Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park: Things to Do, Places to Stay
Bryce Canyon. What sets it apart from the rest of Utah’s iconic National Parks? Bryce Canyon is known for its odd shaped rock formations known as hoodoos- and nowhere else on earth can compete. You’ve seen them in magazines and on screen savers but up close and personal, you’ve never seen nature put on a display like this. All the stone columns in the park are carved by ice and rain. How? Snow falls in the morning; the ice melts in the afternoon and then freezes at night. When the water freezes, it carves the rocks which create the amazing formations that you see. Come to Bryce and experience it for yourself!
Info about Bryce Canyon
There are numerous things to do in the two main areas which make up Bryce Canyon. The rim walk surrounds the canyon amphitheater and is where you’ll get the greatest snap shots and stroll through Ponderosa Pine forest all while enjoying the view of the hoodoos below. The main amphitheater is where those who are a little more adventurous can hike through the mazes of hoodoos. If you’ve ever wanted to re-live your childhood memory of wandering through corn mazes, it’s here- except on a scale a thousand times larger. Whether you choose to walk the rim or venture down into the hoodoos; hiking, camping, stargazing, ranger led walks and numerous photo opportunities await.
There are 15 total viewpoints with 5 main stops: Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration, Bryce and Rainbow Point. The most popular drop off point to begin your adventure is Sunset Point. Great photo opportunities are available at any of the viewpoints as the iron oxides in the rocks paint their surroundings with vibrant red, orange and yellow tints. With its transcendent natural beauty, Bryce Canyon is a place for complete relaxation. Camping is made easy as you can choose to stay at one of their 33 reserved campsites or one of 166 that are available on a first come, first served basis. At only 56 square miles, compared to other National Parks, Bryce Canyon is small. Yet this provides advantages for hikers as there are several day hikes ranging from easy to strenuous making it possible to see the entire park in a days’ time. Because Bryce Canyon sits at 8,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level and free of all light pollution, it is blessed with some of cleanest and clearest skies in the entire world. This creates unparalleled opportunities for stargazing. At night, you can see up to 7,500 stars with the naked eye and in the day time, you enjoy panoramic views of 3 surrounding states! There are events year round for astronomers or those who just luxuriate in the peacefulness of pristine night sky.
Bryce Canyon National Park is located in Southwestern Utah in a remote area high above the Aquarius Plateau. The closest international airports are in Las Vegas, NV or Salt Lake City, UT both of which are around 270 miles away with the closest major city being Cedar City at over 80 miles SW. Bryce Canyon may be far removed from major cities, but its remoteness is truly what makes it unique.
Bryce Canyon One Day Itinerary
If you decide to spend the night in Bryce Canyon, there are plenty of options to choose from. You can either stay at one of the campgrounds or if you prefer a motel, there are 6 within a ½ mile drive of the park entrance. Also popular is the Lodge at Bryce Canyon- log cabins located inside of the park. In terms of transportation, you can either drive your vehicle in or park it outside the park entrance at the “shuttle staging” area near Ruby’s Inn. Hop on a shuttle which will then drop you off at any of the park’s viewpoints with arrivals every 20 minutes throughout the day. Your $25 park entrance fee covers unlimited shuttle use. Hungry for some grub? No problem. Besides the several steakhouses and inns directly outside the park’s entrance, The Lodge at Bryce Canyon has its own restaurant that’s widely popular with tourists.
With only one day at Bryce Canyon and limited time to spare, drive to Sunset Point. It offers the best vistas of the most famous hoodoos in the park. Walk around the rim and head down the Navajo Loop Trail as you descend through the incredible slot canyon named, Wall Street. This will then take you to Queen’s Garden Loop and back up to Sunset Point. This is the most popular hiking route, not too difficult and is perfect if you only have 1 day in the park.
When you plan a visit to Bryce Canyon National Park, it is important to factor in the time of year. In the summer, temperatures can rise upwards to 100 degrees and in the winter, temperatures can drop down as low as -25 degrees. Temperatures have a direct effect on road conditions and roads leading to Bryce Canyon may close without warning. So check park alerts, dress accordingly and prepare for some of the most dramatic displays of scenery the world has to offer. Stay for a day or for a week. No matter how long you stay, when you visit Bryce Canyon National Park, you experience magic.
