Bryce Canyon National Park is named for one of a series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern edge of the Paunsagunt Plateau in southern Utah. Erosion has shaped colorful Claron limestones, sandstones and mudstones into thousands of spires, fins, pinnacles and mazes. The park is characterized by an enormous array of oddly shaped “hoodoos,” unique erosional formations whimsically arranged and tinted with a variety of subtle colors.
History & Culture
Early Native Americans left little to tell of their activities on the Paunsagunt Plateau. Although ancient cultures are known to have occupied the Colorado Plateau for at least 12,000 years, they have left little trace of lithics near the Bryce Canyon National Park. Artifactual traces of both Anasazi and Fremont cultures are found beyond the park boundaries, but not nearly to the extent that other areas of the Colorado Plateau exhibit. Paiutes were living throughout the area when the first Euro-Americans arrived in southern Utah. Paiutes explained the numerous and colorful hoodoos as “legend people” who were turned to stone by the mythical Coyote. When Captain Clarence E. Dutton arrived with John Wesley Powell in the 1870’s, he named many of the current features according to the Paiute names, including, Paunsagunt (home of the beavers), Paria (muddy water), Panguitch (fish) and Yovimpa (point of pines).
The Paiutes were “displaced” by emissaries of the Church of Latter Day Saints who established the many small communities throughout Utah.
Ebenezer Bryce helped settle southwestern Utah and northern Arizona. He arrived on the Paunsagunt Plateau and Paria Valley in 1875 to harvest timber. The canyon behind his home came to be known as Bryce’s Canyon; today it remains the name of both a specific canyon and the national park. after 1900, visitors began to arrive to view the colorful geologic features and initial accommodations were constructed along the plateau rim above Bryce’s Canyon. By the 1920’s, efforts were being made to set aside these scenic wonder of the Paunsagunt Plateau.
On June 8, 1923, President Warren G. Harding proclaimed part of the area as Bryce Canyon National Monument. In 1924, legislation was passed to establish the area as Utah National Park, but it wasn’t until 1928 that the necessary provisions for the act of congress were met. The area was officially established as Bryce Canyon National Park February 25, 1928.
Nature & Science
Bryce Canyon National Park is named for one of a series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah. Erosion has shaped colorful Claron limestones, sandstones and mudstones into thousands of spires, fins, pinnacles and mazes. Collectively called “hoodoos,” these unique formations are whimsically arranged and tinted with colors too numerous and subtle to name. Sixty million years ago, sedimentary deposits in a large prehistoric lake created the Claron formation, a combination of limestone, siltstone, shale, sandstone and occasional conglomerate as well. Subsequent uplift and faulting created the massive blocks we now call the Paunsagunt and Aquarius Plateaus. Erosion caused the exposure of the Claron formation atop of these plateaus,which continues to this day.
The uplifts and faulting formed blocks that streams carved into the plateaus. The joint systems and cracks produced by the uplifting determine the location of walls, arches, windows and natural bridges. The pinnacles (hoodoos) are the result of differential weathering along vertical fractures on these Claron beds, containing layers with varying degrees of hardness. Most arches in the park are carved from the sandstone beds of the Claron formation in much the same manner.
More than 400 species of plants grow in Bryce Canyon National Park at elevations ranging from 6,000 to 9,000 feet. Forests on the rim vary from Ponderosa Pine to Spruce, fir and Aspen. Because of the relatively high elevations, many spring wildflowers don’t actually bloom at Bryce until late summer. They include Gentian, Bellflower, Yarrow, Sego Lilly and Manzanita.
Bryce Canyon’s forests and meadows support diverse animal life from small mammals and birds to foxes, mountain lions and black bears. Mule Deer are the most common large mammal. They are best seen at dawn and dusk in meadows near roadsides.
Elk and Pronghorn Antelope which have been reintroduced into the area and are sometimes seen within the park. In winter, most of these animals migrate to lower elevations, although squirrels and marmots stay and hibernate. Utah Prairie Dogs live only in southern Utah. This endangered species is abundant here in Bryce Canyon National Park.
More than 160 species of birds visit Bryce Canyon National Park, but most species migrate to warmer climates, except for the jays, nut hatches, ravens, eagles and owls. In summers, many swifts and swallows can be seen along cliff faces while feeding on insects in flight.
