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Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park: The Expert Travel Guide

A woman sits with her back facing the camera as she looks out over the amphitheater of hoodoos when visiting Bryce Canyon National Park

What’s not to love about visiting Bryce Canyon National Park? I often say to those who have never been that it looks like something you’d find on an alien planet. Or, perhaps it was constructed by fairies or other mythical creatures?

The sights are simply too good to be true, but in reality, water has done most of the work.

In the winter, melting snow freezes in the cracks found in the towering rocks, causing the cracks to expand. It’s a force of nature unlike many others, and to see it with your own eyes is nearly indescribable.

Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Bryce Canyon National Park and experiencing these amazing hoodoos yourself.

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Table of Contents

Bryce Canyon National Park Maps

A crop of full Bryce Canyon map
A crop of detailed Bryce Canyon map

Click the maps above to enlarge the images and explore them in more detail. There’s also a very handy map and guide on Bryce Canyon’s website that includes trail information (keep scrolling for more details on trails).

An image of amphitheater filled with hoodoos in Bryce Canyon. The text on the image is encouraging you to download a checklist of what to do when visiting Bryce Canyon National Park by signing up for e-mail notifications.

Fun Facts About Bryce Canyon National Park

  • Bryce Canyon is actually not a canyon at all. It’s a collection of amphitheaters on the Paunsaugunt Plateau.
  • The rim at Bryce Canyon National Park ranges from 8,000 to 9,000 feet (2,438 to 2,743 meters) in elevation.
  • The area around Bryce Canyon was settled by Mormon pioneers in the 1850s and named for one of them, Ebenezer Bryce.
  • Bryce Canyon National Monument was designated by President Harding in 1923. An act of Congress created Bryce Canyon National Park in 1928.
  • The park covers 35,835 acres (55.992 sq mi).
  • Bryce Canyon features the youngest layer of the so-called Grand Staircase of rock. Grand Canyon National Park has the oldest layers, then Zion National Park, followed by Bryce Canyon National Park. Each can be seen on a Grand Circle road trip.
  • Bryce Canyon has one of the highest concentrations of hoodoos of any place on Earth.

Why is Bryce Canyon a National Park?

According to the National Park Service, “Bryce Canyon National Monument (administered by the U.S. Forest Service) was originally established on June 8, 1923:

To preserve the “unusual scenic beauty, scientific interest, and importance.” On June 7, 1924, the monument’s name was changed to Utah National Park and it was transferred to the National Park Service. On February 25, 1928, Utah National Park was changed to Bryce Canyon National Park. Subsequent legislation enlarged the park to its current size of 35,835 acres.”

When to Visit Bryce Canyon National Park

A chart describing typical average weather when visiting Bryce Canyon National Park
NPS

Bryce Canyon Weather

The chart above depicts typical climate data for Bryce Canyon. Due to its higher elevation, temperatures are more moderate compared to nearby Zion National Park. However, this also brings colder, snowier winters.

Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park in Winter

Three women on the edge of Bryce Canyon

While visiting Bryce Canyon National Park in winter is undeniably beautiful, it also means preparing for winter conditions. Most of the 18-mile Scenic Drive will be closed, as will most trails.

Furthermore, I highly recommend bringing ice grippers or spikes if you plan on hiking any of the open trails.

Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park in Summer

Like everywhere else in the Utah desert, expect heat. Make sure you’re prepared by staying hydrated, drinking lots of water, applying sunscreen, and other precautions.

You can also expect crowds, especially at the viewpoints along the Park Road. To escape, hike one of the less popular trails. You should also hike in the morning to avoid both crowds and heat.

Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park in Spring or Fall

Spring and fall bring cooler temperatures to Bryce Canyon. Furthermore, you should be aware of the risks due to snowmelt in spring. This can cause extremely icy conditions.

If visiting Bryce Canyon National Park in the fall, enjoy the fall colors that fill the national park. While the rim features mostly pine trees, there are 400+ other species of plants here to admire.

How to Get to Bryce Canyon National Park

A panoramic view of the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon

The closest airport to Bryce Canyon National Park is in Las Vegas. I recommend using Skyscanner for purchasing the least expensive tickets and getting the best deals. From there, you can rent a car or join a tour.

Bryce Canyon Shuttle System

In the busy summer season, Bryce Canyon National Park provides a free shuttle that travels the Scenic Drive from the visitor center. This is called the Free Bryce Amphitheater Shuttle, which stops at designated locations every 10-15 minutes.

