Bryce Canyon National Park Things to Do

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Most Recent Things to Do in Bryce Canyon National Park

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    Bryce Amphitheater: Sunrise Point

    by goodfish Updated Mar 4, 2015

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    This is the trailhead for Queens Garden, and we’ve used it as both an entry and exit point for Navajo Trail - Queens Garden Loop. The little Limber Pine tenuously clinging to the rim by its exposed root system has been the subject of countless photos including my own intro-page shot! The rim trail between here and the next overlook, Sunset Point, is probably the busiest section as both are located very near Bryce Lodge and the General Store, and is the easiest bit to manage by visitors with mobility/altitude challenges. Queens Garden is one of the park’s most popular hikes so the parking area fills quickly with both rim peepers and trekkers so access by seasonal shuttle or on foot from another location may be necessary during peak summer months.

    Sunrise has two viewing areas: one near the rim (paved) and another at the end of a steep, unpaved path some 650 feet away. No facilities.

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    Bryce Amphitheater: Fairyland Point

    by goodfish Updated Mar 4, 2015

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    This is the northern-most overlook in the park, and the trailhead for 8-mile Fairyland Loop: a hike we’ve yet to have had time for but is on the Bucket List. The point is on a 1-mile spur off of the park’s main road (63) and there’s a parking area but no other facilities. Seasonal shuttles don’t go to this one so the only way to reach it is by car - do it on your way out of the park - or hiking the rim trail: the nearest shuttle pickup is at the Visitor Center or North Campground a couple of miles or so south of the point.

    This one offers a terrific look at some of the amphitheater’s fascinating formations, and views of Boat Mesa, Pink Cliffs, Aquarius Plateau and sacred Navajo Mountain way out in the distance. The loop hike into the canyon is supposed to be one of the best in the park so put it on the must-do list if your schedule (4-5 hours, RT) and ability allows. Find information on that one here:

    http://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/fairylandloop.htm

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    Bryce by car

    by goodfish Updated Mar 4, 2015

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    Non-hikers usually opt for seeing the canyon strictly from viewpoints along a 19-mile scenic drive that stretches south from Fairyland to Rainbow/Yovimpa Points. There are 13 marked overlooks, and getting to them from parking lots can involve short strolls on level pavement to distances 2-3 times the length of a football field, steep grades and unpaved surfaces. This road is not a loop, and there are several side spurs so to hit all the points is a round trip of 38 miles from the park entrance and can easily take half a day.

    The most congested area will be the cluster of overlooks in the Bryce Amphitheater region - which includes Bryce, Inspiration, Sunrise, Sunset and Fairyland Points. Almost all of the park services are in this general vicinity as well as the most-walked bit of the rim and trailheads to the most popular below-rim hikes. A recommended itinerary, especially during the busy season, is to drive immediately to the furthest end of the park (Rainbow/YovimpaPoints) and start working your way back. After Inspiration Point, park the car anywhere you can find a spot (good luck) and walk the 1-mile RT from Sunset to Sunrise Point and back. Drive the spur to Fairyland on your way out of the park.

    You’ll be give a map noting all of the overlooks when you purchase/show an entry pass at the gate. You may also preview them before you go:

    Map:
    http://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/upload/Whole_Park_summer-web.pdf

    Slide show:
    http://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/virtualtour.htm

    eTour:
    http://www.nps.gov/brca/photosmultimedia/etours.htm

    Can’t snag a parking spot during high season? See my review on park shuttles.

    Sunset Point Natural Bridge Rainbow Point Yovimpa Point
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    Happy Trails: Bryce on horseback

    by goodfish Updated Feb 20, 2015

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    Here’s an alternative to exploring the inner canyon on foot. Canyon Trail Rides offers both 2-hour and 1/2-day trips by mule/horseback from April through October, and they don't require any previous experience in the saddle. There are some age and weight limits, you must have a reasonable grasp of English so that you can understand the guide’s instructions. Backpacks/purses are not allowed on the rides and there are some restrictions on attire as well so be sure to review all of the FAQs here before booking:

    https://my.getinsellout.com/providers/bryce-canyon-trail-rides/skus/bryce-canyon-2-hour-ride-to-the-floor-of-bryce-canyon--2/info?pl=-1#horizontalTab2

    These are very popular so it’s a good idea to reserve your spot before you go:

    http://www.canyonrides.com/bryce-canyon-horseback-riding/

    If you’ve never been on the top of a horse, the shorter ride is recommended as even a couple of hours can make you pretty stiff and sore if you’re not used to it. During the summer, morning time slots are a good idea to beat the midday heat. And do note that this same outfit offers tours at Zion and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon as well so if your trip includes either of those, you’ve got another opportunity to be back in the saddle again!

