For those who can’t be bothered with sorting out the various layers, conglomerates and ancient seas that date back millennia, the exposed layers of Bryce Canyon presents a geology lesson in one of the most palatable and inspiring ways available. But that doesn’t really matter. What matters is there are a number of options to get down into and amongst these giant pinnacles to explore and play in southern Utah.
To be fair, it’s not really a canyon. It’s a break. As in where the land breaks away from a plateau. In this case, it’s the Paunsaugunt Plateau that breaks away along the Claron layer much like the nearby Cedar Breaks National Monument. Though, break is not really a technical geologic term: It came from the early settlers along with the term badlands referring to the difficulty of growing crops and other forms of farming. Ebenezer Bryce, a serial homesteader and after whom Bryce Canyon was named, is known to have said “It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow.”
It’s also a hell of a place to lose yourself. With over 50 miles of backcountry trails within the park and a number of options to go beyond into the adjoining Dixie National Forest or even out to the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument, the options are nearly endless.
There are two major backcountry backpacking trails. The longest is the 23-mile Under The Rim Trail that runs in and amongst the length of the classic hoodoo and fin formations from Bryce Point to Rainbow Point. Although there are eight backcountry campsites, backcountry permits only allow you seven days in the backcountry. Take advantage of all seven and explore the endless slot canyons and narrows all along the way. Then pop out for a day to pick up another backcountry permit to get on the 8.8 mile Riggs Spring Loop and its four backcountry campsites. Bear-proof food canisters required.
While, sadly, mountain bikes are not allowed on the trails amongst the hoodoos down in the amphitheater, bikes are allowed on the 18-mile road along the rim of the break to Rainbow Point. From the visitor center you’ll climb 1,200 feet and have plenty of pullouts and scenic vistas to rest on the way up because you’re probably not going to want to stop while you’re bombing it back down. Don’t forget to ride the extra 2.5 miles each way out to Bryce Point and Paria View.
With Rainbow Point at just over 9,000 feet, Bryce Canyon gets snow in the winter. But there are a few restrictions to be aware of: there is no downhill skiing off the rim into the amphitheaters. Although skiing is limited to touring it still provides an amazing and unique winter wonderland experience. There are a number of groomed cross country skiing trails in the park, but to ski amongst the hoodoos you need to approach from the town of Tropic just east of the park. Overnight backpacking, snowshoeing and just booting it are options as well, but take note of the conditions to stay safe with your chosen mode of travel.