As one of the smallest National Parks in the United States, Bryce Canyon National Park sometimes gets overlooked by it's larger neighbor Zion National Park. In fact, a large amount of people come visit Bryce Canyon as a quick couple hour detour from Zion National Park. And while, yes you can see a few of Bryce Canyon National Park's highlights in a quick few hours - we highly recommend that you slow down and really take some time to enjoy this stunning National Park. Bryce Canyon National Park is packed with stunning viewpoints, unique rock formations, amazing trails, natural rock arches and of course it's famous hoodoos. In fact, the largest concentration of hoodoos found anywhere in the world are located within Bryce Canyon National Park. We spent two days exploring Bryce Canyon National Park and this small park actually ended up being our favorite stop during our time spent in Utah!
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WHERE TO STAY
Located a quick 1/2 mile outside the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park, we stayed at Ruby's Inn RV Park and Campground at one of their wonderful cabins. We loved our time spent at this campground and would recommend it to anyone looking for a wonderful camping experience! The cabin itself was a super cute log cabin that included a double sized bunk bed, electricity, a heater and also access to shower and laundry facilities and a wonderful swimming pool! In addition, for those wanting a bit more luxury there are also a handful of hotels in Bryce Canyon City including the Ruby's Inn/Best Western Plus. Ruby's Inn RV Park and Campground is named after Rueben (Ruby) Syrett - who first built the original Ruby's Inn back in 1923 and today the hotel still retains the original 'Ruby's name' and continues to be run by the same family.
BRYCE CANYON CITY
Located just outside the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park is the small and touristy Bryce Canyon City. Providing numerous accommodation choices from camping to luxury hotels - Bryce Canyon City provides a fun area to spend some time shopping for souvenirs, enjoying some ice cream or even enjoying some great family activities such as horseback riding, ATV tours, or the nightly rodeo held during the summer months. Unfortunately we visited the area after Labor Day, so the rodeo was done for the year. And traveling with a three year old ruled out any horseback riding tours - but we were able to take him to the stables and he enjoyed a ride around the stables - his first horse ride! Boy did he love it!
Entering into Bryce Canyon National Park, take the short drive off the main road and you will come to Fairyland Point - this was our first stop and wow what a view! This is the northern most viewpoint along the Rim providing views of the Fairyland Canyon. For those wanting a closer look - the 7.8 mile Fairyland Loop Trail leaves from this parking lot.
For our next stop we headed to Sunset Point (skipping past Sunrise Point for hiking purposes). Arriving to Sunset Point you are rewarded with some of the most stunning views you will find in Bryce Canyon National Park. The colorful rock formations and hoodoos of the Bryce Canyon amphitheater spreads out before you and you will quickly see why so many people come to visit this breathtaking National Park. As as the name suggests - this is also one of the best places to come and watch the sunset if you are able to time it right!
QUEENS GARDEN/NAVAJO TRAIL LOOP
Hiking the Queens Garden/Navajo Trail Loop was our favorite part of visiting Bryce Canyon National Park! This 2.9 mile trail is the most popular hike in the park, and it's easy to see why! The up-close views of the hoodoos, the amazing switchbacks combined with a fairly easy hike of only 600 feet in elevation gain make this a great choice for almost anyone looking to experience a hike thru the hoodoos. To start this hike, park at Sunset Point and begin your walk along the Navajo Loop Trail through Wall Street. By starting the hike from Sunset Point, you avoid having to walk up the steep switchbacks along Wall Street and can enjoy this stunning area by going downhill and not having to huff and puff your way thru! Hiking thru Wall Street was amazing! This short slot canyon is simply stunning and should not be missed! Continuing on, follow the Navajo Loop until it meets up with the Queens Garden Trail. Stunning views, towering hoodoos, colorful arches and playful rock formations will fill the hike as you work your way to Sunrise Point. Upon reaching Sunrise Point, stop to take in the views and then follow the Rim Trail back to your car at Sunset Point.
Arriving to Sunrise Point as we finished our hike thru Queens Garden & Navajo Trail Loop, the views continued to impress! Just as Sunset Point is named due to it's prime location for watching the sunset, Sunrise Point is named for it's wonderful views of the sunrise. But even if you are not able to make it here to witness a sunrise (we did not), the views are wonderful anytime of the day! Gazing out over the Bryce Amphitheater from this vantage point after having just completed a hike through the below hoodoos was a super rewarding experience and gave an appreciation for the hoodoo maze spread out below you! Stop and just take in the view - it is absolutely majestic! From here, we followed a small portion of the Rim Trail to backtrack to our car parked back at Sunset Point.
