Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park sees more than 2.5 million visitors each year

Bryce Canyon National Park is a geological amphitheater on the Paunsaugunt Plateau with hundreds of tall, multicolored sandstone hoodoos formed by erosion. The region was originally settled by Native Americans and later by Mormon pioneers.


Home of the world-famous pinnacles

Nowhere else in the world can you find rock pinnacles with fantastic shapes like the ones found in Bryce Canyon National Park.
Located in the High Plateaus region of the Colorado Plateau in Utah, Bryce Canyon’s elevation, erosion, climate and rock type are all elements that, when combined, form fantastical shapes called Hoodoos.

Hoodoo – a pillar of rock, usually of fantastic shape, left by erosion.
Hoodoo – to cast a spell.
Early Native Americans left little to tell us of their use of the plateaus. We know that people have been in the Colorado Plateau region for about 12,000 years, but only random fragments of worked stone tell of their presence near Bryce Canyon. Artifacts tell a more detailed story of use at lower elevations beyond the park’s boundary. Both Anasazi and Fremont influences are found near the park. The people of each culture left bits of a puzzle to be pieced together by present and future archaeologists. Paiutes lived in the region when Euro-Americans arrived in southern Utah. Paiutes explained the colorful hoodoos as “Legend People” who were turned to stone by Coyote.

The Paiutes were living throughout the area when Capt. Clarence E. Dutton explored here with John Wesley Powell in the 1870s. Many of today’s place names come from this time. Dutton’s report gave the name Pink Cliffs to the Claron Formation. Other names – Paunsaugunt, place or home of the beavers; Paria, muddy water or elk water; Panguitch, water or fish; and Yovimpa, point of pines – were derived from the Paiute language.

The Paiutes were displaced by emissaries of the LDS Church who developed the many small communities throughout Utah. Ebenezer Bryce aided in the settlement of southwestern Utah and northern Arizona. In 1875 he came to the Paria Valley to live and harvest timber from the plateau. Neighbors called the canyon behind his home Bryce’s Canyon. Today it remains the name not only of one canyon but also of a national park.

Shortly after 1900, visitors were coming to see the colorful geologic sights, and the first accommodations were built along the Paunsaugunt Plateau rim above Bryce’s Canyon. By 1920 efforts were started to set aside these scenic wonders. In 1923 President Warren G. Harding proclaimed part of the area as Bryce Canyon National Monument under the Powell (now Dixie) National Forest. In 1924 legislation was passed to establish the area as Utah National Park, but the provisions of this legislation were not met until 1928. Legislation was passed that year to change the name of the new park to Bryce Canyon National Park.

Each year the park is visited by more than 1.5 million visitors from all over the world. Open all year, the park offers recreational opportunities in each season. Hiking, sightseeing, and photography are the most popular summer activities. Spring and fall months offer greater solitude. In the winter months, quiet combines with the area’s best air quality for unparalleled views and serenity beyond compare. In all seasons fantastic shapes cast their spell to remind us of what we protect here in Bryce Canyon National Park.

Visitors at Bryce Canyon National Park come to see the unique shapes formed in the Claron Formation. Bulging spires and narrow rock fins fan out from the edge of the plateau. These rock spires and fins are commonly known as Hoodoos.

The chaotic destructive force of water, not wind, is responsible for the fantastic shapes in Bryce Canyon. Bryce Canyon Hoodoos formed over thousands of years by the same processes that form the features of surrounding parks.

Water, ice and gravity are the forces at work in Bryce Canyon National Park. These three forces coupled with the differential erosion of the Claron Formation produces a different morphology than that of any other area in the world.

10-15 million years ago the Paunsaugunt Plateau was caught and lifted by the Colorado Plateau. Breaks, called joints, formed in the plateau during the uplift. Joints allowed water to flow into the rock and, as water flowed through, erosion widened them into rivulets and gullies. Over time, deep slot canyons formed in the sides of the plateau.

Bryce Canyon receives an average rainfall of 10 inches a year in the valley and approximately 19 inches a year on the plateau. The majority of the precipitation falls in mid to late summer, as monsoons, usually in the afternoon. These thunderstorms can be fierce, dropping an inch or two of rain in under an hour and can often be accompanied by hail.

