Utah’s smallest but second-busiest national park features geology gone psychedelic

About 75 minutes northeast of Zion, where the terrain has a certain formality to it, Bryce is geology gone psychedelic. A walk on the rim reveals an amphitheater filled with thousands of eroded hoodoos. Here in Utah’s smallest but second-busiest national park, the peak-season shuttle service isn’t mandatory, though limited parking at some trailheads will have you thinking otherwise. And while Zionistas can fall back on Springdale’s amenities, Bryce is more remote, with less dining and lodging along its margins, although Bryce Canyon Pines on Highway 12 is worth a stop for the pies alone. Other than strolling the rim, if you have the lungs for just one hike (you’re at 8,000 feet), descend into the canyon on the 5.5-mile Peek-A-Boo Loop Trail to enter a labyrinth of pink, white, and orange towers that rise like totem poles in the place that the Paiute dubbed “Unka-timpe-wa-wince-pockich,” which captures Bryce’s indefinable magic far more than the accepted translation: red rocks standing like men in a bowl-shaped canyon.

Where to stay
With so-so accommodations on the park’s edge, you’ll want to nab a vintage stone cabin with a gas fireplace and a porch at the Lodge at Bryce Canyon ($160-$256), designed in the 1920s by Gilbert Stanley Underwood, architect of Yosemite’s Ahwahnee hotel. The main dining room goes for a regional touch in such dishes as elk chile and buffalo flank steak.


Going to the end of the line is always a good idea. At the last stop on Bryce’s 18-mile main road, there are views from Rainbow Point, where the park tops out at 9,115 feet, while the easy one-mile Bristlecone Loop Trail leads through fir and spruce forests to gnarled trees nearly 2,000 years old, standing like living driftwood.

Beyond Bryce

Photograph by Royce Bair/Getty Images
Photograph by Royce Bair/Getty Images

+Twenty miles from Bryce, hike or bike among the sandstone towers of Kodachrome Basin State Park.
+Off Highway 12, follow Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument’s (above) Hole-in-the-Rock Road for 12 miles to the Stonehenge-meets-Easter Island formations at Devil’s Garden.
+At Mount Carmel’s Thunderbird Foundation for the Arts, tour the 1939 log-and-sandstone home and studio of the late painter Maynard Dixon.