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Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada – A Wonderful Eroded Landscape for You to Explore

Valley of Fire is appropriately named. The rocks here are often of a very bright orange/red that looks like burning embers. It is also really hot in the summer – – temperatures can go above 100° Fahrenheit. The park feels a lot to me like the national parks located in Utah – parks such as Arches National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Zion National Park and Canyonlands National Park. The eroded sandstone tilted by geologic forces is certainly reminiscent of the Grand Staircase area to its east.

The park is a photographer’s playground. There are many great shots to be had if you have the time and inclination. I’ll detail a few of the highlights.

Arches

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Arch Rock

Valley of Fire is blessed with a lot of arches. There are probably hundreds of small ones that are little more than windows. These are great fun to play around and my kids have enjoyed exploring them when they were grade school age or younger and when teenagers.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Elephant Rock

Besides that, there are several larger arches that are worth looking for. Several of these are able to be seen from the road or very near it. The most famous is probably Elephant Rock, so named because of its clear resemblance to an elephant. This can be found near the east entrance. Another worthwhile arch is Arch Rock. You will need to watch for this one, as it blends in with its environment when viewed from your car. There is a nice loop trail near this one to let you see it more clearly and explore some other named features.

Interesting Formations

Beehive, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Beehive

The park is full of plenty of other interesting geologic formations. The Beehives are a collection of stones resembling giant bee hives as the name implies. Rainbow Vista is a place where you can see the upheaval of stone layers with pale white mixed with bright red and orange layers.

There are also Petrified logs in one area – these are not the best examples by any means and are protected behind a fence, but stop by if interested. The best examples of petrified wood I’ve seen is not surprisingly found in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.

Petroglyphs

The loop trail at Atlatl Rock presents some easily viewed petroglyphs, required only a short hike and a climb up a few stairs. For a more extensive viewing of petroglyphs, try Petroglyph Canyon Trail, which is a 0.75-mile round trip hike that presents many great examples of petroglyphs. Believed to have been carved by the Anasazi/Ancient Pueblo peoples some 850-1500 years ago, they show an interesting array of people, animals and shapes. The trail has a lot of images along its length.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Petroglyphs

There is a natural tank of water on this hike (not drinkable) called Mouse’s Tank (named for a trouble-making Paiute Indian in the 1890’s). While returning from that tank, at the sign that directed you to turn left toward Mouse’s, continue straight up the branch of the of the canyon you are hiking and proceed for about 100 yards to the back of the canyon. Look to your right for a short box canyon and there is a natural arch above it. This is a nice detour if you have the inclination.

Fire Wave

A popular place for photography is the Fire Wave. It is similar to The Wave, a more famous feature that is by reservation only in the Coyote Buttes area of southern Utah. The Fire Wave requires no such reservation and is not that visited (for now). It is located along the road to the White Dooms – park in Parking Area #3. See the map further down for a more specific location.

Have a Careful Adventure

Valley of Fire is not the most dangerous of places to visit in the American West by any means, but please us appropriate precautions. Poisonous Rattlesnakes do inhabit the area and while encountering them will be rare, avoid putting hands and legs into crevices and under rocks. While walking, it is always best to step on a rock than to step over it, as the snake may be laying on the other side and misunderstand your intensions.

Besides snakes, the temperature at Valley of Fire can get oppressively (and dangerously) hot. Cover your head, don’t overheat and take plenty of water with you. It is safest to stay on well-marked trails and avoid hiking alone.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Location

Valley of Fire State Park is in southeastern Nevada about 50 miles from Las Vegas. You’ll find plenty of lodging and restaurants within a short drive of the park. There is some camping available in the park (reservations recommended), but keep in mind the temperature before deciding if it is a good idea for you.

If you are staying in Vegas and desire a bit of the outdoors, then this is a better choice to me than the more visited Hoover Dam. It makes a nice day trip from Vegas if you like the outdoors and the park certainly has the requisite remote feeling once you are within the park.

Nevada isn’t just for gambling or those hunting for Area 51. See some more natural areas worth visiting here.

The United States is blessed with an abundance of scenic areas to experience. For a list by of great places to visit by state, with useful advice, go here.

