Bryce Canyon National Park is no secret. With over two million visitors in 2016, it ranked number 13 of the 60 National Parks in visits. Many people spend only a few hours in the park and see just a few of the easiest to reach Bryce Canyon viewpoints. However, there are a few lesser known parts of the park that should be added to your itinerary to thoroughly experience the beauty of Bryce Canyon.
Bryce Canyon is located in southwest Utah, approximately four hours from Las Vegas, NV and Salt Lake City, UT. It is five hours from the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park (with some exciting stops in between). Bryce is also less than two hours from Zion National Park, which is why visits to the two parks are frequently coupled together. While you may be tempted to spend all or most of your time in Zion, you’d be missing out. Bryce is a completely different experience.
Located above 8,000 feet, Bryce Canyon sees a variety of weather, which ranges from snow in the winter to hot temperatures in the summer. Check the weather forecast to make sure you are prepared!
Bryce Canyon National Park hikes, things to do in Bryce Canyon, information on what to pack and do in the surrounding areas are highlighted in our 8+ itinerary for Bryce Canyon National Park.
OUR VISIT TO BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
We arrived at Bryce Canyon mid-morning after an early morning hike in Zion. Following a brief picnic lunch at Sunset Point, we continued the 18-mile drive to Rainbow Point. Beyond Sunset Point, the crowds thinned significantly as we drove south towards the end of the road.
BRYCE CANYON'S BRISTLECONE LOOP TRAIL
Most travelers stop at the first viewpoint on the way into the park, but it makes good sense to drive to the end of the park road and start at Rainbow Point instead. It is a fantastic way to view Bryce Canyon, and the viewpoints will all be on the right side on your return trip. At Rainbow Point, there are several dirt paths that lead to the rim and great photo opportunities as well as benches for relaxing.
We chose to take the short, 1 mile hike on the Bristlecone Loop Trail. This aptly named trail winds through Bristlecone pines, known for their gnarled and twisted trunk, as well as spruce fir trees. The wonderful scent reminded us of walking through a Christmas tree farm in New England.
While you won’t find views from the Bristlecone Loop in any Bryce Canyon brochure, the vistas are amazing by any standard. Much of the trail faces the south and west and provides a different perspective than seen at the more well-known stops in Bryce Canyon.
Be sure to watch your kids on this trail, as there are several spots without fencing. We never felt like we were at risk of falling, but it is best not to walk or stand too close to the edge of the canyon.
BRYCE CANYON VIEWPOINTS ALONG THE PARK ROAD
On the return trip along the Park Road, we took our time and stopped at many viewpoints to take pictures. Most are quick stops without trails or services.
One of the more popular stops was Natural Bridge. Be sure to hold on to your hats, glasses and trash as you take your pictures and peer over the fence at the view. Plenty of items have unfortunately fallen and the steep drop-off makes retrieval impossible.
If you are good at spotting animals, you might get lucky and see some wildlife in the fields. We came across a small cluster of Prong Horn deer that were interesting to watch from a distance.
THE AMPHITHEATER FROM SUNRISE AND SUNSET POINTS
The Amphitheater is the most well-known view of Bryce Canyon, and for good reason. We were lucky to have a beautiful cloudless day, and the color contrast of the sky, trees and hoodoos was absolutely amazing.
We chose to stop at Sunrise and Sunset Points briefly on our way out for an early dinner. We had hiking plans for the evening and wanted to make sure we could get back while it was still daylight.
QUEENS GARDEN / NAVAJO LOOP PLUS RIM TRAIL
A priority for our visit was to hike down into Bryce Canyon. So, we planned our day in hopes that we would end the 3.5 mile hike as the sun was going down. We all brought LED headlamps in case our plan backfired and we ended up hiking in the dark!
We started at Sunrise Point, about 90 minutes before sunset. The trail starts by heading down into Bryce Canyon on a very wide and well-traveled switchback trail. After descending slightly over 300 feet, the trail winds through what is known as the Queen’s Garden, which is a breathtaking collection of hoodoos.
The colors of the rock this time of day really stood out, and we found it difficult to stow our cameras and keep moving. Bryce is just so photogenic!
At the base of the Queens Garden trail, we continued on the Spur Trail which connects Queens Garden to the Navajo and Peekaboo loops. We were pleasantly surprised by the transition from the colorful limestone hoodoos to a forest of ponderosa pines, Douglas-fir, manzanita and junipers.
Once we arrived at the trail junction, we chose to return to the rim via the Wall Street side of the Navajo Loop Trail. This trail is slightly steeper than turning around and going back up the Queens Garden Trail, but provides a completely different view and is worth the extra distance. The Queens Garden / Navajo Combination Loop is the most popular trail in Bryce, but we didn’t encounter crowds of hikers in the evening which made it a very enjoyable time to hike!
Just before ascending Wall Street, we passed the famous Douglas-firs that tower over hikers as they reach for the sky between the limestone walls. The kids especially enjoyed hiking through the slot canyon. As we hiked the switchbacks of Wall Street, we noticed hummingbirds feeding on thistles.