    Horses near Queens Garden
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    Good stuff to know before you go

    by goodfish Updated Feb 19, 2015

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    Here's a little bit of practical info to get you started otherwise the NSP website will cover everything you need to know.

    Fees: $25 per vehicle or $12 per bike or motorcycle - good for 7 days
    The park also has a handful of free days where an entrance fee is waived:

    http://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/feesandreservations.htm

    Hours: The park is open 24/7 but the Visitor Center has changing seasonal hours, and some roads will be closed in winter due to snow:

    http://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/hours.htm

    Hotels: Bryce Canyon Lodge is the only accommodation within the park - open April 1 - mid November:

    http://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/lodging.htm

    The park lodge fills far in advance and rates are steep but a click of "Bryce Canyon County" at the bottom of the lodge page (link above) will give you a host of other options. Ruby's Inn is the closest to the entrance, has the most facilities, and is open all year.

    Campgrounds: There are two, open seasonally, with showers, restrooms and coin-op laundry
    Reference the website for more info on fees, services, etc:

    http://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/campgrounds.htm

    Free seasonal shuttle service:

    http://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/shuttle.htm

    Other: The General Store at Sunrise Point (open April 1 - mid-November) is run by the lodge and has groceries, restrooms, camping supplies, firewood and a snack bar with pizza, sandwiches, soups, etc: best option for more inexpensive meals within the park. The two available restaurants (open same dates) are also at the lodge. If you're on a budget, I highly recommend loading the car with beverages and picnic items as food within National Parks tends to be on the high side, and also to avoid having to backtrack midday from the road out to Rainbow Point.

    http://brycecanyonforever.com/general-store

    http://brycecanyonforever.com/lodge-dining

    http://brycecanyonforever.com/lodge-pizza

    Maps, seasonal newspapers, hiking guides and other helpful info maybe be downloaded from the NPS website here:

    http://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/things2know.htm

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    Shutterbugging

    by goodfish Written Feb 19, 2015

    Yep, a kajillion shots have been taken of this canyon, and every visitor I’ve seen here was snapping away like crazy. Some folks come here just to spend hours peering through the lens. Speaking strictly as an amateur without any fancy equipment, this place can be a lot harder to capture than it looks, and that’s especially true of the panoramas at Bryce and Inspiration Points.

    The very best times of the day for capturing the drama is in the early mornings or evenings when the colors are deepest and shadows provide some contrast. When the sun angle is directly overhead, a lot of definition is lost and the landscape goes sort of flat. The couple of shots I’ve (humbly) included here are examples of the difference.

    Being here to nab some great sunrise/sunset pix is just one more good reason for staying more than a day!

    Inspiration point: midday Inspiration Point; earlier in the day
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    When getting about is a challenge

    by goodfish Written Feb 16, 2015

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    I took this snap at the Grand Canyon but it just as easily could have been taken at Bryce.

    For all of its expansive views, this is the smallest of Utah’s five national parks so it’s easily seen in a day if you don’t venture below the rim. Unfortunately it’s also the 2nd busiest, and during high season there’s only 1 parking spot for every 4 cars coming through on any given day. They do a good job of providing handicap parking at just about all of the viewpoints, though, and the Visitor Center, restrooms and shuttle buses are accessible as well.

    They’ve also done their best to make as many overlooks as possible reachable by wheelchair but there are a few with grades too steep to manage without assistance, or are not recommended at all. Along the rim, the levelest section to navigate is between Sunrise and Sunset Points (paved). If you have minor mobility restrictions, just taking your time with some of the uneven, hilly bits should do the trick!

