Bryce Canyon National Park: The Complete Guide

Red and pink rock towers and cliffs with the sun rising over Bryce Canyon

(c) Swapan Jha/Getty

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Bryce Canyon National Park

Address
Utah, USA
Phone +1 435-834-5322

When it comes to outstanding outdoor locations, Utah has a blessing of riches. From towering snowcapped peaks to arid deserts to narrow, twisting stone canyons, the state has something to offer just about anyone who enjoys exploring wild places. One of the best of those places is Bryce Canyon National Park, which is home to some of the most stunning and memorable landscapes found anywhere in the American West.

Located in the southwest corner of Utah, Bryce Canyon isn't actually a canyon at all. Instead, it is a sprawling wilderness situated atop a massive plateau at the apex of the Grand Staircase Escalante. Spread out across 35,835 acres, the park comprises towering rock formations and a series of interconnected stone amphitheaters carved from the landscape by millennia of erosion brought on by frost and rushing water.

Named for a Mormon homesteader who lived in the region during the 1870s, Bryce Canyon was designated a national monument in 1923 and a national park five years later. Soon after, it became a popular destination for hikers, backpackers, and travelers, most of which come to see the park's most famous rock formations—the hoodoos. Surprisingly tall and thin, these stone spires cover the landscape, making it appear more like the surface of Mars rather than southern Utah.

Whether viewed from the park's upper boundaries or a trail deep in its interior, the hoodoos are a compelling draw for visitors from across the globe. In fact, the unique topography of Bryce Canyon lures more than 2.5 million people on an annual basis. That's enough to rank it in the top 15 most visited national parks in the entire country.

Hikers descend a narrow trail into Bryce Canyon

Kraig Becker

Park Activities

Visitors to Bryce Canyon usually fall into two categories; those who come to hike its backcountry trails and those who prefer to drive between its scenic overlooks. No matter which of those activities draws you to the park, you'll certainly come away thoroughly satisfied.

Of the 2.5 million visitors that pass through the park's gates, the vast majority come to drive its 18-mile one-way scenic roadway. The route provides access to 13 stunning viewpoints, culminating at the famous Rainbow Point. This breathtaking overlook offers a grand view of Bryce's beauty, which stretches for miles in each direction.

Savvy travelers will bypass all of the other stops along the road and make their way to Rainbow Point first. If you arrive early enough, it is possible to beat the crowd and have the place more or less to yourself. Afterward, backtrack along the road, stopping at other lookouts as you go. Each offers a stunning vantage point, but the most popular include Inspiration Point, Bryce Point, Sunrise Point, and Sunset Point.

Day hikers can access several trails directly from the main parking lot, taking in some epic views while en route. The Sunset to Sunrise trail is a paved, easy route that is only 1 mile in length and is accessible to most visitors, including those with disabilities. The Rim Trail is longer—stretching 11 miles in length—but is also relatively easy and provides a bit more solitude, especially if you get a mile or two in. The bird's eye view of the hoodoos makes it an interesting walk, to say the least, so don't forget to bring your camera.

For something a bit more challenging, try the 1.3-mile Navajo Loop, which begins and ends at Sunset Loop. Perhaps the most famous of all of Bryce's trails, Navajo drops hikers down into the canyon itself, immersing them into the red rock formations. For something a little less busy, head to the Sheep Creek Trail to Swamp Canyon, which provides access to Bryce's backcountry along its 4-mile length.

Experienced hikers and backpackers should add Peekaboo Loop to their list of "must-do" activities. The 5.5-mile trail features some steep climbing at times but takes adventurous visitors into the heart of Bryce Canyon and far away from the hustle and bustle of the parking lot. The 4.7-mile Bryce Amphitheater Traverse is also a particular favorite of park veterans.

Other things to do in Bryce Canyon include exploring the park by horseback and dropping by the visitor center or park museum. In the winter, the trails can be accessed by snowshoes as well, and backcountry camping is an option all year round. However, conditions can change rapidly within the park, so come prepared with the proper gear and skillset.

A hiker walks along a trail with red hoodoos towering overhead.