Valley of fire State Park map, Nevada with Fire Wave
Valley of fire State Park Map highlighting the Fire Wave

Here are a few hi-res pictures of the park to get you interested.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Beehive, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Beehive

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Petroglyphs
Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Arch Rock
Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Elephant Rock from Road

Elephant Rock – Interesting Small Arch in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Elephant Rock is located in Valley of Fire State Park, which is in southeastern Nevada about 50 miles from Las Vegas. It is easily seen from the road just inside the east entrance, but to see it on foot or get a picture, you need to take an easy 0.4 mile round-trip hike from the parking near the east entrance. There are a lot of other interesting rock formations nearby, including dozens of tiny, unnamed arches that are more like windows but are fun to explore.

Elephant Rock is not a big arch, but it’s shape is very unusual and is clearly shaped as the elephant from which it gets its name. You may need to check the arch out from several sides to get your most interesting picture.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Valley of Fire State Park

Valley of Fire gets its name because of the bright red sandstone located there, but also because it gets really hot in the summer – temperatures can go above 100° Fahrenheit.

Read all about Valley of Fire State Park here.

Nevada isn’t just for gambling or those hunting for Area 51. See some more natural areas worth visiting here.

Read descriptions of other arches I have visited here.

The United States is blessed with an abundance of scenic areas to experience. For a list by of great places to visit by state, with useful advice, go here.

Arch Rock – Located in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Arch Rock is located in Valley of Fire State Park, which is in southeastern Nevada about 50 miles from Las Vegas. It is easily seen from near the paved road but can also be part of a nice 2 mile loop walk that takes you to other nice sights such as Piano Rock.

Arch Rock is not a big arch – about 12 feet by 8 feet, but the rock is an interesting color and its shape is neat. You may need to approach it a bit as it is hidden somewhat depending on your angle of view. The arch is delicate, however, and it is illegal to climb.

Arch Rock, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Valley of Fire State Park

Valley of Fire gets its name because of the bright red sandstone located there, but also because it gets really hot in the summer – temperatures can go above 100° Fahrenheit.

Read all about Valley of Fire State Park here.

Nevada isn’t just for gambling or those hunting for Area 51. See some more natural areas worth visiting here.

Read descriptions of other arches I have visited here.

The United States is blessed with an abundance of scenic areas to experience. For a list by of great places to visit by state, with useful advice, go here.

Cathedral Gorge State Park – Maze-like Slot Canyons and Eroded Hills

Eroded Scenery

Cathedral Gorge is a fun place to explore. Erosion has created a fun little playground in this remote area of Nevada, creating layered spires, knobby hills and narrow slot canyons that meander back into the rocks. It is impossible not to explore and will offer plenty of interesting photo opportunities.

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge

As so often is the case, Cathedral Gorge is not technically a gorge. Reminiscent of Badlands National Park in South Dakota in its style of beauty, it is a small park,

and you’ll likely need to spend only an hour or two to have your experience.

The area around here used to be an ancient lake many years ago. Once it dried up, the silt in the bottom began to erode, creating the landscape we see today.

Slot Canyons

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

While not formed like most slot canyons, the canyons in Cathedral Gorge are similar to experience. The soft siltstone has eroded into dozens of narrow passages with walls as high as fifty feet. It is a lot of fun to explore, and for the most part, able to be so by any age child. My kids were very young (2,4,6,8) the first time we visited and they had a ball.

Years ago, they used to perform Shakespearian plays here with backstage being in the slot canyons.

Also, don’t confuse Cathedral Gorge with Cathedral Valley, which is in Capitol Reef National Park 240 miles to the east.

Have a Careful Adventure

While the risks here are limited, the soft stone is still quite rough and will draw blood very quick if you scrape your skin against it. Also, while it is pretty easy to climb up on the fun-shapes in the hills, there are a couple of spots hidden high up in the rocks where there are some deep drops into slots that could cause some real injury. I wouldn’t recommend having younger kids walk the tops of the formations unescorted. The slots themselves were safe enough in my experience.

It is very hot here in the summer – if you visit that time of year, you can expect temperatures well above 90° Fahrenheit.  It rarely rains here, but if it has recently, the park becomes very muddy and would be hard to explore.

Pioche

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Nearby Pioche has a bit of history you can explore if you are a history buff or like geology. It was a mining town during the 1800s and was known as one of the most violent in all the wild west. Local lore says 72 men were killed in gunfights before the first natural death occurred here. The town had a population of 10,000 at that time, but now has only 1/10 of that.

Location and Services

Cathedral Gorge is located in the eastern side of Nevada – there is not much in the area around near Cathedral Gorge. The two small towns of Pioche and Panaca have a few options for food or lodging, but not much. More than likely, you’ll want to see Cathedral Gorge on your way to or from somewhere else.

One good way to see Cathedral Gorge is on your way to or from Great Basin National Park. Or you can circle over to it from Bryce Canyon National Park.

Nevada isn’t just for gambling or those hunting for Area 51. See some natural areas worth visiting here.

Cathedral Gorge is similar to experience to slot canyons. Read about the slot canyons I have visited here.

The United States is blessed with an abundance of scenic areas to experience. For a list by of great places to visit by state, with useful advice, go here.

Here are some hi-res pictures of the park to give you an idea of what you will experience at the park.

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada
View from overlook

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Great Basin National Park – Mountains and Caves in Nevada Worth Exploring

Great Basin

The name of Great Basin National Park comes from the whole of the region between the mountains in eastern Utah (Wasatch Range) and those in California (Sierras). It comprises most of Nevada the northwest half of Utah and a bit of California and Oregon. The park didn’t get national park designation and protection until 1986.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Great Basin National Park is one of the least visited National Parks, and you will enjoy the solitude as you hike the trails. It is most known for the Snake Range of mountains that tower above the park  and Lehman Caves.

High Country

The Snake Range of mountains, which include Wheeler Peak (12,305 feet) and Mt. Baker (12,298), are the main highlights of the park. These mountains are not remarkable compared to others in the Rockies, but what makes them unusual is how these mountains seem disconnected from the rest of the Rockies as they rise out of a mostly flat, desert environment. If you are visiting the canyon country of the area in the summer – places like Bryce Canyon National Park or Zion National Park, you will love the change of pace in this cool, mountain environment with cool temperatures and snow lingering in places well into June.

Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive

The main paved road that goes to the higher country is a great 12-mile drive that exceeds 10,000 feet above sea level. The road itself gains over 4,000 feet and offers many worthy opportunities at pullouts along the way. The diversity of life and terrain encountered is comparable to going from the desert to they frozen Yukon of the far north.

Along the drive, you’ll see a great variety of vegetation and trees, with noticeable changes as you gain elevation. Starting with sagebrush and pinyon pine, you’ll find Mahogany, fir and ponderosa pine. As you near the summit, the remarkable aspen trees will become common. Aspen trees are remarkable in that a grove of these trees may be one large organism as aspens reproduce by sending runners out underground to become new trees.

Great Basin National park
View along Mountain Lake Trail

Note that single vehicles or trailers in excess of 24’ in length are not allowed on the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive.

Nice Mountain Lake Trails

Like all national parks, Great Basin offers its share of trails. My favorites are those up near the mountain peaks. There are several nice hikes of differing lengths available to you from the top of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive with most starting near the Wheeler Park Campground.

Stella Lake

Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Stella Lake

My favorite spot in the park is Stella Lake. It can be reached via the Alpine Lakes Loop Trail which is 2.7 miles round trip with 600’ of elevation gain from a starting point of 9,800’. The lake is smallish, but is scenic and placed strategically for a nice view of Wheeler Peak across the lake.

Lehman Caves

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves

Lehman Caves is a nice cave located within Great Basin National Park. Read my detailed article on Lehman caves here.

Summit Climbing

The mountains within Great Basin National Park offer some good high-country hiking if you are interested in that. I have not done that here, but most hikes can be done in one long day or two easier days. Check out some good information at summitpost.org.

Lexington Arch

If you have a good high-clearance 4WD vehicle and some skills with it, you can visit this unusual arch (I haven’t made the trip yet). There is about a 3 miles round trip hike to see it once you’ve made the trip along the unmaintained 12-mile dirt road. As is so often the case, Lexington Arch is probably misnamed and is actually a natural bridge. It is unusual in that it is comprised of limestone instead of the usual sandstone. This leads to speculation that it was once part of a cave system, and flowstone at the base of the opening lends support to this theory.  Read more about the arch here.

