Bryce Canyon is one of the most popular national parks visited by those who go on a road trip on the West Coast. Even beach lovers, who are absolutely captivated by the beauty of the Californian coast, will gladly make an exception to visit Bryce Canyon or at least one of the five incredible parks of Utah.
Despite the uniformity of the landscape in these parks, each one has something unique to offer and is definitely worth exploring (and if you’re interested you can have a look at our in-depth guides to Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion); in this article, we’ll focus on things to do at Bryce Canyon and how to organize a “road trip” to the park.
- General Information about Bryce Canyon
- Bryce Canyon: Climate and Best Time to Visit It
- Bryce Canyon: Things To Do and Must-See Attractions
- Hiking Bryce Canyon: Trails
- Bryce Canyon Interactive Map
- Guided Tours to Visit the Park
- Where to Stay at Bryce Canyon
General Information about Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon National Park, established in 1928 and named after Mormon Ebenezer Bryce, can boast some of the most colorful rocks on Earth, the famous “hoodoos“, very unique pinnacles carved by natural erosion. Water has helped sculpt the rugged landscape of this park over millions of years (and it’s still being created!).
Bryce Canyon, despite its name, is not really a canyon, but more like a series of amphitheaters in the shape of a horse, the largest of which is the Bryce Amphitheater, located in the center. The park is open all year round and the three main activities are hiking, sightseeing and photography.
Hours and Fees
The park is open all year round 24 hours a day. The only exception is in the eventuality of particularly bad weather conditions during the winter, some sections of the scenic road, or the entire park, can be closed as a precaution.
The Bryce Canyon Visitor Center is open every day (except on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and January 1) with a schedule that varies according to the seasons:
- May-September: from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm
- October: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 pm
- November-March: 8:00 am to 4:30 pm
- April: 8:00 am to 6:00 pm
If you want exact directions to the visitor center, enter into your GPS these coordinates: Latitude: N 37° 38′ 24″ / Longitude: W 112° 10′ 12″
The entrance fee for Bryce Canyon is $35 per car and includes access to the park for seven consecutive days and unlimited use of the shuttle service. Otherwise, you can use convenient America the Beautiful Pass. Prices may vary over time, however, so please always check the official sources.
How to Get to Bryce Canyon
The park is located about 26 miles southeast of Panguitch and can be reached via Highway 89 and SR-12 and 63. The large airports in the area (more or less) are in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, both about 270 miles from the park. The nearest airports are Cedar City (80 miles) and St. George (125 miles). As for traveling from Las Vegas, we have dedicated an article on how to travel from Las Vegas to Bryce Canyon, where you will find tips on the route and beautiful sights not to be missed.
From the North
Take I-15 south to SR-20 (Exit 95). Travel east on SR-20 to Highway 89. Follow Highway 89 south to SR-12. Continue east on the scenic UT-12 to SR-63 and take SR-63 south to Bryce Canyon National Park.
From the South
This road passes through Zion National Park. Take I-15 north of UT-9 (Exit 16), follow UT-9 east through Zion National Park to Highway 89. Head north on Highway 89 to UT-12 and continue east on UT-12 to UT-63. Take UT-63 south to Bryce Canyon National Park. This is a beautiful scenic road which, if you have the opportunity, we recommend you take. On this road there is one particular spot we talked about in our exploration of Red Canyon.
Bryce Canyon: Climate and Best Time to Visit It
Bryce Canyon elevation is quite significant (the highest point of the park is 8858 ft), which is why summer temperatures will rarely ever exceed 86 degrees Fahrenheit, while during the winter it is not uncommon to drop to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, especially during the months of December and January. March and April may still see some snowfalls. Speaking of low temperatures, keep in mind that from October to May, when the sun goes down, temperatures will most likely fall below zero.
July and August as previously mentioned are the hottest months but at the same time they are also the rainiest ones. Usually thunderstorms tend to be brief but rather intense and are most likely to occur during the afternoon. If you find yourself in a storm, pay close attention to lightnings, which are very dangerous in this area.
In conclusion, although Bryce Canyon can be visited throughout the year, you can have a more enjoyable experience during late spring and summer when the days are never sweltering and even the evenings are cool but not unpleasant.
Bryce Canyon: Things To Do and Must-See Attractions
In many cases, one day can be sufficient to visit Bryce Canyon, but if you have more time, you may consider extending your stay and taking the opportunity to go on some hikes. Below is an itinerary that covers in one day the main attractions and scenic views of the area.
