Bryce Canyon National Park is an enchanted wonderland. Even though it is often overshadowed by Utah's other National Parks, it's a truly special place, filled with magical trees that smell good enough to eat, charming fairy chimneys, sweeping vistas, Norse mythology, and intergalatic stargazing. Bet you never guessed that this little National Park had all that (and more!) Here's our guide to the enchanting hidden gems of Bryce Canyon:
Some tips for visiting Bryce Canyon National Park:
-If you're hiking, especially down in the canyon, definitely remember water, snacks, sunscreen, and tons of water... and maybe take advantage of the bathrooms on the rim before you hike down. Amenities inside the canyon are few and far between!
-And bring a map, just in case you lose your orientation among the hoodoos. The pioneer who discovered Bryce Canyon described it as a "hell of a place to lose a cow" so come prepared. GPS might not be reliable in the park, with limited reception.
-During the summer, park rangers offer stargazing programs. Take advantage, because the night skies in Bryce Canyon are incredibly bright, and you can see thousands of stars. They'll even set up telescopes for you to use!
-There's a free shuttle that runs around the park. This is a great way to get between scenic overlooks and trailheads in the park. It cuts down on congestion on the roads, and saves you gas and money! In some cases you have to reserve seats, so plan ahead.
Bryce Canyon is best known for its hoodoos; hoodoos are sandstone pillars formed from erosion. Bryce Canyon has the largest collection of hoodoos in the world. The stone forests of Bryce Canyon stretch nearly as far as the eye can see-- and in the park, that can be a long distance; the clean, clear air and relatively dry weather provide visibility that can stretch up to 200 miles, all the way into Arizona.
Sunset point is probably the busiest of the many scenic points in the park, but for good reason: the view is incredible. Despite the name, go here in the morning to beat the crowds and take advantage of the soft light for some awesome photography.
Yeah, Bryce Canyon is in a desert, but it's still home to plenty of plants that aren't cacti; take, for example, the Ponderosa Pine. Not only are they magnificently tall (I'm talking 150 feet tall, although from above the canyon they certainly don't seem that big), and great at providing shade after a sweaty hike into the massive Bryce Canyon amphitheater, they also have a distinctive aroma... some say it smells reminiscent of vanilla and butterscotch. Yes, really! Sniff them for yourself on your visit to the park-- you'll find tons along the trail in Ponderosa Canyon.
Rainbow Point is a unique view of Bryce Canyon because it's the highest in elevation and the furthest north. The sweeping views are totally one-of-a-kind, and even though it can be quite a long drive up here, you can call and reserve a seat on one of the twice-daily free shuttles up here. The drive is 3-4 hours, but the driver will provide info along the way, and it leaves you totally free to enjoy the views through the park!
This famed scenic route through Utah stops at Bryce Canyon on its way from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to Capitol Reef National Park. This "All-American Road" traverses Utah's incredibly distinctive red rock landscapes. Along the way, you'll find Native American ruins, ghost towns, and Wild West charm. It's seriously a magical byway.
Dining options around Bryce might be kinda limited, but that doesn't mean that there aren't places to go for a nice meal. The Stone Hearth Grille at Stone Canyon Inn serves up a menu that you definitely wouldn't expect to find in the more remote part of Southern Utah. Choose from salmon, cauliflower steaks, mushroom tartare, herbed gnocchi, and other delicious and super-refined dishes. Plus, the view from their deck is to-die-for!
It's nice to have some quick, reliable dining options available around the park as well. That's where Galaxy Diner comes in. They serve up breakfast classics and burgers and sandwiches for lunch in a retro 50's atmosphere. They also have hand-dipped ice cream, which is the perfect way to cool off after a long hike in Bryce Canyon. Hatch Station is the attached motel, and it's as good as you can get when it comes to reasonably priced rooms. They're clean and comfy, and have a subtle Harley Davidson theme that makes it unique.
The view down into the canyon through Natural Bridge is one of the most swoon-worthy in all of Bryce. This is only one of seven natural arches in the park, but since it's just off the main road, a short 20-minute drive south from the Lodge, it's just as convenient to reach as it is gorgeous.
Pick up the Queens Garden Trail at Sunrise Point (after you spend a bit soaking in the view, that is). This is the easiest trail that takes you down into the canyon, and if you keep your eyes peeled, you can see a stone formation that looks a bit like a queen on a throne. It's less than a two miles out and back, and the view from among the hoodoos is worth it.
Located in a stand of Ponderosa pines less than 5 minutes from Bryce Canyon, the Bryce Canyon Pines Motel is a great option of lodging near the park. Choose from a guestroom, a cottage, or a tent or RV campsite and enjoy the amenities they offer, which include a delicious onsite eatery, a pool and jacuzzi, and guided tours.
If you're really short on time during your visit and can only make one stop, make it Bryce Point. It offers endless views of the natural amphitheater, which is filled with spiraling sandstone hoodoos in striking shades of red and orange. It's also the trailhead for the Peekaboo Loop Trail, which is steep, but offers views of some notable features in the amphitheater.
Located along the Navajo Trail, Wall Street is a slot canyon that makes for a wild bit of hiking. Steep switchbacks lead into the shady canyon, where you'll be able to look up and marvel at the massive fins and hoodoos above you. Remember to bring water, and to take your time on the way back up, especially if you're not adjusted to the high elevation of Bryce Canyon National Park.
One of the most famous hoodoos in all of Bryce Canyon has to be Thor's Hammer-- probably since it's so easy to pick out from the other hoodoos as it stands alone, a ways away from most of the other stone pillars. Also... come on. It's named for one of the most awesome comic book heroes (slash Norse gods) ever. How can you not love that?
The best time of year to visit Bryce Canyon National Park is probably during the fall. That's when the brutal summer heat starts to die down and crowds clear out, meaning easier parking and cheaper rates. Of course, spring and summer aren't bad times to visit, as long as you have plenty of water and sunblock. Winter is not a bad time to visit either: the NPS is pretty good about plowing the roads, and the sight of the red hoodoos capped with snow is pretty awesome!