    For help pre-planning your trip, reference the park’s handy accessibility guide:

    http://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/upload/Access-Guide-2011.pdf

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    Hiking Bryce: general information

    by goodfish Updated Feb 14, 2015

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    Hikers have 12 trails in the park to choose from ranging in length/difficulty from an easy mile at Bristlecone to strenuous 23-mile Under-the-Rim. Not having the time or stamina for some of the longer treks doesn't mean you can't explore bits of them. Some one-way or loop trails cross at junctions of others so it's easy to explore them as far as you wish: just turn around and retrace your steps if you're tuckered or on a schedule. I veer off on intersecting or spur trails all the time - sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident - and find that there's always something well worth those extra steps. That was definitely the case at Bryce!

    As the famous quote from Ebenezer himself goes, this canyon is “a hell of a place to lose a cow.” The same could be said for people so for your own protection and that of the fragile ecosystem, wandering off maintained routes is not allowed. Trails and junctions are very clearly defined and marked so no GPS or topographic maps are needed as long as you don’t stray from them.

    Find everything you need to know about exploring on foot here:

    http://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/hiking.htm

    General maps here:

    http://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/upload/Whole_Park_summer-web.pdf

    http://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/upload/Bryce_Amp_summer-web.pdf

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    Day Hiking: Navajo/Queen's Garden Loop

    by goodfish Updated Feb 13, 2015

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    This is the classic trek at Bryce, and one which combines pieces of three trails - Queens, Navajo and Rim - into a terrific little three-miler. You may start your loop at either the Queens (Sunrise Point) or Navajo (Sunset Point) trailheads - although the latter is usually recommended for an easier puff back up to the rim. We’ve done it from both directions, though, and can cheerful say that it really doesn’t make a lot of difference other than a more dramatic entry into "Wall Street."

    For this review, we’ll take the counterclockwise circuit from Navajo Loop. Looking at my screen capture from the park map (thank you, NPS), you can see where the trailhead begins and descends switchbacks through the "Wall Street" slot. Instead of finishing that loop, jump onto Queens Garden at the junction where three trails intersect and follow it 1.7 miles around and up to Sunrise Point. From there, walk the rim .5 mile back to your starting point at Sunset Point.

    See my individual reviews on Queens and Navajo here for more photos and trail descriptions:

    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/242dd5/

    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/242de7/

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    Day hiking: Navajo Loop

    by goodfish Written Feb 11, 2015

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    Another of the most popular below-rim hikes, Navajo Trail descends 550 feet on a series of switchbacks and through a narrow pass called “Wall Street”. A couple of towering fir trees, which miraculously managed to find purchase in this nearly sunless slot some centuries ago, are a favorite for shutterbugs - if you can catch the light just right (I couldn’t). The trail emerges at the bottom of the canyon where it follows along (usually dry) Bryce Creek, around hoodoos and colorful formations emerging from the canyon walls. At the junction with Queens Garden and Peek-a-Boo trails, hang a left to complete your loop, passing a set of natural bridges, and climbing another set of switchbacks to your starting point on the rim.

    http://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/navajotrail.htm

    The moderately rated trail is 1.3 miles in length, and can be extended by looping around Peek-a-boo for a total of 5 miles, or around Queens Garden for a total of 3 miles. Heck, more ambitious hikers with time to spare can combine all three for a nice 6.5 -miler or so but if at all possible, a least try to fit in the Navajo-Queens circle. That’s a dandy that I’ve covered in a separate review.

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    Day Hiking: Bristlecone Loop

    by goodfish Updated Feb 11, 2015

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    This is an easy one just about anyone can do as long as they can handle the altitude. Bristlecone is a gentle circle at the highest point of the park (9115 feet) through fragrant evergreen forest to expansive views of the Aquarius and Kaiparowits Plateaus. Juniper, fir, spruce, Ponderosa and 1,800 year-old Bristlecone pines line the path and provide welcome shade on sunny summer days.

    The trail starts at Rainbow Point and is only a mile RT: great for families with young children. Add a wee bit more to your trek by tacking on a .2 mile walk to nearby Yovimpa Point.