This also helps if you plan on doing any of the loop hikes – you can leave your car in one location and take a shuttle back at the end of your hike. I highly recommend using the shuttle to reduce traffic and congestion.

Additionally, there is the Rainbow Bus Tour. This leaves twice every day (at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.) and travels the 18-mile Park Road. You can call the shuttle station at (435) 834-5290 to make reservations up to 48 hours in advance. The tour takes approximately three hours.

Both shuttles run from April to October.

Snow covering orange and red hoodoos in Bryce Canyon amphitheater

Commercial Tours

With Las Vegas and Salt Lake City not being terribly far away, many companies outside of the National Park Service offer tours for visiting Bryce Canyon National Park.

Oftentimes, these tours will also include Zion and Grand Canyon national parks. I recommend Get Your Guide, one of my favorite services to use for guided tours.

Rental Car/Personal Vehicle

Both times I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Bryce Canyon, I had my own vehicle. First, it was May 2014 in Allison’s car on our cross-country road trip.

Next, it was February 2019 with a rental car we picked up in Las Vegas. The park shuttles don’t operate in winter, so having our own vehicle provided a lot of freedom. This also allowed us to hike the Mossy Cave Trail which begins from State Road 12 rather than the main road through the park.

How Much Does Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park Cost?

Admission to Bryce Canyon for one vehicle for seven days is $35. You can read more about the fees required to enter the national park on Bryce Canyon’s website.

Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park: The Expert Travel Guide 1

America the Beautiful Passes

If you’re visiting other national parks in the area, the smartest thing to do is purchase an America the Beautiful Pass. Annual passes cost $80 and will admit everyone in the vehicle at most national parks around the country.

If you’re currently serving in the United States military, have volunteered for a national park, are in fourth grade, or have a permanent disability, you may be eligible for one of the free passes issued by the National Park Service.

Lastly, there is an annual pass for seniors 62 and older for $20. Seniors are also able to purchase a lifetime pass for $80.

How Much Time Should I Spend Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park?

The Bryce Canyon amphitheater
Unsplash Photo

One Day in Bryce Canyon National Park

If you’re hoping to drive the 18-mile road, stop at some viewpoints, and hike a short trail, one day is plenty of time to spend at Bryce Canyon. I would recommend the Rim Trail, the easiest walk, or a portion of the Navajo Loop, the most popular trail.

Multiple Days in Bryce Canyon National Park

If you have multiple days in Bryce Canyon, you’re able to do a bit more hiking. The park has some longer trails that are less popular, so you can easily escape the crowds.

I might recommend the Fairyland Loop, one of the park’s longest trails. You can stay in one of the campgrounds or the Bryce Canyon Lodge in order to maximize time and get an early start.

Backpacking in Bryce Canyon National Park

The Under-the-Rim Trail is an excellent route for backpackers, covering 23 miles. Recently, portions of this trail have been closed – check the National Park Service website for current conditions.

Furthermore, there’s the 9-mile-long Riggs Springs Loop Trail. Each has designated campsites for backpackers and requires a permit.

Backcountry permits cost $5 and are not included with your park entry fee. Permits can be purchased at the visitor center, and reservations must be made in person up to 48 hours in advance.

Make sure you bring an adequate amount of water!

Places to Stay Near Bryce Canyon National Park

A woman visiting Bryce Canyon National Park stands on the rim with her arms outstretched

On my first visit to Bryce Canyon, we drove closer to Zion National Park and stayed near its east entrance at the Ponderosa Ranch Resort. Here, we slept in a traditional covered wagon for a more unique experience.

On my second trip, we stayed near the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park at the Best Western Plus (Ruby’s Inn). They had a restaurant and buffet, a huge plus in winter when almost everything closes down.

There’s another Best Western directly across the street I would also recommend. If you’d like to stay within Bryce Canyon National Park’s boundaries, check out the Bryce Canyon Lodge.

NOTE: Many hotels near Bryce Canyon National Park close in the winter.

Bryce Canyon Camping

In addition to the backcountry campsites, there are two campgrounds in Bryce Canyon National Park.

One is the North Campground near the visitor center. This campground is open year-round. There are no hook-ups or group sites.

