Embracing the Fog in Bryce Canyon National Park

Last month, we set off for a weekend of camping in Bryce Canyon National Park. Sitting at 9000 feet in elevation, with the forecast calling for snow, visiting Bryce Canyon in February sounded a little crazy, right? It was a great idea.

First, Bryce Canyon is the second most visited national park in Utah with more than 2.3 million visitors in 2016 (Zion National Park received 4.3 million visitors in 2016). Bryce Canyon is less than 40K acres. To compare the size, you could fit four Bryce Canyon National Parks in Zion National Park. Bryce Canyon is a small space for 2.3 million visitors, but if you visit during the winter months, you have the place to yourself.

Gear Check: Be prepared for cold temps. A trading post in Bryce Canyon City sells coats, beanies, and gloves for one reason: people come to Bryce Canyon unprepared. Make sure you pack appropriately. In February, the temperature hovered around 20°F. I wore a long sleeve base layer and my KÜHL Firefly Hoody. The Firefly Hoody offered greater mobility wearing a pack, kept me warm, and most importantly, I didn’t sweat.

Braving wild conditions in KÜHL Firefly Hoody

Second, Bryce Canyon is known for its dramatic panoramic views of a canyon filled with unique rock formations and hoodoos. Imagine this famous vista with contrasting snow. It’s a winter wonderland of magic.

Hoodoo:  A tall column of softer rock with a harder, less erosive rock cap. Hoodoos come in various sizes and are commonly found throughout the Colorado Plateau with a large concentration in Bryce Canyon National Park.

With the forecast calling for snow, we were hoping for hoodoos and rock formations covered in contrasting snow. We arrived in Bryce Canyon City late at night with heavy snow fall. Our plan was coming together nicely! We pitched our tent inside the park and settled in for a winter night, dreaming of snow covered vistas at sunrise. We couldn’t be happier.

The next morning we woke in preparation for sunrise and knew immediately we’d have to change our plans. It snowed all through the night and was still snowing. Plus, there was a blanket of fog, and our visibility was reduced to 50 feet.

After a quick assessment of weather conditions, we decided to call off sunrise photography and sleep instead. We’d hike and scout photography locations later in the morning. Fading back into sleep, my mind took me back to the night before as we entered through the park gates and read a notice on the ranger station:

No refunds are given due to inclement weather.

We experienced this firsthand as Bryce Canyon’s famous vistas were hidden in a blanket of fog. We would not be photographing the canyon.

Mother Nature sure did throw us a curve ball with fog. Rather than shooting sunrise and sunsets, we took a different route and used the fog to our advantage to shoot minimalist photography. We scouted lonely trees wrapped in blankets of fog.

Moody, simple, and powerful images emerged.

With no solid prospects of an ideal sunrise, we shot night photography. There’s something mysterious yet magical about shooting in a snow covered forest.

We spent two days in Bryce Canyon, and it snowed the whole time. Our initial plans to shoot sunrise and sunset in snow covered Bryce Canyon changed slightly as we never saw the sun. In fact we never saw the canyon filled hoodoos and unique rock formations! Our visibility was literally 20 feet at most viewpoints.

Sometimes our best laid plans require change, and that’s OK. We just need to adapt and change our plan. In the words of a legendary coach:

Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out. ~John Wooden

Kenyon Virchow

Kenyon Virchow has a love for photography and his home state of Utah. His dad introduced him to photography at a very early age, teaching him basics with his Voigtlander Bessamatic (purchased in Germany 1962). Kenyon’s first real camera was a Minolta x370 SLR he received at 14. He took photography classes in high school and learned film development, exposure and composition. Kenyon’s fond memories adventuring with his friends while growing up in Utah continue to this day. He now lives in the foothills of Lone Peak Wilderness mountain range.