Utah

The Top Things To Do in Bryce Canyon National Park

August 1, 2021

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About Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon is a Utah National Park known for having the highest concentration of hoodoos in the world. It’s hard to describe the mesmerizing sight out into the canyons of orange hoodoos. Each hoodoo is one-of-a-kind and you’ll find yourself imagining shapes and objects in the rocks.

Bryce receives its name from an early Mormon pioneer that lived near the canyon in the late 1800s. Ebenezer Bryce actually lived there for only five years while constructing roads into the area. The only thing he is known to have said about the actual canyon is, “It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow.”

When you visit this unique and incredible place, please be sure to stay on the trails. The hoodoos in Bryce are rapidly changing. The rate of erosion is measured at 2 to 4 feet every 100 years. While some change is inevitable, humans can help preserve the hoodoos by keeping on the trail system. Just walking up to the base of a hoodoo will shorten its lifespan.

You can experience Bryce by visiting the many overlooks, by hiking down into the canyons or by riding horseback on the trails. This guide covers all of the best things to do while you’re in Bryce Canyon, including scenic overlooks, day hikes and other orange hoodoo formations near Bryce Canyon.

The Fairyland Loop Trail
The Fairyland Loop Trail

When To Visit Bryce Canyon

October - May

Bryce remains open year round, but winter brings freezing temperatures and storms. There are typically freezing temperatures every night from October to May, with the heaviest snow from December to February. If you don’t mind braving the cold, Bryce is beautiful when it’s dusted in snow and you will be rewarded with little crowds.

July - August

The months of July and August are monsoon season in Utah so thunderstorms are frequent in the afternoon. Hike early and be off the trails by the afternoon; seek shelter immediately if there is any lightning nearby.

June or September

June and September are arguably the best times to visit Bryce in terms of weather. Both months have mild temperatures and the chance of thunderstorms is lower.

I visited Bryce in May and July and had great weather both times. In July, I did have to plan my hikes before an afternoon thunderstorm.

Wall Street
Wall Street

How to Get To Bryce Canyon

I have flown into St. George and Cedar City during my two trips to Bryce (and combined both trips with other areas of Utah). Cedar City is closer with an hour and a half drive to Bryce Canyon. If you do want to fly into Cedar City, Delta connections to and from Salt Lake City are your only option.

If you have a lot of time or are doing a longer Utah road trip, you’ll find more flight options into Las Vegas or Salt Lake City. Both are about four hours from Bryce.

If you are flying, you’ll definitely want to rent a car to properly explore Bryce Canyon.


Tips for Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park

  • Bring layers, especially when hiking. Bryce Canyon has the highest elevation of Utah’s national parks, meaning the weather can change quickly. In the summer months, be prepared for both hot sunshine and cooler temperatures.
  • If you can’t get a parking spot, a free shuttle is offered from April to October to the park’s most popular trailheads and overlooks. While the shuttle is a great option, I was able to get parking everywhere when visiting Bryce in May and July.
  • Admission to Bryce Canyon costs $35 for a private vehicle or is included with the America the Beautiful pass ($80 for entry to all US national parks for one year).
  • Bryce is a canyon and so the hikes I discuss begin with a descent and end with a climb. Know your limits and be sure to save enough energy to climb back up.
  • Lightning is a common year-round danger in Bryce, especially during summer storms. Seek shelter immediately if you can hear thunder.
  • Be sure to check the National Park website or visitor center for trail conditions before hiking. Portions of trails often close due to rock and mudslides.

Take the Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive

Rainbow Point
Rainbow Point

Yovimpa Point
Yovimpa Point

One great way to experience the park is to drive Highway 63, also known as the Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive. This is the main road through the park and offers many viewpoints along the way. It takes about 30 minutes to drive from the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center to the end of the road at Rainbow Point. From Rainbow Point, you can gaze north and see hoodoos stretch out into the distance to the north. Yovimpa Point is the southern overlook and provides a glimpse of the Grand Staircase, where layers of different cliffs “step” downward to the Grand Canyon.

The Bryce Canyon shuttle does not go all the way to Rainbow Point, it only goes to the viewpoints around the main amphitheater area of the park.

Another stop between the visitor center and rainbow point is the Natural Bridge. This stop provides a viewpoint of a beautiful, red natural arch formation. The arch is 85 feet tall and can be easily seen from the fence and parking area.

While the drive is worth doing if you have time, it does not have many scenic views visible from the car. If you are short on time, I suggest skipping the full length of the drive and focusing only on the amphitheater area. Most of the road is in the forest and the viewpoints in the main amphitheater area are better in terms of the amount of hoodoos you will see.