BRYCE CANYON LODGE
For anyone that loves to visit historic National Park lodges, Bryce Canyon Lodge is worth a visit! Even if you aren't able to stay at the lodge, make a quick stop and check out this wonderful example of 'parkitecture'. The Bryce Canyon Lodge was designed by Gilbert Underwood who was actually the same architect that designed the Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone and Yosemite's Ahwahnee. Located close to the rim of the Bryce Amphitheater, this is the most popular place to stay in Bryce Canyon National Park - so make sure you book your reservations well ahead of time.
Continuing on - Inspiration Point is the next of the four main viewpoints found along the Bryce Amphitheater. Here you will find three different levels of viewpoints in which to enjoy the views out over Bryce's famous hoodoos. While each viewpoint that we had visited so far offered breath-taking views, Inspiration Point may just be the most spectacular!
Named for Ebenezer Bryce who first settled below the canyon in 1870 and who Bryce Canyon National Park is named after. Bryce was vital in the initial development of the area and the area became known as Bryce's Canyon to early settlers to the area. Today, stunning Bryce Point offers another great view point along the Bryce Amphitheater with a view to the north where you are able to look back towards Inspiration, Sunset and Sunrise Points. From the parking lot, you have the option of two different trails down thru the hoodoos - the 5.5 mile Peakaboo Loop Trail and the 4 mile Hat Shop Trail.
For our last stop of the day, we ended at Paria View. Yet another spectacular viewpoint over the colorful hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park. From this vantage point, you are able to view the Aquarius Plateau and Paria River Valley below. For photographers, this viewpoint is also quite popular during sunset as the hoodoos are lit by the evening sun.
For anyone interested in stargazing - Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the best places in the country for viewing the night skies! Designated as a International Dark Sky Park, viewing the stars here was an incredible experience we will not forget! During the summer months at 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays, rangers in Bryce Canyon National Park offer a wonderful program where they use lasers to point out different constellations and answer questions about the night sky. To attend one of these programs, simply sign up at the Visitor Center.
MOSSY CAVE TRAIL
Located in the northern section of Bryce Canyon National Park along the section of Hwy 12 that crosses thru the park - Mossy Cave Trail was a great way to start our second morning in Bryce Canyon National Park. This 0.8 mile roundtrip trail provides a quick stop to get out and stretch your legs and enjoy some beautiful scenery. As you follow the stream along the trail, it is interesting to point out that the stream here is actually man-made. Back in the 1890's, early Mormon settlers diverted water from the Sevier River and dug the 'Tropic Ditch' to bring water to the nearby town of Tropic. Further along the trail, you will come to the mossy cave which is more of a rock overhang than a cave. The wet drippy cave can sometimes have icicles inside into the early summer months since it receives no direct sunlight. Further on, there is a small 15 foot waterfall that is worth a view! On hot days, this is also a great place to cool off and splash around in the water.
BRYCE CANYON VIEWPOINTS
For the rest of our time in Bryce Canyon National Park, we spent our time enjoying the various viewpoints located along the southern portion of the Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive. Leaving the main portion of the Bryce Amphitheater and heading south towards Rainbow Point, the road is filled with nine more viewpoints. Each and every one of these views is worth a stop as each provides a different and unique view over Bryce Canyon's amazing hoodoos and rock formations.
Our first viewpoint of the day was at Swamp Canyon. While maybe not as spectacular as previous views witnessed the day before, it is still worth a quick stop. And, if you are looking for another hike - the Swamp Canyon Trail leaves from here, offering a 4.5 mile hike thru more amazing rock formations.
Located in the same parking lot as Fairview Point, Piracy Point offers a quick half mile out and back trail. Named for the two buttes below that resemble two pirate ships in battle, the area offers a look out over Swamp Canyon and views of where the Ponderosa Pine forest and Spruce-Fir forest begin to merge.
With a fitting name, Farview Point offers views out towards the Grand Staircase where you can see the Aquarius Plateau, the Kaiparowits Plateau and on a clear day can even see as far as the Kaibab Plateau which is on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Natural Bridge is a beautiful red rock arch was carved out over time from the forces of frost and rain. The massive arch spans 85 feet and is absolutely stunning! While Bryce Canyon is not known for it's arches, there are actually a handful of natural arches found within the park, this particular arch is the most known and easiest to get to since it is located just off the main scenic drive. For arch enthusiasts, other arches can be found along the Navajo Loop Trail or Fairyland Loop Trail.
