Bryce Canyon is geographically only a little ways north of the Grand Canyon, maybe 50 miles and is located in southern Utah. But the geological and ecological differences are drastic. Different rocks and different forces of erosion have acted on Bryce Canyon to really make it a unique wonder.
Like any other national park, Bryce Canyon has its main attraction and its secondary options. Its main attraction is its namesake: Bryce Canyon. There are plenty of vista points on the rim or there are plenty of short and long hikes of varying difficulties down into the canyon. And if you’ve got a particularly long time, you can take other hikes and nature walks above the rim in the forests surrounding the canyon.
Though Bryce Canyon is just a little ways north of the Grand Canyon, the slightly cooler temperatures make it much more hospitable. It’s a decent 70 to 80 degrees with a nice breeze in June. There is a lot more wildlife including plenty of ground squirrels and chipmunks as well as elusive deer and a few predators. We saw plenty of chipmunks, several rabbits, and a large rattlesnake even crossed our path. There are lots of douglas firs and other tall evergreens down in the valley and a usual assortment of semi-arid shrubs and wildflowers. This really serves to make Bryce Canyon seem more inviting and less stoic than the Grand Canyon.
But of course I have to mention Bryce Canyon itself. It is by no means as tall or as wide as its nearby neighbor, the Grand Canyon, or even its smaller neighbors such as the Little Colorado River Gorge. It is still very sizable, more wide than deep, but its size it not where it holds its glory.
Bryce Canyon is really a little bizarre. After visiting Carlsbad Caverns, I’d have to say that the best way to describe Bryce Canyon is that it’s what Carlsbad Caverns would be like if you took the roof off. It has what appears to be row upon row of stalagmites and columns, though even larger in scale than a cave could create. And these “columns” and “stalagmites” weren’t created by dripping sediment building up over long periods of time. They were created in almost the opposite process. And they’re known as “hoodoos”.
The hoodoos look like solitary towers with rounded corners or walls of towers and they rise straight up out of the canyon floor. They’re made of mostly reddish-orange rock and even have the layers and bands of different sediment that you’d usually see in a cliff face. Though most are in the form of towers and knobs jutting out of the top of rock walls, there are also several natural bridges and windows in the rock walls. They’re really a sight to behold!
They’re made through several steps in the process of erosion. First, water runs down the edge of a plateau creating cracks and gullies that separate harder rock as fins. The corners get rounded off by further water erosion and pockets of water find their way into the cracks. During winter, the water freezes and expands, pushing more layers of rock off and creating many individual towers. The results are called hoodoos and they are what makes up the primary magnificence of Bryce Canyon. Though most of this erosion happened quite some time in the past, it is still continuing today.
Bryce Canyon can be easily viewed from the rim at many of its lookout points or by walking along the rim trail. But like the Grand Canyon, the best experience is to be had both by looking down from above and by looking up from below. The good thing is that since Bryce Canyon is much shallower than the Grand Canyon, hiking to its bottom is very easy.
A half day hike can take you on a loop around most of the major formations and up and down the varying levels of the canyon. Some of the more popular hikes in this category are the Fairyland Loop and the Peekaboo Loop. There are also plenty of short and easy loop trails to take you around one or two major formations and give you a taste of life from the canyon floor.
On the advice of a ranger, we combined the Peekaboo Loop with one of the shorter ones and were able to get a really good sample of the most major formations and variety of wildlife within the canyon. But like any other canyon – what goes down must come up! The return hike up the switchbacks can always be a little strenuous, so take your time and follow proper hiking safety rules.
Most of the fantastic hoodoo formations are located along a short 3-4 mile stretch of the canyon and all of them can be seen from lookouts. You can also continue along the rim road for about 15 to 20 miles and get great views of the surrounding valleys and distant sights, as well as a forest made up of bristlecone pines, the oldest living trees in the world.
Bryce Canyon has both a lodge and campsites available. However, if you’re interested in also visiting nearby Zion National Park, the town of Kanab is centrally located (about 1 hour to 1 ½ hours) from each park and has plenty of options for motels, hotels, and resorts.
Bryce Canyon National Park is not nearly as large or expansive as the Grand Canyon or some of the other national parks. It’s also not nearly as crowded and can provide a somewhat more intimate experience. And it’s 100% amazing in its own right, completely worth visiting. If you don’t have to miss it, you shouldn’t.