Bryce Canyon in One Day: Itinerary
If you have only one day at your disposal my advice is to drive along the scenic road that will take you to all the observation points of the park. Keep in mind that between April and October there is a shuttle service available to avoid the traffic that makes it a hassle to visit the main areas of the park in peace.
If there are many cars, finding a place to park along the more frequented viewpoints could be quite complicated and frustrating as you wait, making you lose valuable time, especially if you only have one day to visit Bryce Canyon. You can also decide to use the shuttle to take a break from driving and rest a bit before heading to the next stop.
The shuttle service runs along the entire length of the road around the Bryce Amphitheater. The stops for this service within the park are as follows:
- Bryce Canyon Visitor Center
- Sunset Campground
- Bryce Point
- Inspiration Point
- Sunset Campground
- Sunset Point
- Bryce Canyon Lodge
- Sunrise Point
- Bryce Canyon Visitor Center
The shuttle comes by very frequently, every 15 minutes to be exact. However, when the shuttle is active, the schedule is subject to change and varies according to the time of year. At the time we are writing this article the schedules are as follows:
- April 13-May 17: 8:00 am to 6:00 pm
- from 18 May to 30 September: from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm
- from October 1 to October 21: from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm
However, I recommend that you check the official website for any changes to the schedule.
This service is not only limited to the park; its route goes to the main hotels in Bryce Canyon City. After arriving at the Visitor Center, the shuttle will make the following stops:
- Ruby’s Campground
- Shuttle Station
- Old Bryce Town
- Best Western Plus Grand Hotel
- Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn
If you want to stay overnight in one of these hotels, or you want to leave your car in the convenient parking lot near the Shuttle Station, you must already have the park entrance ticket that can be purchased at the Shuttle Station, Ruby’s Inn, and Ruby’s Inn Campground, or have the National Park Pass with you.
As mentioned, this shuttle service only goes by the viewpoints along the Bryce Amphitheater. You can still drive along the remaining section of the Scenic Drive and can take a guided tour of Rainbow Point that is completely free. Starting in mid-April, twice a day (at 9:00 am and 1:30 pm) the so-called Rainbow Point Shuttle Tour starts, which will take you on a 3.5 hour ride to discover the main viewpoints of the park. The capacity of the bus is only 40 seats and it is recommended to make your reservation as indicated on the official website.
Once you have decided whether to ride on the shuttle service or to drive your car, here are the viewpoints and hikes that you can go on during your day.
1) Bryce Point
One of the best things to do is to view the sunrise at Bryce Point. The time of day is not really great, especially if you’re on the road and get a little tired, but the view will be worth it. It’s one of the highest points along the edge of the Bryce Amphitheatre and you’ll be able to see the many extravagantly shaped hoodoos. At dawn, as soon as the sunlight touches the pillars, they glow with beautiful shades of orange.
2) Inspiration Point
Next, if you can manage to stay awake, stop by Inspiration Point. From the visitor center parking lot, you’ll need to climb a short but steep trail up to the overlook. This observation area offers beautiful views of all the curves of Bryce Amphitheater.
3) Sunset Point
Head towards Sunset Point. Take the Navajo Loop Trail and make sure you have your camera with you, as beautiful vistas come into view along the trail that descends into a narrow, steep gorge between rock walls called Wall Street. It is certainly a wonderful trail, surrounded by rock formations so close together that you feel immersed in the landscape. At the bottom, you will also find some tall fir trees growing among the steep cliffs.
4) Queen’s Garden Trail
Continue along the trail and then follow the Queen’s Garden Trail, which runs along the lower part of the amphitheater and passes through many fascinating rock formations and trees. The trail ends at Sunset Point, from where you can resume driving.
5) Natural Bridge
6) Agua Canyon
7) Rainbow Point
Multiple Days at Bryce Canyon: Things to Do
On the first day, of course, follow the itinerary above. In the following days you will be able to complete the Under The Rim trail, a 23-mile long trail that requires at least two days of hiking. The trail will take you into the heart of the Bryce Amphitheatre, exploring the hoodoos and other unique rock formations. Of course there are many other trails that are not as challenging. You can read about them in detail in the next chapter.
If you are interested in other activities, such as those organized by the park rangers, here are some suggestions.
Guided Activities with Rangers
- Full Moon Hikes: Visiting the beautiful views of Bryce Canyon is a fascinating experience in and of itself, but if you go at night under the light of the moon with an experienced ranger you’re in for an unforgettable experience. Considering both the limited availability of these tours exclusively on full moon nights (i.e. only two consecutive evenings each month) and the high demand, you will need to enter and win the lottery held on the day of the excursion. If you are two or more people you will be entered as a whole group so that, if you win, you can all participate. In addition to winning the lottery, there are a few rules to register. First of all, you must wear professional hiking shoes. When registering you will need to provide proof that you have them with you. However, you can request more information at the visitor center. Children under 6 years of age are not allowed to participate in this activity. You can check the dates of the current year’s hikes by visiting the official page for the full moon hikes.
