NATIONAL PARKS: Bryce Canyon National Park

Story and photography by Jerry Ginsberg

Early morning light illuminates the fantastic hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

Sunrise Point © Jerry Ginsberg

Among our 59 national parks, perhaps the one that offers the greatest degree of pure fun is Bryce Canyon in southwestern Utah. Just a 56-square-mile morsel of the vast southwestern red rock country, Bryce Canyon offers deeply eroded red, orange, yellow and ochre amphitheaters, curving natural bridges, ancient bristlecone pines and an iconic Douglas fir so tall that looking at the top might well tax your neck muscles.

At its heart, Bryce Canyon is a big gouge out of the Paunsaugunt Plateau exposing the soft stone beneath the surface. The multihued sandstone has taken on innumerable weird and wild shapes. The vertical needlelike forms are called hoodoos. One famous grouping has been dubbed the Silent City for its close resemblance to the image that the name conjures up.

There is but one short north-south road that runs the length of Bryce Canyon. Along this road are several great overlooks, including Inspiration Point and Natural Bridge, almost the only spots that photograph best in late daylight in this otherwise east-facing park.

Other subjects best photographed in late afternoon light are the wonderful and ancient bristlecone pine trees in a small grove found at the south end of the park road. Make sure to stroll the easy one-mile bristlecone circuit trail from the Rainbow Point parking lot.

But you’ll find the real action in Bryce Canyon National Park in morning photography. Don’t miss sunrise along Sunset Trail.

Perhaps the best known of all of the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, Thor's Hammer rises alone in the morning light.

Thor’s Hammer © Jerry Ginsberg

Your first shot there might be the towering hoodoo named Thor’s Hammer. Right after that, move just a few feet uphill to the large sandstone fin with two eye holes called the Mask. Then, if you’re up for a steep hike, walk all the way down and around to Wall Street to see a solitary Douglas fir poking up between the vertical rock walls. The steep climb back up to your car will be more than enough fun and exercise for one morning. Time to head for a hearty breakfast.

On another morning, take the rim trail toward the Sunrise Trail. With early light and a long lens, you will be able to pick out and isolate many great compositions right from the rim. However, if you are in the mood for another fun hike, just amble down the Queen’s Garden Trail where you can stroll among the hoodoos and create images to your heart’s content.

For a less photographed sunrise location, pay a visit to charming Fairyland Point. The “hike” here is less than 100 feet from your parking spot. No kidding! The eastbound spur off the main park road is just north of the entry gate and is easy to miss.

In some parts of Bryce Canyon National Park the elevation can exceed 9,000 feet. This usually leads to lots of winter snow, so the more popular times to visit are late spring and early autumn. In May you might be able to capture some clean white snow against the colorful rock. If you wake up while it is snowing, you might wait a while to give the plows a chance to clear the park road.

Bryce Canyon is an easy drive of only about two hours up Route 89 from Zion National Park. (Make sure to obey all speed limits.) Combining both parks into a single photo trip is a great idea.

The most popular and convenient lodging option at Bryce is sprawling Ruby’s Best Western Inn just outside the park entrance. Everything you might need in a single property is here. Historic Bryce Canyon Lodge within the park is great, but perhaps better saved for a family vacation. Even if you do not stay there, try to make time to enjoy a meal in the rustic dining room.


Jerry Ginsberg is a widely published freelance photographer whose images have graced the pages of hundreds of books and magazines. He has photographed all 59 U.S. national parks as well as most of South America with medium-format cameras. Jerry has been a national park artist in residence at Petrified Forest National Park. More of his work can be seen at www.JerryGinsberg.com. Email him at jerry@jerryginsberg.com.