Visitors flock from all over the world to see Bryce Canyon National Park’s natural amphitheaters filled with pinnacles, spires and the spooky limestone formations called hoodoos.
They mostly come in the agreeable high-country summer, yet some claim winter is the best time of all. Though Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate with the gift of snowfall, when she does, it makes every detail of this colorful landscape seem to pop out of the white background like a watercolor by an expert artist.
Pack your warmest gear for winter visits, though. Elevations in the park range from 8,000 to 9,100 feet. Average temperatures in December are a daily high of 42 degrees and low of 11.
When there is a good base of snow, snowshoeing is a wonderful way to see the rim. The park offers ranger-led snowshoe hikes, on which you can learn the basics of proper snowshoe technique with some winter ecology and survival skills thrown in. The park will even provide snowshoes, free, for this activity, but you’ll need your own waterproof hiking boots or snow boots. Tours last about two hours and you will need to make a reservation.
Also, when there is sufficient snow, rangers also lead full-moon snowshoe hikes. To inquire about these tours, make a reservation, or find out about snow conditions, contact the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center, (435) 834-4747. www.nps.gov/brca/
If there is any better way to explore this wintry world, it’s cross-country skiing. You can usually travel faster than on snowshoes, which translates to seeing more. One of the best cross-country routes in the park is the Fairyland Point Road. Once snow hits, this road remains unplowed, yet becomes a perfect, 1.1-mile ski trail through Ponderosa pine groves and open meadows to the fine view from Fairyland Point. Be content to stop here, for it is not only extremely dangerous but also illegal to ski off the rim into the canyon.
If you don’t have your own equipment you can rent skis or snowshoes at Ruby’s Inn in Bryce Canyon City, just before the entrance to the park. A cross-country ski or snowshoe package with boots, poles and skis or snowshoes and poles runs $7 for a half day and $10 for a full day. From the Inn, you can access more than 18 miles of groomed trails, besides many of the park’s rim trails. Ruby’s Inn also has an ice skating rink. Skate rentals are $3 for adults and $2 for children. For more details contact Ruby’s Inn Winter Adventure Center, (866) 782-0002, www.rubysinn.com.
If you are visiting the park’s trails or overlooks on foot, be sure to add some sort of traction device to your hiking or snow boots, as the trails can be very icy. A variety of types slip over your boots including those made by Yaktrax, STABILicers and Kahtoola. You can buy these at the visitor center and also at most outdoor sporting goods stores such as REI in Henderson or Summerlin.
On a clear day, the views from the rim are far-reaching and you can often see more than 100 miles. The sights can be spectacular at night also, for Bryce boasts a 7.4-magnitude night sky. This means the skies have very little stray light, and on a clear, moonless night you could possibly see 7,500 stars.
The Bryce Canyon Visitor Center is open daily except Christmas and New Year’s Day. Its hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through March, and extended the rest of the year. The visitor center has exhibits on local geology, wildlife, stargazing and prehistoric culture. Here also are a bookstore, ranger-staffed information desk and restrooms. (435) 834-5322, www.nps.gov/brca/
For those who enjoy camping, one section of North Campground in the park is open during the winter months. It is located just to the east of the visitor center. Lodging is available in Bryce Canyon City located on the way into the park. Good options are Best Western Ruby’s Inn, (866) 866-6616 www.rubysinn.com; and Bryce View Lodge, (888) 279-2304, www.bryceviewlodge.com.
Directions from Pahrump: take NV-160 south for about 52 miles to Las Vegas.
Merge onto I-15 north and drive for about 135 miles (passing through Arizona) to Utah Route 9 (Exit 16- Hurricane/Zion National Park).
Follow for 57 miles through Zion and turn left at Mt. Carmel Junction.
Take U.S. 89 north for 43 miles to a right onto Utah Route 12.
Follow for 14 miles and turn right on Utah Route 63.
Travel 3 miles to park entrance.
Deborah Wall is the author of “Base Camp Las Vegas, Hiking the Southwestern States,” “Great Hikes, A Cerca Country Guide,” and co-author of “Access For All, Touring the Southwest with Limited Mobility.” Wall can be reached at Deborabus@aol.com