Bryce Canyon National Park was the second stop on our epic Southwest U.S. road trip, following Zion National Park. We spent just one day here, allowing for ample time to visit Utah’s other national parks.
Situated on a high plateau at the top of the Grand Staircase, Bryce Canyon has the highest elevation of the “Mighty 5” Utah national parks and is home to the greatest concentration of hoodoos in the world.
Hoodoos, also called tent rocks, earth pyramids and fairy chimneys, are tall, thin, irregular columns of rock that protrude from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badland; they can range in size from the height of an average human to that of a ten-story building.
Where is Bryce Canyon National Park?
Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southwest Utah near the town of Tropic. It’s around a two hour drive from both Zion National Park and Capitol Reef National Park.
How Much Does Bryce Canyon Cost?
Bryce Canyon National Park entry fees vary depending on vehicle type and pass duration. The National Park Service website has information on current rates, but to give you an idea, the cost at the time of our visit was $35 for private vehicles for a seven-day pass.
A Broad Recommendation: we’d actually recommend that you forego individual national park entrance fees altogether and instead invest in the U.S. Park Pass. This pass is valid for one year and covers your entry to thousands of National Parks and other federally managed lands.
When’s the Best Time to Visit Bryce Canyon?
Most people visit Bryce Canyon between March and early October, so we decided to visit in late October to avoid the crowds. In our opinion, this is the best time to visit Bryce Canyon National Park, followed by winter and early spring.
The weather is dependent on the season. Temperatures can reach 100 degrees or more in the summer, spring and fall boast warm days and cool nights, and temperatures fall below freezing in the winter. Winter also poses the chance for potential snowstorms.
The weather was perfect during our visit. Temperatures dropped to the 20s at night and rose to mid-60s during the day. With all the hiking we did, we can’t even imagine visiting in the summer with all that heat! We started our day wearing winter jackets, scarves, hats and gloves, but I ended up in a tank top by the end of the day.
Check here for Bryce Canyon National Park’s current conditions.
How to Get to Bryce Canyon
Cedar City Regional Airport is the closest airport to Bryce Canyon National Park. However, we visited Bryce Canyon as a part of a larger trip. We started our trip from Las Vegas and flew into the McCarran International Airport. The drive from Las Vegas to Zion is just under three hours. Then, the drive from Zion to Bryce Canyon is just under two hours.
Leaving from Zion, you’ll follow the steep switchbacks up to the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel – a historic landmark completed in 1930 – then onto the scenic Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. From there, you’ll follow the road to US-89 N, then to UT-12 E to get to Bryce Canyon National Park.
Along the way, you can stop at Checkerboard Mesa, a sandstone hill with an unusual crack pattern that resembles a checkerboard-like grid.
Flying into Salt Lake City International Airport in Utah is also a viable option. If you’re driving directly to Bryce Canyon from either Las Vegas or Salt Lake City, it’s just around a four-hour drive.
It’s important to keep in mind that you’ll lose an hour due to the time difference when you drive from Las Vegas to either Zion National Park or Bryce Canyon National Park. If you fly into Salt Lake City, there’s no time difference.
A Broad Recommendation: due to the lack of cell service throughout this area, you’ll want to make sure you’ve downloaded Google offline maps, packed extra water, snacks and warm clothes in case of an emergency.
Where to Stay Near Bryce Canyon National Park
We stayed at Red Ledges Inn, which is less than 15 minutes away from the park.
Check-in begins after 4 PM local time, but we arrived late in the evening, so they left our keys outside the office door. There’s not much to say about this place, since we basically only slept there, but the room was nice enough. We had a tv, a fridge, a microwave and a comfy bed.
They also have a continental breakfast from April through October and free coffee year-round, but we left too early the next morning to take advantage of either of these.
We used hotels.com to book our stay, and it was less than $60 for the night.
