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Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the smaller national parks in the US, but it is definitely worth a visit for its incredible landscapes and rock formations. It’s a park that is often overshadowed by its neighbor, Zion National Park, but one that is surprisingly unique and breathtaking. In this video and post, I’ll share some things to do at Bryce Canyon National Park, as well as some tips in case you’re planning a visit.
What makes Bryce Canyon National Park so special?
Highest concentration of hoodoos
Despite being called a canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park is a collection of natural amphitheaters filled with unique structures called hoodoos. These are spire-shaped structures that are a result of erosion in the sedimentary rocks. Hoodoos can be found in parts of the world; however, Bryce Canyon is home to the highest concentration of them, giving it a very out-of-this-world environment and landscape.
Smaller size and proximity to Zion National Park
Bryce Canyon was established as a national park in 1928 and attracts about two and a half million visitors per year. The national park is about 56 square miles, which makes it much smaller than Zion National Park, which is 229 square miles. This also makes it a much easier park to explore, especially if you’re short on time or trying to visit after exploring one of the other national parks in the area. In fact, you can easily explore the main attractions of the park in a day. A lot of people visit Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park since they are relatively close to one another. Both parks are located in southwest Utah and it’s about a two-hour drive between Zion and Bryce Canyon.
Things to see and do when visiting Bryce Canyon National Park
We visited in September 2019 during our honeymoon, which consisted of a road trip to six different national parks. If you’re interested in seeing more of the parks that we’ve visited, check out our National Parks playlist.
Below are the lists of stops we made when visiting the park.
1. Visitor Center:
As with all of our trips to National Parks, our first stop is always to check-in at the visitor center. This is a great way to pick up a free park map and talk to rangers about how to plan your visit. The rangers offer unique insights into things to see in each park, and they can also give you a heads up of potential trail closures that you should be aware of.
2. Sunset Point & Bryce Amphitheater:
Our first, and possible favorite, stop in the park was Sunset Point, to explore the Bryce Amphitheater. From here, there are plenty of trail options, depending on how far you’re looking to hike. We did a loop that started at Sunset Point, passed along the rim trail to Sunrise Point. Using the Queen’s Garden Trail, we entered the Amphitheater so we could walk among the many Hoodoos. We then joined the Navajo Loop trail and made our way back to the top via “Wall Street”, which offers incredible views of intense red rock formations above.
I would rate this an easy to medium level hike. Since there are so many pathways throughout the Bryce Amphitheater, you can control how far you want to go and the level of difficulty.
TIP: Smell the trees!
While you’ll likely be in awe of all the hoodoos and rock formations in the area, make sure you also embrace your other senses. For example, there are many Ponderosa Pine trees in the area, and you may notice a sweet smell while passing by them. Take a moment to smell the bark. The trees smell like vanilla or butterscotch.
3. Inspiration Point and Bryce Point:
The next stop for us was Inspiration Point, a viewpoint offering a different perspective of the Bryce Amphitheater. We drove to this viewpoint, although you could take a short hike from Sunset Point via the rim trail if you’re looking to enjoy more of the spectacular views.
A short drive from Inspiration Point is Bryce Point, where you can either check out more views or use this as a starting point for the “Peek-a-Boo” trail, another popular hiking option in Bryce.
4. “18-mile drive” to Rainbow Point:
There are 18 miles of scenic road from the park entrance to Rainbow Point, where you’ll pass 13 viewpoints to explore along the way. We enjoyed taking this drive slow and stopping at many of the viewpoints before reaching Rainbow Point. The stops are hard to miss and are marked on the Bryce Canyon Park map that you can pick up from the visitor center.
Our favorites included “Natural Bridge”, where you can see a natural bridge formation with a backdrop of more red rocks and hoodoos in the distance. Other stops include Aqua Canyon, Ponderosa Canyon, and Rainbow Point. We parked at Rainbow Point and took the short “Bristlecone Loop trail” to stretch our legs after the scenic drive. This was an easy hike through some wooded areas that offered beautiful views of the landscape.
5. Mossy Cave Trail & Waterfall:
This stop is outside the main park and was on the route back to Tropic, where we were staying during our trip. If you park at the Mossy Cave trail head, a short hike will take you along a beautiful stream to a modest waterfall. There’s also a small cave to explore, hence, the name “Mossy Cave”.
It’s worth noting that there are plenty of additional hikes and stopping points to explore in Bryce Canyon if you have extra time. We had only one day to explore the park. However, you could easily extend this by another day and try one of the extended hikes in the park.
Where to stay when visiting Bryce Canyon National Park?
Staying inside the park
It is possible to stay in the park. There is a Bryce Canyon Lodge located inside the park. There are also several camping options in the park.
Staying outside the park
Immediately outside the park entrance are several smaller hotels and motels in Bryce Canyon City. The area is a bit kitschy but still fun to explore.
