Visiting Bryce Canyon has long since been on our mind, since we had first heard about it. We like hiking, and visiting at least one national park is sort of an yearly ritual. So in 2015 we planned to visit the Bryce Canyon for a day and from there move ahead to Zion National Park.
The night drive from Las Vegas to our hotel on outskirts of Bryce via I-15N & US-89, took us 4.5 hours. As soon as you hit highway US-89, you begin to get the feel of being in wilderness area. On a clear night, if you look at the sky, you will see bright stars gazing back at you, something that cannot be witnessed in a city. Bryce is known for its dark skies and is a home for star gazers and night photographers. Bryce canyon national park in south western Utah, is part of the Paunsaugunt plateau and sits at an elevation of about 8000-9000 feet which is why the weather is little on the colder side. The Canyon was designated as a National monument somewhere in early 1900's. This national park is not a true canyon as the name suggests, but was formed due to erosion of the sandstone rocks due to water and wind. It is a collection of natural amphitheaters, and hosts a distinctive structures called "hoodoos" created as a result of frost wedging. In winter the frozen water expands and cracks the soft rock, and with summer the melting water takes away the broken pieces. Hoodoos start off as plateaus, which are eroded on the sides by water to a point where they become fairly skinny. Holes are formed in these structures, creating a window, and eventually the roof of the window gets eroded as well by forces of nature, leaving behind carved columns called as "Hoodoos". Bryce is known among tourists for its natural architecture and flurry of rocks covered in shades from red, orange, peach, yellow to white.
The scenic drive from the visitor center to the Rainbow point (southern most tip) has multiple vista points on either side of the road, that offer good views. However, its worth to take the time to do some hikes to see the hoodoos up close and get mesmerized with what the park has to offer. Since we just had one day in Bryce National Park, we decided to split our day by doing all the vista points in the morning and hiking the Navajo Loop and Queen's Garden trail in the afternoon.
Dixie National Forest (En route to North Entrance of Bryce Canyon)
If you are entering the Bryce Canyon via North entrance, you will pass by Dixie National forest, which will give you a glimpse of how Bryce will look like. Additionally, you would see 2 bridges which are created out of red sandstone.
Viewpoint offers view of Ponderosa forest which grows Ponderosa pine, thru a naturally carved arch, from red sandstone. When looking through the sandstone arch, one can experience the depth of the valley beyond and striking contrast of green pine and red rock, makes it a good photography subject.
Vista points prominently offers a view for 2 large towers, taller of which is named as "hunter" and shorter is called a "rabbit" or "backpacker". We found these formations resembling the temples' domes found in southern India. We could find and relate a rock formation to a bulldog.
Ponderosa Canyon viewpoint
The vantage point offers a view of diversified rock ranging from grey to red with shrubs and pine. Pines in Ponderosa canyon are huge and have a width of 5 feet.
True to its name, this place offers a 180 degree of the Canyon in shades of red, orange, peach, yellow, grey, white, greens, topped with a clear sky. Point resides at elevation of 9100 feet and offers breathtaking view. Unfortunately, due to its vast expanse, even DSLR cameras will not do justice when capturing the views from this point. Bristle cone loop trail starts here and 0.8 mile walk ends at Yovimpa Point. We did not have much time to take this walk, so we went directly southwards to Yovimpa Point.
A short walk to the vista offers panoramic views. We were lucky to be here on clear day where the visibility was over 100 feet, and could see the vast landscape and the various cliffs. Usually this place is either cloudy or in haze.
Vista point offers the most wonderful and amazing views of the Bryce amphitheater. To get to the point, you need take a small detour from the scenic drive. From the parking lot, its about a 0.5 mile moderate walk. Just a few feet from the parking lot, there is a trail head for Peekaboo trail, which takes you closer to the hoodoo formations. From the view point one can see all the famous structures of rock, like hoodoos in pink, orange & peach, flat cliffs and castle like formations. You can also spot tourist wandering on the Peekaboo Trail beneath. It's said that this place reveals a magical view at sunrise, but unfortunately, we did not have enough time to stay over for sunrise (the next day). Few miles away from Bryce point, is the Inspiration point, which we could not visit due to time constraints.
Another vista point which offers splendid views of the rocks and ravines. On a good day, you can view the plateau that is home to Grand Canyon.
Navajo Loop via Queens Garden Trail
Navajo trail and Queens Garden trails, each is about 1.5 miles round trip. So can be done independently or together. Navajo trail is the popular trail in Bryce Canyon and I would attest that its the best trail to get up close to the hoodoos and minutely look at the rock formation. The Navajo Trail can be accessed from the Sunset point parking lot, and has a marked trail head. The trail requires the hikers to descend 800 feet into the canyon and starts off as steep incline. As soon as you start descending, the rock formations start coming on to you and you get to see a completely different world. While on the incline, you get to see the huge hoodoos, which appear as small conical structures, from the sunset point. I could relate these hoodoos to be like an iceberg, where you see the tip from the viewpoint and only after you get into the canyon, you get a real feel of size, shape and physical properties. The most famous Hoodoos known is called "Thor's Hammer", and is easily identifiable. After the inclines, there come couple of switchbacks, and from top, you can see hikers zigzagging their way into the canyon, which is a pretty amazing sight. The picturesque view and excitement, makes us forget that one had to do ascend up the same route! Navajo Trail then passes through narrow corridors of the canyon, eventually reaching the canyon floor where you see route to take the Queens Garden Trail. At this juncture, we made a decision to continue on the Queens Garden trail, to allow us to spend more time in the canyon and save the steep ascend back on Navajo. Queens garden trail runs flat, with gradual elevation gains and takes you to "Queen Victoria" hoodoo which is how the trail got its name. From there on, as you start ascending the Canyon, majestic views show up, with arches, steep walls, all sized hoodoos which are little different in color than those seen at the Navajo trail. Watching the humongous hoodoos while walking through the Bryce canyon, was a very immersive and an unique experience.
The Queens Garden trail ends at the Sunrise point, which is highest elevation point, giving a full view into the canyon. This point would probably be suitable for night photography. Sunrise to Sunset point is 0.5 mile easy walk on the paved trail. There are benches along the trail, where you can sit, relax and capture majestic canyon in your mind, as no lens can capture this better than your eyes.
This point is a favorite for photographers, and tourists crowd here to see the canyon getting illuminated by the setting sun. Southwards below the point, is maze of tightly packed hoodoos in pink, orange and brown formations called "Silent City".
We ended our day in Bryce National Park by enjoying the surreal sunset at Sunset Point. From here, we moved to Zion National Park and I would be sharing that experience in my next post. I am hopeful that you are motivated to visit the Bryce Canyon National Park.