You can find hoodoos (irregular spires of rock) on any continent – but you’ll find the highest concentration of this photogenic columns in Bryce Canyon National Park. The park sits at high elevation along a high plateau at the top of the Grand Staircase in Utah and is a wonderland of geologic wonders, interesting archaeological sites and never-ending dark sky views. Even if you’re short on time, you can see many of the park’s highlights. Pro tip: Get to the park at sunrise or just after. The rangers call this a “morning park,” where the views are even more incredible in the early-morning light. Plus, this way you’ll get a good jump on your day and be able to see more. Here’s what to do at Bryce Canyon in one day.
Walk some of the Rim Trail above the Bryce Canyon Main Amphitheater. The whole trail runs from Fairyland Point to Bryce Point, 5.5 miles each way. The best time for dazzling light and photography is right after sunrise. For those short on time, park rangers typically suggest the section between Inspiration and Bryce points, as well as Upper Inspiration Point, 900 to 12,00 feet south of Inspiration Point.
From Sunrise Point, you’ll have great views of Boat Mesa and Sinking Ship, set against the Aquarius Plateau’s Pink Cliffs. Boat Mesa itself rises above Fairyland Canyon and its countless hoodoos to reach 8,073 feet. Explore the area on the moderate Queen’s Garden Trail that takes you down into a collection of hoodoos – the most impressive of which is called the Queen Victoria. To the north of the viewpoint, you can climb the Fairyland Loop to the Fairyland Canyon overlook.
If you’re looking for one good hike to take up half the day, tackle the Fairyland Loop (it will take about for hours). Start at Sunrise Point, go down to Tower Bridge, then back up through Fairyland Canyon to the Fairyland trailhead. Follow the Rim Trail back to Sunrise Point.
Drive Utah’s All-American Road, Highway 12, into Bryce Canyon National Park, then pick up Highway 6, which passes all of the park’s scenic overlooks. If the road looks too busy, opt for the free Bryce Canyon shuttle that operates in the summer. The major stops along the scenic loop drive include:
- Swamp Canyon Trailhead: A great spot to see wildlife, down in a canyon with two small creeks and a spring-fed wetland
- Farview Point: An excellent vista point for features in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
- Natural Bridge: Just one of the many natural arches in Bryce Canyon, this one is famously photogenic thanks to its vibrant, red rock.
- Agua Canyon: From here, look for the prominent hoodoos “The Hunter” and “The Rabbit” (or “Backpacker”)
- Ponderosa Canyon: Marvel at the huge Ponderosa pine trees that grow on the floor of the canyon of the same name. Some measure more than 5 feet wide and are 150 feet tall or more.
- Rainbow Point: Another great vantage point for the Pink Cliffs and hoodoo-filled, natural amphitheaters.
- Yovimpa Point: From here, you can observe the “steps” of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, so named for the dominant color of rock. Ask a ranger to point out the Grey Cliffs, White Cliffs, Vermilion Cliffs and Chocolate Cliffs.
View the entire magnificent Bryce Canyon amphitheater from Bryce Point – particularly extraordinary at sunrise. It’s as if the hoodoos are on fire as the first rays of the day spread across the landscape. Hike the Peek-a-Boo Loop Trail – steep, but worth it – past the Wall of Windows and the Three Wise Men. Along the way, look for native wildflowers like the Maguire Catchfly, Platy Penstemon and Bryce Canyon Paintbrush.
Navajo Loop Trail
If you arrive at Sunset Point before the day’s end, take time to walk the Navajo Loop Trail. You’ll descent from the point through the Wall Street slot canyon – notice the 500- to 700-year-old Douglas firs that reach skyward, attempting to reach the sunlight.
Wrap up your day at Sunset Point for obvious reasons. As the fading light hits the hoodoos, there’s a mesmerizing scene on the canyon floor. Marvel at the Silent City, a maze of hoodoos and fins, and Thor’s Hammer on the northern edge below the overlook.
There are 4.5 miles of foot and horse trails that were completed in 1931 and are still in use today. On horseback, you can really slow down and authentically experience the park. Canyon Trail Rides offers two- and three-hour guided horse and mule rides into the Bryce Canyon amphitheater.
Still have time in the day? Consider visiting Red Canyon off Highway 12 near Bryce Canyon National Park. Some call it the most photographed place in Utah for its soaring sandstone spires and rock formations. The popular trail system is open to foot traffic and, in some places, bikes, horses and ATVs. Favorite trails include Pink Ledges, Hoodoo, Birdseye, Golden Wall, Thunder Mountain and the Red Canyon Bicycle Trail.