Location and Services

Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Mountain Lakes Trail

Great Basin National Park has minimal services available.  The Lehman Caves visitor center has a restroom and a simple café that mostly serves snack foods or simple comfort foods. There are several simple but nice campgrounds available.

The park is kind of in the middle of nowhere in eastern Nevada near the Utah border. There is a small town nearby named Baker that doesn’t have much in the way of food or lodging. More than likely, you’ll need to stay at Ely, which is 67 miles to the west. You’ll find numerous lodging and food options there, as well as the requisite casinos.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Baker Creek Trail

Want to see what you’ll find at Great Basin National Park? Check out my gallery of pictures.

Nevada isn’t just for gambling or those hunting for Area 51. See some natural areas worth visiting here.

The United States is blessed with wonderful National Parks. Read about my own advice on each here.

Great Basin National Park Map
Great Basin National Park Map

Great Basin National Park – Gallery to get you interested in visiting this little gem

Great Basin National Park is located in eastern Nevada near the border of Utah. It is a bit small for a national park and has few visitors. This is unfortunate, as it is a nice place to visit for a few hours or to overnight in the campground. The primary points of interest are Lehman Caves and the Snake Range of mountains, which include Wheeler Peak (12,305 feet) and Mt. Baker (12,298).

Note that all the pictures here are from our last trip that took place in early June.

At the bottom of the page are some useful links to my other articles on the subject.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Baker Creek Trail
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Baker Creek Trail
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Stella Lake & Wheeler Peak
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Stella Lake
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Mountain Lake Trail
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Mountain Lakes Trail
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Mountain Lake Trail
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Parkpg Lehman Caves[/caption]

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Lehman Caves

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

See my detailed description of Lehman caves here.

Read my detailed article on Great Basin National Park here.

The United States is blessed with wonderful National Parks. Read about my own advice on each here.

Nevada isn’t just for gambling or those hunting for Area 51. See some natural areas worth visiting here.

Lehman Caves

Lehman Caves

Lehman Caves is a nice cave located in eastern Nevada within Great Basin National Park. It is a pretty easy walk thorough rooms that feature a great variety and quantity of formations. You would be hard pressed to find a cave with so much variety in such a small area. The rooms themselves are on the smaller side, nothing like the huge rooms found in Mammoth Cave or the massive great room at Carlsbad.

There are many stalactites, including fragile soda straws that managed to not be damaged by early visitors. Smaller columns, flow stone and draperies as well as decorated stalagmites. Other, more rare formations include Cave Shields, Cave Bacon and Cave Popcorn.

Cave Shields

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Cave Shields

Lehman has a lot of greatly varied cave formations, collectively referred to as speleothems. A speleothem is any cave decoration that formed after the cave itself finished forming. Lehman has many kinds of speleothems, but it is most known for having a large concentration of Cave Shields. These normally rare speleothem forms when calcite-rich seep water is under pressure and is forced from a tiny crack in the cave wall or ceiling. The seep deposits calcite as parallel extensions to the cracked walls. They are often afterward further decorated with stalactites.

Cave Bacon and Popcorn

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Cave Bacon

Lehman Caves also features many good examples of Cave Bacon – layered flowstone speleothems that resemble strips of bacon attached to the walls. Even the color looks right. Cave Popcorn is also present. It is formed when mineral rich water is splashed on a spot and then leaves behind small bits of minerals forming clustered nodules resembling popcorn.

History

Lehman caves was discovered in the late 1880’s. There are over 40 differing stories as to its discovery but the most likely is that it was found by Absalom S. Lehman, his brother or one of his ranch hands. Not long thereafter, groups began to explore the cave and they broke through formations to get to other portions of the cave. Souvenir hunters broke off formations as keepsakes. Wagonloads of cave formations appeared at the state fair in Reno. Interest in the cave died off when Absalom died in 1891. It was renewed after World War I and in 1922, it become protected as a National Monument, but oversight was nearly non-existent for many years. Great Basin National Park was created in 1986 to include Lehman Caves.

By 2007, over one million visitors had gone through the cave and the damage was becoming evident. This is why the quantity of visitors is now kept to a much smaller number and restoration is ongoing.

Tours

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves may only be entered with a guide. Tours are offered daily every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. The tours are led by park rangers who share history, ecology and geology information with the small groups (20 is the limit) they lead. There are two different tours offered, and they sell out regularly so it is recommended to book in advance via Recreation.gov.

