Fondest memory: Of all the places to visit in Bryce in the winter, this is the one where the change in weather results in the least drastic change in landscape. If you've been to Bryce before, there's little reason to stop here again. But if you've never been, then the Natural Bridge is a sight worth seeing as you travel the scenic drive.
This is supposed to be one of the best hikes in Bryce, and even all of Utah. The Queen's Garden trail starts at Sunrise Point. It travels through Bryce Ampitheatre passing en route the formation of Queen Victoria, which is how the trail got its name.
Queens Garden is about twice as long as the Navajo Loop Trail. The two trails intersect, providing an easier option for returning to the rim than completing the entire trail.
This is another trail worth mentioning as its recommended for those who want to explore the hoodoos of Bryce ampitheatre. Its a 5 mile trail, with a bit more elevation loss and then gain than the more popular Navajo Loop or Queens Garden trails. This trail's real claim to fame is that it passes some of the more interesting hoodoos of Bryce Ampitheatre- those that resemble common objects or fairytale castles and which are named for those objects they resemble.
Given the steepness of this trail, it is not recommended in the wintertime. Given my inability to hike steep trails in wintertime, I did not get to do this one. But I'm passing the information along since it's a worthwhile alternative to the more popular and easier routes for exploring Bryce Canyon.
If you want to explore below the Rim, but don't want to hike too far or for too long, the Navajo Loop Trail gives you the most bang for your buck. The trail is very short (just over a mile), but it passes the Silent City, which, next to the hoodoos themselves, is the most amazing feature in the park.
Under non-snowy conditions, this trail can be done in less than an hour. On day one of visiting Bryce in the winter, the trail was closed due to all the snowfall. The park rangers reopened the trail in time for day two of my visit, but it was quite a slippery walk down all those switchbacks. Still, like the rest of Bryce, seeing its natural wonders in the solitude and snow encrusting of winter is worth enduring a bit of snow and ice.
The Rim Trail is a great way to get an overview of the park's ampitheatres and hoodoos. The trail is flat and level in most parts, which makes it an easy walk and allows you to focus on the scenery without laboring down and uphill.
The Rim Trail runs from Fairyland to Bryce Point, which many visitors and rangers say is the best scenery of the park. Personally, I found Rainbow Point at the end of the scenic drive to be my favorite spot, but the views of Fairyland and Bryce canyons from along this trail are photo worthy and incredible.
The entire trail is about 5.5 miles one way. Most people do only a segment or two and the portion of the trail between Sunset and Sunrise Points is the most popular, although neither of these points in and of themselves are the most scenic of the park. Hiking the entire Rim trail roundtrip would take an entire day and is probably not the best way to spend your time in Bryce, if your time is limited. But, at the very least, do a portion of this trail. My personal recommendation would be Sunrise to Fairyland Point. Although this is not the easiest portion of the Rim Trail, the views are pure magic.
One other thing to note: the portion of the trail between Sunrise and Sunset viewpoints is paved and flat and accessible to persons with disabilities.
Fondest memory: A chilly deserted morning stroll, postholing along on the Rim trail near Sunrise Point. It was about 10 degrees (that's fahrenheit) and few people were out and about in Bryce. The sun was out, the sky was pure blue, and, despite the near freezing conditions and the virtual impossibility of heading into the canyons on foot, it was a great way to enjoy the view of the ampitheatre from above.
Favorite thing: This is one of the better trails to use for hiking below the rim in winter. It is shorter and less steep than the Fairyland Trail and definitely easier to navigate when covered with snow. And the up close view of Bryce's stunning scenery makes it worth the effort.
Favorite thing: This is as close as you'll get to Paria View in the winter witout a pair of snowshoes. The road to this viewpoint is not paved during the winter and it is closed off to vehicular traffic. The purpose of this is to allow snowshoers and skiiers to have the route to themselves.
Favorite thing: Quite a different view six months later. The Firyland Trail is used primarily by skiers in the wintertime, for obvious reasons. Its still possible to hike the 8 mile loop in the winter, if you can brave the elements. Just remember that it usually takes twice the amount of time and considerable amount of energy to hike back up after hiking down, so plan accordingly.