Top 10 Things To Do In Bryce Canyon National Park
1. Hike the Hoodoos
The most popular hiking loop at Bryce Canyon is the Navajo/ Wall Street/ Queens Garden Loop and is the trail with the most recognizable hoodoos including Thor’s Hammer, Queen Victoria and Three Wiseman. Bryce Canyon also has a “Hike the Hoodoos” challenge which is a fun way of encouraging visitors to stay healthy and active. Part hike and part scavenger hunt, visitors must hike specially marked trails through the hoodoos while collecting rubbings of benchmarks or take pictures of themselves with the benchmarks in the background. Upon completing 3 miles of hiking or finding all 9 benchmarks, visitors are presented with a reward at the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center. For those that prefer a more straight forward scenic route, head to Sunrise Point and follow the signs for Queens Garden Trail. This trail will lead you through the massive slot canyon known as “Wall Street” and take you up the Navajo Loop ending at Sunset Point.
2. Viewpoint Photography
Although any spot along the amphitheater’s rim will provide great photographic opportunities, the best views are Inspiration, Bryce, Sunset and Sunrise Points. Bryce Canyon shuttles drop off visitors at each of these viewpoints every half hour which makes for a convenient stop during your activities at Bryce Canyon. Sunset Point perhaps has the finest views of all, because it projects out from the rim enabling you to have an up close and personal experience with the sprawling plateaus and hoodoos that lie beneath you.
The above video gives you some tips on taking photos at Bryce Canyon National Park.
3. 18 Mile Scenic Drive
The natural beauty of Bryce Canyon National park can be sampled on its 18 mile paved scenic drive. Along the way, you’ll be able to see up to 150 miles in each direction at one of many outlooks that protrude over the canyon’s edge. Park your car and head through the pine forest on any one of the 60 hiking trails that BCNP offers or continue along the scenic drive until you reach the end point at the highest elevation accessible within the park boundaries: Rainbow Point.
The above video shows some popular scenery on the drive.
4. Visitors Center & Museum
Bryce Canyon’s Visitor Center, Bookstore and Museum should be one of your first stops as you begin your National Park adventure. Here, you’ll have access to trail maps, souvenirs and the friendly park staff is available to answer any questions or concerns that you may have. Also, you might want to stop by the Visitor Center’s own museum and watch their award winning film titled, “Shadows of Time” to gain a broader sense and appreciation for the wonders of Bryce Canyon.
5. Ranger Led Amphitheater Rim Hikes
Every evening, park rangers lead groups from Sunset Point on a thrilling1 mile round trip walk around the Bryce Amphitheater Rim exploring the geological features, wildlife and history of the area. This is an activity for all ages and is perfect for those who wish to take in the surround beauty without exerting too much of the energy.
6. Horseback Riding
You’ll see more grandeur and natural beauty of Bryce Canyon than you can ever imagine on a horseback riding tour. Sit back and take an exhilarating ride through the hoodoos down to the canyon floor and let your horse or mule do all the work. Several companies offer you opportunities to engage in 2 hour or ½ day horseback riding adventures. Prices vary anywhere from $60 to $80 and the two main companies you’ll want to contact are Canyon Trail Rides and Ruby’s Red Canyon Horseback Rides. The guides are friendly and knowledgeable and will help you experience the best that Bryce Canyon has to offer.
Because Bryce Canyon National Park sits at 8,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level hundreds of miles from any major city, it is blessed with some of cleanest and clearest skies in the entire world. This creates unparalleled opportunities for stargazing. 2/3 of all Americans never get to see the Milky Way but when you visit Bryce Canyon, you see the sky like you’ve never seen it before as you step into what seems like another world. At night, you can see up to 7,500 stars with the naked eye and there are events year round for those who appreciate an evening under the pristine night sky.
At the end of an adventure filled day of hiking, camping is made easy as you can choose to stay at one of Bryce Canyon’s campgrounds. With 2 main camping areas within the park boundaries, both Sunset and North Campgrounds provide you with prime locations conveniently located in the middle of Ponderosa Pine forest. Camping at Bryce Canyon will offer you an experience that will forever change your perception of what true camping really is.
