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NATIONAL PARKS GUIDES: BRYCE CANYON

Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon, Utah

History and Stats

Humans have been in the area of Bryce Canyon for at least 10,000 years, but information is scant at best, leaving an incomplete picture of life in the area. Paiutes moved into the area in the late 12th century and would remain in the area for centuries.

In the latter part of the 19th century, the remote area was finally explored by the United States, led by John Wesley Powell. His maps of the region would keep many of the ancient Paiute names. The Church of Latter Day Saints would send Ebenezer Bryce and his wife Mary to settle the area in 1873. Bryce would pasture his cows at the foot of the vast amphitheater, calling the place a “helluva place to lose cattle”. His management of the land and his reputation led to locals calling the area Bryce Canyon.

By 1880, drought would force the remaining Paiutes and most settlers, including Bryce, out of the area. By the early 20th century, however, the region had garnered a reputation as a scenic destination and would be featured in railroad magazines in 1916. As tourism grew, so did impact on the area, and a concerted effort by conservationists led to the area being classified as a National Monument by President Harding in 1923.

Improvements to the facilities in the area continued throughout the 20s and 30s, including Rim Road, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the scenic drive is still in use today. Various expansions in the 30s and 40s brought the park to its current size.

Date Founded: February 25, 1928

Size: 35,835 acres

Elevation: The rim of the canyon varies from 8,000 to 9,000ft

Rainfall: 12in, 64in of snow

Visitors: 2.5 Million a year

Open: Year-round, but closed on November 24, December 25, and January 1. Closures may occur due to weather, and hours of operation change seasonally. However, the Visitor Center opens at 8am year-round.

Fees: Entrance to the park is $30 per private vehicle and $15 for individuals on foot or bicycle. *We will note that these fees are covered completely by the America The Beautiful Pass, which applies to over 2,000 different sites.

Mission

“To preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”

While Bryce has educational exhibits and information on the geology and history of the region, the park is generally focused on hiking and the wilderness. The park’s emphasis on light pollution abatement allows for some incredibly stirring views of the night sky, while a battery of hiking options allow for enjoyment for a variety of skill levels.

Facilities

The Visitor Center features educational and historical exhibits on Bryce Canyon and some regional history. Multiple vistas complete the picture with more historical displays and facts. Modern bathrooms are available throughout the park, and there are multiple hiking trails for various skill levels.

Closest Civilization

Tropic, a village of around 500 people is a short 15-minute drive from the main gate of the park. As a larger park, however, Bryce does offer a lot of amenities.

BRYCE NPS
Lodging

Bryce offers a pair of campsites, Sunset and North, both of which can accommodate RVs (though there are no hookups) both of which are close to the Visitor’s Center. Fees for site rental are $20/night for tents and $30 for RVs. Some versions of ATB passes allow for discounts.

Additionally, there is a lodge at Bryce Canyon, operated by Forever Resorts, with over 100 rooms available for rent. More information can be found here.

There are small motels in the area as well, available at market rates.

Camping Level

Novice to Intermediate. While it may be a comfortable temperature during the day, it can quickly drop down. Hiking in the amphitheater should only be done with proper equipment, and some cold weather gear should be part of your prep list, regardless of what time of year it is. If you’re heading to Bryce, check out our Novice Camping Gear Guide here. If you’re looking for a more rugged experience, you can find our Intermediate Camping Gear Guide here.

Seasonal Programs

Moonlit hikes, stargazing, guided rim walks and geology talks are all a part of the programming at Bryce, and more information can be found here.

Horseback riding is also offered, with signups at the Visitor Center

Our experience

We absolutely loved Bryce Canyon but were taken by surprise by the temperature dips, which is, admittedly, a rookie move. Waking up in the frosty teens notwithstanding, the site was great, the views fantastic, and for being one of the more visited parks in the system, at #12 for 2017, it was still a largely pleasant and serene experience, especially when we were well away from the visitor center.

Things we’d like to try next time

It’s almost a good thing we were decidedly ill-equipped and went to see the sunset in street shoes, otherwise, we may have been tempted and ended up deep in the bowels of the amphitheater as the sun came down. We definitely want to hike here and would love the chance to do some more star gazing. A Ranger rim walk sounds right up our alley.

Special Note

  • The park celebrates the Prarie Dog every year during National Park Week, and information on this annual celebration can be found here.
  • The temperature drops and weather patterns in the region are no joke. The average snowfall is up there with many Midwest cities. The region is remote and still distinctly wild. Come with a healthy respect for the area, and be aware of the risks of enjoying the park during the fall and winter.
  • Bryce accommodates a number of activities beyond the standard activities of a National Park, up to and including spreading of ashes, as per their site. Fee information for said spreading can be found here.
  • One of the more notable aspects of Bryce Canyon is that it is a Dark Sky Park, which means that in addition to its remote location, it has light pollution abatement systems in place to allow for incredibly clear views of the night sky.
  • Snowshoe hikes are also offered in the park during winter months, and more information can be found here.
Bryce Amphitheater, Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Amphitheater, Bryce Canyon National Park

What was your time like at Bryce? What was your favorite vista? Was the bottom of the canyon as confusing for you as it was for Ebenezer Bryce’s cattle? Did we miss anything?

Official NPS Site

Check out more of our guides to the National Parks.

Read more about our experience at the Bryce Canyon National Park here and here.

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