What a view when we climbed the last bit of trail to the rim! We stayed at Sunset Point until the sun went down. The Bryce Canyon sunset is one we will never forget!
After heading back along the Rim Trail to our car at Sunrise Point, we called it a night. As we’ve had time to reflect on our time at Bryce Canyon and all the other National Parks we’ve visited, this trail remains the most memorable of all. If you are going to Bryce Canyon, this trail should be #1 on your list.
HORSEBACK RIDING IN BRYCE CANYON ON THE CANYON TRAIL RIDE
The following day we were up early for our trail ride into Bryce Canyon with Canyon Trail Rides. There are two rides to choose from: a three-hour ride on the Peek-a-Boo loop, or (the ride that we chose) a two-hour ride to the floor of Bryce Canyon. After checking in at the Bryce Canyon Lodge, we headed down to the loading corral where we met the guided and our sure-footed trail partners.
There were about 40 mounts in all, saddled up and ready to go. After a quick safety talk, the guides paired each person with a hand-selected mule or horse (depending on your riding experience and comfort level). For our family, there were three horses (for our more experienced riders) and two mules. After mounting up and collecting ourselves with our trail group (about eight riders with a guide), we headed out the corral and onto the trail.
Within minutes, we were descending into the Canyon on a fairly steep series of steep switchbacks. We don’t mean to be alarmists; but, to some of us on mules for the first time, the trail looked especially steep! The mule I rode appeared to be messing with me, as it walked particularly close to the edge of the trail without much concern for my blood pressure! Of course, they do say that mules are more sure-footed and could probably take this trip in their sleep and still be perfectly safe.
As we rode, our “cowgirl” spoke about the history and geology of Bryce Canyon. She came to a few brief stops to allow us to take pictures as well. It should be noted that no backpacks are allowed on this trip. While cameras are allowed, we recommend something that you can strap around your neck. We carried our camera but didn’t end up using it much since it was difficult to keep the lens clean. So, we ended up using our iPhones, which we feared we might drop but used anyway. Our waterproof phone cases came in really handy as we almost dropped them a couple of times, and we were assured that the ride would not stop if such an event occurred!
As we headed down to the Canyon, the red hoodoos became visible and popped against the bright blue sky.
The colors were incredible and the morning ride provided a different perspective when compared to our experience from night before in the evening twilight.
The ride continued for about 90 minutes total, passing below Sunrise Point and reaching the floor of Bryce Canyon, before looping back up to the rim. Around the midway point, we stopped and our guide took group pictures.
Our “cowgirl” was knowledgeable and fun, but it appeared that all guides were equally terrific. Everyone in the family really enjoyed the trip. In fact, two of our kids said it was the best part of the vacation! If you are considering this trip (which you should!), here are a few tips: First, wear sunscreen, as there isn’t much shade except on the floor of Bryce Canyon. Second, you’ll want to book your ride well in advance. Third, you will get dusty and dirty, so wear clothing that is appropriate for riding. Long pants and closed-toed shoes are a must. Fourth, wear some sort of clothing with zippered or buttoned pockets to keep keys, cell phones and other personal items safe (since backpacks aren’t allowed).
MOSSY CAVE TRAIL
On Utah’s UT-12 (about seven miles from the park’s main entrance) is the Mossy Cave Trail. This part of the park requires no admission fee and is not visited by most who come to Bryce Canyon. You’ll only see it if you are also passing through Escalante on your road trip (which is recommended!).
The 0.8-mile Mossy Cave Trail climbs steadily up 300 feet as it follows along what is known as Water Canyon. This water flow was created in the late 1800s as an irrigation path from the Sevier River.
After crossing a bridge, we arrived at the fork which splits between Mossy Cave and the Waterfall Trail. We turned left and headed up towards the cave first. Mossy Cave was filled with its namesake and dripping water, but apparently it is full of icicles in the winter. Our kids enjoyed hanging out near the cave’s entrance, which was much cooler than the exposed trail leading up to the cave.
After visiting the cave, we headed back to the junction and followed the other trail to the waterfall. Water is a rare sight in Bryce Canyon, and we were surprised to see this waterfall was flowing steadily even in July.
After spending some time near the falls, we headed back down the trail. While we were all anxious to get back into the air-conditioned minivan, we were thankful that we decided to make this stop.
WHAT ARE OTHERS SAYING ABOUT BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK?
We asked several other respected and well-traveled bloggers: What view or hike left the most lasting impression from your visit to Bryce Canyon National Park? Here is what they said:
- Heesun from MeWantTravel said: “If you're a fan of the outdoors, then Bryce Canyon National Park cannot be missed! Its hoodoos make this park unlike any other and you can see plenty on the Peekaboo Loop Trail, where you can also see the famous Wall of Windows. It is 5.5 miles round trip and you can expect changes in elevation. For more info on Bryce Canyon National Park, you can check out our post here”
Photo of MeWantTravel's experience in the winter!