A Broad Recommendation: I love booking stays through hotels.com and have used them throughout Asia and the United States. They help me snag great deals, and they give you one free night for every ten nights you complete or a discounted night if your eleventh stay is more expensive than the average cost of your first ten. Who doesn’t love free stuff? I also used Rakuten, formerly eBates, at the time of my purchase to get cash back – how neat! For this trip, I got just under $10 back.
Bryce Canyon & COVID Response
Consistent with CDC guidance, all visitors, regardless of vaccination status, must wear a mask inside park buildings, crowded outdoor spaces and enclosed public transportation. This was strictly enforced when we visited.
Suggested 1-Day Itinerary for Bryce Canyon
Here’s our suggested itinerary for one day in Bryce Canyon National Park:
- Drive from your hotel to Bryce Canyon National Park before sunrise
- Park at Sunrise Point
- Hike to Sunset Point in the dark (it’s only a 15- or 20-minute walk; bring a flashlight or use the one on your phone)
- Watch the sunrise at Sunset Point
- Hike the Figure 8 Combination Trail from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point (this will take the bulk of your day)
- Have a picnic lunch at your car or eat at The Lodge at Bryce Canyon
- Drive to Capitol Reef National Park (~2 hour drive; try to do this while it’s still daylight)
What to Do in Bryce Canyon
Best Hikes in Bryce Canyon
The main thing we did in Bryce Canyon National Park was hiking!
There are lots of hiking trails in Bryce Canyon; the full list can be found on the National Park Service website. That being said, our list is not comprehensive; it’s simply our recommendation based on the hikes we’ve done in this area.
Map sourced from https://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/conditions.htm
Sunrise to Sunset
This is a paved portion of the 11-mile Rim Trail starting at either Sunrise Point and ending at Sunset Point or vice versa. The hike is 1 mile round trip and takes about an hour to complete. There’s nearly no change in elevation, making it the park’s easiest hike.
We parked at Sunrise Point just before sunrise and hiked the 0.5 miles to Sunset Point (yes, we watched the sunrise at Sunset Point, haha – we heard it was one of the best spots to do so!).
The Navajo Loop is 1.3 miles round trip, starting at Sunset Point, and has about 550 feet of elevation change. On this trail, you’ll get to see Thor’s Hammer, Two Bridges and the bottom of Wall Street.
During the winter, the Wall Street side of this loop closes, making it an out and back trail; this was the case during our visit in October. However, this trail can be combined with the Queen’s Garden Trail, leading you from Sunset Point all the way back to Sunrise Point.
The Navajo Loop Trail alone will take you between one and two hours. Remember to give yourself plenty of time to take pictures too!
The Queen’s Garden Trail is one of the easiest trails and takes you to Queen Victoria.
The trail can be accessed via Sunrise Point. It’s 1.8 miles out and back, and as previously mentioned, it can be combined with the Navajo Trail.
You’ll experience more than 350 feet in elevation change, and you’ll want to allot about one to two hours for this hike.
Queen’s/Navajo Combination Loop
Combining the Queen’s Garden Trail and the Navajo Loop Trail is the most popular hiking route in the park. You’ll need about two or three hours to hike the 2.9 miles, and you’ll experience about 600 feet elevation change during your trek.
A Broad Recommendation: Get here early (and watch the sunrise like we did!), especially if you’re visiting in the summer. In season, this loop can get extremely crowded, and some folks end up circling the Sunset Point parking lot all day looking for a space.
The Peekaboo Loop is typically accessed via Bryce Point, leading you through the heart of the park to witness the incredible Wall of Windows.
It’s 5.5 miles round trip with more than 1,500 feet elevation change. During our visit, the Bryce Point Peekaboo Loop Connecting Trail was closed due to trail damage.
Luckily, we were able to connect to the trail via the Navajo Loop Trail – more on that later. Note that you must hike in a clockwise direction on the Peekaboo Loop. Give yourself around three to four hours for this hike.