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    Day hiking: Queens Garden Trail

    by goodfish Written Feb 11, 2015

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    The NPS rates this 1.8 RT trail as the easiest below-rim hike, and it’s a honey for oodles and oodles of visual drama. “Easiest” doesn’t mean it’s exactly a walk in the park as it does involve a 320-foot descent/ascent at the beginning and end, and it’ll be shadeless and very warm in mid-summer but just about anyone from kids to seniors in reasonably good shape can do it. This is a terrific opportunity to get up-close looks at the hoodoos, and a bottom-up perspective of the canyon. You’ll find the trailhead clearly marked at Sunrise Point, and it’s and out-and-back via the same route.

    http://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/queensgarden.htm

    Wear sturdy shoes with a good tread, bring water, snacks, sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat and your camera! I’ll also recommend doing this one early in the morning or evening to avoid the both the summer heat and amount of company you’ll have: it can be very busy. During the spring and fall, a jacket or fleece is a good idea as the altitude makes for some pretty chilly temps at either ends of the day.

    Highly recommended is combining Queens with part of Navajo Trail for a 3+ mile loop that eliminates retracing of steps, and provides some new scenery on the way out but I’ll cover that one in another review.

    Trailhead at Sunrise Point
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    Rambling the Rim

    by goodfish Updated Feb 11, 2015

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    Energetic walkers can put some miles on their shoes without having to scramble up and down long switchbacks. There are 5.5 miles of trail along the rim stretching from Fairyland to Bryce Point, and the easiest - and thus the most crowded - .5 mile of it is paved between Sunrise and Sunset Points. Throw in Inspiration Point and you can do five overlooks on foot or as many of those as your feet will allow. Just remember that you’ll be backtracking from the furthest of them unless you can hop a shuttle to wherever you started out.

    Seasonal shuttles make stops at all but Fairyland, and that one is a good 2+ miles north of the nearest pickup point at the Visitor Center or North Campground. As this one requires retracing steps, stick with a route between the other four unless you are up to a 4.5-miler for one single overlook. The rim, however, offers excellent, expansive scenery from nearly any point at all, and backtracking can offer different perspectives as shapes and colors of the formations change with angle of the sun.

    See this page from the park website for a chart of route elevation changes:

    http://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/rimtrail.htm

    I’ve covered all of the amphitheater overlooks in the next five reviews.

    Sunset Point Windows, Inspiration Point
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    Bryce Amphitheater: Sunset Point

    by goodfish Written Feb 11, 2015

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    As noted in my previous review for Sunrise Point, the rim trail between these two overlooks are the busiest sections because of their locations near the lodge and General Store, and ease for the mobility challenged. This is the trailhead for Navajo Loop, and we’ve used it both as an entry/exit point for the longer Queens Garden-Navajo combo. The singular viewpoint is flat, paved, and one of the most accessible for visitors of any ability.

    Just as with Sunrise, the parking area fills up quickly with rim walkers, overlook gazers and Navajo trekkers (another of the park’s most popular hikes) so access by seasonal shuttle or on foot from another location may be necessary. Restrooms, drinking water and picnic facilities are available near this one.

    The amphitheater overlooks are never a been-there, done-that as they’re going to look different with changing sun angles. If you’re staying for a day or two, go back and redo a few of them at an earlier or later hour than you saw them the first time!

    Navajo Trailhead, Sunset Point
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    Bryce Amphitheater: Bryce Point

    by goodfish Updated Feb 11, 2015

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    Namesake of Mormon pioneer who first settled the area in 1870, this is the southernmost overlook on the rim trail, and another of the ‘wow' spots for expansive vistas of the amphitheater and distant landscapes. It also involves one of the longer, steeper walks (750 feet) to the lower of two viewpoints. As you descend the slope, notice the interesting alcove-like formations (grottos) in the light-colored wall to your left? This is a good example of hoodoos-in-process as freeze/thaw cycles eat away at the edge of the plateau, progressively creating fins, then windows, and finally hoodoos when the upper connecting ‘bridge' falls away, leaving only the supporting legs.

    Bryce Point has parking area and seasonal shuttle stop but no other facilities. This is also the trailhead for Peek-a-boo Loop - another nice day hike - and Under-the-Rim trail as it begins its strenuous, 23-mile course to Rainbow Point.

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