Utah is famous for its Mighty Five National Parks, and they are among the most visited in the United States. Each park is spectacular in its own right, and Utah visitors should try to visit them all. But what is the single-most impressive site within these five parks? I would easily choose the Bryce Amphitheatre in Bryce Canyon National Park.
Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon is located in southwest Utah. It sits equidistant between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. It’s a four hour drive from either gateway city to the Park. Bryce Canyon is Utah’s second most visited National Park behind Zion National Park (which is only 70 miles away).
Here’s a simple way to think of Bryce Canyon. There is one main road inside the Park and it runs along the top of a high plateau. All along its entire east side, time and nature have eroded this plateau, leaving behind a wonderland of pink/orange/white cliffs and “hoodoos” – the narrow cylindrical stone towers that make Bryce famous.
Bryce Amphitheatre has the Park’s largest concentration of hoodoos and is located along the northern edge of this plateau. The views out across this natural hoodoo-rich Amphitheatre are breathtaking. The hiking in and around the Amphitheatre is some of the most stunning in Utah. I personally believe it to be Utah’s single most spectacular site.
To fully appreciate the splendours of the Bryce Amphitheatre, I would definitely recommend hiking some of the trails in and around it
Bryce Amphitheatre Viewpoints
The beauty of the Bryce Amphitheatre can be appreciated from several viewpoints spaced out along its length – five in total. Each has a nearby parking lot and a viewing platform. Each offers a different perspective on the beauty below.
Sunset Point is the most popular (and the most crowded). It has the largest parking lot and it marks the beginning of the Park’s most popular hiking trail (see below) The hoodoos are at their most concentrated here. It literally feels like you can reach out and touch them from the viewing area.
But, Inspiration Point is my personal favourite. It sits at a higher elevation than Sunset Point so offers a more commanding view and resultant appreciation of the Amphitheatre’s grandeur.
Bryce Amphitheatre Hikes
To fully appreciate the splendours of the Bryce Amphitheatre, I would definitely recommend hiking some of the trails in and around it.
My favourite trail is the Queens/Navajo Loop Combo Trail. This hike starts and ends at Sunset Point, but drops you right down into the forest of hoodoos for most of its 3.5 miles. It’s amazing to walk through these other-worldly rock formations, one cluster after the other, while also taking in the beauty of the surrounding Amphitheatre walls.
For a completely different perspective of the Amphitheatre, you can hike along the edge of it’s rim from viewpoint to viewpoint. The 5.5 mile Rim Trail connects Fairyland Point at the north end of the Amphitheatre to Bryce Point at the south end. You can hike the Rim Trail in sections, rather than it’s full length, by picking up the trail at any one of the Amphitheatre viewpoints.
My personal favourite part of this trail is the 1.5 mile stretch from Inspiration Point to Bryce Point. With every few hundred feet, the view down into the Amphitheatre below changes. Different rock formations, different colours, different vistas to behold.
A Few Tips for Visiting the Bryce Amphitheatre
Though it looks like desert, the Amphitheatre actually sits at 8,000 feet. Therefore Bryce Canyon can be cooler than other Utah National Parks – an advantage during the hot summer months. But, that high altitude is something to keep in mind when hiking there. It’s definitely a little harder to catch your breath when hiking at Bryce Canyon National Park, especially if coming from sea level.
All Utah National Parks can be very crowded, especially in the summer. Visiting the Bryce Amphitheatre early in the morning or early in the evening will help ensure your best experience. A shuttle runs from a larger parking area just outside the park to the various viewpoints along the Amphitheatre. This is probably your best choice for Park transport during busy times.
Exploring the Bryce Amphitheatre by horseback is a popular activity. Several local outfitters offer guided horseback tours down into the hoodoo wonderland.
Park visitors can find lodging and dining options in the small surrounding towns of Bryce City, Tropic, Hatch, and Panguitch. All are within no more than 30 minutes of the park’s main entrance. Camping sites, both inside and outside the park, are also available.