Bryce Canyon, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah should be on the bucket list of every nature lover. The vivid geological displays are outstanding! The warm-up act begins at Red Canyon.

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1 Entering Red Canyon, Utah

If you are following your GPS on UT-12 headed west toward Bryce Canyon, you might think you arrived prematurely as gorgeous rock formations begin appearing. This is Red Canyon. It is about 14 miles from Bryce Canyon. Most people watch this art of nature whiz by their windows. Some make an occasional stop for photos. But Red Canyon is worthy of a leisurely visit. Admission is free, the crowds are sparse and the views are picturesque such as this escarpment named Sunset Cliffs. There are several turnouts along the way. This one is the trailhead for Thunder Mountain. The moderate to strenuous trail measures 7.9 miles.

Thunder Mountain Trailhead, Red Canyon, UT-12, Panguitch, UT 84759

2 Dixie National Forest’s Red Canyon, Utah

Consider Red Canyon an appetizer for Bryce Canyon. The four miles of scenery specialize in red/orange sandstone cliffs and sculpted rock formations accented with ponderosa pines. The elevation is 7,400 feet. It is the crimson gem of Dixie National Forest. Utah’s largest forest sprawls about 170 miles across the state and covers almost two million acres. Nearby are the equally inviting Losee Canyon and Casto Canyon. This road is also the start of Scenic Byway 12, a 122 mile drive through the geological beauty of Utah.

Birdseye Trailhead, Red Canyon, UT-12, Panguitch, UT 84759

3 Plenty of Trails in Red Canyon, Utah

Red Canyon offers plenty of trails for nature lovers. This stunning rock formation starts the aptly named Photo Trail (.3 miles). Also located here is the Birdseye Trailhead. The .75 mile hiking path connects with the Photo Trail and extends to the Visitor Center. Unlike in Bryce Canyon, there are also trails for off roading, bikes and horses. In the winter, Red Canyon becomes a haven for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Want more information? Stop at the Red Canyon Visitor Center a short distance from this spot.

Birdseye Trailhead, Red Canyon, UT-12, Panguitch, UT 84759

4 Sensational Hoodoo in Red Canyon, Utah

This is one of several spectacular hoodoos at Red Canyon (Bryce Canyon has many more). What are they and how are they formed? The spires began as cliffs composed of soft Claron limestone. Over millions of years, they were sculpted by countless freeze/thaw cycles plus wind and rain. The rich red colors are from large amounts of manganese and iron that have oxidated. The word hoodoo means to bewitch.

Golden Wall Trailhead, Red Canyon, UT-12, Panguitch, UT 84759

5 Hoodoos behind Visitor Center in Red Canyon, Utah

Two perched hoodoos are a dramatic backdrop to the Red Canyon Visitor Center. You will find everything you need here, including trail information, maps and displays plus a souvenir shop, restrooms and a picnic area. If you want a closer look at this impressive cliff, just follow the .3 mile Hoodoo Loop Trail. Nearby is the Red Canyon Campground. The 37 campsites are open from early May through September.

Golden Wall Trailhead, Red Canyon, UT-12, Panguitch, UT 84759

6 Twin Tunnels at Red Canyon, Utah

You will drive through two stunning rock arches along UT-12. In 1925 when these tunnels opened, a huge banner read, “Welcome to Utah’s Fairyland.” Today, a modest road sign declares these arches to be, “A magical entrance to Red and Bryce Canyons.” After passing through the second arch, watch for mile marker 4 and a small sign reading Cassidy Trail. This is the escape route used by teenager Robert LeRoy Parker (a.k.a. Butch Cassidy) to elude a posse after getting into a brutal fight over a woman in nearby Panguitch, Utah. Cassidy Trail extends for 4.5 miles and is rated moderate.

Red Canyon Arch, UT-12, Panguitch, UT 84759

7 Sunrise Point at Bryce Canyon, Utah

Bryce Canyon is one of the grandest geological spectacles in the United States! This remote national park in southern Utah requires a drive. It is 145 miles north of the Grand Canyon and 75 miles northeast of Zion. But you will quickly forget your extended windshield time while standing at the first overlook, Sunrise Point. The Pink Cliffs of the Aquarius Plateau seen here are amazing.

Sunrise Point, Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon, Bryce, UT 84764

8 Sunset Point, One of 13 Overlooks at Bryce Canyon, Utah

Sunset Point is the second of 13 overlooks at Bryce Canyon. Each one provides a unique and incredible perspective. They are located along an 18 mile road that starts at the visitor center near The Lodge and two campgrounds. The scenic drive winds through the park from north to south (the same direction as this travel guide). The first four overlooks – Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point and Bryce Point – are the most popular. They are reachable separately by car. They are also connected by the Rim Trail. The 5.5 mile easy walkway allows you to savor the visual crescendo of Bryce Canyon.