- Cliff from BackRoadsWest talks about one of our favorites as well: “What left the most lasting impression? Well, it’s a long answer, sort of. The classic hike that any fit person should do in Bryce is a loop connecting several trails. First, park your vehicle and start at Sunset Point. Then, either go down Wall Street or Navajo Loop. One of them may be closed. Both trails end at the same place, the bottom. Once at the bottom, find your way onto the Queen’s Connecting Trail. Transition onto the Queen’s Garden Trail which will climb up to Sunrise Point. Then, walk along the rim back to Sunset Point to complete your loop. Although we’ve done the hike in the summer and fall, the most memorable time was in wintertime, as documented in our blog of Bryce Canyon in the Snow."
- Of course it’s no surprise that Jamie from Photo Jeepers had the same thoughts: “Bryce Canyon National Park is an extremely stunning park with breathtaking vistas and landscapes crossed by challenging trails. Navajo Queen's Garden Trail is definitely a 'must do' hike. The trail runs through colorful hoodoos that make Bryce Canyon famous. Thor's Hammer is the main attraction on the Navajo Trail and is perfectly located to provide outstanding photographic opportunities. Take time to explore the Queen's Garden where you will find the famous Queen Victoria hoodoo. The perspective of looking up at the vibrant, towering hoodoos while walking along the trail transports you into a new world that sparks the imagination and fades the stresses of every day routine.” Jamie goes into her experiences there in more detail in their excellent blog on Bryce Canyon.
- Finally, Amanda from A Dangerous Business Travel Blog had slightly different weather than we experienced, but didn’t let it stop her. “We really wanted to do the Navajo Loop and Queen's Garden Trail hike, but woke up on our dedicated hiking morning to find lots of low fog and a bit of rain. But we decided to do the hike anyway. Despite it being wet, muddy, and quite foggy, there was something kind of magical about being down amongst the hoodoos with all the fog. There weren't many other people hiking because of the weather, so it was super quiet, too.” Read about their Bryce Canyon experience in their Blog: A Foggy, Soggy Day at Bryce Canyon National Park.
BEFORE YOU GO TO BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
- Bryce Canyon National Park is open at all times (24 hours / day, all days of the year). The visitor center opens at 8:00 AM every morning but closes as early as 4:30 in the winter or as late as 8:00 in the summer. Check the website for exact hours for your visit.
- There are several campgrounds inside the park, including some that take reservations. Check the website to see if reservations are available for your desired campground and book well in advance. More information on camping is also available on the Bryce Canyon camping website.
- Lodging is available inside of Bryce Canyon at the Bryce Canyon Lodge. Reservations can be hard to get, so do your best to book well in advance (up to a full year). Bryce is one of the few parks that has nearby lodging outside the park as well in Bryce, UT. The small city has several options, as well as good eateries and stores.
- The Bryce Canyon Shuttle provides shuttle service in and around the park between April and October. This can help you avoid the crowds at the parking lots. The shuttle is not required to be used.
- While Bryce Canyon can get hot, it is cooler than the other parks in the state. Snow is common in the winter, and the high elevation keeps temperatures cooler in the summer than you might expect, with the average high in July peaking only at 82F. Still, check the forecast before you go.
FURTHER BRYCE CANYON INFORMATION FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Things to do in Bryce Canyon National Park, what to pack, what to do before you go, maps, Bryce Canyon hiking information (we cover the best hikes in Bryce Canyon, in ranked order) and other park details are included in our 8+ page itinerary for Bryce Canyon National Park. Another option is to use our 60+ page itinerary for Utah’s National Parks.
- As you can tell, one of our most favorite hikes in Bryce Canyon National Park (which you can read about in our blog), was the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop Trail. We also thoroughly enjoyed the Mossy Cave Trail and recommend you check out our blog if you are interested in this out-of-the-way trail!
- In addition to Bryce Canyon, we recommend visiting Zion National Park while you are in the area, located less than two hours away. See our blogs on Zion National Park for more details.
- We create custom, vintage-style posters, postcards and note cards from your photos of Bryce Canyon National Park (or any other locations). Check out our process!
OTHER USEFUL INFORMATION ON BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
- Guided Bryce Canyon hikes and ranger activities are offered daily. If you’ve never done a ranger-led event, you should, as the amount of information that they have is amazing.
- Bryce Canyon National Park Backpacking information can be found here. There are several popular trails for backpacking in Bryce, including the Under the Rim Trail.
- Bryce Canyon weather is generally temperate and is much cooler than nearby Zion National Park. Make sure you have a jacket in the evenings, even in the summer. Be ready for snow as well if you visit Bryce Canyon National Park in the winter! For latest Bryce weather, click here.
- If we had to pick the best time to visit Bryce Canyon, we’d recommend the summer as you have the best access to the trails, viewpoints and the hoodoos!
- Full moon hikes are incredible experiences. If you can plan your visit around these events, they are fantastic!
- Additional information on Bryce Canyon can be found at the NPS website.
If you are reading this, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard of and at least considered a visit to Bryce Canyon National Park. As with every other park we’ve visited, we were not disappointed, and know any visitor would feel the same way. We highly recommend taking a one or two days in Bryce Canyon to explore the hoodoos!