A few months ago, I had the great opportunity to visit the Mighty Five National Parks of Utah, which includes Bryce Canyon National Park. The trip was part of an ongoing project with Marriott International, The Americas, to highlight some incredible places around the country, including our national parks. Few would disagree that there is something almost magical about America’s National Parks. Often called America’s Best Idea, each park is the result of years of tireless work on behalf of concerned citizens who wanted lands they felt to be unique and undeniably special to be protected forever. The National Park System represents the North American model of conservation, which itself was a hard concept to introduce to the general public more than a century ago but today is the standard by which similar parks around the world are judged. Reserving lands for posterity was not a popular idea at the time, but thanks to a handful of forward-thinking individuals, we as a country have now saved some of the planet’s most incredible natural and cultural wonders, including Bryce Canyon. To help inspire you to visit or just better plan your own trip, here are a few things you should know about Bryce Canyon National Park.
Bryce Canyon National Park & Getting There
Exploring the Park in a Day
One of the many reasons why I love visiting the National Parks is how accessible they are even if you don’t have a lot of time to visit. Sure, you could spend many days exploring Bryce Canyon but that’s not a luxury everyone can afford. Just because you don’t have a lot of time doesn’t mean you can’t see the best of the parks. Decades ago a concerted effort was made to create driving loops in almost every National Park to allow visitors to easily and quickly see the best or most popular features of each park. So, if you just have two or three hours yes, you can still experience the best of Bryce Canyon with ease. One thing to keep in mind about the National Parks of the West though is just how big they are. Even though driving loops exist, the vast size of the parks themselves means you still have a lot of driving to do even if only to see the highlights. Before the trip I purchased a National Parks Annual Pass, which is honestly a smart thing to do if you plan on visiting two or more parks in a year. Not only did it save me money, but it made getting in and out of the parks easier as well. Before tackling the driving route, I stopped off at the visitor’s center to learn more about Bryce Canyon and which stops along the drive I thought made the most sense for me to see.
Getting to Bryce Canyon is pretty easy, especially if you’re visiting all Mighty Five National Parks. I overnighted about an hour away since it was convenient to both Capitol Reef and Bryce. A small town has also evolved around Bryce Canyon, mostly because it’s a remote spot, and there are many lodging opportunities there as well. People visit Bryce Canyon either independently, as part of a longer Mighty Five trek or part of a circuit going from the Grand Canyon to Zion and then Bryce Canyon.
Like most of the Parks in this part of the country, Bryce Canyon is massive but is set up in such a way that makes it pretty easy to explore even if you’re light on time. More than 2 million people visit Bryce Canyon every year; far fewer than Zion or the Grand Canyon, but still a significant number. They’re in the park to experience the otherworldly feel of the region and given the fact that it’s somewhat remote, spend at least a day exploring Bryce Canyon. It’s not actually a single canyon though, it’s a series of natural amphitheaters carved into the edge of a high plateau. Inside these geological bowls are any number of incredible rock formations, including hundreds of hoodoos. There’s more to the park than just one viewing spot though, as I learned during my own exploration of this incredible part of the country.
There’s a lot to love about exploring Bryce Canyon National Park, but some of my favorite activities include:
Bryce Canyon provides a complimentary shuttle system to some of the most popular spots in the park and I think it’s the best way to start the trip. Unlike Zion, which has a mandatory shuttle system, you can also self-drive but the parking lots are small at the viewpoints and the park does get busy, so the shuttle is just easier. It also runs on a regular schedule and I never had to wait for more than a few minutes.
Start with the most recognizable part of the park, Bryce Amphitheater. There are many different ways to experience the amphitheater, including an easy hike between the most famous viewpoints. Take the shuttle to Bryce Point and from there hike the easy Rim Trail for three miles to Inspiration, Sunset and Sunrise Points. You’ll see the canyon from a variety of different angles and gain a much deeper appreciation for its inherent beauty. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you can also hike down into the canyon itself to admire the hoodoos from a very up close and personal perspective. Just stop by the Visitor’s Center on your way into the park to pick up a map, learn more about the trail options and see what the weather conditions are like for the day you’re visiting. Although the park is very well maintained, ultimately personal safety is up to the individual so be smart.
There’s much more to Bryce Canyon though than just the amphitheater. Be sure to drive the entire length of the main park road, about 18 miles that ends at the Park’s highest elevations at Rainbow and Yovimpa Points. There’s also an easy 1-mile Bristlecone Loop which is a fun walk. Along the way there are several viewpoints to stop, stretch your legs and admire the incredible scenery.
Other than the Bristlecone and Rim Trails, there are many other fun day hikes if you have the time and inclination. Mossy Cave Trail is located right outside of the amphitheater and is a streamside walk up to a mossy overhang and small waterfall. It’s also less than a mile round trip and very manageable for just about anyone. If you’re looking for an easy way into the canyon, then the Queens Garden Trail is the one for you. It’s 1.8 miles round-trip and is widely considered to be the least difficult route into the heart of this gorgeous natural wonder.
This is actually a great part of the state to visit as there are plenty of other experiences outside of the National Park. Anasazi State Park Museum shares the history of an ancient Native American village that once stood here. Bryce Canyon is also part of the much larger Grand Staircase National Monument, one of the most remarkable geological features in the country. There are also quirky ghost towns, shops selling just about anything and plenty of restaurants in the village surrounding Bryce Canyon.
Where to Stay
My experience visiting Bryce Canyon may be a little different than other people because it was a full-day stop for me as I traveled from Capitol Reef National Park to Zion National Park. It was better for me to have shorter drives after spending an entire day hiking around the parks. If you’re visiting the Mighty Five, this is the best way to manage the trip.
I decided to spend the night in Richfield, Utah since it was just an hour from Capitol Reef and set me up pretty well to visit Bryce Canyon National Park the next day. Richfield is a good-sized community, which means there were plenty of options for dinner and even big box stores to pick up supplies. My hotel for the evening, the Fairfield Inn & Suites Richfield, couldn’t have been better for my needs. Warmly greeted, the hotel looks new and updated and my room was enormous; more than enough space to spread out and relax. After a long day of driving and exploring national parks, in the evenings all I wanted to do was decompress and get some work done in peace and quiet. There was a great restaurant next door to the hotel, but there are many others less than a 5-minutes drive from the Fairfield. I loved this spot along the Mighty Five route since it was convenient and didn’t force me to go out of my way.
Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the country’s great natural treasures and it should be a place everyone has on their travel bucket list. No matter how you choose to experience the park, just make sure you take the time to experience its grandeur in person for a trip you’ll never forget.
To learn more about Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks, please be sure to listen to the episode of the Explore the World Travel Podcast I devoted to them.