Sunset Point, Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon, Bryce, UT 84764

9 Hoodoos from Sunset Point at Bryce Canyon, Utah

About 50 million years ago, the vast area at your feet was covered by Lake Claron. Layers of sediment formed below the freshwater lake for about 20 million years. As the water receded, the sediment was exposed and subject to erosion from wind and rain plus about 200 ice/thaw cycles a year. Left behind are rows of tall, slender pinnacles rising above the canyon floor. They are called hoodoos. The brilliant red and orange hues were created by iron oxide minerals. The white capstones are a harder limestone that is less susceptible to weathering. Alternative names for hoodoos are fairy chimneys, tent rocks and earth pyramids. Bryce Canyon National Park has the highest concentration of hoodoos in the world.

Sunset Point, Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon, Bryce, UT 84764

10 Formation Names at Inspiration Point at Bryce Canyon, Utah

The third overlook at Bryce Canyon is Inspiration Point. The expansive vista requires three photos to do it justice. This first one faces southeast. The rock formations displayed here are so unique they warranted equally interesting names. They include the Three Wise Men, Wall of Windows, Hindu Temples, The Cathedral, Fairy Castle and South Hall.

Inspiration Point, Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon, Bryce, UT 84764

11 Peekaboo Trail below Inspiration Point at Bryce Canyon, Utah

The center perspective from Inspiration Point is a forest on either side of the Bryce Creek drainage basin. Most of the trees are ponderosa pines, blue spruce, Douglas fir and white fir. There are also gnarly and twisted bristlecone pines, some over 1,500 years old. This green vegetation is in sharp contrast to the rust-colored cliffs towering up to 9,000 feet over the valley. Winding through the lower ridges and ravines is Peekaboo Trail. The path is three or five miles long depending on your start and end points. There are three trailheads: Sunrise Point, Sunset Point and Bryce Point. The trail has an elevation change of 900 feet and is rated moderately difficult. Peekaboo Trail is a great option if you want plenty of scenery without a crowd.

Inspiration Point, Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon, Bryce, UT 84764

12 High-rise Hoodoos from Inspiration Point at Bryce Canyon, Utah

This cluster of hoodoos completes the three-photo panorama from Inspiration Point. Their sculpted, high-rise appearance has resulted in names such as Silent City and Wall Street. The tallest of these pinnacles is 200 feet. That is equivalent to a twenty-story building! They erode at about two to four feet per century. While they slowly disappear, new ones will be formed as the cliffs in the background begin eroding.

Inspiration Point, Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon, Bryce, UT 84764

13 Bryce Amphitheater from Bryce Point at Bryce Canyon, Utah

At the southern end of the Rim Trail is Bryce Point, the fourth viewing platform over Bryce Amphitheater. Your commanding view is from 8,304 feet. This masterpiece of nature measures 12 miles long, three miles wide and 800 feet deep. It is the largest of the amphitheaters within Bryce Canyon. Technically, this is not a canyon because it was not formed by a central river. Instead, Bryce Canyon is a collection of natural amphitheaters. Together, they extend for about 20 miles.

Bryce Point, Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon, Bryce, UT 84764

14 Paria View at Bryce Canyon, Utah

A short distance from Bryce Point is the often-missed Paria View overlooking the Paria River watershed. The name means “water with elk.” The prominent feature is a giant hoodoo that resembles a medieval castle. Down below are numerous slot canyons formed by rushing water during the Ice Age. Unfortunately, there are no sanctioned hiking trails here. This west-facing valley is one of the few places at Bryce Canyon that is illuminated with color near sunset.

Paria View, Bryce Canyon, Bryce, UT 84764

15 Namesake of Bryce Canyon, Utah

In 1875, Scottish-born Ebenezer Bryce and his wife Mary Ann established a homestead first in the Bryce Amphitheater and then in the adjacent Paria Valley. The Mormon pioneer built a timber road and an irrigation canal to support his cattle ranch and help establish a farming community. The locals began referring to the area as Bryce’s Canyon. Harsh conditions caused the settlement to be abandoned in five years. In 1880, Ebenezer Bryce moved to Arizona.

Paria View, Bryce Canyon, Bryce, UT 84764

16 Swamp Canyon Overlook at Bryce Canyon, Utah

Despite receiving about 17 inches of rain and 90 inches of snow a year, much of Bryce Canyon has sparse vegetation except in the valleys. The contrarian is Swamp Canyon. A pair of creeks and a natural spring help to create a lush environment encircled by colorful plateaus and accented with dramatic buttes. For a closer look at this more intimate amphitheater, follow the 4.3 mile Swamp Canyon Trail. The two hour walk is rated as a moderate hike.

