10 Surreal Bryce Canyon National Park Facts

Sunrise over Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah

Matteo Colombo / Getty Images

Southwestern Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park is famous for its bright pillars of orange-toned rock formations, which appear to shoot out of the earth from all corners of the horseshoe-shaped landscape. These unique formations are called “hoodoos,” and they’re just one of the many features that help make this park so special.

Officially established as a national park in 1928, Bryce Canyon National Park spans nearly 35,835 acres of rugged, awe-inspiring terrain. Aside from the distinct geology, the park also accommodates an abundance of wildlife and dense forests. Discover 10 brilliant facts about Bryce Canyon National Park.

Bryce Canyon Is Technically Not a Canyon

Despite its name, Bryce Canyon is technically not a canyon at all. Rather, the park is made up of about 12 natural amphitheaters that have eroded into the Paunsaugunt Plateau. The name comes from Ebenezer Bryce, who moved into the area with his family in 1875 and found work completing a 7-mile irrigation ditch for the community that had established itself near the junction of the Paria River and Henrieville Creek. To make timber more accessible, Ebenezer built a road into the cliffs, resulting in the locals calling the area “Bryce’s canyon,” a name that has stuck until today.

It Is Known for Its Stargazing

Bryce Canyon National Park at night
Jon Hicks / Getty Images

The night sky has an important place for the national park, which implements about 100 astronomy programs led by park rangers each year to teach visitors about the dark sky sanctuary. During full moons, Bryce Canyon hosts 1- to 2-mile long moonlit hikes led by its astronomy rangers, with choices between a more strenuous hike down into the canyon and an easier trail that goes along the rim of the plateau.

The Park Consists of Three Distinct Climatic Zones

Forested background at Bryce Canyon National Park
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Bryce Canyon National Park spans 2,000 feet of elevation, so its biodiversity zones vary between spruce or fir forest, ponderosa pine forest, and pinyon pine or juniper forest.

The upper altitudes of the Paunsaugunt Plateau consist of white fir, spruce, and aspen, while the high limestone knolls are full of bristlecone pine. In the middle, ponderosa pine and manzanita trees are dominant, while the lower sections contain pinyon pine, Gambel oak, cactus, and yucca.

Bryce Canyon National Park Has the Largest Collections of Hoodoos on Earth

Large collection of hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park
Matteo Colombo / Getty Images

It’s pretty much impossible to visit Bryce Canyon National Park without noticing its towering hoodoos, natural geological pillars made of sandstone and fine sedimentary rocks. These massive formations were originally created through a combination of weathering and erosion during the uplift of the Colorado Plateau. Water from rain or snow seeps into the cracks of the rocks and freezes, expanding in size as it forms into ice and creating pressure on the surrounding rock. The expansion, known as ice-wedging, breaks apart the rocks to create the hoodoos.

The Park Has Class I Air Quality Protection

The sweeping views and extraordinarily clear visibility that Bryce Canyon is famous for wouldn’t be possible without its clean air protection. In 1977, the park was designated as a Class I air quality area—the highest level of protection under the Clean Air Act. One of just 48 units in the national parks system with the classification, Bryce Canyon has received natural resource management specialist monitoring for its atmospheric deposition and particles since 1985. On especially clear days, Navajo Mountain 80 miles to the south is visible from the canyon, and on even clearer days, it is possible to look over the Grand Canyon 150 miles away.

Bryce Canyon National Park Protects Three Wildlife Species Listed on the ESA

At least 59 species of mammal and 175 species of birds live inside Bryce Canyon National Park, three of which are included in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife List of Threatened and Endangered Species.

The Utah prairie dog, a burrowing rodent, went from 95,000 animals in the 1920s to just 200 today due to loss of habitat and reduction methods. The majestic California condor, one of the rarest flying birds in North America, can sometimes be spotted around the canyon during the summer months. Another rare bird, the southwestern willow flycatcher, has been listed as federally endangered since 1995.

The Park Hosts an Annual Prairie Dog Festival

A Utah prairie dog in Bryce Canyon National Park
Schafer & Hill / Getty Images

To help raise awareness about the threatened native Utah prairie dog, Bryce Canyon National Park hosts annual habitat restoration projects and a prairie dog festival every year. These animals are considered a “keystone species,” as they perform various ecological functions such as improving soil quality, acting as an important prey species to other wildlife, and maintaining meadow ecosystems.

Bryce Canyon National Park Contains 1,000 Plant Species

Most photos of Bryce Canyon National Park will focus on its hoodoos, but a closer look will also reveal vast forests and wildflower-filled meadows. A majority of the park’s wildflowers are located along trails, where they’ve adapted to the park’s rocky soil, though they can be found at really any elevation. Several native paintbrush plants, specifically the Wyoming paintbrush and Bryce Canyon paintbrush, have root systems designed to penetrate the roots of nearby plants and steal their nutrients.

There Have Been 60 Species of Butterflies Documented Inside the Park

Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus), Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Christian Handl / Getty Images

Native plants also rely heavily on insects such as bees, moths, and butterflies for pollination. Over 60 species of butterflies alone live in the immediate area in and around Bryce Canyon National Park—rangers put on annual butterfly counts each July to help keep records updated. There are five families of butterflies represented in Bryce Canyon: Papilionidae, Pieridae, Lycaenidae, Nymphalidae, and Hesperiidae.

Humans Passed Through the Park 10,000 Years Ago

According to the National Parks Service, humans first began passing through Bryce Canyon 10,000 years ago. Given the harsh winters and difficult terrain, it is unlikely that humans actually lived there year-round, though there has been evidence of Paleoindians hunting huge mammals in Bryce Canyon at the end of the ice age.

View Article Sources
  1. "History & Culture." National Park Service.

  2. "Air Quality and Visibility." National Park Service.

  3. "Utah Prairie Dog." National Park Service.

  4. "Southwestern Willow Flycatcher." National Park Service.

  5. "People." National Park Service.