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Bryce Canyon is such a beautiful and unique looking National Park. The rock formations there, called “hoodoos” are amazing to see up close and in person! You can spend several days there if you enjoy hiking and exploring; or you can also see all the major points and even take a small hike in just one day if that’s all you have. Don’t miss this park if you’re visiting Utah!
Best time to go
It was early October when we went and the weather was perfect. On the cool side where you wanted a warm jacket for the mornings and evenings, but if you were walking or out in the sun a t-shirt during the day was fine. Oh, and there were barely any crowds at all! One or two of the viewpoints had a larger number of people, but we never had trouble finding a parking space or felt overwhelmed. So if you can go in the off seasons(October-April), I highly recommend it!
Summer is definitely the busiest season, and also the warmest. Although since Bryce sits at a higher elevation than other places in southern Utah, it doesn’t get quite as hot. The averages throughout the summer are usually in the 70-80’s (21-26c), and can also drop into the 50’s-so always bring some warm layers with you for the night time as well!
Winter can get snowfall, and roads can and do close if the weather is bad. Always check the park website if you plan on going for road status. However if you get a chance to go I’ve heard it’s absolutely beautiful seeing the red and orange hoodoos and canyons covered in sparkling white snow!
Places to stay
Camping in Bryce – there are two campgrounds available inside the park. North Campground and Sunset Campground. Both are located close to the visitor’s center.
Bryce Canyon Lodge – located inside the park, in-between Sunrise and Sunset points. This is the only place to stay inside the park that’s not a campground. The lodge was designed by architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood, and built in 1925 by the Union Pacific railroad company to encourage visitors to travel to the park.
Bryce – Just outside of the entrance to the park is a small tourist village with a couple of restaurants, shops, and a number of places to stay at for the night!
Tropic – the closest real town to Bryce, just a 10 min. drive, also has a few more affordable places you can stay at overnight.
Places to eat
Just outside the park there are a few restaurants and shops to choose from.
Inside the park, seasonally, there is Bryce Lodge, Valhalla Pizzeria & Coffee Shop, and the General Store which offers a variety of food and snacks.
There are several picnic table sites throughout the park too where you can sit outside and eat if you pack your own lunch.
Getting around in the park
You can drive your own car around the park, and that’s what we did when we visited in October of 2016 on our Grand Circle road trip. However at that time it wasn’t busy, and it was easy to find a parking spot at the viewpoints. If you’re going in peak season in the summer, note that there is a shuttle bus that will take you to all of the most popular viewpoints and trailheads of the park. You don’t want to waste time trying to find a parking spot and circling around–some of the parking areas are small!
For a detailed list of times shuttle bus and stops, check out the park’s website here.
Note: I have the stops along Scenic Drive listed in order from North to South, but it is recommended that you drive all the way to the end at Rainbow Point first (if you will be taking your car). It’s because all of the viewpoints are on the East side of the road, so it’s easier to pull in.
Viewpoints along Scenic Drive and Hiking Trails
You can easily spend a few hours driving along park road and going to all the viewpoints. I highly recommend going to as many as you can if you enjoy landscapes. It’ll give you a great overview of the whole area and you’ll get to see unique views of the canyon, along with the distant land formations that make up the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Bryce Canyon is located on the Paunsaugunt Plateau, and is the highest elevation and the start of the Grand Staircase-which steps down all the way to the Grand Canyon to the south. The section of the Grand Staircase known as the “Pink Cliffs” is what makes up the canyon here.
Bryce was named after the early Mormon pioneer, Ebenezer Bryce, who immigrated to the US from Scotland, and eventually lived in the area for several year as one of the first settlers.
The first viewpoint is located to the left, just past the entrance sign, but before the visitor’s center. It’s also the start of both the Rim Trail and the Fairyland Loop Trail.
- Rim Trail – Easy – 11 miles one way. An easy trail that follows the rim of the canyon, so you can take in all the views while walking at your own pace. The entire Rim Trail is 11 miles one way, however you can do small sections of it in-between any of the viewpoints in the Bryce Amphitheatre section(Fairyland, Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration, and Bryce Points). And of course if you park your car at one end and walk to the other, you can always take the shuttle back (just double check the shuttle stops and times before you do so!).
- Fairyland Loop Trail – Strenuous – 8 miles round trip. This is a loop trail that zigzags down into the canyon(4 miles), then back up again(1.5miles) to nearby Sunrise point. You walk the rest of the way along the rim(2.5miles) back to your starting point. It’s fairly strenuous and has a total of a 1,716 ft. elevation change.
- Rim Trail, Sunrise to Sunset – Easy – 2 miles round trip. If you only want to hike a portion of the rim trail, the part between Sunrise and Sunset Points is said to be the easiest. It’s only 1 mile each way, and the trail is paved.