The other campground is Sunset Campground. This is near the Bryce Canyon Lodge and Sunset Point. It’s surrounded by pine trees and contains one group site. It is closed from mid-October to mid-April.

Best Trails You Can Hike When Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park boasts a variety of hiking trails. While many are closed in the winter, the Rim Trail and Mossy Cave are usually at least partially accessible. Check with park rangers for current conditions when you arrive.

Trails range in difficulty from easy to strenuous, 0.8 miles to 23 miles, and 1 hour to a few days. Keep reading for more information about recommended trails in Bryce Canyon National Park, and visit the park’s official website for a complete list.

Read more about my 12 favorite Bryce Canyon hikes.

Mossy Cave Trail

Icicles form on the Mossy Cave Trail in Bryce Canyon

Difficulty: Easy

Start: Trailhead located on the north end of the park on State Hwy 12

Distance (roundtrip): 0.8 mile / 1.3 km

Elevation Change: 200 feet / 61 m

Estimated Hiking Time: 1 hour

Mossy Cave is one of the few trails that remains open in the winter. This allows you the chance to experience snow-covered hoodoos and massive icicles while visiting Bryce Canyon National Park. The trail includes a small cave, pictured above, which turns into a winter wonderland. According to a sign on the trail, the icicles can remain as late as June. The trail also showcases a waterfall, which was frozen in February.

Sunrise to Sunset

Difficulty: Easy

Start: Sunset or Sunrise Point

Distance (roundtrip): 1 mile / 1.6 km

Elevation Change: 34 feet / 10 m

Estimated Hiking Time: 1 hour

This portion of the Rim Trail is paved, making it the easiest hike in Bryce Canyon. It’s also nearly flat with negligible elevation change. The path overlooks the Bryce amphitheater.

The Rim Trail

Difficulty: Easy

Start: Anywhere along the rim

Distance (roundtrip): 1 to 11 miles / 1.6 to 17.7 km

Elevation Change: 1,117 feet / 359 m

Estimated Hiking Time: 1 to 7.5 hours

Bryce Canyon National Park features one trail that follows its rim from Bryce Point to Fairyland Point, covering 11 miles. You can hike any portion of this trail from any of the viewpoints in between.

A hiker on a trail beneath a group of hoodoo rock formations
Unsplash Photo

Navajo Loop

Difficulty: Moderate

Start: Sunset Point

Distance (roundtrip): 1.3 miles / 2.2 km

Elevation Change: 550 feet / 168 m

Estimated Hiking Time: 1-2 hours

This is quite possibly the most well-known hike in the park and is a must when visiting Bryce Canyon National Park. This trail takes you down into the amphitheater so you can stand among the hoodoos. By combining the Navajo Loop with the Queen’s Garden trail (the park’s most popular hike), you’ll be hiking nearly 3 miles, all beneath the rim. It is recommended that you complete both of these loops clockwise. Stop by the visitor center and speak with a park ranger about conditions and closures before attempting, particularly in winter.

Fairyland Loop

Difficulty: Strenuous

Start: Fairyland Point or north of Sunrise Point

Distance (roundtrip): 8 miles / 12.9 km

Elevation Change: 1,716 feet / 523 m

Estimated Hiking Time: 4-5 hours

One of the more strenuous hikes in the park, the Fairyland Loop is a great way to avoid crowds in Bryce Canyon. The trail provides access to enormous hoodoos with glorious views of the Bryce amphitheater.

Bryce National Park Scenic Drive

A paved road through a tunnel made of red rock
Pixabay Photo

The Park Road in Bryce Canyon National Park takes you on an 18-mile scenic drive. For the best views, stop at the various viewpoints along the way and peer into the Bryce amphitheater.

Some of the most popular viewpoints include Inspiration Point (my personal favorite), Sunset and Sunrise Points, Yovimpa Point and Rainbow Point, and the Natural Bridge.

In winter, the road may be closed at Mile 3. Furthermore, the roads to Fairyland Point, Paria View, and others could be closed. Typically, the roads to Bryce, Sunrise, Sunset, and Inspiration overlooks are plowed as quickly as possible. Be sure to stop by the visitor center or check online for current conditions.

More Things to Do in Bryce Canyon National Park

For a complete list of Bryce Canyon activities in both winter and summer, visit the National Park Service website. These include camping, hiking, and winter activities.

