Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon: Discovering Hoodoos in a Stunning Landscape

One of the most spectacular National Park in the US, Bryce Canyon National Park is home to the largest concentration of hoodoos, totem-pole-like rock formations carved by nature on Earth. Although these spectacular rock formations exist all over the world, no other place has so many of them together.

Since we live within driving distance, we visited the park a few times over the years, during road trips through the Southwest. Since it’s a long drive, we include stops in destinations like the Zion, Grand Canyon, Sunset Crater, and Walnut Canyon National Parks, and sometimes even Sedona. We drive through the Southwest, exploring some of the most unusual landscapes, the Bryce hoodoos some of my favorites among them.

A recent long weekend trip took us back in the land of these hoodoos. By then, ten years passed since our last visit, but the landscape and the park haven’t changed. Although from a geological standpoint hoodoos, the rock formations that Bryce Canyon is famous for, don’t last long, a few decades or even one human lifetime makes no difference in their shape.

Bryce Canyon NP, hoodoos
Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon.

What Are these Hoodoos anyway?

Tall, skinny spires of rock, hoodoos seem like totem poles, carved by nature. At Bryce Canyon, they range in height from 5 to 150 ft and come in all shapes and widths.

Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon
Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon

I imagine hoodoos as children of parent rocks, slowly parting from the whole family and becoming their own beautiful, separate selves. The “family” that supports them here, the rock formation that forms them is called the Claron Formation. This rock was “born” 30 or 40 million years ago in an ancient lake.

Bryce Canyon hoodoo formations

How Did the Hoodoos Form?

Different weathering processes lead to the formation of hoodoos. The extreme temperatures on the plateau cause freezing which then is followed by thawing. Here, on the high plateau of the Grand Staircase, this process gets repeated more often here than in other places.

The melting snow seeps into the cracks of the limestone, then it freezes, which makes it expand. (Yes, water expands when freezing. If you need to see the process, freeze water in a plastic bottle, and watch what happens). When this freeze/thaw process happens to the soft limestone, it causes cracks on its surface. This process is called frost wedging.

Bryce Canyon NP

Then rain, sun, and wind slowly erodes the rocks along these cracks and separates the hoodoos from their parent rock.

The same process that forms hoodoos will erode them, too, over time. We don’t see the difference since the erosion happens at 2-4 feet every 100 years. But in another few million years they won’t exist as they are now.

We are the lucky ones who get to enjoy them.

Hiking in Bryce Canyon

While my husband walked down and into the canyon on the most strenuous (but most spectacular) trail, my daughter and I took the easier, more traveled one. Though I prefer to choose the less-traveled path, sometimes I don’t mind easy, even if it means I won’t be alone on the trail.

On the trail into Bryce Canyon
The trail into Bryce Canyon

In the morning, to catch the best light, we set off from the Sunrise Point on the Queen’s Garden Trail. It was pleasant, an easy hike (it was downhill), though slightly crowded. Following the short trail, we descended into the Queen’s Garden. Queen Victoria, that is.

In the Queen’s Garden

“Why would they name that rock formation Queen Victoria?” asked my daughter. “She’s never even been here.” Kids remember their history when you least expect it.

“You’re right. I guess whoever named the rock has seen the queen and felt it resembled her, and the hoodoos look like a garden.”

We both took a while to see the resemblance. My child figured it out first and pointed it out. I still had trouble seeing it, but eventually, I got it. We both agreed that it takes imagination to see a queen there. We saw other figures. Then again, we’ve never seen a real-life queen overlooking a garden, let alone Queen Victoria.

Queen's Garden, Bryce Canyon NP
The Queen’s Garden. Do you see Queen Victoria?

Walking through Hoodoos on the Canyon’s Bottom

Instead of returning the way we came, we walked through the canyon for about a mile, and took the Navajo Loop Trail back up, through the Wall Street formation.

Wall Street in Bryce Canyon
Wall Street in Bryce Canyon

Given the fact that it was sunny and hot by midday, when we got there, Wall Street was the highlight of this hike for me. We spent a fair amount of time in the shade of the tall rocks surrounding us.

Wall Street. Bryce Canyon
In the shade of the rocks in the Wall Street formation

Climbing out on the Navajo Loop Trail

The Navajo Loop Trail is steep, and with the midday sun beating down on us, it turned out to be a long walk. I felt like a turtle going up the switchbacks, but I made it. It was worth it, every step of the way both down, and up.

The Overlooks

Even if you don’t want to or can’t hike, the views from the top of the Canyon are exquisite. You can drive or take a shuttle to the overlooks, and while some are right off the parking lot, others are only a few steps or a short walk away.

Rainbow and Yovimpa Points

When we first arrived, we drove to the Southernmost edge of the park and stopped at Rainbow Point. The easy hike on the Bristlecone Loop, through a pine forest, took us to Yovimpa Point and offered a far view into the Four Corners area.

View from Rainbow point. Bryce Canyon NP
View from Rainbow Point

The Natural Bridge Overlook

We stopped at the Natural Bridge overlook where we enjoyed the view of the arch. All we had to do was get out of the car, the overlook is right in the parking lot.

Natural Bridge Overlook. Bryce Canyon
The Natural Bridge

Sunrise and Sunset Points

After we settled in the lodge, we walked the paved and level Rim Trail between Sunrise and Sunset Point, with great views of the amphitheater below.

Bryce Canyon National Park
View from the Sunset Overlook … at sunset

Bryce Point Overlook

The day after our long hike, we were on the shuttle to Bryce point, with an overlook of one of the most scenic vistas of the whole amphitheater. A different view, a different perspective. The Peekaboo trail, a harder hike into the canyon, starts there, but I left it for another time.

View from Bryce Point
View from Bryce Point Overlook. Hoodoos as far as we could see.

The Fairyland Canyon Overlook

Before leaving the park, we stopped at the Fairyland Canyon overlook. The most strenuous, but also most spectacular trail starts here, about eight miles long with an elevation gain of over 1100 feet.

In comparison, the two trails I hiked combined added up to a little over 3 miles long with an elevation gain of about 600 feet and I thought that was high. I left without hiking the Fairyland trail. There is no way I can make it without training for it.

Still, even without hiking some of the most spectacular trails, it was a fun trip. I enjoyed the one I took and the walks on top of the canyon with spectacular overlooks. Next time, I might hike another one. Or not. The hoodoos will be just as spectacular from the top.

Bryce Canyon, the Navajo Loop Trail through Wall Street

In a Nutshell – FAQ About Bryce Canyon

  1. Where is Bryce Canyon?

    Bryce Canyon National Park is in the state of Utah, off road UT-63

  2. Is Bryce Canyon National Park open year round?

    The park is open year-round; however, in the winter months most of the trails are closed and depending on the snow, sometimes the roads to a few of the viewpoints are closed, too. If you plan on visiting between October and April, check the park’s website for trail and road closures.

  3. What is there to do in Bryce Canyon National Park

    1. Hike. You can hike on the rim, enjoying gorgeous views of the canyon, or hike down into it to experience the hodoos close-up. You’ll find hiking trails of all lengths, for all abilities, from easy walks to moderate and strenuous hikes into the canyons and even backcountry multiple-day hiking trails. For backcountry hiking, you need a permit from the Visitor Center.
    2. Join a ranger-led activity. Programs range from geology talks to rim walk and evening constellation viewing.
    3. Ride a horse into the canyon. Horseback rides are offered from April to end of October, both one and two-hour tours.
    4. Join the annual geology or astronomy festivals.

  4. How long does it take to visit Bryce Canyon National Park?

    It depends on what you want to do. The best way to experience the park is to take at least two full days to visit Bryce Canyon. However, if you don’t plan on taking any hikes, it is possible to visit it in about three hours, if all you do is stop at the viewpoints along the scenic drives.

  5. How long is the Scenic Drive?

    The Scenic Drive in Bryce Canyon National Park is a 38-mile loop, and features 13 viewpoints.

  6. Where to stay overnight?

    The Lodge at the Canyon, between Sunset and Sunrise Point, is the perfect place to stay overnight. In the evenings you’ll probably see wildlife just outside the lodge, most often deer. And you only have a few feet to walk to the rim, a perfect place to watch the sunset and sunrise. Or, you can camp in one of the campgrounds. The park has two, both close to the Visitor Center.

  7. Is there a shuttle service on the Scenic Drive?

    Yes, there is. If you don’t want to drive your own car, the park has a free shuttle service available. The shuttle that stops at each viewpoint, and at the Visitor Center. It is not mandatory to use it at this time, but the shuttle is a better choice, not only because you cause less pollution, but you don’t have to worry about parking. At some viewpoints it is extremely hard to find a parking spot.

Bryce Canyon np
Bryce Canyon NP
Bryce Canyon National Park
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