[This is part of my vanlife series. I've spent 7 months and 25kmiles on the road in 2 years, exploring and rock climbing around the US]
So the visitor's guide to Bryce Canyon National Park proclaims for the loop link-up between Sunrise and Sunset points.
I have to agree. At least in the realm of easy day hikes I've done, it tops the list.
Bryce greeted us in its best holiday attire with a layer of fresh snow carpeting its floors and capping its canyon walls. Mid-30-degree highs and 20-degree lows kept the park empty save for a few van campers; it was as if the park was rewarding us with spectacular displays, from sunrises that broke through early morning snow clouds, to intense blue sky middays, to sunsets that rapidly shifted the warm daytime glow to cold gusts through the canyons.
The park's main 2-lane road stretches for 18 miles with 10+ pullouts to overlooks and trailheads. Stop at them all. You'll get vast, sweeping views of miles of orange rock to closer looks at the fins, windows, and spires of each phase of erosion that creates the hoodoos. Go back to your favorite lookouts at different parts of the day for a new view.
We hiked the 3-mile Queen's Garden-Navajo Loop Trail linkup between Sunrise and Sunset points going clockwise. After all, how can you pass up such bold praise?
You start out on top of the world with a sweeping vista of hoodoos, quickly descending between orange fins. Just 5 minutes into the hike, this was my "oh shit this is going to be spectacular" moment.
The crisp contrast between blue sky blue, white snow, and orange rock changes to softer watercolor-like transitions in the orange hues of the walls as you descend.
It's like walking into a whimsical fairyland or Dr. Seuss book. The view constantly changes, every few minutes presenting a perfect place to meditate or do yoga--except you can't keep still--your attention's pulled in every which direction. I was almost anxious trying not to miss anything.
The bottom of the hike has a surreal orange glow from the sunlight echoing off the orange walls on to the snow. And, before you know it, you're trudging up the switchbacks to the top.
We decided to hit Sunrise and Sunset points during their namesake hours. Sunset was quick over the highest canyon walls, forming a distinct line between warm and cold. Ravens circled above the canyons for about 30 minutes after the sun disappeared but before dark. Their cries echoed between the narrow canyons in the cold, still, dry air. Sunrise was surprisingly intense. I had been expecting a softer glow, especially since it was cloudy with light snow showers, but the sun rose straight over the horizon and broke through the clouds.
Bryce and the other national parks have been amazing in the winter off-season, but they've been comparatively primitive and lean for winter. Visitors centers are open, most of the parks have been snow plowed, and a single walk-in campsite is open at each, but at many even the grocery and markets are closed, showers are shut off, and potable water is available at certain locations. You're fine if you plan. Pack thick socks, hiking boots, the warmest puffy you own, the next-warmest puffy you own, and a thick beanie!
Are you in the Utah area? Check out my other articles for photo inspiration to explore!