By Southwest Adventure Tours web-developer Cliff Bandringa, creator of BackRoadsWest.com
Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah has some of the most unique natural geologic formations on Earth. Gazing down at the thousands of oddly shaped hoodoos from above is simply mesmerizing and an experience like no other. Descending into the maze of hoodoos on a hike is an even more amazing experience.
The snow of winter brings an added dimension to Bryce Canyon. Along with the seemingly endless shapes and patterns formed by those geologic formations, there is now snow mixed in with all the pinnacles and crevices. The brilliant yellows, oranges and reds of the mudstones that make up the hoodoos are now contrasted with the bright white of the snow, making for even more dazzling views from the park’s viewpoints.
In This Post:
Snowy, Stunning Beauty
Hiking down into Bryce Canyon after an accumulation of snow can be challenging but the reward is worth it as you get to be in the middle of all the stunning beauty you saw from the canyon rim. Seeing, up close, how the snow highlights the thousands of little ridges and details of those colorful formations is almost surreal. It was like walking through a maze of small, sparkling fairytale castles in a wintery wonderland.
A visit to Bryce Canyon in the winter can easily be done while going on a Mighty 5 tour from Southwest Adventure Tours. Spending a winter day in Bryce is usually possible because the paved roads leading to the park are normally plowed promptly after a snowstorm.
Bryce Canyon is at an altitude of around 8,000 feet, making it more likely to have snow on the ground when there is no snow at the lower elevations. When you book your tour, ask your booking agent that you’d like to experience Bryce with snow. They will do their best to book you on one of our tours that takes place somewhere between December 15 and March 15. Just remember that there is no guarantee of experiencing a snowy Bryce Canyon as we did during our trip.
It’s very difficult to predict when snowstorms will hit the Bryce region or how much snow will have accumulated in Bryce by certain wintertime months. Just like many of our tours beginning in Las Vegas, where there might be some gambling involved, betting on seeing the snow like you see in these pictures and video are like taking a gamble. But unlike betting you’ll see nearby Zion Canyon covered in snow, it’s a real good gamble that you’ll see Bryce Canyon covered in snow.
On one of our winter visits to Bryce, we decided to go on the hike below the rim of what’s called the Bryce Amphitheater and into the maze of hoodoos. We took our “rental kids” (our term of endearment for our nieces and nephews) whom have never been to Bryce before.
Your guide from Southwest Adventure Tours will most likely lead you and your group on this memorable hike. However, depending on the group, the guide may need to stay behind with other guests. For that reason, here’s a step-by-step description of the hiking route we took.
Our route started at the parking lot for Sunset Point and is a combination of about four separate trails. It’s a loop hike with a total distance of 3 miles and an elevation loss and gain of about 600 feet. Be sure to get a map and brochure (called a “uni-grid”) from your guide when you all pass through the park’s entrance. You may wish to ask park staff about the condition of the trails before you start.
With our slow-to-moderate walking pace in the snowy conditions, it took us about 3-4 hours to complete the hike. Take your time and really soak in all that natural beauty! See the virtual video tour (below) that includes an animated map of our hike and, of course, visions of that serene beauty.
The Hike Begins
After we got our fill of the view from the rim, we found our way to the beginning of the Navajo Loop, which leads to the Queen’s Connecting Trail. It starts at the very end of Sunset Point. Descending into the abyss below, this trail heads north, then hairpins back south and enters a deep narrow canyon.
Because we were going to be hiking on the snow, we expected to run into problems with sliding and sinking into the powder. After a storm, this could certainly be a problem, or after it’s been real cold resulting in icy conditions. But we took it very slow on the descent and managed not to slip or fall down. The trail was hard-pack snow from previous hikers and possibly some of the park staff. About 90% of our entire hike was on snow. We all had good hiking boots on (which definitely helps with traction) except for the one of us who decided that wearing furry snow boots was a good idea. Not a good choice as it turns out because they were not waterproof, and her feet were soaking wet and cold at the end of the hike!
After we exited the narrow canyon and descended a bit, we traveled east and were able to look up at what we had been peering down on from Sunset Point. It was a totally different perspective. The trail meandered through large pine trees and eventually into what’s known as the Queen’s Garden. Located here are hundreds of delicately formed hoodoos of many shapes and sizes. One trail leads to a group of hoodoos that some people think looks like a statue of Queen Victoria and her entourage.
Now on the Queen’s Garden Trail, our route takes us gradually back up to the canyon’s rim. Along this segment, there are more fun hoodoo mazes to pass through, including tunnels and narrow passageways. Occasionally, there are more sweeping views of the canyon’s famous formations which look different at every turn.
The trail finally reaches back to the rim and, after the steep uphill climb, you arrive at Sunrise Point. Now it’s just a half mile of level walking to return to the parking lot at Sunset Point where you started. Beware – it’s difficult to pay attention to where you are going as you walk back because the views along the way are so stunning! It’s especially dangerous for us photographers! There are many steep drop-offs close to the trail, so pay attention to where you step.
Still to this day, when we see our rental kids, they say how that hike through Bryce Canyon in the snow was one of the most amazing experiences in their lives. Even when we have taken them back during the dryer months, it just isn’t the same.
We hope that when you visit Bryce Canyon National Park on a Southwest Adventures Tour, that the snow is as fluffy and surreal as we experienced it. However, if you don’t, Bryce is still a special place regardless if there is snow or no snow.
Virtual Video Tour
See and experience hiking the trail through snowy Bryce Amphitheater:
Click image to play video
Scroll down to see the scenes of Bryce Canyon in the snow...
Silent City in the snow
Thor's Hammer partially covered in snow
Snow covered hoodoos in Bryce Canyon
Hiking Queens Garden Trail in Winter
One of the tunnels the trail passes through
The trail leading up to Sunrise Point
Looking east from Sunrise Point
Check out our tours that will visit Bryce Canyon National Park during the winter: