Former park ranger Dave Mecham says it's easy to pinpoint Bryce Canyon's most striking feature -- it's the hoodoos.

"They're photogenic, stunningly beautiful. You can find freestanding rock formations throughout the world, but I don't think there's any place where hoodoos are this numerous, this delicately eroded, or this beautifully colored."

But what Mecham enjoys most about the park is not necessarily its most recognizable feature. He prefers standing on the rim and simply relishing the views: "Looking out from the rim of Bryce, across the hoodoos, it seems you can see forever. The atmospheric conditions are almost ideal, and you get the feeling that you're looking at a piece of America that's still pretty wild, and just hasn't changed much through time."

Bryce Amphitheater has the best scenery in the park, in Mecham's opinion: "It's the place in the park where everything's coming together geologically to carve hoodoos at their best." Mecham particularly enjoys the Rim Trail that runs along the edge of the canyon, and highly recommends the section between Inspiration and Bryce points, with perhaps the very best view from a section known as Upper Inspiration Point, which is 900 to 1,200 feet south of Inspiration Point.

Among Mecham's favorite trails is the Fairyland Loop, which takes about 4 hours. To get the best views, start at Sunrise Point, go down past Tower Bridge, and back up through Fairyland Canyon to Fairyland Trail Head. Then take the Rim Trail back to Sunrise Point. "It's 5 miles below the rim and then 3 miles of Rim Trail. Fairyland Canyon is beautiful -- the highlight of that loop -- and as you come around the bend, you're hiking straight toward a really beautiful backdrop. If you're going in the opposite direction, you have to keep stopping to look over your shoulder."

Mecham calls Bryce Canyon a "morning park," because, with only a few exceptions, the views are much better illuminated by early morning light than at any other time of day. To get the most out of your visit, he recommends spending at least 1 night at or near the park: "If you're spending the night close by, I think it would be a big mistake to miss sunrise -- in the middle of the summer, that's getting up before 6am."

Getting up early is also the best way to avoid crowds, according to Mecham, because most people don't get to the viewpoints or onto the trails until about 10am. The other way to avoid crowds is to walk away from them. Mecham says that you're likely not to see anyone at all on the park's two backcountry trails at the south end of the park; but avoiding crowds, even in the park's most popular areas, often takes only a short walk. "Sunset Point is probably the busiest place in the park, especially in midsummer at midday," he says. "You finally get a parking spot, then walk out to a very crowded viewpoint, where you're standing shoulder to shoulder -- it's real hectic, but if you take a 5-minute walk south along the Rim Trail toward Inspiration Point, you'll leave the people immediately -- they just cluster at those views."

Mecham says that September and October are probably the best times to visit the park. "It's still busy," he says, "but less crowded on trails." However, if you really want to avoid people, you'll feel you have the park all to yourself if you visit midweek in the middle of the winter. "We plow the roads so people can drive to the viewpoints and photograph the canyon with snow on it, and people that ski or snowshoe will enjoy it the most." He adds, "Skiing is at its best in January and February, when it's really cold."

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