There is something exquisitely magical about Utah’s red rock country and there are few places that boast such splendid examples of it as Bryce Canyon National Park. Located in southern Utah, Bryce Canyon is at a higher altitude than nearby Zion National Park. Weather tends to be cooler and wetter than Zion and the park’s landscape is comprised of distinctive geology created by erosion from wind and water. These formations are more like a series of natural amphitheaters than a canyon cut by a river which taken together make up the main attraction of the park, Bryce Amphitheater.
Bryce Canyon is open year round and so its activities vary with the seasons. The most popular destination is the scenic drive which rims the park’s amphitheaters and has ample viewpoints for sightseeing. Alternatively there is a free shuttle service within the park which covers the scenic highway and stops at key sightseeing destinations and park amenities such as visitors’ center, campgrounds, and inns. The shuttle is open from early May to mid October and their use is encouraged to cut down vehicle congestion and to preserve the condition of the park.
There are several trails within the park of varying degrees of difficulty. Eight of these trails are designated as day hike trails which are spread out over the park. Most of the trails intersect so they can be combined so you can take full advantage of your visit. Two of these trails are designated as backpacking trails for those outdoor enthusiasts that prefer a more solitary wilderness experience off the beaten path. If you are planning to make such a back country excursion as part of your trip, you will need to obtain a permit in-person at the Visitor Center. Accessibility is on a first-come, first-served basis, but you can make a reservation in person up to 48 hours in advance. Also, the terrain and climate in Bryce’s back country is challenging, so be ready to demonstrate to the park rangers that you are prepared for such a trip.
Even the avid outdoor enthusiast can appreciate the wealth of ranger programs offered at Bryce National Park. There are geology talks, guided day hikes, evening lectures, kids programs, astronomy programs, and even full moon hikes. The air at Bryce is particularly clear and light pollution is almost non-existent so the park’s full moon hikes and astronomy programs are particularly breathtaking.
Guided horse and mule rides are also available on dedicated horse trails around the Bryce Amphitheater and through Peek-a-boo Loop Trail. There is a 2 hour ride spanning the canyon floor and a half day ride with a complete tour of the canyon. The rides are available from the spring to the fall and they fill up fast, so be prepared to make a reservation well enough in advance.
In the winter, the park offers cross-country ski trails and snowshoe trails. There are winter backpacking permits available, but due to the harshness of the terrain in the winter and the extreme climate, only the most experienced outdoor adventurers will be given permits. If you plan to take on such a challenge, be sure you are ready to demonstrate to the rangers that you are prepared for the undertaking.
Bryce Canyon features a lodge with a restaurant and a gift store and there is additional lodging in the communities near the park. However, there are two campgrounds nestled in Ponderosa Pine forest habitat. Both of the campgrounds have a mix of reservation spots and first-come, first served spots. However, the reservation spaces are limited, so consider making your reservation several months in advance. Tent sites and RV sites are available at both campgrounds as well.