Bryce Canyon Winter Trip 2023
Utah, as is most of the West, is having one of its best winters in years. It’s only mid-January and Utah already has more snow that it received all of last year. Bryce Canyon is high on our list as parks go for winter photography. The orange and salmon pink Hoodoos topped with snow give the park an added layer of contrast and color. The amazingly blue sky at Bryce tops off the kaleidoscope of color.
It’s been a couple of years at least since the last time we visited the park in the winter, so we’ve been watching the weather forecast closely waiting for fresh snow followed by day of clear sky. The past week we got just what we were waiting for.
Where We Set Up
We timed our trip to arrive at Bryce Canyon in the late afternoon that would allow stops along the way and to get late afternoon pre-golden hour light.
Much of the westerly rim of the main amphitheater is shaded by late afternoon, especially during the shorter winter hours, so we knew that we needed to set up earlier than normal if we wanted to catch the light and shadows near the viewpoints.
We set up at Sunset Point and worked our way to Sunrise Point. Thor’s Hammer, an iconic formation near the top of the popular Navajo Trail, was already in the shadows so we got right to work.
There was just a smattering of tourists, mostly Japanese from a couple of groups that arrived about the same time we did. Lack of crowds are another benefit to coming to the park in the winter. The weather was perfect, no wind, a few wispy clouds, and temperature in the 20’s, which actually feels comfortable at high elevation.
The light and shadows were great but moving quickly. During the winter months the sun’s trajectory is more southwesterly behind the amphitheater, which fades more quickly.
A significant storm had just moved through the day before, so the trees were still frosted and pristine, the amphitheater was buried and most of the trails had not been tracked out. The conditions couldn’t have been better! We brought snowshoes and microspikes but didn’t really have time to put them to use. Microspikes will definitely be needed in the coming days as ice builds up from melting snow. The parking lot was like a skating rink.
We shot for about an hour and half or so until we felt that we got what we wanted. The temperature was dropping quickly, which was our clue to pack it up. We thought about shooting blue hour but decided that dinner and a warm hotel room at Ruby’s Inn sounded pretty good about that time.
The next day would be a test of how well we can handle bone chilling temperatures especially with clear sky in the forecast and fresh snow on the ground.
Sunrise is our main motivation for shooting Bryce in winter. But at 8,000 feet Bryce can get very cold, bitterly cold. Last time we were here the temperature at sunrise was 13 below.
We set up at Inspiration Point where photographers typically would not set up for sunrise. Bryce and Sunset Points are generally where you would set up, but we’ve shot sunrise at these two viewpoints many times. We’ve shot from Sunrise Point leaving Inspiration Point as the only remaining viewpoint in the main section of the park that we haven’t shot from.
Now after shooting at all main viewpoints in the amphitheater, we agree that Bryce Point is the most ideal location for sunrise.
The temperature this morning was as expected. We were told it was five below at sunrise, and it felt like it. Keeping finger warm is always a challenge when the temperature drops this low. We came prepared and for the most part what we had worked but eventually Mother Nature’s forces were more than what our mittens could handle. If anyone out there has a bulletproof method for keeping hands warm for long periods of time, we would love to hear what you have.
There’s an old saying, “there’s no bad weather, just bad clothes.” There’s a lot of truth to that.
After getting the shots we wanted, or rather, leaving before we lost a few fingers, we headed back to the hotel and called it trip completed.
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