Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park

Tree of the Hoodoos
Trees magically grow atop the hoodoo formations in Bryce Canyon.

Bryce Canyon National Park is arguably the most beautiful National Park amongst Utah’s big five. That is of course a loaded statement as Zion and Arches National Parks often make the top of the list for the best parks in the world. Regardless of where it ranks, visiting Bryce Canyon should be a priority for anyone exploring the gorgeous state of Utah.

Bryce Canyon is terribly named because it harkens images of the Grand Canyon into one’s mind’s eye. It is less of a canyon and more of a massive beautiful erosion, covered in rock spires and columns known as hoodoos. This landscape is hard to comprehend if you have never seen it for yourself. So start planning your visit to Bryce Canyon National Park right now.

How much time do I need when visiting Bryce Canyon?

The answer to the question of “how much time is needed?” will be different for everyone of course, but most travelers will find that one day is sufficient to take in this natural wonder. In a single day, you can complete a great hike or two and see most of what the park has to offer. 

One Day Itinerary for Bryce Canyon

Visiting Bryce Canyon
Overlooking the Bryce Amphitheater from the Two Bridges section of the Navajo Loop Trail.

Watch the Sunrise from the Rim

Bryce Sunrise
The sunrise illuminates the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater.

The only thing better than exploring Bryce Canyon National Park is sitting still and watching the sunrise on this otherworldly landscape. The hoodoos really glow in the early morning light. The depth of the landscape can be best taken in with the long shadows cast by the thousands of columns in the early morning light.

The best place to watch the sunrise is on the Rim Trail above the largest area of Hoodoos known as the Bryce Amphitheater. Park in the Sunset parking lot and walk north towards Sunrise Point. Anywhere between Sunset Point and Sunrise Point will be a great spot to watch the sunrise.

Hike the Bryce Amphitheater

Like any good park, Bryce Canyon National Park has some amazing hiking trails. Hikes along the rim overlook the vast magical landscape. There are also amazing trails that lead deep into the eroded hoodoo covered terrain. Start early as the majority of the park faces the east. By late afternoon the shadows from the rim will shroud the terrain.

Bryce Tunnel
The Queen’s Garden Trail has several small doorways that pass through the rock fins as it traverses the Bryce Amphitheater.
  • Type: Loop
  • Trailhead: Sunset Parking Lot
  • Rating: Moderate
  • Distance: 3.5-miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 600’
  • Recommended Time: 2 hours

The Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop Trail is a moderate hike that should not be missed when visiting Bryce Canyon National Park. It is listed by the park service as the most popular trail in Bryce Canyon and for good reason. The trail descends into the Bryce Amphitheater and meanders through the white, red, yellow, and pink hoodoos and rock fins. At times the trail literally passes through the terrain via small tunnels in the rock. It is an amazing trail.

Adding the Peekaboo Loop Trail (Adds 3.75-miles, 7.25-mile total figure-8, 1,631’ of total elevation gain)

Bryce Canyon Windows
These massive window formations can be seen from Bryce Point but are best viewed along the Peekaboo Loop Trail.
  • Type: Loop
  • Trailhead: N/A – Added to the Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop creating a figure-8 trail.
  • Rating: Difficult
  • Distance: Add 3.75-miles (7.25 total)
  • Elevation Gain: Add 1,031′ (1,631′ total)
  • Recommended Time: Add 2.5 hours (4.5hours total)

If 3.75-miles just isn’t enough exploration, you can add on the Peekaboo Loop Trail before climbing out on the Navajo Trail. The Peekaboo Loop can be accessed via a small flat spur path adjacent to the Navajo Loop junction.

The Bryce Scenic Drive

Agua Canyon Hoodoo
Agua Canyon with its towering Hoodoo is just one of the many beautiful overlooks discovered with a scenic drive through the park.

I’m not usually one to recommend something as simple as a scenic drive because you often can’t experience a place from the road. But, this 18-mile scenic drive, plus Paria Viewpoint and Bryce viewpoint, should not be missed. When visiting Bryce Canyon, we’ve got the must-stop viewpoints and short hikes along this scenic drive.

Rainbow Point

Rainbow Point
The viewing platform at Bryce Canyon’s Rainbow Point.

Start by driving the entire scenic road south to Rainbow Point. This is a long curvy road and all the must-see stops are safely and easily accessed when heading back north. At 9,105’, Rainbow Point is the highest part of Bryce National Park. It has a larger parking area with toilets and great views. It even has some informational panels about how the landscape came into being and a few of the animals that inhabit the park. Walk along the rim and through the Bristlecone pine to Yovimpa Point—the end of the Bryce Canyon formation. 

Ponderosa Canyon Pullout

The Ponderosa Canyon overlook has expansive views of the terrain beyond Bryce Canyon as well as some of the red rock formations.

Agua Canyon Pullout

Agua Canyon has the second-best hoodoo in the park (Thor’s Hammer being #1). It looks like a grumpy old man with a pointed nose.

The Natural Bridge Pullout

Natural Bridge
The Natural Bridge arch is one of the highlights of the Bryce Canyon scenic drive.

Natural Bridge is a massive 85’ rock arch and the best reason to drive the scenic road. Get here in the early afternoon when the light illuminates the rock formation. The colorful terrain of the red arch with the green ponderosa pines beyond it is only made better in the autumn with a few aspen trees turning shades of yellow and orange in the foreground. 