The Lodge Room tour lasts for about 60 minutes and goes 0.4 miles. It works well for families with small kids. The longer Grand Palace Tour goes everywhere the Lodge Room tour goes but lasts for 90 minutes with 0.6 miles traveled. Minimum age on the latter is 5 years old. Prices to both tours are very reasonable compared to private caves.

Accessibility

The trail is paved throughout and is not difficult, but there are a few stairs to navigate and a steep grade at one point. The entrance is the historic one and is not ADA-approved. It would be plausible for someone in a non-motorized wheelchair to visit if they have family members or friends able to assist. Not that the cave generally does not have large passages and someone who is claustrophobic might not like it.

Location and Services

Lehman Caves is located within Great Basin National Park. You do not need a pass to the park to access the cave but Great Basin is worth spending some time at. Read about it here.

At the Lehman Caves visitor center, you’ll find a small exhibit as well as restrooms and a small snack bar that is the only food available within the national park.

Lehman Caves are kind of in the middle of nowhere in eastern Nevada near the Utah border. There is a small town nearby named Baker that doesn’t have much in the way of food or lodging. More than likely, you’ll need to stay at Ely, which is 67 miles to the west. You’ll find numerous lodging and food options here, as well as the requisite casinos.

See a gallery of pictures from Lehman caves here.

See a ranked list of my favorite caves in the United States here.

Nevada isn’t just for gambling or those hunting for Area 51. See some natural areas worth visiting here.

Lehman Caves Gallery

Lehman Caves is a nice cave located within Great Basin National park in eastern Nevada. The cave tour visits a half-dozen rooms on a nice, easy paved pathway. Lehman Caves has a great variety of formations and a large quantity as well.

Below are a few pictures to give you some idea of what to expect. Tripods were not allowed, so I had to do the best I could without one.  At the bottom of the page are some useful links.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Great Basin National Park, where Lehman Caves is.Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Good examples of Cave Shields
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Cave Shields

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Bacon? I smell bacon.
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Soda Straw Stalactites

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Typical passage size in cave

Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

See my detailed description of Lehman caves here.

See a ranked list of my favorite caves in the United States here.

Bryce Canyon National Park – Idyllic Must-see Scenery in Southern Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park is one of my favorite national parks in all of the United States. With narrow rock spires and hoodoos, Bryce creates a fairytale-like experience that must be experienced to understand. Like so many beautiful natural areas, pictures do not do it justice.

Not strictly a canyon, Bryce is a collection of giant natural amphitheaters along the eastern side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. As you approach the edge, you are greeted with thousands of spires of stones, carved from soft sandstone for eons by water, ice and wind. These are called hoodoos, and some are as high as 150 feet. Many hoodoos create tiny windows (small arches) or take on interesting shapes like the aptly named Thor’s Hammer.

The colors of Bryce would fit in well at South Beach or Curacao, with gentle oranges and pinks streaked with white making for an idyllic environment. The terrain is very inviting, and fortunately, there are hiking trails crisscrossing amongst the hoodoos that are highly recommended. The elevation drops about 500 feet for most trails and will make for a moderately difficult hike that is worth it if you can manage it.

Cool Respite

Pronghorn Deer, Bryce Canyon National Park
Pronghorn Deer

Southern Utah is canyon country and has some of the most striking terrain in all the world. Being a desert-like environment makes for a very hot experience in the summer, but Bryce rises above all of this. The park sits on a high plateau with elevation that varies between about 8,000 to 9,000 feet and is a welcome relief from the heat of most areas nearby. The forests filling much of the park are filled with Blue Spruce and Douglas Fir that can reach almost 200 feet in height. The canyon edge is dotted with a variety of smaller pinyon and pine trees, including the Bristlecone pine which is considered the longest living organisms on earth with ages of several thousand years being known.

There are also occasional grassy areas with wildflowers in season, and you will often see deer, pronghorn antelope and elk grazing there. There are also many smaller mammals and birds to keep an eye out for. Please do not feed the wildlife. The ground squirrels in particular are used to getting handouts from well-meaning but mislead visitors.

