Bryce Canyon National Park: Geology as Art

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A close view of some of the hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park shows how the rock has eroded to leave thousands of these fascinating geological forms. Photos by Jeff Orenstein

By Jeff and Virginia Orenstein

Note: We recommend that travelers continue to follow CDC guidelines and smart health practices. Check with each mode of transportation and specific venue of interest for current information before traveling. Check nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/conditions.htm.

Bryce Canyon National Park, one of Utah’s “Big Five” national parks, is a simply spectacular display of natural beauty and geology.


It is filled with red rocks, bright colors and is home to the greatest concentration of hoodoos on Earth. Often referred to as a “forest of stone,” the hoodoos are red rock pillars or spires of limestone that stand tall around the park. Over geologic eons, they were carved by ice and frost into columns that often take on human and other fantastic shapes and looks.

Bryce Canyon is located on what geologists refer to as “The Grand Staircase,” an immense sequence of sedimentary rock layers that stretches south for 100 miles from Bryce Canyon through Zion National Park and into the Grand Canyon. What makes them globally exceptional is that it preserves more natural history than any other place on Earth.

The varied geology of Bryce Canyon National Park can be seen in this photo.

The park is open 24/7. In 2019, Bryce Canyon National park officially gained International Dark Sky status. The combination of high elevation, clean air and remote location creates some of the darkest skies in the country. On a clear weather night, you can see thousands of stars and the band of the Milky Way Galaxy. It is an amazing sight in the unobstructed sky.

We recommend starting your visit at the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center. You can get driving and hiking directions from rangers, weather forecasts, a schedule of activities and events and information on local services and attractions. Be sure to view the new award-winning film entitled “Shadows of Time.”

During the winter, snow builds up into the canyon, turning Bryce Amphitheater into a winter wonderland.

Serious hikers will enjoy the 22.9-mile Under the Rim Trail, which cuts through forests and meadows and provides stunning views of rainbow-hued distant cliffs.

Backcountry camping is permitted only in designated campsites. You must get a backcountry permit at the visitor center before any overnight trips.

This view from the canyon rim shows how many hoodoos are concentrated into canyons in Bryce Canyon. The park contains the largest concentration of hoodoos in the world.

Before You Go:

Getting There:

The park is located in southwestern Utah. From Zion National Park it’s a gorgeous 90-minute, 72-mile drive. It is 268 miles from Salt Lake City via Interstate 15 and 260 miles from Las Vegas.

  • By highway, Bryce Canyon is accessible from Interstate 70 and Interstate 15 via secondary roads such as U.S. 89. Utah highways 12 and 63 run along and through the park.
  • There is no direct train service. Amtrak serves Salt Lake City and Reno. Amtrak vacations are available at com/destinations/bryce-canyon-national-park-ut
The ancient hoodoos are interspersed with green trees in many places that are plainly viewable from the tour bus stops. They are also accessible from trails that wind sown into the canyons.

•  By air, the closest big airports are Las Vegas Harry Reid International Airport (LAS), 267 miles away and Salt Lake City International Airport, (SLC) located approximately 270 miles (4.5 hours) from Bryce Canyon National Park. Cedar City Regional (CDC) is 81 miles away and has one Delta flight from SLC.

Must-Sees and Dos for a Short Trip:

  • Drive some or all of the 18-mile road north and south through the park. The first three miles have the four most popular overlooks in the park: Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point and Sunrise Point. Don’t miss them.
  • If you are a hiker, hike down from the trailheads above.
  • Visit the park on a clear night for stargazing.
The colors of the eroded rocks are endlessly fascinating in Bryce National Park and throughout vast expanses of southern Utah.

If You Have Several Days:

  • Tour one or more of the other four of the “Big Five” National Parks in Utah. Zion National Park is 1 hour and 19 minutes(72.3 miles) via US-89 S, and Arches National Park is 4 hours and 8 minutes (244.3 miles) distant via I-70 west.
  • Visit the north rim of the Grand Canyon, 80 miles away.
  • Camping, hiking, mountain biking and river rafting are available throughout the region.

Ginny O’s Tips for Dressing for Bryce Canyon National Park: Outdoor casual dress appropriate for the possibly rapidly changing weather. Wear good hiking footgear if you are using the trails.

This Destination at a Glance:

Over 50 Advantage: View some of the world’s most spectacular geology at your leisure.

If you stare at the hoodoos in the national park for a few minutes, they can begin to take on fantastic shapes in the mind’s eye.

Mobility Level: Easy to difficult, depending on whether you stick to the overlooks or hike down in the canyons.

Getting Around in Bryce Canyon.
We recommend taking the shuttle bus and hiking from the various bus stops if desired. Park at the visitor’s center.

When to Go: March through October have the best weather but big crowds. Snow is common in winter and often lasts through April. Get to the park early in the day to avoid crowds.

Where to Stay: The Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel is quite nice, and the shuttle bus to the park stops right in front. Many other options are available at utah.com/destinations/national-parks/bryce-canyon-national-park/#stay.

Special Travel Interests: Beautiful geologic shapes, vibrant rock colors and a vast array of outdoor recreation and national and state parks within a three-hour drive.

Jewish Travel to Bryce Canyon National Park

There is no permanent organized Jewish presence near Bryce Canyon National Park. The vast majority of the estimated 3,000 to 6,000 Jews in the state of Utah live in and around Salt Lake City, Park City and Ogden. There is also a Chabad Center in St. George, Utah. All are fairly far from Bryce Canyon National Park.

If a kosher wilderness experience is important to you, Chuckie’s Kosher Adventure Tours is a commercial operation that offers kosher camping at Bryce Canyon and Zion. Find them at.campingkosher.com/kashrus.

Jeffrey and Virginia Orenstein are travel writers from Sarasota, Florida. Reach them at [email protected].

 

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