The landscape of Bryce Canyon National Park does not look like any other destination in the United States. In fact, it looks like a scene you might find on Mars.
Thousands of bright orange hoodoos– tall spires of rock carved by wind, water and erosion– stretch for miles, framed by multicolored mountains.
Hiking at Bryce
Visitors can see the hoodoos up close on a series of free, self-guided hikes with breathtaking views (the only charge is the $20 per car admission fee, which is valid for one week). You probably won’t encounter much wildlife here, but the spectacular rock formations are the main attraction.
The average temperatures are in the 70s during the summer months, making this an ideal time to explore Bryce Canyon National Park. During a visit this May, we spent a day hiking into the canyon and snapping photos of the magical scenery.
Bryce offers trails for every skill level, including an easy walk around the rim on a paved path. If you’re up for a bit of exertion, you can head down into the canyon for the full effect (like we did).
Since many of the hiking trails intersect inside of the canyon, visitors can connect portions of different trails to come up with a customized experience. We opted for the Figure 8 hike, a popular 6.4 mile route that combines sections of the Queens Garden, Peekaboo, and Navajo Trails. It takes about 4 hours and winds up and down the canyon for the most impressive views.
Hiking the “Figure 8″
Starting at Sunset Point, the first mile of the hike is flat and runs along the rim of the canyon, giving visitors a chance to take in the full panorama. Even at the trail head the views are amazing; there are literally thousands of hoodoos, ranging in height from five feet to over a hundred feet tall.
Once the trail starts to descend into the canyon, just off Sunset Point, the crowds of camera-wielding tourists quickly disappear. We saw only a handful of hikers at the bottom of the basin.
It wasn’t until we got close to the hoodoos that we realized how big they really are.
Each hoodoo is distinct; many resemble the human form or other familiar shapes.
In addition to the classic spires, there are arches, doorways, and plenty of other interesting formations dotting the hiking trail.
We passed a number of windows– the quasi-official term for the circular holes that appear in limestone hoodoos. One in particular, known as the Wall of Windows, is the most famous.
Ups and downs
The hike then meanders through the canyon valley, repeatedly going up and down mountains of red rock. Although steep in parts, and with some drop-offs, the hike is generally not scary. (You aren’t hiking on the edge of a thousand-foot cliff like at Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park). The trail is strenuous, however, particularly due to the elevation and high daytime temperatures. Make sure to bring water and wear sunscreen.
The rim is at about 9,000 feet above sea level, significantly higher than even nearby Zion, and you will notice the difference while hiking.
We took the Peekaboo Trail, an offshoot of the Figure 8 hike. This stretch was the least traveled and least crowded part of our hike but the views were spectacular. The landscape is much different here, as the barren desert gives way to a forest. Trees stand beside hoodoos for a dramatic effect, making this add-on well worth the extra time.
Leaving the canyon
The final ascent up and out of the canyon follows a set of very steep switchbacks. This is the most grueling part of the hike but, fortunately, it is fairly short. We were up and out of the canyon quickly and felt a sense of accomplishment when we reached the rim again.
The end of the hike is a great spot to snap photos of hoodoos that resemble human faces.
The bottom line
If you have the chance to visit Southern Utah, make sure to make time for a day or two in Bryce Canyon National Park. While not as large or well known as Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon is one of the most unique and visually striking national parks in the United States. We’d recommend stopping at Bryce during a road trip from Zion to Capital Reef National Parks.
Bryce Canyon National Park is about a four and a half hour drive from either Las Vegas or Salt Lake City. Cars are allowed inside the park but a convenient shuttle bus can take you from the entrance to all relevant locations. In the peak summer months parking can be difficult at the most popular trail heads.
Have you been to Bryce Canyon National Park?
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