- Astronomy & Night Sky: There is another nighttime activity, but in this case instead of walking you can gaze at the wonderful starry sky above you. Bryce Canyon is in fact a perfect place to watch the stars given the complete lack of light pollution, as you will see after the sun goes down. You don’t need to make a reservation just go to the visitor center and take a look at the calendar of activities. If you’re lucky you’ll just have to show up at the scheduled time (maybe a little earlier to guarantee the best spots) and prepare to be amazed. Once it has started, there will be about an hour of explanation and multimedia introduction to follow. You can use one of the many telescopes that will be made available to observe the starry sky.
These two are just one example of programs designed to give visitors to Bryce Canyon the best possible experience. You can find all other activities both at the visitor center and on the official website.
Visiting Bryce Canyon in the Winter
At this time of the year, there is a greater probability of finding the park partially or totally closed depending on the weather, so before going to Bryce Canyon I invite you to check the official website to find out the current road conditions and the weather advisories.
Surely the presence of snow, if it snows, makes the landscape even more spectacular. If you visit the park by car, you will have easy access to the main viewpoints along the Bryce Amphitheater. The road leading to Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point and Sunrise Point is frequently shoveled, especially after heavy snowfall.
If you want to get out of your car and explore the park, first, you should wear suitable clothing and realize that access to some of the trails will be limited. For example, snow is only shoveled on the asphalt section of the Rim Trail that connects the Sunset to the Sunrise Point. The remaining part that goes from Bryce Point to the Inspiration Point will be inaccessible. Since snow increases the probability of rock avalanches, the Wall Street section of the Navajo Loop will also not be accessible. Additionally, the Peekaboo Loop Connector Trail from Bryce Point will most likely be inaccessible.
The remaining trails, given the dangerous conditions that you may find, are by in large accessible but only if you wear hiking shoes specially designed to walk in the snow. Before embarking on a trail, however, check the official website or ask the rangers on-site if there are any advisories or areas to avoid.
Hiking Bryce Canyon: Trails
Here are some of the most popular trails in the park divided according to their difficulty level. Although I know that this factor can be relative, but I have based myself on my experience and on the advice of the rangers themselves who, in case you have any concerns about the trails, you can contact them once on-site.
Easy and moderate trails
- Rim Trail: This is a very long trail (10 miles round trip) but almost flat all throughout. It connects Fairyland Point to Bryce Point and allows you to observe the Bryce Amphitheater from above. If you walk the entire trail, it will take you at least three hours each way. If you wish, you can leave your car at one of the viewpoints along the way and then, instead of walking back, use the park’s convenient shuttle service.
- Sunset to Sunrise: This is a shorter section of the Rim Trail which, as you can guess from the name, simply connects Sunset Point to Sunrise Point. It is much shorter than the Rim Trail (about one mile round trip), and has the added advantage of being paved and therefore very easily accessible for everyone. If you decide to do only this part of the trail I don’t think you’ll spend more than 40 minutes walking, to which you’ll have to add, of course, the necessary stops to admire the view and take some pictures.
- Navajo Loop: A fairly short trail (about 1.2 miles) but with some ups and downs that may prove to be challenging. It is definitely the recommended and most famous trail in the park because it will allow you to see the famous hoodoos up close without walking for too long (consider at least an hour and a half, but the duration can vary greatly depending on your pace in the uphill spots). The starting point is at Sunrise Point where you will start your descent to the Bryce Amphitheater. After a short while you will come across a part of the trail called Wall Street because of the high red stone walls along both sides of the path. On this trail you can clearly see some of the park’s most famous rock formations including Thor’s Hammer and Twin Bridges. Please note: This loop is only completely accessible during the summer period. In the winter months part of the trail near Wall Street becomes impassable due to ice and snow.
- Queen’s Garden Trail: If you have more time at your disposal, once you’ve reached the Navajo Loop, instead of climbing up, you can continue along this trail that will take you to Sunrise Point. In this case the distance to cover will be a little more than 2.5 miles and you will have to calculate at least two hours to cover it at a moderate pace.
- Mossy Cave: This trail is located in just outside of Bryce Canyon. To reach it you will have to pass Bryce Canyon City and drive to the junction with scenic road UT-12. Turn right and after about 4 miles you will reach a large parking area where the trail begins. This simple trail that is just under a mile long will give you the opportunity to enjoy a more varied landscape. In addition to the classic hoodoos you will cross a river, see spectacular waterfalls and reach the small cave that gives the trail its name that was formed thanks to the erosion of an underground spring.