Crowds of Folks

Bryce can get busy, but usually not oppressively so. In peak season, they will run a free shuttle to major locations within the park. Since parking can get hard to find when busy, the shuttle is a nice convenience and is recommended. In non-peak seasons, you can readily find parking everywhere you go.

Rim Drive

Most of Bryce Canyon is accessible from a single road that leads from the main amphitheater down to Rainbow Point. There are numerous places to stop along the way for viewpoints, but in general, the hoodoos get smaller and less numerous as you drive south. I usually only go as far south as the Natural Bridge before doubling back. There are hiking trails that are accessible from some of these viewpoints all along the drive. I find them less compelling than those in the main amphitheater but they will be less visited.

The whole drive is about 18 miles each way, but you will have to drive fairly slowly for much of it. Please watch for cars coming in and out of parking for viewpoints.

Natural Bridge

Natural Bridge, Bryce Canyon National Park
Natural Bridge

Just as Bryce Canyon is mislabeled as a canyon, Natural Bridge is technically an arch. It is 85 feet high and is viewable a few steps from the parking area along the rim drive south of the main amphitheater.

Rim Trail

The Rim Trail follows along the edge of the canyon in the main amphitheater area – from Fairyland Point south to Bryce Point. The trail leads to the various overlooks like Sunrise Point, Sunset Point and Inspiration Point. These overlooks can be driven to separately, but you are likely to just walk between some of them. The most popular hikes of the park are available from these overlooks. Note that Bryce Point and Fairyland Point are a good bit farther along, so you’ll need more time to hike to those from the main area.

Navajo Loop Trail

The most popular hiking trail at Bryce is the Navajo Loop Trail. This hike begins and ends at Sunset Point. If you go counter-clockwise on the trail, which is probably the easiest way to go, you begin the loop by descending through Wall Street – a switchback trail that descends between high walls of sandstone. Once past Wall Street, the trail mostly levels out for a more relaxed walk. From here, you’ll see the hoodoos from below, interspaced with the occasional tall tree that has managed to find a foothold amongst the hoodoos.

Bryce Canyon National Park Trail
Navajo Loop Trail Switchbacks

Once at the bottom, you have the option to go in different directions than completing the loop trail. The Peekaboo loop trail can be added to this hike, or you can divert to the Queens Garden Trail which I discuss below.

If you stay with the Navajo loop, the trail starts climbing gradually here but eventually more steeply, but never as steep as it was at Wall Street. You’ll pass by Two Bridges, which is a pair of small natural bridges along a side canyon. Near the top of the trail, you’ll see Thor’s Hammer on the right. The entire Navajo Loop trail is 1.3 miles, but the 550 feet down and back up makes it moderately difficult.

Queen’s Garden Trail

Bryce Canyon National Park
Queen’s Garden Trail

Queen’s Garden Trail begins at Sunrise Point. Apart from the Navajo Loop trail, Queen’s Garden is my favorite trail. It is a bit longer, but does a much more gradual descent/ascent into the canyon. You can take the trail down and back to the Queen Victoria formation, or do what I recommend, which is combine Queen’s Garden with half of the Navajo Loop for a whole hike of about 2.7 miles. Note that you will have to hike along the Rim Trail between Sunset and Sunrise Points but this is a pleasant walk.

Queens Garden is more open, with farther views than the closed-in Navajo Loop but still having a nice collection of hoodoos to explore. I like this trail more than the Navajo Loop for portrait photography.

Mossy Cave Trail

One other trail I want to highlight is the Mossy Cave Trail. This trail is not accessible from the main part of the park, but is found off of highway 12 a bit further north. The hoodoos here are shorter than the main area of the park, but there will be a lot fewer visitors here and the setting is quaint. The trail is a short one of 0.4 miles each way that climbs gradually next to a nice stream. The trail forks near the end, with the left side leading to Mossy Cave, which is not a real cave but a deep recess in the rock. Do not enter the cave itself as the moss is delicate. Note that in winter, the cave develops interesting icicles that do not completely melt until mid-summer. The right branch leads to a nice 15-foot waterfall that is very scenic when there has been enough rain to make it interesting. You can see all of it in about 30 minutes.

