Bryce Canyon: Dramatic Views and Winter Adventure


(Photo by Conor Barry)

(Photo by Conor Barry)
(Photo by Conor Barry)

A forest of needle-shaped rock formations mixed with actual coniferous trees greets those approaching the Paunsaugunt Plateau in Bryce Canyon National Park.
The park, which saw 1.3 million visitors last year, is well-known for having an exceptional concentration of sandstone structures. This makes the “canyon” aspect of Bryce Canyon a misnomer. The natural rock amphitheatres are not actually a geological canyon.
The park’s accessibility is certainly a draw for many of its visitors — the colorful limestone features just past the rim are only a short hike away from the main scenic drive in the park. Coupled with adequate in-park amenities, this ease of access makes Bryce Canyon a popular destination for bus tours.
The park is a four and a half hour drive from Salt Lake City, with a number of lodging and dining options nearby, making the park an easy overnight trip. Bryce Canyon is also accessible year-round.
Brendan Edwards, a former assistant crew leader in the Utah Conservation Corps, says winter is one of the best times to see the park.
“Off-season is prime time to see the contrast of the snow on the red rock without the distraction of too many other tourists,” he says.
Since the park is at an elevation of around 8,000 to 9,000 feet, snow during winter is typical. While downhill skiing, snowboarding, and sledding are illegal in the park, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are both allowed and commonly accepted ways to travel the park in the wintertime.
Perhaps the best way to experience Bryce Canyon is to hike one of the loop trails off of the main rim. Shorter trails, such as the Rim Trail, Navajo Loop, Bristlecone Loop, and Queens Garden provide a less strenuous, abbreviated view of some of the dramatic geological features of the park. For a little more of a challenge, the eight-mile round-trip Fairyland Loop can give visitors an all-day traverse through some of the most dramatic scenery in the park. Due to the easily erodible nature of the rock formations and danger of falling, most off-trail activities are prohibited.
The unique geology and ecology of Bryce Canyon has served as an inspiration for the work of artists such as Terry Tempest Williams and Ansel Adams. First-time visitors are sure to come away from the dramatic overlooks with a similar sense of awe.
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