Bryce Canyon National Park Utah is home to the world’s largest concentration of hoodoos, a geologic term for irregularly shaped stone towers. Located atop a massive geologic sequence of sedimentary layers called the Grand Staircase, Bryce Canyon in Utah is not actually a canyon but a series of natural amphitheaters filled with these spire-like rock formations.
Visitors come from near and far to hike through the amphitheaters, getting an up-close look at the thousands of hoodoos. Despite being the smallest of Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks, at only 55 square miles, Bryce Canyon receives the second-highest number of annual visitors, about 2.6 million annually. For this reason, the park trails can become overrun with hikers at certain times. Despite the crowds, Bryce Canyon is definitely worth a visit. And with a bit of planning, you can hopefully dodge the crowds and hike the best trails.
Hiking at Bryce Canyon: Shorter trails
There are 50 miles of trails at Bryce Canyon National Park, including many shorter and longer day hikes and a few backcountry backpacking trips. Most of the trails plunge through the heart of Bryce Amphitheater, where you’ll find the densest collection of hoodoos, while a few other trails wind through lesser-visited parts of the park. You will find a Bryce Canyon trail map helpful.
Because of the high elevation at Bryce Canyon (the rim varies from 8000 to 9000 feet), hikers will need to allow time to acclimate or move slowly and take breaks.
By far, the most famous trail in the park is the 1.3-mile Navajo Loop Trail. This route includes the stunning Wall Street section, a pair of steep and scenic switchbacks, and the Thor’s Hammer rock formation. Though this is a short trail, it’s considered to be of moderate difficulty by the park service, given its total elevation gain is about 550 feet.
Another amazing trail is the Queens Garden Trail, which is 1.8 miles, one way, and offers the most gradual and easiest access to the dramatic floor of Bryce Amphitheater. Because this trail is one-way, it must be done as an out-and-back or by connecting to another trail. One common loop is to combine Queen’s Garden with the Wall Street section of the Navajo Loop Trail.
Perhaps the most hiked trail in the park is the 5.5-mile Rim Trail. This trail follows the rim of Bryce Amphitheater between Fairyland Point and Bryce Point, and it is paved for 1 mile between Sunrise and Sunset Points. Hiking the Rim Trail allows visitors to view the dramatic rock formations from above. You can walk as little or as much as you want, and when you’re done you can hike back or take the shuttle to where you parked. Along the rim trail, there are many viewpoints to stop at, with those around Sunset Point and Inspiration Point being many visitor’s favorites for the density of hoodoos.
Hiking at Bryce Canyon: Longer Trails
If you’re looking for a slightly longer and harder trail, consider the Peekaboo Loop. This 5.5-mile trail has 1500 feet of elevation change and runs through the heart of Bryce Amphitheater in a required clockwise direction. This loop, which includes access to the Wall of Windows, can be started from either Bryce Point or from the junction of the Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden trails, meaning there are several possible ways to customize with other trails.
One of the best trails at Bryce Canyon is also one of its hardest day hikes. The Fairyland Loop Trail is 8 miles long with 1700 feet of elevation change through the lesser-visited northern part of the park. For your efforts, you’ll be rewarded with remarkable hoodoos and named features like the Chinese Wall and Tower Bridge.
If you want a more remote experience, the park offers a pair of trails where backcountry camping is allowed. While these trails do offer views of hoodoos and colorful cliffs, they are typically more forested hikes through Bryce Canyon pines. The shorter option is the 8.8-mile Riggs Spring Loop Trail from Yovimba Point, which has four backcountry campsites at the southern end of the park. For the more adventurous, the Under-the-Rim Trail runs for 23 miles between Bryce Point and Rainbow Point and has eight backcountry campsites. Permits are required for backcountry camping near Bryce Canyon and are available at the visitor center.
When to Visit Bryce Canyon
With most of the rim ranging in elevation from about 8000 to 9000 feet, it tends to have relatively cooler temps compared to Utah’s other national parks. Due to this high elevation climate, weather for Bryce Canyon Utah can be quite variable, and it’s recommended that you check current conditions before visiting.
Summer days tend to be mild, with June and September seeing daytime highs in the high 60s to low 70s. July and August see daytime highs in the high 70s to low 80s, but these months also see frequent afternoon thunderstorms. Spring and fall are cool to cold, with daytime temps ranging from the 40s to 60s. And snowstorms are possible from October until May.
Because of the mild climate, it tends to be quite crowded from May through September. If you want to dodge the crowds, you have two options. Either take a chance with the weather during off-season months, like March, April, October, and winter months. Or time your Bryce Canyon best hikes during the high season for early morning.
Bryce Canyon National Park Road, Shuttle, & Bike Path
The park road is an 18-mile paved highway (UT-63) running parallel to the rim through Bryce Canyon National Park. The end of the road is Yovimba and Rainbow Points, and, along the way, there are many lookouts to stop at.
From early April through mid-October, the NPS operates a shuttle service that’s free with park admission. The shuttle makes 13 stops around the Bryce Amphitheater and the hotels and shuttle station at Bryce Canyon City, just outside the park entrance.
During shuttle season, the park also offers a twice-daily Rainbow Point Shuttle Tour at 9:00 AM and 1:30 PM. The trip takes 3.5 hours and stops at many of the park’s scenic viewpoints, including Rainbow and Yovimba Points. Reservations are required and can be made up to 7 days in advance by calling 435-834-5290.
Another way to experience the park is by bicycle using the Shared Use Path. This paved pathway runs for 5 miles from Inspiration Point and Bryce Canyon City and continues another 13 miles to Red Canyon in Dixie National Forest.
Where to stay when visiting Bryce Canyon
Most visitors to Bryce Canyon tend to stay outside the park in hotels, cabins, and campgrounds in Bryce Canyon City, along Highway 12, or in towns like Panguitch or Tropic. To help you find lodgings, the Garfield County Tourism Bureau maintains the travel website www.brycecanyoncountry.com.
For those who want to stay inside the park, there are a few options located on the rim of Bryce Canyon. The historic Lodge at Bryce Canyon has a total of 114 rooms, suites, and cabins.
Nearby, there are two large campgrounds operated by NPS. North Campground offers 99 sites on a first-come-first-served basis from spring through fall, with 30 of these sites open year-round. Sunset Campground has 100 sites available from mid-April through the end of October with reservations required between mid-May and mid-October.
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Cover photo: Bryce Amphitheater at Sunset. Bryce Canyon NPS photo