Bryce Canyon National Park - Utah
Updated: Aug 7
Utah is one of our favorite places to explore. With five national parks and seven national monuments, how can you not love it. Utah is like a desert wonderland with so many unique natural features; some are hidden so you need to do some trekking in order to find them and see them up close and personal. Each of these parks offers a unique experience, but what sets Bryce Canyon apart is its geology, the unbelievable hoodoos and amphitheaters.
Although Bryce has "canyon" in its name, it is not actually a canyon, but a series of more than a dozen amphitheaters which stretch 20 miles from north to the south. Over two million visitors come here annually, but the majority probably stay only at the rim of the canyon where the overlooks are. If you haven’t hiked down below, you should, I promise it’s worth the effort. It is magical down there.
Bryce Canyon National Park occupies the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. It was named after Ebenezer Bryce, a Scottish immigrant and a Mormon pioneer who homesteaded in the area in 1874, sent by the church to settle the land. He and his family lived below Bryce Amphitheater, which according to him is a "helluva place to lose a cow”. I can imagine, you can easily get lost down there. Other settlers called the area "Bryce's Canyon", which formally became Bryce Canyon later on.
Bryce Canyon was first designated a National Monument in 1923 by President Warren G. Harding. Then it was elevated to National Park status in 1928 by Congress. The park covers 35,835 acres - small compared to other national parks. There is little known about early human activities in the Bryce Canyon area. Archaeological surveys show that people have been in the area for at least 10,000 years. Several thousand years-old artifacts from the Anasazi have also been found south of the park, as well as artifacts from other cultures up to the mid-12th century.
The first major scientific expedition to the area was led by U.S. Army Major John Wesley Powell in 1872. Together with his team of mapmakers and geologists, they surveyed the Sevier and Virgin River areas including the Colorado Plateau. His map maker kept many of the Paiute place names, from the old inhabitants who left the area after a series of droughts, overgrazing and flooding.
You don't really have to hike to see the spectacular views in Bryce Canyon National Park - not everyone is equipped to do so, or physically fit enough. You can explore by car then stop at several viewpoints along the rim - we did that the first day and hiked down the canyon the next day. There are four major viewpoints along the rim - Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point and Bryce Point. In summer the park offers shuttle bus service for tourists; although not mandatory, it is encouraged in order to minimize congestion and impact in the park. (Check the National Park Service for shuttle bus info)
Bryce Canyon is known for its hoodoos, but there are several Natural Bridges found there as well. One of them is this 85 feet high natural bridge - or arch or window, whichever you prefer. It is easily accessed from the Bryce Canyon rim drive, just right by a parking lot.
You may perhaps not be impressed by this one if you've seen the arches in Arches National Park, but look closely, as this is a good example of the hoodoos in the making. Weathering and erosion from ice and rain, the main factors of sculpting the hoodoos, break down the rocks into walls, windows, and then into individual hoodoos.