9. Snowshoeing & Cross Country Skiing
For those that intend on visiting Bryce Canyon National Park in the winter, the park holds its own event filled “Winter Festival” which occurs over President’s Day Weekend. Snowshoes are available for free for those who join Bryce Canyon Snowshoe Rangers on a 1 mile, 2 hour guided hike down to the canyon floor. Another enjoyable activity available in the wintertime is cross country skiing. The park designates trails for cross country skiing along the amphitheater’s rim from Bryce Point to Fairyland Point. Ski poles, snowshoes and specialty equipment are available for rent directly outside of the park entrance in Bryce Canyon City.
10. Hot Air Balloon, Airplane and Helicopter Rides over Bryce Canyon
For those that crave a little more adrenaline, look no further than hot air balloon, airplane and helicopter rides over Bryce Canyon. Bryce Canyon Airport is conveniently located 4 miles north of the park entrance. All departures are on a daily basis from the airport where visitors can enjoy scenic flights over the canyon with unparalleled bird’s eye views and vistas that simply cannot be enjoyed from the ground.
Places to Stay at Bryce Canyon National Park
Known worldwide for its colorful hoodoos and grand vistas as well as its unique location high up on the Colorado Plateau, Bryce Canyon is the ultimate outdoor destination and where you choose to stay will greatly impact your experience. The Bryce Canyon area offers a wide range of lodging options including campgrounds, hotels, cabins, inns and even Indian Tipis. No matter where you plan on staying, Bryce Canyon is a place to relax, unwind and experience the most dramatic displays nature has to offer.
1. Bryce Canyon National Park Camping
Bryce Canyon National Park has 2 main campgrounds, North Campground and Sunset Campground. Both have around 105 campsites with most people heading to Sunset Campground due to its proximity to the main hiking trails. After a long day of sightseeing and hiking, in park campgrounds offers individuals an easy transition to evening activities with everything from scheduled walks to guided hikes, evening campfire programs and stargazing events. BCNP does not accept reservations for Sunset Campground so if you plan on camping inside the park, get there before the afternoon crowds to ensure a spot. Nestled in the middle of Ponderosa Pine forest under some of the clearest skies on earth, camping in Bryce Canyon is truly an incredible experience not to be missed.
2. The Lodge at Bryce Canyon
A little less rustic than camping, yet still cozy and convenient, the Bryce Canyon Lodge is located entirely within the park just steps away from the canyon’s main amphitheater and features 114 rooms including lodge suites, motel rooms and cabins. Reservations are highly recommended and rooms are available for around $175 per night. When you stay here, you’ll experience convenience and comfortability in its purest form.
3. Bryce Canyon City Hotels
Just outside the boundaries of the park entrance lies several hotels filled with all the amenities you’re looking for during a stay in Bryce Canyon country. There are 3 main hotels that visitors usually stay at that are within a couple miles of the park entrance: Ruby’s Inn, Best Western Grand Hotel and Bryce Canyon Lodge. Ruby’s Inn is the closest hotel to the entrance of the park with numerous standard in-room features and is the perfect place to stay as a base for exploration of the beautiful surrounding areas. Besides hotel rooms, Ruby’s has an RV park, campground, cabins and authentic Native American tipi’s on site. A stay at Ruby’s Inn will provide an at home experience with the magnificent vistas of Bryce Canyon National Park in your backyard. Bryce Canyon Lodge is another viable option, located on U-63, the road that leads up to the park entrance across the street from Ruby’s Inn. Both Ruby’s and Bryce Canyon Lodge are popular lodging spots since the Bryce Canyon shuttle stop is located directly in front of Ruby’s Inn which provides a stress free start and end to your day. Rates are generally around $52 per night during the off season and $130 per night at peak months in the summer. If you feel like spending a little more money for a more luxurious and intimate experience, head down the road to Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 and make a reservation at Best Western’s Grand Hotel. It is the highest rated hotel in the Bryce Canyon with 164 deluxe guestrooms and suites priced anywhere from $75 to $310 per night.
4. Tropic, UT Log Cabins
10 minutes east from the main path of Bryce Canyon, lies the small town of Tropic, UT. Many visitors to Bryce Canyon National Park choose to stay here because of the fewer crowds and lower accommodation prices compared to the hotels right next to the park. Serving as a gateway town to Bryce, Tropic is a very charming and relaxed place to stay and when you lodge here, you’ll enjoy total peace of mind while enjoying all the natural wonders that surround you. While there are many cabins to choose from, the log cabins at Bryce Canyon Inn come highly recommended and with rooms starting at only $39 per night, it’s the cheapest option in the entire Bryce Canyon area.