National Park Guide: Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah

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This post is the first in a series we’ll be sharing about our adventures of summer 2021, when we embarked on a 4 week road trip that included 9 National Parks (bringing our total to 12) and many other cool sites across the country. We must disclose that we are NOT serious hikers, even after this trip. The pandemic afforded our family the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors more, and that let to a whole new appreciation of nature. While we researched, experienced, and fact checked all information in this post, many parts of it are still only our personal opinions (how difficult a trail is, how long it takes to complete, what we chose to do and not do). We’ve provided links to the NPS site so our readers can make their own decisions about what adventures they want to experience in the park.

Fun Facts about Bryce Canyon National Park:

  • Bryce Canyon National Park began as a National Monument in 1923, became a National Park in 1928, and welcomes approximately 2.6 million visitors every year to the 35,000+ acre park.

  • It took 60 million years for the hoodoos (spires of rock created by erosion) to form, a result of water and uplift of the Colorado Plateau that formed, rose over the course of millions of years, and then broke into many plateaus.

  • Bryce Canyon has the largest collection of hoodoos in the world. Read more about the history of the park here.

  • There are over 200 days each year when the temperature inside the park is both above and below freezing temperatures.

  • The Bryce Amphitheater was once Lake Claron, similar in size to Lake Placid.

  • The top of the Rim Trail is 8,000+ feet above sea level.

  • There are over 400 species of trees and plants in the park.

  • The park is home to the Utah prairie dog, an endangered species, as well as pronghorns, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, chipmunks, and a variety of birds.

  • Most facilities, including the General Store and the Lodge, are closed January through March. Many trails are also closed in the winter because of falling rocks, so be sure to check with park rangers about what is open.

Transportation and Parking Tips: The park highly recommends taking the shuttle, which operates from April through October from 8am to 6pm (8pm in the summer). There are 14 stops in total, with two routes that include stops in town at local hotels. There is limited parking at the Visitor Center (one hour limit), and at some of the major trails heads. We were able to park at Sunrise Point before 8am, but then took the shuttle most of the day, as most lots were full. Parking lots did open in the late afternoon. There is also a “Rainbow Point Bus Tour” that is offered twice a day and lasts approximately three hours. Reservations are required.

Restrooms: Located at the Visitor Center, General Store, and at major trail heads like Sunset, Mossy Cave, Rainbow Point, and Fairview.

Things to Do at the Visitor Center:

  • Watch the 24-minute video “A Song of Seasons” that gives a brief history and overview of the park. It runs every hour and half hour.

  • Explore the indoor exhibit “Scales of Time” that explains how the hoodoos are formed and how prairie dogs live in the canyon, and also has a few interactive activities geared towards children.

  • Shop in the gift shop

  • Collect passport stamps and grab a Junior Ranger booklet (and return it to earn a badge)

 Eating in the Park:  There are two options for eating inside the park: 

  • The General Store, located off Sunset Point,  is open from 9am to 6pm and offers premade sandwiches, hotdogs, salads, made to order pizzas, and plenty of snacks, drinks, and frozen treats, as well souvenirs and incidentals. The General Store also has laundry facilities and restrooms.

  • The Lodge offers indoor and outdoor dining for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as take out. The dining room does close for an hour or two between each meal. For the 2021 season, all meals were considered “takeout” but guests could pick up their food in the dining room and eat inside or in the courtyard (limited seating). There is a good variety of meal options as well as a kid’s menu. The Valhalla Pizzeria and Coffee Shop is traditionally offers coffee all day and pizzas for lunch and dinner.

 What We Did:

1. Hiked the Sunrise Point to Sunset Point area by taking the Queen’s Garden trail descending into Bryce Amphitheater, hiking to Queen Victoria Hoodoo, seeing Thor’s Hammer, taking the Navajo Loop, which includes two bridges, and climbing up Wall Street (so amazing!). The entire loop is just under 3 miles.  This took the better part of the morning, and we started early around 7am. It was cool and shaded in many spots, and most of Wall Street is shaded and very cool (temperature wise and visually). **Wall Street is closed during winter months. This trail was a major highlight of our whole trip and our of our most favorite hikes.