Providing more great hoodoo views, Agua Canyon looks out over a couple prominent hoodoos named the 'Hunter' and the 'Rabbit'. At one point many of the major hoodoos were named but over time as weather and erosion continued to change the shapes of the hoodoos, naming has become less common. Now it's up to you the viewer to decide what you think the hoodoos look like!
Named for the Ponderosa Pines that line that canyon floor here, Ponderosa Canyon offers another great view of Bryce Canyon's colorful hoodoos. While you may be tempted to start skipping viewpoints after getting in and out of the car so many times - keep at it! The views are worth it and this stop is located right off the main scenic drive, making it easy to view!
BLACK BIRCH CANYON
This roadside pullout offers views towards the southern end of Bryce Canyon National Park, including towards Rainbow Point, the most southern viewpoint in the park. Sitting at 8,750 in elevation, Black Birth Canyon is yet another stunning view along Bryce Canyon National Park's Scenic Drive.
Almost to the end of the Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive, walk the quick 0.3 mile out and back trail to Yovimpa Point. From here you are rewarded with breath-taking views which can stretch as far as Arizona over 100 miles away. From this overlook you are actually standing on the top step of the Grand Staircase which are known as the Pink Cliffs and from here the different layers of rock cascade through the Grand Staircase in the distant horizon.
Reaching the last view along Bryce Canyon's 18 mile long Scenic Drive, you are greeted to the spectacular Rainbow Point view. Sitting at the highest elevation in the park at 9,115 feet you are able to look back along the canyon's edge and really get a good view of the entire landscape that makes up this beautiful portion of Bryce Canyon. From here you can also take a quick walk along the Bristlecone Loop Trail. This short one mile trail is relatively flat with just 88 feet in elevation gain and takes you through a Bristlecone Pine forest out to several overlooks providing additional views of the area.
RED ARCH ROAD TUNNELS
Located just outside of Bryce Canyon National Park along Hwy 12 you will find two red arch tunnels near Red Rock Canyon. These tunnels provide the unofficial entrance as you arrive to Dixie National Forest's Red Canyon and Bryce Canyon National Park. When Bryce Canyon National Park first opened back in 1925, it was at one of these tunnels that the ceremony was held. Driving through these tunnels was a fun experience! Make sure and pull over and take a quick picture of this wonderful tunnel!
DIXIE NATIONAL FOREST - RED CANYON
To finish off our afternoon, we spent some time exploring Red Canyon in Dixie National Forest. Located just up Hwy 12 about 20 minutes out of Bryce Canyon National Park, this wonderful area is worth some of your time! Red Canyon is filled with stunning hoodoos, arches, colorful rock formations and some wonderful trails that are much less crowded than some of the trails you will find at nearby Bryce Canyon National Park. As part of a National Forest, it is free to visit Red Canyon and the area allows off-road vehicles on designated trails, horseback riding and bike riding. After a stop at the Visitor Center, it was time to hit the trails! There are a couple of great short, easy trails to pick from including the Pink Ledges & Hoodoo Trail (1.3 miles) , the Arches Trail (1.5 miles), or the Birdseye Trail (0.75 miles). We choose to hike the Arches Trail - and what a great choice! This trail was filled with 15 different arches, numerous fun rock formations and spectacular views in every direction! I wish we would have had more time to hike additional trails in Red Canyon!
Interested in planning your own trip to Bryce Canyon National Park? Below is our summarized itinerary for you to follow or adjust to your own preferences. ENJOY!
Day 1: Fairyland Point, Drive to Sunset Point, from here start the Queens Garden/Navajo Trail Loop 2.9 miles (descend at Sunset Point via the Navajo Trail, go right onto Wall Street and return back up via the Queens Garden to Sunrise Point), Walk back along the rim from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point. Visitor Center, Bryce Canyon Lodge, continue onto Inspiration Point, Bryce Point, Praia View, Explore Bryce Canyon City
*If time one night while in Bryce Canyon: Constellation Evening Ranger Tour. Requires advance sign-up; visit the Ranger Information at Visitor Center.
Day 2: Bryce Canyon National Park - Mossy Cave Trail (0.8 miles), Swamp Canyon, Piracy Point, Farview Point, Natural Bridge, Agua Canyon, Ponderosa Canyon, Black Birch Canyon, Yovimpa Point, Rainbow Point, if time hike the Bristlecone Loop 1 mile. Then head out to Red Canyon (20 minute drive from Bryce City): Visitor Center, pick a hike: Pink Ledges & Hoodoo Trail 1.3 miles, Arches Trail 1.5 miles or Birdseye Trail 0.75 miles.