Farview & Piracy Point

Farview Point is another large parking area. The views are far-reaching from the rim but the best thing about this stop is the two small rock arches that can be seen below the rim. Hike the short trail out to Piracy Point for more great views and a bit more privacy.

Sheep Creek Swamp Canyon Pullout

Sheep Creek Swamp Canyon is perhaps the most interestingly named point in Bryce Canyon and yet another beautiful viewpoint with red eroded terrain lined with green ponderosa pines. If you have time you can also descend the trail found here 647’ down on a fairly secluded 4-mile loop.

Paria Viewpoint

Paria View
The Paria viewpoint has this massive column towering over the headwaters of the Paria River.

While not on the 18-mile scenic road, the Paria View is a viewpoint that should not be missed (unfortunately it is closed in winter). There is a very short concrete path that leads out to the tip of the point with a remarkably beautiful and massive rock column. The viewpoint overlooks a dry riverbed for much of the year but this is essentially the headwaters for the Paria River Canyon which cuts through southern Utah and northern Arizona on its way towards the Colorado River. The canyon is a great multiday backpacking journey in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.

Bryce Point

Bryce Point
Looking up at Bryce Point from the Peekaboo Loop Trail.

At 8,300’, Bryce Point has the highest elevated viewpoint of the Bryce Amphitheater and it should not be missed when visiting Bryce Canyon National Park. Along with a stunning view of all the hoodoos, there are several large windows to be seen from this vantage point along a formation known as the Wall of Windows.

Inspiration Point

Inspiration Hoodoos
Inspiration Point is a great spot to take in the thousands of hoodoos in the Bryce Amphitheater.

The final stop on this driving tour of the park is Inspiration Point. It has three elevated platform views with ever-increasing unobstructed views of the overwhelming number of hoodoos that make up the Bryce Amphitheater. The upper viewpoint is a steep climb but worth the effort. If you want to be truly inspired, park in the Bryce Point Parking Lot and hike along the Rim Trail past Inspiration Point and on to Sunset Point. You can then catch a park shuttle bus back up to Bryce Point. The 2.2-mile hike is mostly downhill and is the best way to take in all of the Bryce Amphitheater from above.

Logistics for Visiting Bryce Canyon

Seasons

Autumn in Bryce Canyon
Autumn is an amazing time to visit Bryce Canyon National Park.
  • Spring: Less crowded & cooler temperatures. Lingering snow and ice can keep some of the roads and trails closed.
  • Summer: Large crowds & hotter weather. Late summer can also bring monsoon rains to the park.
  • Autumn: Warm days and cool nights make the autumn season one of the best times to visit. The park’s few aspen trees also add more color to the already beautiful Bryce tapestry.
  • Winter: Minimal crowds, cold weather, and snowy conditions. Some of the trails and roads are closed but white snow adds another dimension to the beauty of Bryce Canyon National Park.

Food

Bryce Canyon is pretty remote so food options are limited. The park has some good food options at the Bryce Canyon Lodge, Valhalla Pizza, and the General Store but all are a bit pricey. Drive or take the park shuttle into Bryce Canyon City for a more tasty and affordable option.

Cowboy Ranch House

The Cowboy Ranch House in Bryce Canyon City serves western fare. This place can be packed so expect a wait but the food is delicious.

Pizza Place

The Pizza Place in Tropic is a bit of a drive but it is also a bit more affordable and a very tasty option if you find yourself on the east side of Bryce Canyon National Park.

Camping

Either of the park’s two campgrounds (Sunset Campground and the North Campground) make for a great home base when exploring the park. During the Peak Summer season (Late May to Mid-October), the park releases the Sunset Campground campsites for reservations on a 6-month rolling window at 8:00AM (MDT). There are no showers inside the campground but the General Store near the North Campground does have public showers available.

Boondocking

While we recommend staying inside the park, if you aren’t able to snag a site then there is a great boondocking option about 5 miles north of Bryce Canyon City known as Johns Valley Dispersed. There are many established sites available on both sides of the road. 

Hotels/Lodges

The Bryce Canyon Lodge while pricey does have the added advantage of easy access to the rim of Bryce Canyon.

Ruby’s Inn (Best Western) is a more affordable option with easy access to the park via the shuttle system.

More Than a Day

Bryce Canyon National Park
Looking north towards Boat Mesa and the Fairyland Loop Trail.

Fairyland Loop Trail

Take half a day and explore the 8-mile Fairyland Loop Trail. This long trail has some elevation gain but it also has some amazing views of Boat Mesa as well as unique hoodoo views and different views looking south over the Bryce Amphitheater. 

Mossy Cave Trail

Hike the short Mossy Cave Trail on the east side of the park to a small nook (cave) with a natural spring and a small but beautiful waterfall. The waterfall is fed by a spring that flows year-round except for when it is frozen solid in the dead of winter. 

Backpacking

While Bryce Canyon can be seen in a day you could take a slower, more in-depth approach to the park and spend a night or two backpacking the park’s longer trails. There are two backcountry trails that allow for overnight camping in designated areas: the Under-the-Rim Trail (Rainbow Point to Bryce Point) and the Riggs Spring Loop Trail (South beyond Rainbow Point). 

Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park

Visiting Bryce Canyon Guide
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Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park is like stepping into an outdoor artist gallery. The overwhelming number and scale as well as the intricacy of the natural formations found inside this relative small park is jaw dropping. Wherever your vacation to Utah takes you make sure you schedule at least one day for this amazing natural wonder.

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