Favorite thing: The optional Bryce Canyon shuttle bus runs from May through October, and the crowds cease in the park when the bus service does. Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive is a ghost town in the winter. No distracted tourist will wander unawares in front of your camera lens when you're about to take that perfect photo. But, then again, some of the overlooks may be closed due to snowfall. Although attempts are made to plow the road, at times the park service will focus on the road itself, and not open all of the overlooks. So there may be less to see in winter, but you'll get the most out of those stops you are able to make.
All major roads, including hwy 12 and hwy 89, are plowed during the winter. Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive is also plowed, although access may be limited after a storm. In this two day winter visit, the road was only open to Sunrise and Bryce Points on the first day due to that weekend's snowstorm. On day two, the park service extended the road's opening to Aqua Canyon, but the remaining few miles of the road remained closed.
As much as I'll advocate seeing this park in the winter, keep in mind that portions of it may be closed due to snowstorms. That's the one downside to winter visiting. On the upside, certain trais and areas, such as Fairyland, are closed off in the winter and used for skiing and snowshoeing. Another upside is that park rangers often suspend the $20 entrance fee when weather conditions close portions of the road.
Favorite thing: If you thought the last picture was striking, wait till you see what this area looks like 6 months later. The sun is not longer bearing down on the rust colored pinnacles known as hoodoos. Instead, the sky is grayish, yet the hoodoos continue to glisten. Now it is the pure white snow casting a glow over this fairyland otherwise known as Bryce Ampitheatre.
Visiting Bryce in the winter is an entirely different experience. Instead of following a line of cars and shuttles through the park and onto the side roads, you're driving alone, slowly navigating the twists and turns of the snow covered road. There are more than enough spots in the parking area as you are only one of about a dozen people in the park (including rangers and the guy driving the snowplow).
Exiting your vehicle, a gust of wind, sharpened by the 12 degree (that's fahrenheit) air, blasts your face, turning any exposed skin instantly numb. You shiver inside your five layers of clothing and pull your hooded jacket farther down across your face. Stumbling up a slight incline to Sunrise viewpoint and nearly tripping over a stray piece of ice, you wonder why you left your heated vehicle.
But, when you stand at the edge of the viewpoint, something changes. Its not just the direction of the wind either. Rows of brightly colored hoodoos greet you, their spiral tops poking through the whitest snow you've ever seen. It is stunning, unimaginable beauty that takes your breath away.
Your breath quicky returns when a strong gust of wind nearly knocks you on your a**. You decide its time to return to your car. After all, this is only the first stop you'll be making this afternoon. There's a park full of magic waiting for you to explore.
One of the most interesting things about Bryce Canyon is that, contrary to what its name suggests, it is not one single canyon. Instead, it is a series of ampitheatres or small canyons all carved by the same river. Despite their common source, each canyon is unique in its landscape and the colors contained within.
Aqua Canyon has some of the best color contrasts in the park. The name is misleading as there's no aqua coloring. You won't find rows of hoodoos lined up like infantry or the seemingly endless views found elsewhere, but the douglas firs contrast sharply with the red rocks and almost clash with the pink cliffs seen in the distance.
Bryce Ampitheatre is the largest ampitheatre in the park and probably one of the most photographed spots. It is here that you'll find the views that make Bryce one of the most scenic national parks. Seeing Bryce Ampitheatre is much like your first view of the Grand Canyon. It is a view that will leave you in awe.
The picture doesn't do the Amiptheatre justice, but there are rows and rows of hoodoos that appear to stretch on forever.
The Fairyland Trail is an 8 mile loop trail. The trail descends about a thousand feet into Fairyland Ampitheatre, passes the Silent City and winds past some of Bryce's most striking rock formations.
I was able to hike only a bit of the trail in my first trip to Bryce. I'm planning to return in November and, snow permitting, hike the entire trail, so I'll have more to say on it later.
Fondest memory: There's a sense of peace in being away from it all. It brings me back to the center and makes me realize what is or is not important. Hiking does that. Moving under my own power, striding along a dirt trail away from everything and everyone with nothing to focus on except the effort of continued movement and the surrounding scenery is exhilarating. Each stride is a release of negative energy and a step closer towards bringing me back to the center.