you from the top rim to the canyon floor. The trail starts and ends at Sunset Point and begins with a stunning descent that leads to a winding path that takes you even further downward. Throughout this hike you will be surrounded by orange, almost as if you have actually stepped onto Mars.
Go Chasing Waterfalls
One trail within Bryce National Park that doesn't get as much love from tourists is actually outside of the entrance gates to the park. The Mossy cave Trail is an easy 1 mile hike that will take you through a bit more vegetation than the canyon and along a small riverbed. With wooden bridges and some chipmunks scattering around, this is an easy hike to hit on your way out of the park. As you make your way, you'll come along a waterfall and a deep cave, two elements of nature that aren't as common within the Park itself.
Bryce Canyon National Park is a gorgeous stop in Utah and is one of the 5 National Parks located within the state's borders, known affectionately as the "Mighty Five". Even just a day-long trip gives you enough time to really explore the canyon from both above and below. Keep your National Park experiences going and head to Zion National Park next!