Located about 4 hours of Las Vegas in the southwest corner of Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park is a “giant hole in the ground” populated by towering hoodoos carved out of the rock by erosion since prehistoric times. It is home to some of the most spectacular views in the country, is one of only a couple of places in the world where you can see impressions of dinosaur skin in the rocks, and, with dramatically changing elevations, offers some of the most challenging short hikes.
But what a lot of people don’t know about Bryce Canyon is that it has a lot more to offer than just hiking and hoodoos. It’s the perfect location for just about any outdoor activity and a paradise for adventure seekers. Here are just a few of the reasons your next trip should include Bryce Canyon.
Not in the Mood to Hike?
Sure hiking among the hoodoos and looming shear rock walls of Bryce is thrilling, but sometimes you just don’t feel like strapping on your boots. That’s when it’s time to partake in Bryce’s myriad other activities:
Mountain Biking: Bryce has a number of trails, that, in the words of Bruce Fullmer, Executive Director of the Garfield County Travel Council, are “world class and rival Moab.” You can bike the gorgeous Red Canyon, or take on the extremes of the 12 mile long Thunder Mountain trail.
ATVs: Not up for pedaling? Hop on an ATV and explore the nearly 2,000 miles of special trails around Bryce.
Horseback Riding: When it’s time to dial back the “extreme” and enjoy nature at a more relaxing pace, saddle up and explore the canyon on a 2- or 4-hour guided horse tour. (For info: CanyonRides.com)
Snowmobiles: When the temperatures drop, Bryce becomes a winter wonderland, and its trails are perfect for snowmobiling.
Stargazing: Bryce Canyon is very isolated—there aren’t many towns nearby—so it gets nearly zero light pollution. This makes it an ideal, and legendary, spot for stargazing. On my last trip we parked in a secluded lot after dark, and laid on the hood of the car staring up at a sky that was barely recognizable with the addition of millions of stars we could never see in the city. (Check the Bryce Visitor’s Center for days and times of their 2 hour guided program.)
If You Do Hike
Bryce Canyon does have some incredible views, and to get the full experience, you’ll want to hike down into the canyon. There are more than a dozen great day hikes, the longest of which will take you about an hour, the longest about 4-5 hours. Two of the most recommended are:
Queen’s Garden / Navajo Loop: Known as “The World’s Best 3 Mile Hike,” this combo of two popular trails will take you from an elevation of over 8,000 feet, down 600 feet into the canyon among the hoodoos, and back up to the rim in about 3 hours. The best part of the hike is coming through Wall Street, up the switchback trail to the rim. A bit of a challenging finish, but a rewarding one.
Hikers exit Wall Street and climb the switchbacks at the end of Navajo Loop (Photo: Eric Rogell)
Rim Trail: Not a loop, the rim of the canyon runs 11 miles, and you can start and stop and any point. (Constantly running shuttles can take you back to your car.) You’ll get a fantastic view of the entire amphitheater, and without any major changes in altitude, it’s the perfect hike for families with young children or novice hikers.
Photo: Eric Rogell
What You Need to Know:
Bryce Canyon National Park is full of beauty, but if you don’t plan ahead, you can ruin your trip. Here are few things you’ll need to know.
Weather: Garfield County where Bryce Canyon resides has a unique climate. Even in the summertime, when afternoon temps are in the 80s, the overnight and morning temps can—and usually do—dip into the 30s. So plan accordingly, and dress in layers.
Elevation: The top of the Canyon is at around 8,000 feet above sea level. And that means breathing can get difficult for some, especially if you’re exerting yourself. Know your limits, and stay within them.
Gear: One of the biggest causes of injury at Bryce is people hiking without the proper footwear. When I’m there, I always see people struggling to climb back up the Queen’s Garden trail, one of the park’s steepest, in flip flops. That’s just asking for a fall or wrenched ankle.
Camping and Hotels: Bryce is perfect for camping, and like I said, the sky at night is something you have to experience. There are plenty of campgrounds in the park and a number outside the park as well. Go to Recreation.gov for info and reservations. Hotel choices are slim. There are two main hotels just outside the park entrance: Ruby’s Inn, a fun, frontier-style hotel still owned and managed by the Syrett family since 1919, and the Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel if you’re looking for something more contemporary.