Swamp Canyon Overlook, Bryce Canyon, Bryce, UT 84764

17 Natural Bridge at Bryce Canyon, Utah

Don’t miss stopping at the overlook called Natural Bridge. A few steps from the parking lot is this massive arch. The rock window measures 85 feet across. When the sun is shining, the formation is ablaze with red. The color is caused by iron oxide which is basically rust. There are numerous natural arches and bridges throughout Bryce Canyon National Park. But the Natural Bridge is the easiest to see without following a hiking trail.

Natural Bridge Overlook, Bryce Canyon, Bryce, UT 84764

18 Backpacker Hoodoo from Agua Canyon Overlook at Bryce Canyon, Utah

Aqua Canyon is another thrilling amphitheater. This perspective from 8,800 feet is found at mile 14 along Highway 63 through Bryce Canyon. The expansive scenery requires a three-photo panorama to do it justice. Notice the hoodoo protruding from the red ridgeline. Some people refer to it as The Backpacker. Others use the name The Rabbit. You can simply call it impressive.

Agua Canyon Overlook, Bryce Canyon, Bryce, UT 84764

19 The Hunter Hoodoo from Agua Canyon Overlook at Bryce Canyon, Utah

The Hunter is one of the most outstanding solo hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park. The towering carving is in the center of your view overlooking Agua Canyon. Notice a few trees growing on The Hunter’s head. The tufts of green resemble a crewcut.

Agua Canyon Overlook, Bryce Canyon, Bryce, UT 84764

20 Scarlet Plateau from Agua Canyon Overlook at Bryce Canyon, Utah

The north side of Agua Canyon features a scarlet stairstep plateau. As remarkable as this vista is during the day, Aqua Canyon becomes extraordinary at dawn. The rising sun bathes the rocks and valley with vivid reds, yellows and oranges. Adventurous hikers enjoy the Agua Canyon Trail. The trailhead is located near the Ponderosa Canyon Overlook. The sometimes-steep path is 1.5 mile long (three miles roundtrip).

Agua Canyon Overlook, Bryce Canyon, Bryce, UT 84764

21 Black Birch Canyon at Bryce Canyon, Utah

At Mile 16.5 is Black Birch Canyon. Contrary to the name, don’t expect to find black birch here. Instead, the valley 1,000 feet below is filled with pine and fir trees. After being wowed by the other stunning landscapes throughout the park, you might be underwhelmed by Black Birch Canyon. So, for the first time all day, watch the skies. You might glimpse a bird soaring overhead with a nine foot wingspan. The California condor – North America’s largest land bird – became extinct in the wild in 1987. The rare scavenger was reintroduced in southern Utah and northern Arizona during an extensive conservation program.

Black Birch Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Bryce, UT 84764

22 Free Shuttle Services at Bryce Canyon, Utah

You are almost at the end of your 18 mile excursion through Bryce Canyon. If driving with multiple stops at crowded parking lots is not your style, then consider taking a free shuttle. The park offers two routes. The Bryce Canyon Shuttle starts at the Visitor Center and covers the four main Bryce Amphitheater overlooks. A hop-on/hop-off bus arrives every 15 minutes. Or opt for the Rainbow Point Shuttle Tour. The 3.5 hour roundtrip ride lets you visit the most popular overlooks extending to the south end of the park. This guided tour is only available twice a day and requires an advance reservation.

Rainbow Point, Bryce Canyon, Bryce, UT 84764

23 Breathtaking Rainbow Point at Bryce Canyon, Utah

Rainbow Point is breathtaking for two reasons. One, the crimson and green valley below your feet is stunning. On a clear day, you can also see all the way to the Utah/Arizona border on the horizon. Second, the elevation of 9,115 feet might leave you breathless. That is 1.7 miles high! This overlook is either the end or the beginning of your tour through Bruce Canyon. The advantage of starting here is you can easily park at all of the overlooks without crossing traffic. Before you leave, make sure to also visit Yovimpa Point a short distance from the parking lot.

Rainbow Point, Bryce Canyon, Bryce, UT 84764

24 Grand Staircase Summit at Rainbow Point at Bryce Canyon, Utah

Rainbow Point is the summit of the Grand Staircase. The geological evolution extends for about 150 miles from the peak where you are standing to the Grand Canyon. The rock formations exposed at Bryce Canyon are the Claron Formation. Relatively speaking, they are the youngest layer of the Grand Staircase. They were created 56 to 34 million years ago. In contrast, the exposed rocks in the 6,000 foot deep Grand Canyon range in age from 200 million to nearly two billion years. Between these two points, there are 24 unique formations within five major “steps.” Bryce Canyon is called the Pink Cliffs. The other four are the Grey, White, Vermillion and Chocolate Cliffs. No wonder they call this overlook Rainbow Point.

Rainbow Point, Bryce Canyon, Bryce, UT 84764