What to Do at Bryce Canyon National Park
Sure, in this part of America, Arizona’s nearby Grand Canyon gets much of the hype. But travelers are just as easily seduced by Bryce Canyon National Park's hoodoos: tall, skinny rock spires that spike high into the air.
With their striations of red, orange, gold, and tan, they look to one longtime park employee like the “Chinese terracotta warriors, all in marching order.”
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And just before dawn—which is Kathleen Gonder’s favorite time to visit—looking east, “the hoodoos become incandescent, [seeming to] glow from the inside. For me, it becomes a very spiritual thing, and hard even to describe.”
Gonder, the chief of interpretation and visitor services, has 28 years with the National Parks Service under her belt. We asked her to share what else visitors should know about Bryce Canyon National Park.
Pack the Proper Gear
“Even though we’re in southern Utah, we’re at 8,000 feet [elevation],” Gonder warned. “Most of our visitors are quite unprepared for the snow. Our temperatures in the wintertime can drop as low as single digits, with wind-chill factors going into the negative.”
The park is open year-round, and “we can have snow quite late into the year, right [through] the first part of May. Temperatures start warming up in mid-June.”
Whereas in the summer temps spike to 96 at times, a lot of people come here right from nearby Zion, which is a good 15 to 20 degrees warmer. “At night, as soon as the sun goes down, folks are going to want a jacket.”
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Look Out for Wildlife
Though those hoodoos are breathtaking, don’t forget to look down. Animals are abundant in this area, including mountain lion, bear, elk, coyotes, and the threatened Utah prairie dog. With a white-tipped tail and a white slick above its eyes, it’s different from all other prairie dogs, Gonder noted, and this is the only national park they make their home.
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Bryce recently—to cyclists’ delight—paved a full, 22-mile-long trail that opened in 2015. It’s not open to motor vehicles, so you can bike, hike, roller blade, or bring your dog out for a runaround. (Note that in Bryce, pets are allowed on paved surfaces only, said Gonder.) Rock-climbing, however, is strictly forbidden. “Our rock formations are very porous, and just crumble, so we do not [permit] any rock-climbing,” she says.
Eat Really Well
If you thought trail mix was as close as you could get to four-star cuisine in the wild, The Lodge at Bryce Canyon Restaurant will challenge your preconceptions. It has several dining options, including casual snacks, but the favorite is a sit-down restaurant with a roaring fireplace where you can tuck into strip steak with mushroom-Burgundy sauce, local Utah trout, or short ribs about which Gonder admitted: “You could dive in face first. They are really, really good.” And a meal here won’t break the bank.
Take the Lesser-Known Path
A majority of visitors head straight to the natural amphitheater—which has spectacular views. But some of the best hiking trails in Bryce are quieter and less-frequented, where you can enjoy the vistas in peace. Gonder is partial to the Fairyland Loop: a four to five-hour round-trip hike that begins at Fairyland Point and takes you through the hoodoos, along the rim, and into the canyon. "It's not as heavily trafficked as the other areas in the park,” Gonder explained. “It’s just very tranquil, very quiet, and you can be alone. It’s a beautiful place.”