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Introducing Bryce Canyon National Park & Around

The sorbet-colored, sandcastle-like spires and hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park pop like a Dr Seuss picture book creation. Though the smallest of southern Utah's national parks, this is perhaps the most immediately visually stunning, particularly at sunrise and sunset when an orange wash sets the otherworldly rock formations ablaze. Steep trails descend from the rim into the 1000ft amphitheaters of pastel daggers, then continue through a maze of fragrant juniper and undulating high-mountain desert. The location, 77 miles east of Zion and 39 miles west of Escalante, helps make this a must-stop on any southern Utah park itinerary.

Shaped somewhat like a seahorse, the narrow, 56-mile-long park is an extension of the sloping Paunsaugunt Plateau, which rises from 7894ft at the visitor center to 9115ft at Rainbow Point, the plateau's southernmost tip. The high altitude means cooler temperatures here than at other Utah parks (80°F, or 27°C, average in July). Crowds arrive in force from May to September, clogging the park's main road (shuttle optional). For solitude, explore trails on the canyon floor. Weatherwise, June and September are ideal; in July and August be prepared for thunderstorms and mosquitoes. In winter, snow blankets the park, but the snowcaps on formations are stunning. Most roads are plowed; others are designated for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

You can't enter the park without passing through the townlike sleep-shop-eat-outfit complex, Ruby's Inn, immediately north. The motel has been part of the landscape since 1919, when it was located at the canyon's rim. After the area was declared a national monument in 1923, owner Rueben Syrett moved his business north to his ranch, its current location. In 2007 the 2300-acre resort was officially incorporated as Bryce Canyon City.