- Queen’s Garden Trail – Easy – 3.6 miles round trip. This trail is the easiest decent into the canyon. You can combine it with the Navajo Loop trail to make a longer, more difficult, round trip hike; taking you back up to the rim at Sunset point, then walking back to Sunrise Point for 2.9 miles total.
- Fairyland Loop Trail, Tower Bridge – Moderate – 3 miles round trip. This is the second access point for Fairyland loop. You have to walk a little north of Sunrise point to access the trail head. If you want to do just a portion of Fairyland Loop, this is the place to start at. You can do a 3 mile out & back hike down to “Tower Bridge”–you’ll know it when you see it! The scenery is gorgeous on this hike!
- Rim Trail – Access point.
- Navajo Loop Trail – Moderate – 1.3 miles round trip. On this short hike into the canyon you’ll see formations like Thor’s Hammer, Wall Street, and Two Bridges. In addition to being able to make a bigger loop with the Queen’s Garden Trail that I mentioned above, you can also connect this one to Peekaboo Loop Trail, which can go all the way up to Bryce Point. Together, Navajo and Peekaboo would be a 4.9 mile loop. This is the most popular trail in the park!
Several lovely overlooks are here with one of the most amazing views of the canyon. Seeing this site is what you came to Bryce for, don’t miss it!
- Rim Trail – Access point.
It’s a good thing both Inspiration and Bryce Point are shuttle stops-both these points will have the most people at them, the views are incredible! If you like drawing and painting, either of these points is a great place to find a place to sit and do some sketches of the hoodoos!
- Rim Trail – Access point.
- Peekaboo Loop Trail – Strenuous – 5.5 miles round trip. A great day hike through the Amphitheater! See the Cathedral Butte, the Wall of Windows, and other amazing hoodoo formations.
- Under the Rim, Backcountry Trail – Difficult – 22.9 miles one way – Bryce Point is also the start of the long backcountry trail through the park. You need a permit to camp overnight on this trail. Also if you plan on going check the park website for any information and closures!
This viewpoint is easy to miss-I did! 🙁. It’s on the way towards Bryce point-before you get there it’s a road off to the right. Check it out for a different view of the canyon to the south. Let me know how nice it is, I’ll have to check it out next time! 😉
Located in-between 2 sections of hoodoos and the rim/plateau, swamp canyon is actually indeed the wettest portion of the park. There are 2 creeks that give life to more trees and vegetations than other areas, and you’ll be able to spot more birds and wildlife-even tiger salamanders can be found here!
- Sheep Creek and Swamp Canyon Loop Trail – Moderate – 4 miles round trip. A more forested greener trail than the other ones in Bryce Amphitheatre, but it’s still beautiful and much less people come here if you’re looking for something quieter. You’ll also still see impressive views of the canyon walls along the walk.
Farview Point & Piracy Point
On a good day you can see up to 160 miles away–all the way to the border of northern Arizona! Thus the appropriately named Farview Point. Piracy Point is just a short walk to the north. According to the park’s website, it was named Piracy due to 2 buttes appearing as if they were ships locked in battle. I couldn’t quite see it, could you?
There is no trail access here; but, if you’re in need of a pitstop, there are restrooms!
One of the most picturesque formations you can see at these viewpoints is here. The natural arch, or bridge, that was weathered away through the sandstone fin. You can see it up close at the viewpoint, with Ponderosa Pine trees showing on the other side through the arch.
So the official “Thor’s Hammer” formation is located on Navajo Loop Trail, but I think this formation found at Agua Canyon looks pretty darn close! Maybe it’s Thor’s auxilary hammer. Or just his practice hammer for when he doesn’t want to swing the real thing around ;p
Ponderosa Canyon & Black Birch Canyon
If you know how to identify trees, you might wonder at first why this viewpoint is called Ponderosa because at the rim around you you’ll mostly see Blue Spruce, Douglas and White Fir trees.
Down in the canyon below however are many Ponderosa Pines. The elevation will determine what type of tree grows in a location.
Black Birch Canyon is another short stop a little past Ponderosa.
Yovimpa Point & Rainbow Point
You’re finally at the end of the road, these are the last 2 stops! Rainbow Point is the highest veiwpoint in the park at 9,115 feet! You can see so much of the Pink Cliffs of Bryce from this vantage point.
Riggs Spring Loop, Backcountry Trail – Strenuous – 8.6 miles round trip. Named after a spring that’s found about midway through the trail. Again, check the park website for any closures as this is a longer backcountry trail.
Mossy Cave Trail – Easy – 0.8 miles round trip. This trail is found outside the main part of the park. It’s just off of Highway 12 to the East. It’s a short hike leading to a small waterfall and grotto.
In the little village of Bryce where there are shops and restaurants, etc, you’ll also see some corrals with horses! Yes, you can take a horseback ride into the canyon! There’s Ruby’s Horseback Adventures, and also Canyon Trail Rides who are authorized to take you into the park on horseback.
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