Friday, May 29, 2015

On the Road: Bryce Canyon National Park

(Photo credit: memyselfandtheinterstate.com)
Bryce Canyon National Park is one of my favorite parks. I have been lucky enough to visit Bryce four times. If I am traveling on Interstate 70 or Interstate 15 in Utah, I will make the time to visit the area. This park has a magical quality to it. Some have described the hiking experience as walking along a group of magic rocks. The park even has a trail named the Fairyland Loop.

As with all national parks, visitors should check out the website for the National Park Service before they visit.  The site will give ideas for everyone depending on how much time is available for the visit. The most popular section of the park is the amphitheater region. Visitors have a choice of fourteen overlooks in the park. Some give a close look at the hoodoo rock formations and others give an impressive view of the entire amphitheater area. The most famous overlooks are Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point and Sunrise Point. These are located in the amphitheater area. For those who do not have a lot of time at spend in Bryce, stopping at these points will give a good view of the park.

(Photo credit: memyselfandtheinterstate.com)
The views at Bryce are impressive from the viewpoints, but the best part is to hike down to the floor of Bryce Canyon. The park service has rated the trails. The easy ones are Mossy Cave, Rim Trail, Bristlecone Loop and Queens Garden. The least difficult way into the canyon is Queens Garden. The moderate trails are Navajo Trail, Tower Bridge, Hat Shop and Swamp Canyon. One thing to keep in mind is all the trails are easy in the beginning. Hikers are walking down the trail. Coming back requires a climb. The strenuous trails are Fairyland Loop, Peek-a-boo and Riggs Spring Loop. These trails involve a higher climb at the end of the hike. Hiking shoes or boots are a must for these trails.

(Photo credit: memyselfandtheinterstate.com)
Many visitors explore the amphitheater region and do not realize another section of the park exists. Those who have the time should continue down the main road to visit Swamp Canyon, Whiteman Bench, Natural Bridge, Aqua Canyon, Ponderosa and Black Birch Canyon.

Bryce Canyon has a lodge with a dining room and a general store which are both located near Sunrise Point. These facilities are closed in mid-November and reopen at the beginning of April. The park is open all year, but some roads are closed in winter during snow storms.

Water is available and hikers should make sure to take enough for the hot summer conditions. I began my hike early in the morning one summer. The rock formations were fascinating and I wanted to see more. Soon the temperature started to go up and I had finished my water. I still had to climb my way back to the top. I became dehydrated and knew I needed help. Fortunately, a park ranger came by in a very small vehicle. I had the amazing experience of sitting looking backward as I rode up seeing Bryce Canyon from an angle most do not see. I received medical attention and was fine. I think that is one reason I am so fond of Bryce. I thank the rangers every time I return. I learned a lesson that day that sometimes a simple hike can present challenges to one's safety.

(Photo credit: memyselfandtheinterstate.com)
Bryce has two unusual activities available to guests. During the full moon, the park has a night hike. A limited number of people can participate. Tickets are given to guests and a lottery is held to choose the hikers. Horseback riding is also available.  Riders have a choice of horse or mule and can choose to take a 2-hour or 4-hour trip.

In addition to the information available on the National Park Service website, visitor can also check the reviews on TripAdvisor to get tips from other travelers about the area. People have also posted videos to YouTube that show their hiking experience. These a worth a look to determine whether a trail would be suitable for a particular individual or group.

Many debate whether Bryce or Zion is the best park. Although Zion is impressive, I find the crowds detract from the experience. Bryce does not have the impressive rock formations of Zion, but I find it a more manageable experience. Exploring the floor of Bryce Canyon was one of my favorite national park experiences. As with all the national parks in Utah, each has its own aspects. No two parks are the same and all deserve a visit.

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