Great Outdoors USA Utah

Exploring the Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon

Hoodoo. It’s a word that I find to be rather amusing. Say it with me… “Hoo-doo.” Hilarious, right?

Looking up at some hoodoos in the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater

If you’re wondering why I’m bringing this up, it’s because you’ll hear this word a lot if you visit Bryce Canyon National Park in the U.S. state of Utah. A mere 2 hours from Zion’s East Entrance, it was a natural progression for me to continue my road trip here. But something was off…

Here I’d been driving through hills and trees with only so-so scenery out the window. I arrived in “Bryce Canyon City” (which isn’t a city at all, but a series of overpriced hotels and terrible food), located 1 mile (1.6 km) from the park entrance to see…nothing! Here I was spoiled by Zion, which invites you in with its soaring peaks. But even driving into Bryce Canyon, the landscape looks totally normal.

It’s not until you park at a viewpoint and walk to the edge that an entire “amphitheater” full of hoodoos comes into view. These bizarre geological formations fill the space like buildings along city streets.

Inspiration Point
The late afternoon view from Inspiration Point

See, Bryce Canyon isn’t actually a canyon, but a collection of mini canyons. The park’s 34-mile (54.7 km) scenic drive runs along a high ridge on the Colorado Plateau, the top of the Grand Staircase, which runs all the way down to the Grand Canyon. At an altitude that ranges between 7,000 and over 9,000 feet, (2,134-2,743 m) it’s not hard to see how this is the case!

Mini canyons separate the hoodoos, though you’ll find no rivers here. The entire amphitheater is formed and reformed every winter when snow piles on the hoodoos. As the snow melts, it erodes away at the rock, changing the hoodoo shapes forever. It happens with some regularity and you can see bits of rock all over the hoodoos that are cracking away.

See the cracks on those hoodoos? Erosion is visibly at work at Bryce Canyon National Park!

In another change from Zion National Park, you’re looking down at the “canyon” here, where hikes take you down amongst the hoodoos, which provides a fascinating close-up look. Though there are trails here, I’d wager to say that Zion is better for hiking than Bryce Canyon is (especially with hikes like Angels Landing). But maybe I’m just saying that because I was not blessed with good weather there.

Bryce Canyon Amphitheater
Hiking into the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater on the Queens Garden trail

I did the hike that everyone does, the Queens Garden-Navajo Loop Combination Trail, which takes you by many of the hoodoo highlights. Natural windows formed through rock. Organ pipes appeared down the path. Thor’s Hammer lay precariously on the top of a hoodoo. Seems rocks, like clouds, are open to people’s imagination.

"Windows" in Hoodoos
Some naturally formed “windows” in the hoodoos
Bryce Canyon Amphitheater
I always thought this series of hoodoos looked like organ pipes!
Thor's Hammer
They call this hoodoo “Thor’s Hammer”

If you visit, I would highly encourage you to drive the length of the scenic drive. All the lookouts are left turns, so I drove to Rainbow Point at the very end, where I walked along the Bristlecone Loop Trail, with its 1,500-year-old cedar trees, and hit up the view points on my way back.

Rainbow Point
Rainbow Point, the highest at Bryce Canyon National Park

An impressive stop on return trip was Natural Bridge, an amazing view of an arch worn into the hoodoos.

Natural Bridge
The arch that they call “Natural Bridge”

Bryce Point provides perhaps the best lookout over the amphitheater and is supposedly a fantastic place to watch the sunrise. I tried, though clouds made the sunrise real lackluster. If it’s any reconciliation though, I did see about a dozen deer standing in the middle of the road at 5:30am!

Bryce Point Sunrise
My view from Bryce Point shortly after sunrise

The nearby Paria Point is a good sunset spot, as the hoodoos at here face west, rather than the others, which face east. Don’t be fooled by Sunset Point, as it looks towards the sunrise!

Paria Point
“Magic Hour” light on some west-facing hoodoos, as seen from Paria Point

And make sure you don’t miss the aptly named Fairyland Point, located before the entrance gate. The hoodoos here are not as weathered as the ones in Bryce Amphitheater are and I actually liked it better. You can also partake in the 8-mile Fairyland Loop Trail here, a strenuous hike that I would have done had the weather been better, though it was threatening thunderstorms most of the time I was there.

Fairyland Point
The view from Fairyland Point

All I know is I left Bryce Canyon beaming at the wonders of the hoodoos, for not only is it a funny word but a truly fascinating and unusual natural formation. And, fair warning, you’ll definitely be pinching yourself because you’ll be swearing up and down that you’re standing right in the middle of the whimsical world of Dr. Seuss!

Be sure to check out my photos from inside the amphitheaters of Bryce Canyon!


By Aaron

Hey there! I'm Aaron and this is my travel site, where I document my adventures to all corners of the world. My love for travel started at the ripe old age of four, when a midlife crisis uprooted my family to Ecuador for five years. Since then, I've been to countries on 4 different continents. When I'm not blissfully on the road, I reside in New York City, where I become the ultimate travel junkie and spend my days dreaming up my next great adventure! Read More...

8 replies on “Exploring the Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon”

Wow! You’re right. The shot of your late afternoon view from Inspiration Point really does call up imagery of a city scape. Accelerated Beauty for sure. 🙂

Yeah that first glimpse at Bryce Canyon is really breathtaking. I’d seen pictures before too but they are no match for seeing the real thing! And regarding the city scape thing, there’s a section on the Navajo Loop trail called “Wall Street” (because of the tall hooodoos), though unfortunately it was closed due to rockfall while I was there.

Loved, loved, loved our visit to Bryce! One of our favorite features was seeing the little trees growing (seemingly out of rock) on top of the HooDoos and learning that the trees are a result of birds dropping seeds. I have many of the same photos and looking through yours brought back great memories! We were there in November of 2012 and there was quite a bit of snow and since we only had the one day we did not hike any of the trails. I’d like to go back some time and hike some of the trails, but I also have a wicked fear of heights and some of the trails were way beyond what I could manage!

I saw some photos of the hoodoos covered in snow and they looked so beautiful! That’s really interesting about the birds dropping seeds. I never really thought about that! As for heights, it didn’t seem like the trails at Bryce Canyon were nearly as bad as those at Zion were…

You’re exactly right. It’s a very surreal, yet awesome experience! Or, as they say in their marketing materials…like nothing else in the world!

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