Navajo/Peekaboo Combination Loop
As previously mentioned, you can combine the Navajo Loop Trail with the Peekaboo Loop Trail for a 4.9-mile hike by creating a mini figure-8. Note that, again, you must hike in a clockwise direction on the Peekaboo Loop. This combination will also take around three to four hours total.
The Figure 8 Combination Loop
If you’re looking for a full day hike, you can combine the Queen’s Garden Trail, the Peekaboo Loop, and the Navajo Loop into one epic hike. This is what we chose to do!
We began at Sunset Point, hiked along the Navajo Loop, connected to the Peekaboo Loop, connected from there to the Queen’s Garden Trail, and ended up back at our car, which we parked at Sunrise Point earlier in the day (remember, we hiked from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point in the dark to catch the sunrise!).
We felt this was an awesome way to explore much of what Bryce Canyon has to offer. The views were incredible, and we didn’t feel like the hike was too challenging.
A Broad Recommendation: If you plan to do any of the combination loops, you’ll likely be hiking for several hours at a time. Remember to pack lots of water, snacks, sunblock and clothes to layer to account for the drastic temperature changes (due to both elevation change and time of day).
If we had more time here, we would’ve considered hiking more of the Rim Trail, which takes you along the rim of the scenic Bryce Amphitheater and provides a view of the hoodoos from above. We did part of this trail from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point, but there are several other viewpoints we would’ve loved to see.
Visit the Popular Viewpoints
Bryce Canyon’s main road, Southern Scenic Drive, runs north to south through the park, offering views of the Bryce Amphitheater along the first 3 miles. The four most popular overlooks, Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point and Sunrise Point, are along this short stretch. These overlooks also serve as trailheads for some of the most popular hikes in Bryce Canyon National Park.
Other viewpoints are located further down Southern Scenic Drive, to include Rainbow Point, Natural Bridge, Yovimpa Point, etc. The road is 18 miles long, and it’s best to drive all the way to the end, then stop at the viewpoints on your way back.
Note: we didn’t get to do this during our visit, since we wanted to make our way to Capitol Reef National Park earlier in the day after a late night of driving the previous evening. We’ll have to see these next time!
More on what to do at Bryce Canyon National Park can be found on the National Park Service website.
Best Sunrise & Sunset Spots
Sunrise and sunset are the best times to witness the magic of Bryce Canyon.
Inspiration Point, Sunrise Point and Sunset Point are all great spots to watch a sunrise or sunset. We read that Sunset Point is the best for sunrise, since most people will be heading to Sunrise Point and vice versa for sunset.
Again, we parked at Sunrise Point early in the morning, walked to Sunset Point in the dark, and watched the sunrise from there. Unfortunately, we left before sunset, but I bet that would be a spectacular sight!
Where to Eat in Bryce Canyon
We decided to pack our lunch to save time and ate out of the trunk of our rental car. If you’re looking for somewhere to eat within the park, The Lodge at Bryce Canyon is your main option. In season (April-October), the dining room is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
There’s also a General Store near Sunrise Point where you can grab food such as sandwiches, pizza and soup. There are also restrooms and showers here. Note: the General Store is usually closed between January and March.
There are other dining options in Bryce Canyon City, which is just right outside the park.
Getting from Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef
The next stop on our Southwest U.S. road trip was Capitol Reef National Park. We explored the Escalante area, specifically Lower Calf Creek Falls, on our way to Capitol Reef by taking UT-12 E. Note: there’s another route along UT-24 E, which will take you to Capitol Reef, but you won’t go through Escalante.
A Broad Recommendation: Again, due to the lack of cell service throughout this area, you’ll want to make sure you’ve downloaded Google offline maps, packed extra water, snacks and warm clothes in case of an emergency.
Have you visited Bryce Canyon National Park yet? If not, have we convinced you to go? Leave us a comment below, and don’t forget to pin it!
XOXO Travel A-Broads