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The beauty of Bryce Canyon, Utah

Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

A land of delicately carved rock spires in sunset shades, Bryce Canyon was an out-of-this-world start to my southwest US national park hopping. The park is made up of a series of amphitheatres along the edge of a plateau, filled with thousands of rock formations called hoodoos. They’re formed when the limestone is eroded by wind, frost and rain, shaping it into in assortment of canyons, fins, arches and spires. Iron oxide in the rock gives it a vivid red, orange or yellows tint. Well that’s the science, but looking at the twisted shapes you can see why the early Paiute Indians thought the hoodoos were people who’d been frozen into rock by an evil spirit. The canyon gets its name from Ebenezer Bryce, a Mormon pioneer and shipbuilder who settled in the valley in 1870. He built roads and started off the settlement here, but was notoriously uneffusive about his spectacular home, describing it as “a hell of a place to lose a cow”.

Entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

The entrance into the National Park

The main way to explore Bryce Canyon is from a series of overlooks and trails along the top of the rim. On a clear day you can see over 150 miles because of the high altitude and clear air up here. You can feel the altitude in other ways too; the viewpoints are up at around 8000–9000 feet high, so even on a sunny mid-April day there were spots of snow among the rocks and out of the sun I was glad to have my fleece.

The viewpoints are strung out along a 18-mile scenic road which runs along the plateau rim. When you arrive into the park you get given a map and brochure with details of all the different stops and the trailheads for the hikes around the park, so you can plan your visit. We started off by following the road into the Bryce Amphitheater area, where the biggest concentration of viewpoints are.

Sunset Point Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

The views from our first stop at Sunset Point

Our first stop was at Sunset and Sunrise Points. Despite not being there at the right time of day for either of them, my first views down into the canyon still took my breath away. From up here the hoodoos look like a maze of tightly packed pinnacles of rock below you. On a stunningly clear day the bright terracotta colours of the rocks popped out against the brilliant blue skies.

It almost doesn’t look real, like someone’s carved out these intricate patterns in the rock. This area’s called the Silent City, and you can almost picture a hidden civilisation living down there. A mile-long section of the Rim Trail links Sunrise and Sunset points and had some of my favourite views. The whole trail is 5.5 miles long and runs along the mostly flat rim of the canyon between Fairyland Point and Bryce Point.

Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Views from the Rim Trail between Sunset and Sunrise Points

After retracing our steps back to Sunset Point, we drove on to the next viewpoint at Inspiration Point. There are three different viewing levels here, perched on the edge of a cliff which drops off steeply. A few pine trees cling on desperately to the edge. Although it might look dry and barren there’s a lot of plant and animal life in the canyon. There lizards everywhere and squirrels, chipmunks and prairie dogs are pretty common, but you have to get very lucky to spot the canyon’s rare mountain lion.

Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Inspiration Point

Further on again is Bryce Point, with one of the most panoramic viewpoints from a platform overhanging the canyon. You can see for miles and totally lose all sense of scale – the hoodoos below look as tiny as ant hills though they can reach 200 feet high. At sunrise here the sun’s rays touch the tips of the hoodoos first, making them look like they’re on fire, before spreading down into the canyon. After Bryce Point and nearby Paria View you’ve reached the end of the Bryce Amphitheater. The landscape changes from pine to spruce forest south of here and the viewpoints get a lot more spread out.

Bryce Point, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Point

At the far end of the park is the highest viewpoint, Rainbow Point. At this end the views are much more open, and you can see for hundreds of miles across to the hills of the Kaibab Plateau where the North Rim of the Grand Canyon lies. You get a better idea of the geology here too. The area is called the Grand Staircase and you can see the different coloured rock that make up each ‘step’. Also at this end of the park is the arch at Natural Bridge and two towering hoodoos at Agua Canyon.

Rainbow Point, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Far-reaching views from Rainbow Point

As well as the overlooks and viewpoints along the plateau, there are several hiking trails which take you into the canyon. Even though I’m not much of a hiker, I wanted to get in among the hoodoos and see them from a different perspective. So we headed back to Sunset Point to the start of the Navajo Loop Trail. A sandy path leads steeply downhill and we were soon absorbed into the Silent City. The trail’s only 1.5 miles long but has some steep patches and you’ll need to carry plenty of water. It’s worth the effort though as close up you can see the intricate detail of the patterns that erosion has left on the hoodoos.

Hoodoos on the Navajo Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Among the hoodoos on the Navajo Loop Trail, with Thor’s Hammer on the right

Patches of harder rock mean you get strange formations like the hammer shape of Thor’s Hammer. The colours are a lot more varied that they look from above too, with patches of purple and brown among the reds and yellows. The trail leads on past the towering limestone ‘skyscrapers’ of the narrow slot canyon named Wall Street. Down here you finally appreciate the huge scale of the hoodoos – some of the Wall Street towers can be up to 20 storeys high. It’s a magical landscape and like nothing I’ve ever seen before. You can’t help agree with Ebenezer – cow or no cow, Bryce Canyon is still one hell of a place.

Navajo Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Climbing back up the Navajo Loop Trail

The details

Bryce Canyon National Park is in southern Utah, near the small town of Tropic, about a 4.5-hour drive from Las Vegas or Salt Lake City. Entry costs $30 per car (or $15 on foot/bike) and is valid for a week, or it’s free with a National Parks Pass. There’s a shuttle service around the park from late April to October, running every 10–20 minutes from 8am to 7pm (6pm in May and September) – it’s not compulsory but helps reduce congestion.

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The beauty of Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah – On the Luce travel blog

Brian Lueck

Monday 24th of September 2018

Great blog Lucy! We're heading there October 20-30 visiting many of the canyons

Lucy

Tuesday 25th of September 2018

Hope you have a great trip – I loved exploring that part of the world!

Matt Burns

Monday 5th of February 2018

Bryce is such a cool park, and so different! We went there on a day trip from Zion to hike the fairyland trail while we were in Utah a few months ago. It's surprising how completely different the two parks are given how close they are to each other.

Lucy

Thursday 8th of February 2018

The diversity in that part of the country is just amazing – so many stunning landscapes to explore!

STEP 128 – Hike the Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon, Utah | thedepartureboard.com

Sunday 25th of August 2013

[…] A huge thanks to STEPPER Lucy Dodsworth for sharing this post.  Be sure to see Lucy’s wonderful photo on her post The beauty of Bryce Canyon. […]

Canyonlands: Land of the giants | On the Luce

Thursday 25th of July 2013

[…] trip route that I knew the least about. I’d seen plenty of photos of Arches, the hoodoos at Bryce Canyon and Zion‘s red rocks, but what about Canyonlands? It gets less than half the number of […]

Reviewed: My top southwest USA road trip stays | On the Luce

Monday 22nd of July 2013

[…] in Utah is a teeny little town which is one of the closest places to stay for Bryce Canyon National Park. We stayed two nights in these cute little wooden cabins on the edge of town. […]