The AFT Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park is a tiny park, full of rock castles and colored like sherbet and pretty as anything. 

Read about our first visit to Bryce Canyon National Park here.

Where Bryce Canyon is located:

Bryce Canyon is located in southwestern Utah. 

Getting to Bryce Canyon:

Bryce Canyon is about a 4-hour drive from major international airports in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. St. George and Cedar City have smaller airports closer to the park. Either way, you’ll need a car to get into the park.

road into bryce canyon national park

Getting around Bryce Canyon:

Bryce runs an excellent free shuttle for getting to various points of interest within the park. It’s not mandatory (as in Zion, though in some parts of Bryce there are vehicle length restrictions), but it is a great way to get around during peak hours of peak season, and helps the park cut down on traffic and crowded parking lots. The shuttle runs from around mid-April to mid-October.

family hiking in bryce canyon national park

Where to stay:

There are two campgrounds within the park. North Campground has sites available on a first-come, first-served basis and is open year-round. Sunset Campground is open from April through October, with reservations available in peak season (usually from the end of May til mid-October.) Make reservations on recreation.gov. You can also get a permit for backcountry camping.

The Lodge at Bryce Canyon is also located in the park, very near the amphitheater, and has a range of accommodations from cabins to suites. Make reservations in advance, and be aware that The Lodge generally closes during January and February.

Just outside the park there are several hotels in Bryce Canyon City, while a 15-minute drive will take you to Tropic, where there are a few more hotels (and some better restaurant options.)

hoodoos in bryce canyon national park

How long to stay in Bryce Canyon:

Bryce Canyon is a small park, but there’s plenty to fill a multi-day trip. We recommend at least 2 days to experience both the many scenic viewpoints and some hiking. In one day, you can squeeze in a shorter hike and a drive to Rainbow Point.

When to go to Bryce Canyon:

Bryce sits at high elevation (8,000 to 9,000 ft.), so it gets plenty chilly here. But while summer brings the most comfortable weather, it also brings crowds. Shoot for shoulder season if you’re camping. Winter is a cold but stunning time to visit the park, with the contrast between white snow and red rock. If you want to hike in winter, bring shoes with great traction or (even better), grab some traction devices to attach to your hiking shoes (you can buy them at the visitor’s center.)

family hiking in snowy bryce canyon national park

Best for:

  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • History
  • Scenery
  • Stargazing

Pair with:

Zion is less than 90 minutes away, and many visitors pair the parks into one trip. Zion is, of course, always worth a visit (and you can check out our guide for Zion here!), but there is so much to see and do in this area that’ll take you a bit farther from the beaten path. Check out Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park, or Kodachrome Basin State Park.

trail in bryce canyon national park

Activities:

Views:

Bryce Canyon is famous for views of its amphitheater; it’s a stunning, alien sight and you’ll want to allocate plenty of time for taking it all in. Check out panoramic views at Bryce, Inspiration, Sunset, Sunrise or Rainbow Points. Take a short walk along the Rim Trail from Inspiration to Sunset Points for new angles on the classic lookouts. We’ve heard that sunset views are best from Paria View, which faces west.

bryce canyon national park in winter

Horseback Riding:

If you’re able, look into taking a guided horseback ride down into the canyon. Canyon Trail Rides can get you outfitted and lead you along the Peek-a-Boo Loop or another designated stock trail. Check out their website for details. Kids must be over 7.

Stargazing:

Far from population centers, Bryce Canyon is an epic place to view the night sky. You can, of course, enjoy these unparalleled views on your own. But during the summer, check into ranger-led night-sky programs or Bryce’s annual astronomy event.

family hiking in bryce canyon national park

Hiking:

Hiking is our favorite way to take in the canyon. Getting down among the hoodoos will give you a whole new perspective on this park. There are plenty of trail options for all levels of hikers.

