“There is only darkness in the canyon, only the howling wind whipping through the hoodoos, under your nose and into your ears.” I penned those words in 2015. Nearly four years later, I stared back into the canyon again.
“It’s been a long time, Bryce Canyon,” I said, my boots crunching through lingering April snow on its rim. A few feet below sat the trailhead where my journey as a travel writer began. I didn’t know it at the time though. In fact, at the time, I didn’t know much of anything.
I descended alone into the darkness on a summer night in 2015 ill prepared for the journey ahead. Had there been any onlookers, they would have seen a clean shaven kid with short, neat hair carrying a flashlight and a tripod into the abyss. They wouldn’t have realized that the kid expected to find the company of other hikers there; that the kid barely knew how to use the borrowed camera in his pack; that the kid had been in the desert a total of two days in his entire life; and that the kid was utterly terrified of mountain lions and being blown off the side of the cliff.
“It’s been a long, long time,” I reiterated, confidently taking a seat on the canyon’s rim. In the fleeting minutes before dark, the sky burst into a purple-pink glow, casting a colorful stain on the patches of snow dotting the rocky outcroppings below. First one, then two, then a dozen pair of ravens bent their wings in a chilly flyover just out of range of my camera phone. I reached for my Nikon, dialed in the settings, and snagged a few shots for the Souled Outside coffee table book I hope to write soon.
The ravens. Bryce Canyon. This place. They feel like the bookends I never could have imagined years ago.
This time, I wasn’t at Bryce Canyon alone.
“It’s crazy,” I said to Souled Outside veteran Jeremy Dowdy, who stood behind me also watching the birds. “The last time I looked at this trail, I was just a scared kid. I didn’t know what I was doing. I hadn’t ever been very far from home. And the weirdest part? I don’t remember seeing any ravens.”
But I didn’t bring Jeremy to Bryce Canyon as a crutch, I brought Jeremy to Bryce Canyon as his guide. Together, he, Leni, and—longtime Souled Out supporter/first time Souled Out participant—David Stein had set out from Memphis on a separate quest. We hopped a cheap flight to Las Vegas, snagged a Jeep from Enterprise, and set out to backpack the seldom visited, wilder lands of Southern Utah on a quick escape from home. Bryce Canyon happened to be on our way to the target, to the slot canyons and hidden sandstone arches of Glen Canyon Recreation Area.
From the canyon rim, we could just see our destination fading like a daydream in the setting sun.
We weren’t at Bryce Canyon to hike. We were there to scout out the arduous journey ahead. In the four years since I first put a tentative foot onto the desert soil, I’ve spent countless nights under its blanket of stars. This place. The place that once terrified me and haunted my dreams also pushed me beyond the edge. Four years ago, when I set out into the dark, I unwittingly triggered a reaction that’s still echoing in my soul today. I broke the glass ceiling. And even though it was frightening, I broke through my own, personal wall.
On a chilly April evening in 2019, as our group turned back towards the car, I looked out at Bryce Canyon for a final time for a while. I first came here with trepidation. I regarded the canyon as a home of wonder, but also darkness, and fear. Now, I see it as a place of light, a beacon of hope, and a starting point for anyone who wants to break out of their own comfort zone and break away from their daily norm.
In that spirit, here are some brief tips for hiking Bryce Canyon at night:
Bryce Canyon by Night, the Souled Outside Way
- Bryce Canyon National Park is located approximately four hours by car from Las Vegas, and seven hours from Phoenix.
- Peak season begins in May and runs through August.
- Though the park is not on a mountain, it is on a high plateau. At 8,000 feet and up, expect lingering snow here as late as May. Keep this in mind when booking a hike. The park’s most popular trail, Navajo Loop, was closed due to ice when we visited on April 3. Check the National Park website for current trail conditions before you go.
- Navajo Loop trail is the trail from what would become the very first Souled Outside post in July of 2015. Pack a headlamp, a backup flashlight, water, and cold weather gear if you intend to give it a go after dark.
- Navajo Loop trail is well maintained and easy to follow, even in the dark.
- School yourself on long exposure photography to make the most of Bryce Canyon’s status as one of the darkest skies in the country on a clear night. I recommend a lens of at least f/1.8 and a travel tripod. Learn to set your camera on infinite zoom and user a timed shutter release to avoid shaking the lens with your fingers when you snap the shot.
- Be bold. Be brave. And bring a buddy if you can. Even if you’re not afraid of mountain lions, you never know what kind of trouble the desert can get you into in the dark.