From Arches National Park to Zion National Park, Utah is spoiled for choice when it comes to natural beauty. However, there is another national park that is sometimes forgotten but it is potentially the most breathtaking of them all – Bryce Canyon National Park! Following our short yet enjoyable scenic drive through Zion, we stayed overnight in Cedar City, Utah before taking the two hour drive to the entrance of Bryce Canyon. If you are looking for a very unique and distinctive topographical landscape, I would strongly encourage you to consider taking a Bryce Canyon tour!
Location and History
Bryce Canyon is located in the heart of the southern half of Utah. Access to this national park is not the easiest as it requires quite a bit of driving ‘off the beaten path’, or at least off the Utah interstate system. But this is what makes Bryce such a popular spot for those that take the time to explore the gorgeous beauty present here.
The drive to Bryce is equally as rewarding as the park itself, especially if you opt to take the route along Highway 14 and Highway 89 which takes a mountain road with a number of daring switchbacks and stunning lookout points. Even during our trip at the end of May, we experienced ice and snow on the roads as we passed over the plateau.
Designated as the Markagaunt High Plateau Scenic Byway, Utah Highway 14 is breathtaking and we spent quite a bit of time exploring here before heading on to Bryce – one of many reasons why Utah has quickly become of one of my favorite states, as it is unlike anything else I have seen before around USA!
What about Bryce Canyon’s history? The name ‘Bryce’ is derived from Scottish pioneer, Ebenezer Bryce who homesteaded in the area of the park in 1874. I love his quote that he is infamous for when describing the area we now know as Bryce Canyon.
“It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow.”
I guess if you are going to setup your farm anywhere, this is a pretty awesome spot to choose so I don’t blame Ebenezer at all!
Bryce Canyon was denoted as a National Park in 1928. Another park that is $25 for a seven-day pass but just like the rest of Utah’s “Mighty 5”, you won’t be disappointed after paying this expense (I will reiterate the value in the America the Beautiful Annual Pass for $80!)
After entering Bryce Canyon and spending a brief moment in the visitor center to figure out our bearings, we immediately headed to one of the most sought after spots throughout the canyon – Inspiration Point. If you decide to visit here or one of the previous two lookout points, Sunrise and Sunset Point, you will be left breathless at the beauty of the scenery in front of you.
The scenic drive from the bottom of the canyon to the very top is everything you could imagine – view after view of breathtaking scenery. Walking from the parking lot at Inspiration Point, you are immediately faced with the amphitheater look of Bryce Canyon. The Bryce Amphitheater area is the most popular spot for tourists and after experiencing this, you will understand why!
The maelstrom of colors that are presented throughout the amphitheater are emphasized when the sunlight shines down and what better way to see this than from the vistas such as Inspiration Point.
Of course the highlight through Bryce Canyon, in particular the views from Inspiration Point are the ‘hoodoos’ which are the tall, narrow spires that look like chimneys and form together to create a geological phenomenon. The totem-pole like structures were formed years ago through the water and ice erosion process that is typical of many features in Utah and Arizona.
Taking in the hoodoos and varying colors of red that spring out of the amphitheater setting make Inspiration Point a spot you could easily spend all day relaxing with these views. We explored this awe-inspiring spot though I would encourage you to be wary of your surroundings, especially if you are daring enough to stand at the edge of the overlook. There are numerous plateaus and vistas that have protective barriers, but ‘off the beaten path’ is where you can avoid the large number of tourists and capture the perfect shot.
Another vista that is equally as tantalizing for its visitors is Bryce Point, not only because of the higher overlook but because of the possibility of capturing a perfect sunrise shot. Parking here was incredibly difficult and we were fortunate that a couple of tours around the parking lot led to an open spot, otherwise you may be waiting here for quite a while (perhaps this is one of the benefits of taking advantage of the Bryce Canyon shuttle that you are strongly encouraged to consider as you enter the national park!)
As the sun beats down on the Roman style amphitheater setting, the hoodoos spring to life throughout Bryce. The vivid, bright colors are brilliantly exposed and it is without doubt a photographer’s paradise at any time of the day.
Looking back down at Inspiration Point, the view is stunning… in fact there are not enough superlatives to describe this, instead you will just have to visit Bryce Canyon for yourself to really appreciate the beauty here.
A number of hiking trails are available from Bryce Point, including the wonderfully named Peek-a-boo Loop Trail which is one of the more spectacular treks throughout the canyon. I wish we had the time to hike this trail, even if it was just to say that we had hiked “Peek-a-boo”.
Our journey continued towards the summit of Bryce Canyon and as we looked over the map, we were intrigued by the name of another of Bryce’s popular attractions, Natural Bridge. I will say that the name of this is a little misleading because I envisioned something very different from what we stumbled across.
You may be surprised to hear that Bryce Canyon is not just a hub of hoodoos and natural beauty throughout the Bryce Amphitheater. Instead there are a number of natural arches formed, highlighted by Natural Bridge that provides a perfect setting with the Ponderosa forest in the background.
The contrast in colors from the red rock to the distant greenery throughout the forest provides a very different look but still attracts visitors looking to capture the moment the sunlight passes perfectly through the arch.
Taking a Bryce Canyon tour wouldn’t be the same without stopping at Ponderosa Canyon to view the distinctive geology throughout this national park. The topography is mesmerizing and the distinctive features of the rock formations combined with the Ponderosa pines on the canyon floor make this a perfect overlook to capture all of the above.
At over 8,900ft above sea level, Ponderosa Canyon is close to the summit of Bryce Canyon. From the vantage point here, you can literally see for miles and miles across Bryce. Just like many of the other lookout points here, I could see myself grabbing a book and finding a hidden spot overlooking the canyon and just relaxing for hours taking in the beautiful scenery.
It’s just that type of place where you don’t want to leave.
The aesthetic appeal of Bryce Canyon culminates with the stunning views from over 9,000ft at Rainbow Point. After the long, winding scenic drive that takes you past a number of awesome lookout points (see above), the final point is well worth the wait. Standing at 9,115ft above sea level, you have climbed over 1,500ft just from the Visitor Center to reach Rainbow Point.
The entirety of Bryce Canyon National Park can be seen from Rainbow Point so whether you decide to drive directly here and work your way back, or like us take your time exploring everything up to Rainbow, you will definitely want to spend some time here to gain a better understanding of the geologic formations throughout the canyon.
The Riggs Spring Loop Trail is a popular hiking option for those that want to plunge from 9100ft deep inside the canyon below Yovimpa Point (southern point accessible from Rainbow Point, so be sure to check out the views from here before you make the descent).
Bryce Canyon is arguably the most breathtaking of all the national parks in Utah. Whether you agree with this statement or not, I am convinced that you will agree the scenery here is distinctive and provides a rewarding experience for all visitors at any time of the year.
Our trip to Bryce lasted about four hours and we were able to take some time at each of the lookout points aforementioned. However, you could quite easily spend a week or two in this national park exploring all of the unique characteristics of the Bryce amphitheater, along with the hidden trails that lead to unheralded gems.
Looking back on our Bryce Canyon tour, I would have to say that my favorite lookout point was Inspiration Point, probably because this location provided my first “Welcome to Bryce” view. But the real beauty at Bryce Canyon is the variety of attractions and natural landmarks that appear and are just waiting for you to uncover.
If you would like to join us and explore more of our pictures from our amazing trip to Bryce Canyon, you can check out our photo gallery here: Bryce Canyon National Park