I knew that the weather was probably going to be crappy.
In fact, the forecast had looked so poor for southwestern Utah that Elliot and I decided at the last minute to swap our time at Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park in hopes of getting a semi-clear morning to hike at Zion.
Which meant that we were definitely in for some rain at Bryce Canyon.
But I suppose that's to be expected when you're traveling in April – which, after all, is known for its showers.
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A scenic evening
We arrived to our hotel near the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park after driving straight from Las Vegas. It was still a couple of hours until dinner time, and since the park is open 24 hours a day, I insisted on going to see at least one of the viewpoints before it got dark. It was drizzling lightly, but the clouds were high enough that I figured we would still be able to see some of the area's famous rock formations.
After stopping off quickly at the visitor's center, we drove to Sunset Point, one of the most popular viewpoints at Bryce Canyon. The rain backed off as we arrived, and our first glimpse into the canyon was simply breathtaking.
Bryce Canyon isn't really a “canyon” at all – instead, it's a series of natural amphitheaters that have been carved out of the Paunsaugunt Plateau by Mother Nature. The amphitheaters are filled with orange and white hoodoos, or weathered spires of rock.
It basically looks like you've left Earth and landed on Mars.
Other than the incredible rock formations, the thing that struck us the most was the fact that it was COLD at Bryce. This was partially because of the time of year we were visiting (early April), and partially because the park sits 8,000-9,000 feet above sea level.
In order to warm up, we set off on the short canyon-rim trail that connects Sunset Point to Sunrise Point, stopping every few feet to take more photos.
After an hour spent between the two viewpoints, we decided to head back out of the park and grab some dinner before the dark rain clouds hanging over the canyon decided to break. We'd be back the next morning, and crossed our fingers for dry weather.
A foggy hike
We returned to Sunset Point early the next morning outfitted in waterproof gear and prepared to hike down into the hoodoos. I'd seen amazing photos from the Navajo Loop hike, and was excited to get up close to some of the famous rock formations like Thor's Hammer for myself.
But when we arrived in the parking lot, the entire amphitheater was just bathed in fog. Luckily, we found humor in the situation and decided to hike anyway since this was our only chance to do it.
We headed down the Navajo Trail from Sunset Point, and were quickly extremely glad for our hiking boots since the trail was basically one giant mud puddle.
Ideally, you would take the Navajo Trail in a loop back up to the Sunset Point viewpoint via a section of canyon know as Wall Street. But that section of trail was still closed from the winter, so we decided to link up with the Queens Garden Trail instead, ending our hike at Sunrise Point.
The hike was actually kind of cool in the fog, especially when we got below the fog layer deeper down in the canyon.
And the fog lifted and re-set a few times along the Queens Garden Trail, making for some interesting photos.
It started raining again towards the end of our hike (which ended up being just over 3 miles and took us nearly 3 hours with photos stops/going slow because of the mud), so we decided to head back to the car to regroup before deciding what to do next.
A clearer view
Once we had hosed off our muddy boots (thanks, Bryce, for providing a hose and brush in the parking lot!), we noticed that the sky to the south was actually clearing up and the sun was trying to poke through.
So instead of heading to lunch, we headed for the viewpoints further in the park.
Unlike some of the other national parks in Utah where you have to hike to get to the best views, you can drive to all of them in Bryce Canyon. There are a series of pull-offs and viewpoints lining the edge of the main amphitheater along the 18-mile scenic drive.
Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration and Bryce viewpoints are the most popular in the park, but we also loved Natural Bridge and Rainbow Point – especially because there was still some lingering snow at those high elevations.
We spent the next hour chasing the sunshine and visiting as many viewpoints as possible.
All I have to say? Whoever named Inspiration Point certainly chose the right description.
Even though I was slightly bummed that all those hoodoos we weren't able to see in the morning thanks to the fog were now out in the sun, I think our foggy, soggy hike followed by some clear hoodoo viewing actually made for a perfect day at Bryce.
So in case you find yourself at Bryce Canyon National Park in the rain and fog, don't let that stop you from exploring – the park is pretty incredible no matter what the weather is like!
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IF YOU GO
Getting there – Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southwestern Utah off of UT-63. You'll drive through Red Canyon on UT-12 on the way, which is also worth a stop if you have time.
Getting around the park – From mid-April to November, Bryce offers a free shuttle service to all the major viewpoints in the park. You aren't required to use the shuttle here like you are at some other parks (like Zion and the Grand Canyon), meaning you can still choose to drive your own car if you want. But, if you're visiting during high season (when the shuttle is running), just be aware that the parking areas at most of the viewpoints are very small and fill up quickly.
What to bring – I would recommend bringing some snacks, good hiking boots, and warm/waterproof layers. Since Bryce is at such a high elevation, it can often be chilly – even during the summer months. If you'll be doing any hiking, I would bring a water bottle or hydration pack, too, and make use of the water fountains you'll find throughout the park.
Where to stay – There are not too many hotels right near the entrance to Bryce Canyon. But if that's where you want to stay, your best bets are Ruby's Inn and the Best Western PLUS Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel. Both are just minutes from the entrance to the park. If you're visiting in the off-season like we did, be aware that the restaurant at Ruby's Inn may be your only dining option.
For more info – Check out the Bryce Canyon Country website for more info.
Make it a road trip: Check out my suggested 10-day road trip itinerary for the Southwest.
Have you ever been to Bryce Canyon?
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It was! Then again, this part of Utah is just universally stunning!