|Bryce Ampitheater viewed from along the Rim Trail|
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Bryce Canyon National Park entrance fee required
The hoodoos of Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park are some of the oddest and most fascinating geological features on the continent. The Figure 8 loop, which combines the Queens Garden and the Peekaboo Loop Trails in Bryce Ampitheater, provides direct access into the most spectacularly eroded sections of this wonderous terrain; it is the absolute highlight of a visit to this smallest of Utah's five national parks.
I visited Bryce Canyon in winter to see the pink hoodoos of the ampitheater coated in snow. Bryce Canyon is a pretty long ways from anywhere, unless you live in Cedar City, Utah, so I'll skip the directions to the trailhead; I would briefly like to note though that on the February day when I drove to Bryce, the temperatures hit -4 degrees F (-20 degrees C) while I was driving east on Utah Highway 14 from Cedar City. Temperatures when I arrived in Bryce were a balmy 6 degrees F. Winter brings beautiful scenery but also plenty of hazards: hypothermia is possible in low temperatures, snow on road can cause dangerous driving conditions, and snow and ice on the trail may require hiking with traction devices.
I started the hike at Sunset Point, although it's also possible to start the trail from Sunrise Point as well. From the large parking area at Sunset Point, I walked along the paved walkway to the overlook itself, where a fenced platform jutted into the canyon, providing a spectacular view of one of America's most iconic landscapes. Sunset Point lies in the heart of Bryce Ampitheater; to the north was a view of the hoodoos of Fairyland and the Table Cliff Plateau while to the south I could look directly down into the eerie spires of the Silent City. Although the spot is beautiful at any time, I found it to especially remarkable when I returned the next morning for the sunrise: the dawn light accentuated the palette of the canyon's colors and the snow sparkled.
|Sunrise at Sunset Point|
|Sunrise over the Silent City from Sunset Point|
A few quick switchbacks brought me down to eye-level with two of the most famous hoodoos in the Ampitheater: Thors Hammer and the Three Graces stood to the north of the trail. In the distance, snow coated the red rock ramparts of the Table Cliff Plateau.
|Switchbacks down the Two Bridges Trail|
The Peek-a-boo Loop branched off from the right of the connector trail in a small clearing that was at the time completely snow-covered. From here, I had a good view of the canyon from the bottom up.
|View at the base of the canyon|
The loop started by the following the bottom of a small canyon dotted with junipers and pines; here, snow cover was complete, with over half a foot of snow on the ground, but the trail was discernable by prior footprints. As the trail climbed out of the canyon it passed some small sets of fantastic hoodoos. Views of the Silent City and the northern parts of Bryce Ampitheater reemerged as I ascended; soon afterwards, the trail approached Fairy Castle, a larger hoodoo that was a bit redder in an area of paler hoodoos.
|Hoodoos on the Peekaboo Loop|
|Wall of Windows|
|Wall of Windows|
|These hoodoos look oddly life-like|
|One of many tunnels along the hike|
|Bryce Ampitheater views along the Peek-a-boo Loop|
|Silent City from the Peekaboo Loop|
The next mile consisted of fairly easy, flat hiking at the bottom of the ampitheater. A sparse forest of pines lined the trail and there were constant views of pink and orange hoodoos rising to the south and east.
|Hoodoos along the Queens Garden Trail|
|Queens Garden Trail|
|View towards Fairyland|
|Snowstorm sets on Bryce Ampitheater|
|Snowstorm at Sunrise Point|
|Hoodoo view from Sunrise Point|
|It was snowing pretty heavily.|
|View along the Rim Trail|
|Night sky at Inspiration Point|