A drive along Scenic Byway 143 from Parowan to Panguitch is the perfect add-on to a Bryce Canyon National Park excursion. From Panguitch, it’s just 30 miles to Bryce Canyon National Park via Highway 89 to Scenic Byway 12. Turn south onto Highway 63 to reach the park entrance.
Simply put, Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the most spectacular parks in the U.S. Its deep amphitheaters are filled with massive hoodoos shaped by millions of years of erosion, which rise majestically from the canyon floor to inspire awe and legends. Ancient Paiute believed the limestone hoodoos were evil Legend People turned to stone by all-powerful Coyote. They called the multi-hued formations Anka-ku-was-a-wits, ‘red painted faces.’ Today’s two million annual park visitors are equally mesmerized by the eroded hoodoos standing strong and silent.
Bryce Canyon National Park lies on the southeastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau, part of the Colorado Plateau and surrounded by Dixie National Forest. The rim elevation rises from 8,000 feet to 9,115 feet, offering unbelievable views of the Aquarius Plateau, Grand Staircase, and Henry Mountains. The 35,000-acre park can be explored in a day or less including some of the shorter hikes.
Visiting the Park
Bryce Amphitheater is the scenic heart of the park, and sunrise washing over the hoodoos is a spectacular introduction to the beauty of Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce Point and Sunrise Point offer lovely morning views, including a view of Thor’s Hammer, the tallest hoodoo in the park. Nearby Inspiration Point and Sunset Point provide changing views of Bryce Amphitheater throughout the day. Be sure to visit the Bryce Canyon National Park visitor center and museum, located near these overlooks, to learn about Bryce Canyon’s distinct history.
An 18-mile scenic road runs north-south through the park, with more than a dozen overlooks with views you have to see to believe. Highlights of the scenic drive include Ponderosa Point, Black Birch Canyon, Paria View, Bryce Point, and Natural Bridge. The road ends at Rainbow Point, the highest point in the park. On a clear day Rainbow Point and nearby Yovimpa Point offer expansive views of the Grand Staircase, with visibility up to 100 miles.
There are more than 50 miles of hiking trails in Bryce Canyon National Park, ranging from the easy, paved Rim Trail to the challenging 8-mile Fairyland Loop Trail and the backcountry Under the Rim Trail. A descent into Bryce Amphitheater along the 1.5-mile Navajo Loop Trail brings a different perspective from below the rim. The strenuous trail features a series of switchbacks to the canyon floor, with the option to continue along the easier 1.8-mile Queens Garden Trail back to the rim at Sunrise Point.
Anasazi Basketmaker artifacts nearly 2,000 years old have been found just south of Bryce Canyon National Park. The Paiute Indians lived in the area around 1200 A.D. A group of Spanish explorers traveled through in the late 1700s, but it wasn’t until Mormon pioneers in the 1850s, followed by the Powell expeditions 20 years later, that the area was documented. The area became popularly known as “Bryce’s Canyon” when cattleman Ebenezer Bryce famously said that the amphitheaters were “a helluva place to lose a cow.” In the early 1900s Union Pacific began expanding rail service and pioneer Ruby Syrett set up lodging services along the rim. President Harding established Bryce Canyon National Monument in 1923, which gained national park status in 1928. The park boundaries were extended in 1931 and again in 1942 to its present-day size of 35,000 acres.