2. Walked Sunrise to Sunset, a one mile, paved trail with great views down into the canyon. There is a large restroom facility at Sunset Point. This is considered a novice trail and not very strenuous, but hikers are 8,000 feet above sea level at the start of Sunrise so be cognizant of altitude sickness.

3. Hiked Bryce Point to Inspiration Point, a 1.5 mile, one way hike that has stunning views down into the canyon. It is easier to hike from Bryce Point to Inspiration Point. There are some very sharp drop offs with no railings and a couple of areas where the path is no more than 4-5 feet, so pay attention. There are areas at both points that jut out for amazing views and those areas are protected by railings. There are limited restrooms (no running water) at Inspiration Point, and shuttle stops at both locations.

4. Participated in a ranger led talk on hoodoos and their creation and earned our Junior Ranger Badge. Various talks, and topics, are offered each day- check at the Visitor Center and main gate for the daily schedule. Checked out the Visitor Center and Scales of Time exhibit.

We skipped, but you might like:

  • The Scenic Drive, which is an 18 mile (one way) drive with 14 viewpoints that ends at Rainbow Point. It takes approximately 30 minutes to drive (without stopping) from the Visitor Center.

  • The Tower Bridge, a three-mile hike north of Sunrise Point.

  • Peekaboo Loop, a 5+ mile steep trail that showcases the Wall of Windows.

Other Things to Do:

  • Camping at the North Campground and Sunset Campground- more information here

  • Horseback riding on a wrangler led trail for 1.5 to 3 hours. Reserve a time at the Lodge.

  • Bicycle riding on designated “Shared-Use” paths with walkers- more information on rentals here and here.

  • Viewing the stars at night- Bryce Canyon is an “International Dark Sky Park” and offers incredible views at night. Try and get a reservation for a Full Moon hike (we missed it by 3 days!) which are offered for the day before, during, and after a full moon. You have to “win” a “lottery” in order to participate in a Full Moon hike.

Where to Stay:  We stayed at the Lodge at Bryce Canyon inside the park.  Our room was literally feet from a path to the Rim Trail. The Lodge is open from March through October, with approximately 60 rooms in buildings and 30 cabins. The rooms are clean, include a microwave and mini fridge, and have a nice patio. There is no air conditioning anywhere in the lodge (or the park) and there are no televisions in the room. There is decent wifi for lodge guests (best in the main lodge). The Lodge has a gift shop; dining room, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and separate Valhalla coffee shop/ pizzeria. When we visited in June 2021, the dining room was open for takeout (guests were allowed to eat at a table in the dining room or on the patio). We loved staying at the lodge for the convenience of being in the park and so close to many of the trails.

Disclaimer: We visited in June of 2021 and some areas of the park were closed due to pandemic restrictions. Always check out the park website for the most up to date information.

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8 Comments

  1. Awesome post!! Great pictures and details to what you did! We are hoping to visit there either 2022 or 2023!! Thanks for sharing!! Looks like you had a great time!!

  2. Awesome post!! Great pictures and details to what you did! We are hoping to visit there either 2022 or 2023!! Thanks for sharing!! Looks like you had a great time!!

  3. Awesome post!! Great pictures and details to what you did! We are hoping to visit there either 2022 or 2023!! Thanks for sharing!! Looks like you had a great time!!

  4. I’m truly impressed with the beauty of what you have seen and the wonderful way in which you have challenged yourself but with care and an enormous amount of preparation. Amazing pictures as well. I felt like I was there.

  5. I’m truly impressed with the beauty of what you have seen and the wonderful way in which you have challenged yourself but with care and an enormous amount of preparation. Amazing pictures as well. I felt like I was there.

  6. I’m truly impressed with the beauty of what you have seen and the wonderful way in which you have challenged yourself but with care and an enormous amount of preparation. Amazing pictures as well. I felt like I was there.

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