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Southern Utah Part 5: Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon is one of the more remote national parks in southwest Utah and one of the “Big-5”.   It is nestled in the red rocks and canyons of the Paunsaugunt Plateau.  It’s not really a canyon, but a series of “amphitheaters” of eroded sandstone and hoodoos. We had heard so many wonderful things about the park and area that we just had to visit.

The weather was cooling down due to higher elevation and fall was definitely in the air.  We had some hikes we wanted to do.  We wanted to hike below the rim and experience Bryce from the bottom as well as along the rim.  There is also a scenic Hwy 12 that stretches through the Grand Staircase–Escalante, and up-and-over Boulder Mountain.  As always, our goal was to see as much as we could in the 6 days we were there.

Much like our other stops on this trip, we made a reconnaissance trip the day we arrived to get a lay of the land.  Like Cedar Breaks, the approach to Bryce canyon is through a high elevation forest.  You park the car and walk towards the rim, then BOOM, there it is.  It is vast and so spectacular!  Our first views were in the afternoon sun and were amazing. It was mesmerizing.  We walked and drove to Sunrise Point and around the upper rim area.  We saw the switchbacks and trail to get down to the bottom and surveyed our routes.

Our first hike was down to the bottom and through all the hoodoos and sandstone formations.  We chose the Wall Street and Queen’s Garden loop deciding to go down (instead of up) “Wall Street”, which is a very steep, almost vertical set of switchbacks down through a slot canyon. Once down at the bottom, we wove our way through the various formations and along the creek bed.  There is even a formation that looks a little like Queen Victoria sitting on her throne.

The climb back up was very gradual.  And after doing the Ramparts Trail in Cedar Breaks, we figured it would not be too bad.  But the elevation surprised us some.  It was a beautiful day and the views both looking up to the rim and through the “forest” of hoodoos was amazing.

The hike back to the parking lot took us along a portion of the Rim Trail that runs from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point.  It is a nice, flat, well developed, very popular way to see a wide and vast amount of the canyon.  It felt good to just stretch our legs some and see some wonderful views

 

After our hike, we decided to drive up to Bryce Point and walk the short distance to see the views.  Bryce Point is further south along the canyon and is a less populated overlook.  There is a paved ½ mile trail from the parking lot to the rim. Once there we found a great place to sit under a tree along the edge and have our lunch looking out at a spectacular view of the canyon.

Paria Viewpoint is a short offshoot of the road to Bryce Point with a short walk.  After hiking down and back up, every chance we got to get out of the Jeep and stretch our legs was a good thing and this viewpoint provided yet again more amazing views.  All of these viewpoints are within what they call the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater Region and are part of the park’s shuttle system.  The parking can be a real zoo and the shuttles looked like a very convenient system. Although they are not yet mandatory as they are for most of the year in Zion.

Our final stop of the day was to Fairyland Canyon.  This canyon/overlook is on a road before you get to the entrance gate of the park, or in our case, after we exited the main entrance gate.  There is no shuttle stop here and we thought maybe we might stop and get one last look with less crowd.  The views were a little different here, as you could see a lot more of the mesas in the far distance.

Another must see attraction of Bryce is the incredible night skies. It is VERY dark out there and the stars are amazing.  We were fortunate to have a couple clear nights and went out to see the brilliance of the Milky Way and stars.  (These pictures were taken  with my iPhone12, pretty amazing)

We heard and read that sunrise over the canyon is amazing, we decided to get up early one day and see for ourselves.  We were up super early, and at the rim at, you guessed it, Sunrise Point, a little before 7:00am.  It was 36 degrees, chilly!  The viewpoint was crowded, but not as full as we thought it might be.  We stayed till about 8:00.  We have been fortunate enough to see some spectacular sunrises in lots of different places in our travels, and this was no exception.  The added difference was how the colors of the rocks, hoodoos and canyon walls changes as the sun was coming up. Simply too beautiful for words.

After a full day of hiking the previous day, we decide to take a break and drive the long park road south to the end at Yovimpa Point.  It is about a 20 mile drive that as usual, we managed to turn into a 6 hour day 🙂  Our first stop was at the Natural Bridge Overlook.  We were the only car in the parking lot.  When we passed by it on our return, the parking lot was full and tour busses were everywhere. We are always amazed and appreciative to see natural bridges as we know that someday the rain and erosion that created them will also destroy them.

We drove all the way to the end without stopping again, as all the overlooks were on the side of the road for a north trip.  We decided it would be easier to drive in and out if they are on the same side of the road.  So we went all the way to Yovimpa point.  There is a big parking area there and some trails we found.  We walked to Rainbow Point then on the Bristlecone Loop Trail.  It is the highest trail at Bryce Canyon National Park at over 9000 ft and gives an amazing panoramic view of the Grand Escalante Staircase.  It leads to the overlook and Yovimpa Point.

 

On the drive back we stopped at any and all viewpoints/pullovers we could find including; Black Birch Canyon overlook, Ponderosa Point, Aqua Canyon, Far View Point, and Sheep Creek Swamp Canyon.  Each one gave us a unique and different view of the canyon.  Must all of them also had a trail that went down into the canyon and connected with the “Below the Rim” trail.

After a full day of in and out of the Jeep we needed to walk so we stopped at Inspiration Point and did the climb up to the overlook.  WOW!  This was probably the most traditional view of the canyon.  You can see almost all of it from here.  It was also a great place to find a log and sit and have lunch, with yet again a simply out-of-this-world view.

Hwy 12 is called scenic Hwy 12 and runs from U.S. 89 near Panguitch on the west to S.R. 24 near Torrey     on the east.  It passes through the lovely Red Rock Canyon just west of Bryce then through Bryce, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Boulder Mountain and into Capital Reef National Park.  Our goal was to see if we could make it to Capital Reef, but as usual we made too many stops to see things and the day got away from us.  The road also follows the path Major Powell took on his second expedition.

The road passes through the “slickrock” on a road cut through sheer rock that was originally used to help delivery milk from the dairy farms to the city.  In the 1930’s, the CCC used hand tools and dynamite to make a “modern” road.

Once through the town of Boulder, the highway starts a climb up Boulder Mountain.  We were so fortunate as it was pretty much peak fall color time.  It was amazing to see the change and contrast in scenery as we climbed into the wooded forests of the mountain.  The trees really were amazingly brilliant and the colors plentiful. Fall is our favorite time of year!


We had wanted to take one last hike and debated about going back down into the canyon to see the bottom from a different trail but it had rained all day the previous day, and we were a little anxious about the trails being slick.  So instead, we hiked along a different portion of the rim trail from Sunrise point to Fairyland Point and back.  Turned out to be a good decision.  The trails down we were able to see were slick and had big clumps of clay from people walking them in the rain. The portion of the Rim Trail we walked had more elevation change than we anticipated but was well worth the trip.  We were in and out of the “forest” above the rim.   It was a great final view and visit to the canyon even though the clouds were a little overcast.

Bryce Canyon really was amazing and the highlight of our entire Southwest Utah trip.  It is now one of the top 2 or 3 National Parks for us!  A wonderful way to conclude a great three-week trip experiencing yet another of the many diverse and wonderful places in our beautiful country.

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