Attend a Ranger Program

There are almost always programs led by a Park Ranger happening during your visit to a national park, even if you don’t know it! Ask at the visitor center for an up-to-date list of ranger programs or check the online calendar. Popular programs include a geology talk on Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos.

Snowshoeing

Bryce Canyon staff will loan out snowshoes for those who don’t have their own as part of ranger-guided outings. These programs typically last two hours and cover about one mile. Both snowshoes and poles will be provided for participants. The program is completely free!

Festivals

Depending on the time of year, there may be a festival while you’re visiting Bryce Canyon National Park. Common festivals hosted by the park include an Astronomy Festival, Prairie Dog Festival, and Geology Festival.

What to Pack for Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park

A collection of items you should pack for a trip to any national park, especially if you plan on hiking.

Packing for a trip to the desert can be tricky. Depending on the time of year, temperatures can range from over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day to 50 degrees once the sun goes down.

If you’re visiting in the winter, it may even snow, especially at Bryce Canyon where the elevation is quite high. Here’s a list of things you may need, with some items varying based on the season you decide to visit.

For more ideas on what to pack for Bryce Canyon, check out my post on the best backpacking and hiking gear.

  • Reusable Water Bottle: Literally the most important thing to have in the desert.
  • Moisture-wicking Layers: You’ll want short- and long-sleeve shirts to wear underneath your jacket. In the summer, you may also want a tank top. Choose polyester over cotton.
  • Jacket: I always have a packable down with me on trips. I also love this new jacket I got a few months ago, as it’s very light yet warm. Synthetic is a good alternative to down if you’re worried about rain or snow.
  • Hiking Pants or Shorts: My favorite hiking pants can be found here. As a taller woman, I also love Columbia’s pants because they offer long sizes.
  • Hat: Depending on the season, you’ll need a winter hat or summer hat.
  • Gloves or Mittens: Gloves are critical if you’re visiting in the winter.
  • Wool Socks: Smartwool is my favorite brand for wool socks. Make sure to get wool so your feet stay warm and dry.
  • Grippers, Spikes, or Crampons: If you plan to hike in the winter, I strongly recommend grippers for Bryce Canyon National Park’s potentially icy trails. In February, some of Bryce Canyon’s trails were closed due to ice. Come prepared and avoid the fall!
  • Camera: I had my trusty Canon Rebel T5i, my Canon Powershot SX620, and a GoPro with me on my most recent trip to Bryce Canyon.
  • Tripod: If you’re hoping to take decent photos of the slot canyons, sunsets, or wildlife, I’d strongly recommend carrying a tripod with you.
  • Boots: I love my Keens, and will never choose another brand for my everyday boots. In winter, I choose a much warmer pair of Solomon boots.
  • Backpack: I brought my North Face pack, but a friend of mine had a water-resistant Patagonia pack I was extremely jealous of.

Where to Stamp Your National Parks Passport Book

National Parks Passport books
Source: Eastern National

Don’t have a national parks passport book? Purchase one here and start collecting your stamps! Or, buy your own notebook or stamp some postcards – the stamps are free for you to use on whatever you please.

NOTE: Do not stamp your country-issued passport with these! This could render them invalidated.

Bryce Canyon Visitor Center

This is the best place to get stamps for Bryce Canyon National Park. You can find them in the book store near the front desk. There is one bonus stamp located at the front desk of the Bryce Canyon Lodge as well.

Two national park passport stamps from Bryce Canyon National Park. One on the left is yellow and says "Bryce Canyon National Park, Mar 15 2014, Bryce Canyon UT" and the one on the right is red with a hand-drawn hoodoo.

Pin Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park: The Expert Guide

Everything you need to know about visiting Bryce Canyon National Park. This park ranger's guide includes hikes, viewpoints, weather, and a free checklist! | Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park | #brycecanyon #utah #nationalparks
Everything you need to know about visiting Bryce Canyon National Park. This park ranger's guide includes hikes, viewpoints, weather, and a free checklist! | Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park | #brycecanyon #utah #nationalparks
Everything you need to know about visiting Bryce Canyon National Park. This park ranger's guide includes hikes, viewpoints, weather, and a free checklist! | Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park | #brycecanyon #utah #nationalparks

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  1. […] Every destination has something new and exciting to completely blow your mind. Whether it’s Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos or the Mars-like landscape of Capitol Reef, the national parks in Utah and Arizona are some […]

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