We opted to stay at an Airbnb in a small town called Tropic, about a 15-minute drive southeast from the park entrance. In fact, we loved our Airbnb experience at Bybee Nest. The host of the Airbnb did a great job of creating a comfortable, clean, and safe space. It had all the amenities that we needed for our two-night stay.
Where to eat when visiting Bryce Canyon National Park?
There aren’t a lot of eating options in the area. If you’re exploring the park, you should plan to take in food and drinks to keep you going. You can find a light meal near the Bryce Canyon Lodge. Alternatively, just before entering the park, there are several kinds of food and dining options, including a couple of general stores to stock up on items before heading in. Since Bryce is a relatively small park, it’s easy to take a detour out of the park for lunch if needed.
More options in Tropic
If you’re staying near the Tropic area, I’d recommend the Stone Hearth Grill, which offers an upscale dining experience with excellent food options. They even offer patio dining with some beautiful views, if the weather permits. I’ll include a link in the video description below.
And if you’re looking for a nice cafe for coffee or breakfast, we recommend the Bryce Canyon Coffee Company in Tropic. It is very close to our Airbnb and a great place to start our day before traveling to the national park.
Additional tips and considerations
If you’re planning a trip to Bryce Canyon National Park, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
1. Consider buying an annual national park pass:
If you plan to visit more national parks, then you might want to consider an annual pass. The cost is only $80 per year and covers the entrance fees for all national parks and other federal land areas. The pass lasts for an entire year and can be shared with another person. It also allows you to admit three additional adults when entering a park.
Covers more than national parks
And since the area is full of amazing national parks and monuments, it can easily pay for itself, especially if you make more than two national park visits per year. And don’t forget about national monument sites that are covered by the pass. For example, we stopped at the Cedar Breaks National Monument on our drive out from the park and it was a great place to get more scenic views of the area.
2. Bring your own water and supplies to the park:
Since Bryce Canyon is a much smaller national park, you won’t see as many amenities in the park like water filling stations. I recommend being fully stocked with water and food supplies before entering. As I mentioned earlier, there are stores in the town of Bryce Canyon City just outside the entrance where you can stop and get some basic supplies.
3. Pack hand sanitizer and wipes:
Many of the bathroom facilities do not have running water, so you’ll be much happier if you have some hand sanitizer or wipes with you. And since we are releasing this video during the pandemic, this is more important than ever.
4. Consider using the shuttle system:
We visited the park in late-September, which was during the off-season. We didn’t experience any issues finding parking at the stops, but we did notice that the parking lots got more crowded as the day went on. If you’re visiting during the peak season, we highly recommend utilizing the national park shuttle. While we didn’t use it, we did use the shuttle in other parks like Zion National Park and it can save you a lot of time and frustration trying to find a parking space.
5. Start early:
The earlier you enter the park, the more likely that you’ll experience fewer crowds. This is true for all of the national parks. Starting early means less waiting and more exploring.
6. Wear layers of clothing and appropriate footwear:
Depending on whether you only visit the viewpoints or explore some of the trails, I highly recommend wearing layers. Since Bryce Canyon sits at a higher elevation, the temperature tends to be cooler, even during the summer months. The difference between the daily high and low can be as much as 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, we found it to be quite windy, especially at the viewpoints.
Wearing layers will help you stay comfortable, especially if you’re hiking on the trails. As an example, I wore a wool t-shirt, a light jacket, and breathable outdoor pants. I also wore my hiking shoes and a wide brim hat. Fiona wore multiple layers and her leggings, along with a hat and hiking shoes. Before heading to Bryce Canyon, we visited Arches National Park, which was significantly warmer. Bringing multiple layers means that you’ll be prepared, especially if you visit multiple parks on a single trip.
Pack proper shoes for hiking
Avoid wearing flip flops on the trails. The National Park Service says that improper footwear is the cause of most injuries when visiting the park. You’ll want to make sure that your shoes have enough support and grip when walking along the dirt trails.
7. Be prepared for higher elevations:
Since the park elevation can reach over 9,000 feet, you may experience less oxygen when hiking. Most of Bryce Canyon’s trails start at the top and work their way downhill. This means that you’ll be going uphill at the end of your hike. Make sure you manage your expectations and listen to your body. When in doubt, I recommend erring on the side of safety.
8. Be kind and appreciative of the park staff:
The National Park Service is an incredible resource that is maintained by the hard-working staff who not only provide guidance on what to see but also clean the facilities and keep us safe. They are stewards of our national park system, so make sure you express your appreciation for their hard work. As many of the national parks start to open up again, the national park staff is being asked to support guests despite the potential dangers. Show them your support by respecting the rules and protecting the environment.
Have you been to Bryce Canyon National Park? If so, what are your recommendations and tips?