- Peekaboo Loop Trail: Over 5 miles long, this trail begins and ends at Bryce Point. But don’t be fooled by the length, which may not seem so demanding. What makes this trail very tiring are the many steep changes in altitude that occur throughout the trail. It’ll take you at least 4 hours of walking to complete it. This trail is also very popular among horseback riding enthusiasts, so you will commonly come across horseback riding tours along the way, so pay special attention.
- Fairyland Loop Trail: This is an almost 8 mile long trail that starts and returns to Fairyland Point and includes part of the Rim Trail before descending into the Bryce Amphitheatre. It is considered challenging both because of its significant length and the frequent ups and downs throughout the trail. To complete it, calculate 4 to 5 hours of walking plus stops to rest and observe the views. During the summer months be sure to bring the appropriate clothing and everything you need to protect yourself from the sun. It is recommended to take this loop counterclockwise first along the common part with the Rim Trail, then descend and have the most spectacular views in the central and final part of the walk.
Surely the most famous route to do in several days is the Under the Rim Trail. It is a trail of almost 23 miles (one way) that covers the majority of Bryce Canyon. The trail connects Bryce Point to Rainbow Point. That’s why you also need to take into account how to organize your trip, since I doubt you’ll want to walk all the way back. Therefore, you can combine the free shuttle service, which covers the area to Bryce Point, with the Rainbow Point Tour I described earlier.
If you want to take this route, keep in mind some recommendations:
- Be sure to bring at least 1 gallon of water per person for each day you intend to spend outdoors, as you may not find reliable water sources along the way. You can also inquire at the visitor center about the location and number of water stations along the route.
- Beware of animals: Bryce Canyon, like most national parks, is home to many wild animals, including dangerous ones. That’s why you’ll need to pay special attention to how you store your food. To avoid unpleasant encounters with hungry bears, you’ll need to store food in special containers that contain the smell of food. If you wish, these containers are made available to rent free of charge at the visitor center.
- Be sure to bring suitable clothing and equipment (GPS, maps, compasses, etc.). In any case, talk to a ranger before embarking on your adventure, to make him o her aware of your intentions, to gather useful advice and make sure that the trails are actually passable.
- You can only spend the night in the eight camping areas along the Under the Rim Trail.
- In order to undertake a multi-day tour of the park, you must have a permit ($5 per person) which can be obtained at the visitor center.
How many days does it take to complete the entire route? Answering this question depends mainly on how you plan the hike. In general, I would say that you should consider at least two days and one night.
Bryce Canyon Interactive Map
Guided Tours to Visit the Park
If you don’t want to use your car by taking a break from your on the road, take a look at these tours most of which include a visit not only to Bryce Canyon but also to the most beautiful national parks in the vicinity over several days.
Tours departing from Las Vegas
- Bryce Canyon Day Tour from Las Vegas: This organized tour gives you the opportunity to explore Bryce Canyon for three hours, including all of the area’s main overlooks including Inspiration Point, Sunset Point and Sunrise Point. Pick-up and drop-off are available at all major hotels in Las Vegas. Packed lunch is included in the price. Please note that the journey on the van will be about four and a half hours each way.
- Combined tour of Zion and Bryce Canyon from Las Vegas: If you want to visit both Bryce and the equally spectacular Zion National Park in one day, this tour could be just right for you. Obviously, considering the time of travel, the time you can spend in the two parks is not much, but it will still allow you to see the best that they have to offer. Also in this case a packed lunch and pick up and drop-off to the main hotels in the city are included. This tour is not available all year round but only during the summer (from May 15th to October 15th).
Where to Stay at Bryce Canyon
In the immediate vicinity of the park there is a complex (maybe a bit touristy but nice) that is a replica of a whole Western town, with rodeos, shops, country style ballroom (I personally attended a nice party with live western music and classical steak and beans) and, of course, a hotel.
It’s called Ruby’s Inn, a country/mountain style motel managed by the famous Best Western chain (in which personally I always had a good time). I particularly recommend this place both for the proximity to Bryce Canyon (5 minutes by car), the excellent service (there are rooms with Jacuzzi included, directly next to the bed!) and the particular climate that you breathe (especially for those who love cowboy-style reinterpretations). To check the availability of the hotel and prices I suggest you to have a look at this website.
In addition, I would like to give you our in-depth guide on where to stay at Bryce Canyon (see link below for an extensive list of hotels suitable for visiting the park).