Matt Champlin/Getty

Where to Eat and Stay

If you're planning on spending a few days exploring Bryce Canyon, you'll find several options for where to eat and stay while in the area. Several small communities are located within easy driving distance, providing a selection of restaurants, hotels, and motels. For instance, nearby Antimony gives visitors a chance to channel their inner cowboy, while Boulder offers access to several other national parks and monuments, including Zion.

If you prefer to stay inside the national park itself, the Lodge at Bryce Canyon is an excellent option. Located within easy walking distance of the Bryce Amphitheater, the lodge features various room styles and cabins to choose from. An onsite dining room serves up delicious meals all day long, and there is even a gift shop for picking up Bryce souvenirs. The Lodge does tend to sell out quickly during the summer months, however, so be sure to book your reservations early.

One of the more popular places to stay in Bryce Canyon country is Ruby's Inn, located along the park's shuttle route and features several activities. Ruby's offers up comfortable rooms and RV and tent camping, along with horseback riding, mountain biking, ATV tours, and more.

Of course, the other option for staying inside the park is to take up residence at one of Bryce's lovely campsites. RV camping is available at both the North Campground and Sunset Campground, while backcountry camping is an option for backpackers. The park does require backcountry campers to stay at designated campsites only and requires a permit, which can be obtained at the visitor center. There is also a $5 per person fee for all campers over the age of 16.

Day trippers looking for something to eat inside the park should head over to Valhalla Pizzeria & Coffee Shop. Snacks and cold beverages are also available at the General Store, which is found near Sunrise Point.

A red cliff face is illuminated by the morning sun in Bryce Canyon

Kraig Becker

Getting There

Due to its remote location, a vehicle is a necessity when visiting Bryce Canyon. The closest large airports are found in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, each three-plus away. Smaller airports can be found in nearby Cedar City and St. George, but even those locations require a minimum of a 1.5-hour drive.

To reach the park from the north, drive south along I-15 to exit 95, taking UT-20 east to US-89. From there, turn south to UT-12, then east to UT-63, once again heading south until you arrive at the park. If you're coming from the south, you'll head north on I-15, following the same directions after taking exit 95.

Accessibility

As you would expect, the park's facilities—including the visitor center, lodge, General Store, and museum—are all wheelchair-friendly. That includes restrooms, parking lots, and other public areas. Likewise, the various scenic viewpoints found along Bryce's road offer accessible parking areas and ramps. There is even a 1/2-mile section of the Rim Trail that is wheelchair accessible, although most other routes offer little to no access. For more information, check out the National Park Services access guide for Bryce Canyon.

The red landscape of Bryce Canyon with dramatic clouds overhead.

Kraig Becker

Tips for Your Visit

  • Beware of the altitude. Bryce Canyon is actually located at 8000 feet above sea level, which can catch some visitors off guard. If you're not use to the altitude, you may find yourself short of breath or struggling on strenuous hikes. Be sure to allow yourself some extra time when hiking, even on some of the easier trails.
  • The park is open year round with its busiest months running from May through October. If you're looking to avoid the crowds, late-October through November is a good time to, as is April into early-May. The winter months are very quiet, with few visitors, but snowstorms can result in road closures. Cold temperatures and changing conditions can also make backcountry travel dangerous for the inexperienced and unprepared.
  • A car may be necessary to reach Bryce Canyon, but once you get there, you can hop aboard the park's shuttle instead. The shuttle operates during peak travel months and can take visitors to a variety of locations within the park, including scenic overlooks, the visitor center, and other points of interest.
  • Staying hydrated in Bryce Canyon can be a challenge, so be sure to bring plenty of water. While the Visitor Center and General Store make it easy to get drinks fill up a reusable bottle, finding fresh water can be a challenge if you descend into the backcountry. Always make sure you're well supplied before venturing far from the parking lot.
  • Because it is situated on a high plateau, the weather conditions inside the park can shift quickly. While it may be warm and dry when you leave the parking lot, it can quickly turn cool and rainy later on. The weather is even more fickle in the winter, so be sure to watch the forecast, bring extra layers, and stay dry.
  • If you're driving through the park and want to take in all of its grandeur, take your time and stop at each of the viewpoints. All of them offer unique vantage points and offer a different perspective on the canyon. The photos from each location are worth having as well.
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The Complete Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park