The surface of the earth can hold few weirder-looking spots than BRYCE CANYON, just south of US-89 86 miles northeast of Zion Canyon. Named for Mormon settler Ebenezer Bryce, who declared that it was “a helluva place to lose a cow”, it is not in fact a canyon at all. Along a twenty-mile shelf on the eastern edge of the thickly forested Paunsaugunt Plateau, 8000ft above sea level, successive strata of dazzlingly coloured rock have slipped and slid and washed away to leave a menagerie of multihued and contorted stone pinnacles.

In hues of yellow, red and flaming orange, the formations here have been eroded out of the muddy sandstone by a combination of icy winters and summer rains. The top-heavy pinnacles known as “hoodoos” form when the harder upper layers of rock stay firm as the lower levels wear away beneath them. Thor’s Hammer, visible from Sunset Point, is the most alarmingly precarious. These hoodoos look down into technicolour ravines, all far more vivid than the Grand Canyon and much more human in scale. The whole place is at its most inspiring in winter, when the figures stand out from a blanket of snow.

The two most popular viewpoints into Bryce Amphitheatre, at the heart of the park, are on either side of Bryce Canyon Lodge: the more northerly, Sunrise Point, is slightly less crowded than Sunset Point, where most of the bus tours stop. Hiking trails drop abruptly from the rim down into the amphitheatre. One good three-mile trek, a great extension of the shorter Navajo Loop Trail, starts by switchbacking steeply from Sunset Point through the cool 200ft canyons of Wall Street, where a pair of 800-year-old fir trees stretch to reach daylight. It then cuts across the surreal landscape into the Queen’s Garden basin, where the stout likeness of Queen Victoria sits in majestic condescension, before climbing back up to Sunrise Point. A dozen trails crisscross the amphitheatre, but it’s surprisingly easy to get lost, so don’t stray from the marked routes.

Sunrise and Sunset points notwithstanding, the best view at both sunset and dawn (the best time for taking pictures) is from Bryce Point, at the southern end of the amphitheatre. From here, you can look down not only at the Bryce Canyon formations but also take in the grand sweep of the whole region, east to the Henry Mountains and north to the Escalante range. The park road then climbs another twenty miles south, by way of the intensely coloured Natural Bridge, an 85ft rock arch spanning a steep gully, en route to its dead end at Rainbow Point.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

USA features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

7 places to get off the tourist trail in New York City

7 places to get off the tourist trail in New York City

Ticked off New York City’s big sights and wondering where to go next? From sinking a pint in Brooklyn's Red Hook to sampling Italian delicacies in The Bronx, …

11 Apr 2017 • Stephen Keeling insert_drive_file Article
In search of the real Wild West on America's Great Plains

In search of the real Wild West on America's Great Plains

Wild West – we all feel something when we see or hear those words. But why? How much is true and how much is fantasy? Our editor Neil McQuillian took to the (…

06 Apr 2017 • Neil McQuillian local_activity Special feature
15 of the most beautiful places in Alaska

15 of the most beautiful places in Alaska

With mountains to climb, rivers to raft, glaciers to coo over and a bevy of bears to photograph, Alaska is the ultimate wilderness – and this year is the per…

30 Mar 2017 • Sarah Reid camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month