Bryce Canyon National Park in a Day

Updated on August 12, 2017
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I have enjoyed hiking for many years, so I enjoy sharing what I know and tips about places to hike.

Bryce Canyon Hoodoos

Bryce Canyon is dominated by these strange sculpture-like rock formations called Hoodoos, photo by author
Bryce Canyon is dominated by these strange sculpture-like rock formations called Hoodoos, photo by author

History of Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon NP is named for the Mormon pioneer, Ebeneezer Bryce, who sometime in the mid 1800s settled in the green valley that lies just east of the vast red rock towers. The center of the Mormon settlement was named Tropic and the rural Utah town still bears that name today. The resourceful pioneers raised livestock, harvested timber and did whatever it took to survive the semi-arid climate. Discovery of the vast red rock amphitheater did not come until several years after the region had been successfully settled.

Beginning in the early 20th century the fabulous rock structures at Bryce became a popular whistlestop for Southwestern train travelers. In 1923, Bryce Canyon was officially declared a national monumentm and then, in 1928, it became a national park.

Today, Bryce is the 13th most visited national park. The place is open all year round and attracts over 2 million visitors a year. Not only can park visitors enjoy hiking, horseback riding and rock climbing, but an ample snowfall provides some excellent opportunities for winter sports.

A hell of a place to lose a cow.

— Ebeneezer Bryce

Hoodoos of the Queens Garden

These strange rock formations are today known as hoodoo(s), photo by author
These strange rock formations are today known as hoodoo(s), photo by author

Who Made the Hoodoos?

According to Paiute legends, the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon were created when Coyote, a trickster-type deity, cast a spell on some evil beings, called To-when-an-ung-wa, and turned them to stone. To anyone, who ventures down into the bottom of the rocky amphitheater and stares skyward at these strange rock pillars, there rings a little bit of truth to this Native legend.

More Hoodoos

Bryce Canyon NP is dominated by these strange rock formations, called hoodoos
Bryce Canyon NP is dominated by these strange rock formations, called hoodoos

The Geologist

And if by chance, you should run across a geologist, while you are exploring the valley floor, he would give a very different explanation. According to current geologic theory, the hoodoos are the result of snow and ice erosion on four different types of rocks that were created during the sedimentary process, which has been ongoing for over a million years. Among the four types of rock present in this part of the Colorado plateau, mudstone is by far the softest. And it is the deposits of mudstone that are easily weathered away by the freezing and thawing of the winter snowpack. This leaves the layers of dolomite, limestone and siltstone standing with the wind giving these rock pillars the final touches to their strange shapes.

Hiking the Amphitheater

Hikers who venture down from the rim of Bryce Canyon will find some fascinating trails.
Hikers who venture down from the rim of Bryce Canyon will find some fascinating trails. | Source

The correct geologic term for the Bryce valley is amphitheater, not canyon, even though the official park name implies the latter. By definition a canyon is a steep gorge created by river erosion. At Bryce the erosion is caused wind and ice, not flowing water.

To those Southwestern travelers, who have only relegated one day to exploring this intriguing national park, a hike into the bottom of the amphitheater would be foremost on the days activities. The descent is a moderately strenuous hiking activity, where hikers negotiate several hundred feet of carefully built switchbacks, saving the climb back up for last. Once you arrive on the valley floor, you can easily follow several winding trails through the towering rock formations. Link together a walk along the Queens Garden, Navajo and Wall St. trails and chances are you will leave the park with an extraordinary outdoor experience.

View from the Rim Trail

Park visitors looking for an easy stroll with a great view,might try the Rim Trail.
Park visitors looking for an easy stroll with a great view,might try the Rim Trail. | Source

For the best in easy walking, hikers can simply follow the Rim trail, which begins at Bryce Point and follows the edge of the cliffs for several miles until you arrive at Sunrise Point. During this short jaunt, you will pass by Inspiration Point and Sunset Point. Elevation changes will be minimal and the views will be fabulous, not much different from what you are used to seeing on postcards and nature calendars.

Ride the Shuttle

If your visit to Bryce NP is centered around visiting the four spectacular viewpoints (Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration and Bryce), then you might want to leave your car outside the park and take the free shuttle. Besides stopping at the four scenic vista points, the white buses also stop at the visitor center and the Bryce Lodge, where there is a popular restaurant.

Check Out the Visitor Center

The Visitor Center in winter.  Bryce NP is high enough (elev. 8200) to receive winter snowstorms.
The Visitor Center in winter. Bryce NP is high enough (elev. 8200) to receive winter snowstorms. | Source

No trip to this Utah national park would be complete without a quick swing through the visitor center. Of special interest is an introductory 22 minute film about the park, wildlife exhibits and some highly creative displays of nature photography. And finally, there are the friendly and well-informed staff of park rangers, who are more than happy to answer any questions you might have.

Flash Food Warning

Questions & Answers

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