Hidden in the high country of Utah lies a magical land littered with towering orange spires and mountainous alpine views. Bryce Canyon National Park is a must see adventure while traveling through the great American southwest. Located between Capital Reef and Zion National Parks, this amazing area offers some of the most unique geological features found on the continent. These brilliantly lit orange “hoodoos” cluster together throughout the park making incredible immersive landscapes that the whole family can enjoy. With multiple hikes which take you through the base of the hoodoo formations to an incredible selection of camping and lodging, Bryce Canyon National Park is a weekend adventurers dream.
Bryce Canyon Geology:
So what makes this landscape so amazing and how are these rock spires made? Aliens? Big foot? Actually it is something far more interesting: EROSION! Hoodoos typically from in areas where a this, soft, layer of rock is covered by a thin layer of hard rock (called a capstone). In the case of Bryce Canyon the soft rock is the beautiful orange Dakota Sandstone. Over time (63-40 million years!) water seeped into the ground carving out the joints that would later become these hoodoos.
As the joints weathered and eroded, thin fins were formed. As theses fins erode geological formations like natural bridges and hoodoos are created. Hoodoos in particular are formed through a combination of frost and chemical weathering due to a climate that causes water to freeze and thaw daily. As this freezing, thawing, and refreezing cycle continues, small bits of rock are broken off as the ice between cracks in the rock expands. In theory, the amazing spires of Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos are formed in a very similar fashion as Sedona’s Spires and even Monument Valley’s Buttes. Be sure to hike both the Navajo and Rim Trails to get an up close view of mother nature at work.
Bryce Canyon Hikes:
If entering the park from the east in the direction of Capital Reef NP, your first stop should be the very easy .5 mile hike to Mossy Cave. While this parking lot hike requires minimal effort, its views are still incredible. Walking from the parking lot you’ll catch your first glimpses of the majestic hoodoo beauty, as you follow a stream up to mossy cave and her corresponding waterfall. With great contrast between the Dakota Sandstone’s oranges, and the green vegetation, Mossy cave is a beautiful, and relativity quiet spot in the park.
There’s no better way to see the entirety of the beauty Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos offer then from above. The 5 mile rim trail gradually takes you up the Mesa’s edge overlooking the miles of orange hoodoos in the valley below. The hike is paved for the majority, and there are multiple shuttle stops along the way. I highly recommend walking the uphill route as the views are a little better. Take your time and enjoy the scenery on this family friendly hike. We lucked out and were able to experience a rare occasion when nearby wildfire smoke settled into the hoods making a dreamy landscape. For more info read our full hike review here.
For an experience that leads you down into the depths of the hoodoos be sure to walk the magnificent Queen’s Garden Trail. Although steep in areas with a constant climb, this awesome trail take you through amazing sand dunes deposited from decayed hoodoos, past famous landmarks like Thor’s Hammer and to the base of the incredible Queen’s Garden. Littered between the alpine forest, the orange hoodoos rocket into the air contrasting the otherwise green landscape. Click here for a more in depth review of the Queen’s Garden trail
Wall Street and Navajo Trail:
Without a doubt the most iconic hike at Bryce Canyon is the Navajo Loop Trail through Wall Street. The Wall Street is a series of steep switchbacks that drops you down through a series of tightly packed hoodoos, whose incredible height towers over you shading you from the sun. Due to its popularity this steep trail is very busy during the day, so your best bet for full enjoyment is an early sunrise hike. After descending through Wall Street continue on the Navajo Loop trail to continue out of the valley, or link back into the Queen’s Garden trail for a longer day hike. For more info, including difficulty rating and elevation gain/loss read our full hike review here.
Rainbow Point and Natural Bridge
If exploring via you car is more your cup of tea, Bryce Canyon also offers a great 12 mile drive down the canyon rim to Rainbow Point. Along the way are numerous outlooks to pull over and admire the canyon’s beauty at. Be sure to stop and check out Bryce Canyon’s natural bridge as well. Believe it or not many hoodoos began as similar structures, until the natural arch weathered and collapsed, leaving the individual spires in its place.
Bryce Canyon Camping and Lodging:
We’ve stayed at Bryce both in the chilly month of April as well as the heat of summer. Our advice, come in the summer time, although crowds will be more prevalent, the high elevation cools the air making it a joyous escape from Utah’s fiery summer heat.
Both times we camped at the Sunset Campground, a large campground with loops for both RV’s and tent campers. Every campsite comes with a large common area complete with fire pit and table. The bathrooms are decent, however, showers cost money and usually run cold. All in all it is a great campground located in the heart of the park close to all of the parks amenities (including an awesome pizza shop). Reserve your site now here.
If sleeping in style is more your thing, check out Bryce Canyon’s Lodge. This rustic lodge is a perfect getaway for anyone trying to escape the hustle of everyday life. The beautifully furnished lodge includes dining options, but offers no WIFI in hopes of having guests become a little closer with nature and its simplicity. Be sure to plan you’re next romantic getaway here.
During our visit in early August of 2019 we witnessed the sheer destruction a wildfire can have on an arid alpine environment. The 1,370 acre Little Bear fire swooped in filling the afternoon skies with a thick smokey haze. Although the fire was contained, it is still an eyeopener to the negative ecological effects a fire has. But every negative comes with a positive, ours being some incredible sunrise and sunset views. The thick smoked trapped some of the sun’s dimming light, leading to otherworldly sunsets filled with fire oranges and deep purples. In the morning the heavy haze settled in the valley of the hoodoos, leading to some mesmerizing views that very few are able to see.