The Grand Staircase

Bryce Canyon is considered the top step of the Grand Staircase, a geological wonder in southern Utah and northern Arizona. Layers of sandstone create distinct layers of different colors of stone and varying hardness that is the building material of most of the irresistible scenery of the area. Starting at Bryce and ending at the floor of the Grand Canyon, the eroded sandstone layers feature prominently in many nearby locales, including Zion National Park, Monument Valley, Natural Bridges National Monument and hundreds of slot canyons.

Grand Staircase Diagram
Grand Staircase Diagram

Bryce in Winter

Bryce Canyon National Park
Winter in Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce is a great place to visit in winter. The hoodoos are even more scenic when covered with snow, and the view is a very memorable one. Snow piles pretty deep here, so plan on trudging through the snow if hiking, making the trails harder to navigate. There is also cross-country skiing and you can rent snow shoes at Ruby’s Inn if you want to try them out. There is a winter festival at Ruby’s in February each year. Ice Skating and sleigh rides are also available.

The road to Bryce is kept open during winter, but recent snowfalls can close them for a while. Check on recent conditions and I recommend a high clearance vehicle as well as bringing along snow chains for tires.

Be a Careful Adventurer

Bryce Canyon is a pretty safe place to visit. The heat of the surrounding areas of Utah and Arizona is lessoned to a great extent by Bryce’s high elevation. It still gets warm, but not oppressively hot. Still, take enough water with you in the summer months. Also, the hiking trails do not stray as far into the wilderness so risk of getting in trouble far from help is minimal. There is also still the possibility of snakes and other biting things, although the risk is likely lessoned compared to some areas in the southwest. I’d recommend you not put your hands or feet into tight areas.

Bryce Canyon National Park
Thor’s Hammer

The main concern is drop offs as there are cliffs along the bowl of the hoodoos. These cliffs are not as high as many others in the area, but it is still best to be wary.

Winter in Bryce offers some new risks. Cold can be oppressive so bundle up appropriately. Also, stay farther away from cliff edges to remove risk of slippage.

Lodging and Food

There are not as many options near the park for lodging and food as I would like. The main complex is Ruby’s Inn right outside the entrance. They have several lodging options and a couple of restaurants as well some shops and a few purely tourist experiences. They offer horseback rides into the canyon as well which can be a nice way to see it. The lodging at Ruby’s is a little on the high side, but its location and availability of services is a big plus.

Bryce Canyon National park also has a nice lodge where you can stay right inside the park, but be aware that it fills up early and you’ll need to plan ahead to get lodging in busier seasons. The lodge offers some nice meal options as well.

There are a few other motels and restaurants scattered about the area, including a few in the nearby small town of Tropic. Ruby’s has a pretty large camping area including full hookups for RVs and you can camp in Bryce as well.

In wintertime, prices in general are cheaper due to far fewer visitors.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Park Pass Needed

Visitors to Bryce Canyon have to get a park pass at the entrance station. An annual pass for all national parks is a good deal if you are visiting several parks during a 12-month period. There are a lot of great national park options nearby such as Zion, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands and the Grand Canyon.

Bryce Canyon National Park Map
Bryce Canyon National Park Map
Bryce Canyon National Park Map
Amphitheater Detail

A gallery of pictures from Bryce Canyon National Park can be seen here.

To read about other National Parks, go here.

Utah is full of things to do, learn about a bunch of them here.

Bryce Canyon Natural Bridge in Bryce Canyon National Park – 85 foot tall arch

Natural Bridge, Bryce Canyon National Park
Natural Bridge

Natural Bridge located in Bryce Canyon National Park is misnamed as it is in fact an arch. It is 85 feet high and is easily accessed from the Bryce Canyon rim drive – it is only steps away from the parking. The way the land falls away from it offers a nice view and photo opp. There are no hiking opportunities around the arch as the ground is too steep.

Bryce Canyon has myriads of small arches (I’d call them windows), but Natural Bridge is easily the best of them. There are two artificial arches that you can drive through along state road 12 in Red Canyon state park which is near Bryce Canyon. They are technically tunnels, but if looks and feels more like driving through arches.

Red Rock Arch
Road driving through tunnel arch at Red Rock State Park near Bryce

Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southwestern Utah and is well worth your time. You can read about it here.

To read about other national parks, go here.

See a list of natural bridges and arches I have seen with descriptions and advice here.

Utah is a great state to visit, with lots of things to see and do. Learn a bot a bunch of them here.