Because the soil at Bryce Canyon is very dry, only the top inch of soil absorbs rainfall before it starts to run off causing a treacherous flash flood. During a flash flood, rapidly moving water can carry rocks, tree limbs, and other debris which crashes into the canyon walls and congest passageways. Flash floods are a serious risk for the many explorers drawn to Bryce Canyon Country’s scenic slot canyons each year. Fortunately, flash floods can usually be avoided with common sense safety practices and an understanding of the conditions that cause them.

The Paunsaugunt Plateau receives approximately 100 inches of snowfall a year, which means that everyday a small amount of snow melts and runs into the joints and freezes at night. When water freezes it expands to form an ice wedge in the joint, widening the space. The ice wedge grows as more snow melts and freezes until finally, it breaks the rock.

Fragments of rock, from tiny pebbles to boulders as large as Volkswagens, fall from hoodoos and the sides of the Paunsaugunt Plateau by frost wedging and gravity. The smaller pieces are washed away by monsoons and snow melt while Boulders explode into cobble sized pieces on the canyon floor.

Limestone, siltstone, dolomite and mudstone make up the four different rock types that form the Claron Formation. Each rock type erodes at different rates which is what causes the undulating shapes of the hoodoos.

Limestone, siltstone and dolomite are very hard and form the protective caprock on most of the spires. These harder rocks are eroded predominantly by frost.

Mudstone is the softest rock in a hoodoo and is easily identified by the way it forms the narrowest portion of the pinnacles. As mudstone moistens it erodes easily and runs down the sides of the rock forming mud stucco as a protective coating. Every time it rains the layer of mud stucco is renewed. If wind does not erode the stucco layer fast enough it will renew before wind erosion affects the rock. For this reason, wind has little to no effect on hoodoo formation or destruction.

While visiting Bryce Canyon National Park look for signs of wind and water erosion. It is surprising how visible the numerous signs of water erosion are, when you know what to look for.

The Cretaceous Period began some 144 million years ago and lasted until about 63 million years ago. The rock formations you see exposed at Bryce Canyon began to develop during this time. For 60 million years a great seaway extended northwestward into this area, depositing sediments of varying thickness and composition as it repeatedly invaded, retreated, and then re-invaded the region. Retreating to the southeast, it left sediments thousands of feet thick. Their remnants form the oldest, lowest, gray-brown rocks at Bryce Canyon.

In the Tertiary Period, between 66 and 40 million years ago, highlands to the west eroded into shallow, broad basins. Iron-rich, limy sediments were deposited in the beds of a series of lakes and streams. These became the red rocks of the Claron Formation from which the hoodoos are carved and for which the Pink Cliffs are named.

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Native American History

Home of the Paiute

The Paiute Indians believed that the strange red rock hoodoos that dominate Bryce Canyon were ‘Evil Legend People’ (To-when-an-ung-wa) who were turned to stone by the powerful Coyote spirit. They called these mysterious rock formations Anka-ku-was-a-wits, the “red painted faces.” This legend became famous in 1936, when a Paiute elder nicknamed Indian Dick retold the legend to a park naturalist. The legend is displayed in the Bryce Canyon National Park visitor center museum. More traces of ancient Native Americans can be found in modern day Bryce Canyon Country at Anasazi State Park in Boulder. This Anasazi village was home to one of the largest tribes west of the Colorado River. Anasazi State Park was established in 1970 to preserve the history and artifacts of these Anasazi Indians who dominated the area from 1050 to 1275 A.D. (Hopi and Paiute Indians briefly occupied the region in the following centuries.) The six-acre park features a partially unexcavated Anasazi village, along with artifacts on display in the museum. Anasazi State Park is located on Scenic Byway 12 in Boulder, at an elevation of 6,700 feet. Visit the park website.

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Park History

How Bryce Canyon became a National Park

The person most responsible for Bryce Canyon becoming a National Park was J. W. Humphrey. Mr. Humphrey was a U. S. Forest Service Supervisor who was transferred to Panguitch, Utah in July 1915. An employee suggested that J. W. view the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. When Humphrey came to the rim, at the point now known as Sunset Point, he was stunned:

“You can perhaps imagine my surprise at the indescribable beauty that greeted us, and it was sundown before I could be dragged from the canyon view. You may be sure that I went back the next morning to see the canyon once more, and to plan in my mind how this attraction could be made accessible to the public.”