If you enjoy audio guides, download the gyPSy Guide tour of Bryce Canyon and listen to it as you drive through the park! It provides the history of the park along with information on all the stops.


Bryce Amphitheater Overlooks

There are four major viewpoints overlooking the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater and I recommend visiting all of them! You can park in separate parking lots for each or hike the Rim trail between them. I recommend driving to Bryce Point and Inspiration Point, and then visiting the Sunrise and Sunset Points as part of a hike! All of these points are stunning for sunrise or sunset, which I highly recommend you make time for during your visit.

Bryce Point

Bryce Point
Bryce Point

Bryce Point is an incredible spot to get an expansive view of the large Bryce Amphitheater. It is also the best place to start the Peekaboo Trail if you do it on its own. The parking lot is relatively small so consider taking the park shuttle if you are visiting during a peak time. Bathrooms and RV parking are available.

Inspiration Point

Inspiration Point
Inspiration Point

Inspiration Point consists of three viewing levels that provide slightly different perspectives of the canyon. As you hike along the rim trail between these levels, you will be right on the edge of a steep cliff with crumbling rock. Be careful to keep your distance from the edge. The parking lot is about the same size as the Bryce Point parking lot and you may have to be patient to get a spot. However, no trails enter into the canyon from here so people are coming and going more often.

Sunset Point

Sunset Point
Sunset Point

At the Sunset Point Overlook, you’ll see a great representation of the vibrant color variety in the rocks. There are patches of pink and purple and you’ll see where the rocks transition from white to orange. The overlook also provides a view of the iconic rock formation “Thor’s Hammer.” The Navajo Loop begins here, which is the most popular trail in the park. There is a sizable parking lot at Sunset Point but this is a popular area. If you can’t find a spot, there is also parking near the Bryce Canyon Lodge.

Sunrise Point

Sunrise Point
Sunrise Point

Sunrise Point offers a great view of the Boat Mesa and Sinking Ship rock formations. It is also the beginning of the Queen’s Garden Trail, where you’ll see a rock formation shaped like Queen Victoria, along with other interesting rocks. I came back up out of the canyon via this trail after beginning a loop at Sunset Point. The parking lot closest to the viewpoint is small but you can also park near the Bryce Canyon Lodge and access the viewpoint from the Rim Trail.

Bonus Viewpoint: Fairyland Point

The Fairyland Loop Trail
The Fairyland Loop Trail

Fairyland Point is another viewpoint outside of the main park entrance. Here you will have a view of Fairyland Canyon, where the youngest hoodoos of the park are located. It is also the starting point for the Fairyland Loop Trail, an amazing 8 mile hike. There are not quite as many hoodoos at this viewpoint but you’ll find less crowds!


Hiking in Bryce Canyon

If you are able, hiking is the best way to explore Bryce Canyon. For most of the hikes, you will hike down into the canyon to begin and back up at the end. Be sure you are prepared to climb back out. It is also important to wear sturdy hiking shoes, bring plenty of water and to not hike when there is a chance of thunderstorms (lightning is very dangerous here!).

The Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail

Queen's Garden Trail
Queen's Garden Trail

The Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail is the most popular trail in the park and the one you should do if you’re short on time. The hike is 2.9 miles with 646 feet of elevation change. This trail leads you down to the canyon floor via the iconic Wall Street, where tall walls of orange rocks narrow as you descend down via switchbacks. I recommend starting on the Navajo Loop and hiking back out via Queen’s Garden, which makes your climb back out more gradual.

After Wall Street, you will pass rock formations like Queen Victoria and E.T., pass in and out of a couple tunnels and enjoy beautiful hoodoo scenery along the entire route. This trail can be crowded but is absolutely worth it to be among the hoodoos.

The Peekaboo Loop

The Peekaboo Loop begins from Bryce Point and is more challenging than the Navajo and Queen’s Garden Trails. The trail is 5.2 miles with 1,453 feet of elevation change. The path weaves in and out of orange rock walls, ascends up and down switchbacks and has fantastic views throughout the journey. This is my favorite trail in the park, it has amazing views and is much less crowded than the Navajo and Queen’s Garden Loop.

You can also combine the Peekaboo Loop with the Queen’s Garden and Navajo Trails for a 6.4 mile loop known as the Figure Eight Trail. I have more detail on the Figure Eight Trail in a separate blog post!