Far northern area a mile east of the main road offers startling view of Sinking Ship with the Aquarius Plateau and Navajo Mountain in the distance.
Sunset, Sunrise and Paria Points
These 3 points ring Bryce Amphitheater, the largest amphitheater in the park. From these points you can see: Thor’s Hammer, Wall Street and the White Cliffs.
Provides an excellent view across hoodoos and an amphitheater carved by Yellow Creek. The Aquarius Plateau and Paria River Valley are in the background.
Offers a panoramic view of nearby plateaus and mountains. The Kaibab Plateau of the Grand Canyon North Rim is also visible far to the southeast.
Displays multi-colored hoods with the Aquarius Plateau to the north.
Offers a view of small trees growing atop the hoodoo known as The Hunter.
Provides a grand view of southern Utah and south into Arizona.
The park road ends here. On clear days one can see 90 miles south to Arizona revealing the Kaibab Plateau of Grand Canyon’s North Rim and Navajo Mountain. From here you can see The Poodle.
Plan to spend from one to several days depending on your personal interests. Because of the wide variety of recreational opportunities on nearby private, state and other Federal lands, you can easily plan an extended vacation in this area. Sight-seeing, hiking, camping, backpacking, photography, horseback riding, bird watching and other wildlife observation, star gazing, contemplation, relaxation. Most visitors tour the main amphitheater between Sunrise and Paria Viewpoints. Congestion in these areas creates problems with off-trail use and destruction of vegetation. Use only designated trails and exercise patience and care in all heavily congested areas to protect park resources.
Biking is allowed only on paved roads in the park. Biking on any trails or into the canyon is prohibited.
The park has over 50 miles of hiking trails.
Rim Trail between Sunrise and Sunset Points, 1/2 mile (one way), is the easiest section of the trail. Other sections of the Rim Trail have moderate terrain.
Fairyland Loop (8 miles round trip)
Peekaboo Loop (4.8 miles round trip)
Queen’s Garden (1.5 miles round trip)
Navajo Loop (1.5 miles round trip) trails drop into the canyons on steep grades.
Peekaboo Loop Trail also serves as a horse trail.
Under-the-Rim Trail extends 22 miles from BRACE Point to Rainbow Point and has 8 backcountry campsites.
Riggs Spring Loop Trail runs (8.8 miles round trip) from Rainbow Point and has 4 backcountry sites. A permit is required for overnight backcountry camping.
Bryce Canyon National Park is 24 miles southeast of Panguitch, Utah.From North or South on U. S. 89
Turn east on Utah 12 (seven miles south of Panguitch, Utah) and travel to the junction of Utah 12 and 63. Turn south (right) on Utah 63 and travel three miles to reach the park entrance. (Utah 12 continues east through the northern portion of the park.)
From the East
Travel west on Utah 12 to the intersection of Utah 63. Turn south (left) to reach the park entrance.
Bryce Canyon National Park
PO Box 170001
Bryce Canyon, UT 84717-0001
Operating Hours & Seasons
Bryce Canyon National Park is open 24 hours a day all year. There may be temporary road closures during and shortly after winter snowstorms until plowing is completed and conditions are safe for visitor traffic. Road maintenance may require brief closures of individual areas at other times.
The Bryce Canyon National Park visitor center is open year round except Thanksgiving Day, December 25 and New Years Day.
The visitor center is open the following hours:
- Winter hours October until April: 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (MST)
- Spring & Fall hours, April & October: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (MDT)
- Summer hours beginning end of May: 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (MDT)
At 8,000 feet where the visitor center is located, Bryce Canyon is cooler, moister then Zion its neighfor to the south. Much of the area’s precipitation comes as afternoon thundershowers during mid to late summer. Spring and fall weather is variable.
Cold winter days are offset by high altitude sun and dry climate. Winter nights are sub-freezing. During some winters, Alaskan cold fronts descend on the Colorado Plateau bringing temperatures as low as 30 degrees below zero. The area can have significant snow October through March; annual snowfall averages 100 inches.
The high altitude sun can burn in any season. Hats, long sleeves and sunscreen are recommended all year.