J. W. Humphrey had still photographs and movies of the canyon sent to Forest Service officials in Washington D. C. and to officials of the Union Pacific Railroad. Magazine and newspaper articles were written. In 1916, Humphrey secured a $50 appropriation to improve the road and make the rim accessible to automobile traffic.

By 1919, tourists from Salt Lake City were visiting Bryce Canyon. Ruby and Minnie Syrett erected tents and supplied meals for over night guests near Sunset Point. In 1920 the Syretts constructed Tourist’s Rest a 30 by 71 foot lodge, with eight or ten nearby cabins and an open air dance floor. In 1923, the Union Pacific Railroad bought the Tourist’s Rest land, buildings and water rights from the Syretts. Ruby and Minnie established Ruby’s Inn just outside the park.

Gilbert Stanley Underwood was hired by the Union Pacific to design a lodge near Sunset Point. The original main building was finished by May 1925. Additions were made and the final configuration completed by 1927. The standard and deluxe cabins near the lodge were constructed between 1925 and 1929.

President Warren G. Harding proclaimed Bryce Canyon a national monument on June 8, 1923. On June 7, 1924, Congress passed a bill to establish Utah National Park, when all land within the national monument would become the property of the United States. The land was acquired and the name was restored to Bryce Canyon. On February 25, 1928, Bryce Canyon officially became a national park.

In 1930, the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel was completed. This effectively tied Bryce, Zion, Cedar Breaks and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon together. Trains would transport passengers to Cedar City. Buses would leave Cedar City and transport tourists among the four parks.

The size of the park was increased to the current 35,835 acres in 1931, via two Proclamations by President Hoover.

In 1931, the Park workforce completed a total of 4.5 miles of foot and horse trails. This included Sunset Point to Bryce Point, Bryce Point to Peek-a-boo Canyon and Sunrise to Campbell Canyon. A short bridle path was laid out to prevent indiscriminate riding between the Lodge and rim.

The road to Rainbow Point was completed by private construction companies by late 1934.

During the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps made many improvements to Bryce Canyon National Park. These included Campground development, under the rim fire trail, Fairyland Trail, boundary fences, parking areas, museum-overlook at Rainbow Point, erosion control and insect pest control.

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The best things to do at Bryce Canyon National Park

  • Visit Bryce Point. Get up early and catch sunrise at Bryce Point. …
  • Get inspired at Inspiration Point. …
  • Hike the Navajo Loop Trail. …
  • See the Natural Bridge. …
  • Views from Agua Canyon. …
  • Stop at Rainbow Point. …
  • Join a night hike with their Ranger Program. …
  • Hike the Peek-A-Boo Trail.


There are various plant communities at Bryce Canyon National Park 

There are many plant communities in Bryce Canyon National Park. Surrounded by deserts, Bryce’s highland plateau gets much more rain than the lowlands below and stays cooler during hot summers. The relatively lush ecosystems that result are like fertile islands towering above a vast arid landscape.

A special area of notice are the “breaks” of the amphitheater, better known as the pink cliffs, they are exposed, nearly unforested areas. Meadows, seeps and springs are home to a different, grassy and deciduous plant community. Many of the meadows in the park are high and dry, home to sagebrush, rabbitbrush and grasses.

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Animal Life

The canyons and plateau of Bryce Canyon National Park are home to many animals

The canyons and plateau of Bryce Canyon National Park are home to many animals. Park boundaries mean little to the migratory hummingbirds, nesting Peregrine Falcon, Rocky Mountain Elk and Pronghorn which daily cross through the forested plateau and barren amphitheater. The search for food and water leads them to the best place to find sustenance and shelter. Many animals share habitats. Ebb and flow of populations is interdependent on all the members of the wildlife community.

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Hiking Trails

The best hikes in Bryce Canyon National Park

9 Top-Rated Hikes in Bryce Canyon National Park
Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop Combination Trail. Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop Combination Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law. …
Sunset Point to Sunrise Point. Sunset Point to Sunrise Point | Photo Copyright: Lana Law. …
Fairyland Loop. …
Peek-A-Boo Loop Trail. …
Queen’s Garden. …
Navajo Trail. …
Bristlecone Pines Hike. …
Tower Bridge.

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