Only a short drive from Las Vegas lies a magnificent national park called Bryce Canyon. Pictures cannot possibly do justice to what the eye has to see and so visiting this little park is a must. Over a million and a half visitors per year experience this natural wonder, which is a small amount considering the Grand Canyon sees over five million visitors. However Bryce Canyon is not to be overlooked. In its 56 square miles of land, there are numerous interesting viewpoints and miles of hiking trails.
In 1928 the park received national park status with the misnomer Bryce Canyon. The Canyon is in fact an amphitheater carved by weathering rather than a wild river. At a high altitude of 8500ft, winter snow may last on the ground for weeks before melting away. As the snow thaws into water, it filters into cracks in the sandstone and dissolves the sediments that keep the rock particles cemented together. The park goes through over 200 days of freezing and thawing cycles per year and as the water that filters through the rock freezes overnight, it expands and oftentimes breaks the rock. The result is a magical park of stone pillars, known as hoodoos.
Hiking through the hoodoos is a memorable and rewarding experience. Two hiking trails, each about eight miles long and take between four to five hours to complete, lead through these sandstone formations. The most popular trail is known as the Figure 8 and combines the Navajo Loop, Peekaboo Loop, and the Queen’s Garden Trail. It departs from the most popular viewpoint in the park, Sunset Point, from which many of the park’s most famous hoodoos can be seen. Among these are Thor’s Hammer, the Guarding Angel, the Three Watchmen, Boat Mesa, the Sinking Ship, and of course Queen Victoria.
The second hiking trail is less popular but just as dramatic. Known as Fairyland Trail, it departs from Fairyland Point, a viewpoint just before the park entrance, and circles around Boat Mesa before exiting close to Sunrise Point. Both trails can be arduous during the summer heat but quite pleasant in spring and fall. During the winter months, these trails can be done on snowshoes or cross-country skis, depending on snowfall amounts.
Things to remember while hiking in Bryce: since it is a natural amphitheater and not a canyon, there is no flowing water on the trail, therefore water bottles must be filled before attempting the hike. In the heat of summer, take a minimum of two liters of water per person. Bryce Canyon is an upside down mountain. The hike begins at the top and descends 700ft into the amphitheater. Remember that what goes down must come up, and this is in high elevation.
Refer to the park website for further information about the hikes or about Bryce Canyon National Park. Safe travels!