Just be aware that what goes down must come up ;). If you’re descending into the canyon, you’ll be covering some elevation to get back up. It sounds obvious, but we’ve seen plenty of hikers cursing the trail as they headed uphill! Don’t let it stop you, just give yourself enough time and enough water to get out of the canyon comfortably.

Queens Garden:

The easiest trail that takes you down into the canyon, this 2-mile loop will get you up close to the hoodoos and has a gentle descent.

Navajo Loop Trail:

You’ll get great bang for you buck on this trail, which takes you past Thor’s Hammer and through the narrow Wall Street canyon, with its 36 switchbacks.

bryce canyon national park in winter
Fairyland Loop Trail:

Circling the huge Boat Mesa, this 8-mile RT loop descends into the canyon at Fairyland Point and leads through spectacular scenery and past ancient bristlecone pines. It’s considered strenuous and you should give yourself plenty of time and more water than you might think you’ll need.

family hiking at bryce canyon national park
Rim Trail:

This one is exactly what it sounds like. The full trail is 11 miles, but you can hop on and off where you’d like. The section between Sunrise and Sunset Points is paved and almost entirely flat.

Bristlecone Loop Trail:

An easy 1-miler, this is a good leg-stretcher (especially if you’ve got kids) and a fun place to check out the ancient bristlecone pines.

Bringing Kids:

Bryce Canyon is well-developed and easy to navigate, and there’s plenty here to keep kids enthralled. The Navajo Loop is a great hike for families that are in reasonable hiking shape.

child at bryce canyon national park

FAQ’s:

The following are questions we received from our followers about visiting Bryce Canyon National Park.

Which hikes are best to get a feel for the park? Which ones should we prioritize?

Our favorite hikes in Bryce are the Navajo Loop (this one is fairly short and great for families) and the Fairyland Loop (a longer hike, but one that gets you far from crowds and into some wonderful parts of the canyon.) Either will give you a great sense of the scenery here. Just get down into the canyon, any way you can!

Is it worth going to the park in the winter?

Absolutely! We’ve been to Bryce Canyon twice: once in June and once in January. Both visits were wonderful, but wintertime brought a whole new perspective on the park. We saw very few people and the snow on the hoodoos was absolutely breathtaking. See the park’s guidelines on winter activities here.

bryce canyon national park in winter
If we only have one day, what’s the best way to spend it?

If you’re short on time, we highly recommend skipping the full scenic drive in favor of a hike down into the canyon. While the viewpoints each offer subtle variations on the amphitheater scenery, nothing competes with getting down among the hoodoos.

Where can we eat?

There are restaurants in Bryce Canyon City and within the park itself. The food in and around the park generally leaves something to be desired. Save yourself time and money by packing picnics.

Advice from Our Readers:

“We were there in summer and the gnats were terrible once we got down into the canyon! So my best advice is to figure out how to avoid those—bug spray?” (This experience seems to have been a fairly rare one—most of our readers say they didn’t have trouble with bugs here—but it’s definitely worth being prepared!)

“If you go in the summer or early fall, start hiking early. The sun is intense!”

“Take an extra day and make the drive to Zion just 90 minutes away. My heart belongs to Zion.”

“The more often you say hoodoo in funny voices, the funnier it gets! We laughed our way through this park saying it over and over again.” hahahahaha

“Summer storms can roll in quickly, so be prepared if you’re on a longer hike.”

trail at bryce canyon national park

Final tips:

Like most of Utah’s national parks, Bryce Canyon gets extremely busy during the high season. Don’t let this deter you from a visit, but go in with reasonable expectations about the kind of nature experience you’ll be having. As is also true of national parks everywhere, getting out on the trail will usually ensure a bit of solitude and a more intimate experience with the park.

Even though Bryce Canyon doesn’t get as hot as most desert parks, it is still very dry. Don’t underestimate the amount of water you’ll need to bring on longer hikes.

family at bryce canyon national park
family at bryce canyon national park

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