Fairyland Loop

The Fairyland Loop Trail
The Fairyland Loop Trail

The Fairyland Loop is an 8 mile loop with 1,716 feet of elevation gain. The trail weaves up and down through the Fairyland Canyon where the youngest hoodoos in the park are located. This area has less hoodoos than the other popular trails, but it is still beautiful and you’ll find a lot less crowds! I discuss this route in more detail in my Bryce Canyon hiking blog post.

Mossy Cave

The Mossy Cave trail is a quick and easy one mile trail that is good for kids. It is well outside the main amphitheater portion of the park and leads to a small waterfall and grotto. The waterfall is not always flowing and tends to be muddy, depending on recent rainfall. I have not personally done this trail yet but it looks like a great option if you’re looking for something quick and easy.


Visit the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center

The Bryce Canyon Visitor Center is a great stop to learn about the park, speak with a ranger and buy a souvenir. There is an extensive exhibit about the history and geology of the park, which was actually open during the pandemic (most national park exhibits have been closed).

Also take some time to learn about the Ranger led programs at the visitor center. There are daily geology talks and often constellation tours in the evenings.

tunnel

fairywindow

Views on the Trails

Where To Stay When Visiting Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon City

One of the most convenient hotels near Bryce is the Best Western Plus Ruby Inn. The hotel is attached to the Ruby Inn Restaurant and just a couple minutes from the park entrance. It has a pool and other amenities.

The Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel is another great option right outside the park. It is slightly nicer and more expensive than the Ruby Inn Best Western.

Tropic

If the hotels right outside of the park are sold out, there are a few more hotels and cabins in Tropic, which is 20 minutes outside the park. Check out Bryce Canyon Inn and Bryce Canyon Log Cabins for basic accommodations or Bryce Trails Bed and Breakfast for something more charming and luxurious.

Camping in Bryce Canyon

There are two campsites in Bryce Canyon, North and Sunset. The North Campsite is first-come, first-serve and the Sunset Campground accepts reservations 6 months ahead of time during peak season. Both campgrounds have about 100 sites. Backpacking and backcountry camping is allowed inside the park with a permit.


Where To Eat in Bryce Canyon

Ebenezer's Barn and Grill

Ebenezer’s Barn and Grill is a lively dining option located right outside the park. Their offerings extend beyond just dinner with an entire show with live country music. Menu options include steak, BBQ and a vegetarian plate option.

Ice Cream in Old Bryce Town

Old Bryce Town is a western themed strip with an ice cream shop, a gift shop, Old Timey Photos, horse rides and more. The ice cream shop serves a great selection of ice cream flavors and I enjoyed the huckleberry and the almond fudge.

Bryce Canyon Coffee Co.

Bryce Canyon Coffee Co. is 20 minutes outside of the park but is a great spot to grab coffee and breakfast during your trip. It is located in a log cabin and serves a variety of coffees, teas and smoothies.

Best Things To Do Near Bryce Canyon

Red Canyon

Red Canyon
Red Canyon

Red Canyon is located right outside of Bryce National Park and is part of the Dixie National Forest. Leaving from Bryce and driving along UT-12, you’ll drive through two impressive orange arches before reaching the Red Canyon Visitor Center. There are multiple trails that begin here and nearby. I did the Bird’s Eye Trail, a short and easy hike beginning from the Visitor Center and leading to impressive hoodoo rock formations. There are many more trail options if you have enough time. This area feels like a mini Bryce Canyon and receives much less crowds than the national park.

The Red Canyon Visitor Center is a nice place to stop if you’re looking for a bathroom and some information! There are also several signs that provide information on the geology, wildlife and trails of the area.

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Cedar Breaks National Monument
Cedar Breaks National Monument

Cedar Breaks is another impressive piece of Utah geology. It’s an hour away from Bryce but I think it’s worth a stop, especially as a detour if you’re heading to Zion. The national monument is known as the “Crown of the Grand Staircase,” as it sits at an elevation of over 10,000 feet. The park is once again a lot like a mini Bryce Canyon and you will have the opportunity to gaze from overlooks into a canyon full of bright orange hoodoos. Be sure to stop at the overlooks and check out the Alpine Pond Trail and the Spectra Point and Rampart Overlook Trails if you’re looking for some short but rewarding hikes in this park.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park
Zion National Park

Zion National Park, located about an hour and a half from Bryce, is the most visited national park in Utah and full of incredible landscapes and trails. Check out my guide for visiting Zion if you’ll be visiting this park during your trip!

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is often overlooked but worth a visit. This national park is located about two and a half hours from Bryce and you will likely find it to be less crowded. Check out my guide on spending one day in Capitol Reef here.

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