Discover Bryce Canyon National Park: What to See and Do

Despite its name, Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah is not a canyon. Rather, it’s an awe-inspiring collection of amphitheaters filled with colorful, spire-shaped rock formations called hoodoos.

Check out this guide and immerse yourself in the otherworldly landscape of this 55-square-mile park.

Getting to Bryce Canyon National Park

Access Bryce through the main entrance, at the north end of the park. You'll find maps and information available here and at the visitor center located about a mile inside the park.

Discover the largest collection of hoodoos in the world at Bryce Canyon National Park.

 

Best Time to Visit

Bryce is open year-round and basks in sunshine for most of that time; however, visitors should be prepared for all types of weather, including thunderstorms in summer and snowstorms in winter.

The park’s peak season occurs from June to September, while December and January tend to be the quietest months. Because the rim of Bryce’s amphitheaters is 8,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level, average temperatures top out around 83 degrees in July and drop to about 10 degrees in January.

What to See and Do at Bryce Canyon National Park

 

Go for a Scenic Drive or Cycle

The 18-mile park road (which is State Highway 63, reached from Scenic Byway 12) stretches the length of Bryce Canyon, providing motorists and cyclists with access to Bryce’s multiple viewpoints and trail heads. Rent mountain bikes by the hour or the day from outfitters like Ruby’s Inn, where you can park your rental car while you explore the trails. Since most overlooks are on the east side of Bryce, the National Park Service recommends first driving to the southernmost point of the park and stopping at Rainbow Point, the highest lookout at more than 9,100 feet. Then make your way back north, stopping at viewpoints as you head back toward the park entrance. Following this route helps prevent drivers from disrupting traffic or having to make left-hand turns.

Enjoy postcard-worthy views of the amphitheaters and hoodoos at Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration and Bryce points; stop at Agua Canyon, where you’ll see two prominent hoodoos, The Hunter and Rabbit, with the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument in the distance. Experience the hoodoos up close at Fairyland Point by taking Fairyland Point Road just after the park boundary, roughly a mile north of the visitor center.

Hop on the Park's Free Shuttles

If you’d rather leave the car behind for the day, hop on the park’s free shuttle bus, which operates daily from April to October (check the National Park Service website for up-to-date information). The shuttle picks up from four locations in nearby Bryce Canyon City and at the visitor center, as well as several overlooks and trail heads within the park. The route duration is 50 minutes, not including time spent at stops.

If you’d prefer a guided tour, reserve a spot on the free, 3.5-hour Rainbow Point Shuttle Tour, which departs twice daily from Ruby’s Inn, Ruby’s Campground and the shuttle boarding area across from the inn—all just north of the park’s entrance—plus The Lodge at Bryce Canyon, North Campground and Sunset Campground inside the park. Parking is available at each of these six pickup points.

Utah is one of only six states where you can stumble upon a bristlecone pine, one of the longest-living organisms in the world.

 

Take a Hike, or Go Cross-Country Skiing

With trails as short as 1 mile and as long as 11, you can choose an easy, moderate or strenuous hike that best matches your and your travel companions’ skill sets and preferences.

Easy to Moderate Trails

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As you hike throughout the park, keep an eye out for bristlecone pine trees —the oldest trees in the world, identifiable by their rugged, twisted trunks and claw like bristles. You’ll definitely spot these trees in the south side of the park while hiking the family-friendly 1-mile Bristlecone Loop

Get a nice view of Bryce from above on the Rim Trail, a 5.5-mile hike from north to south. For a shorter distance, the section between Sunset and Sunrise points is paved, and at Sunrise Point you can access the Queens Garden Trail —one of the easiest routes leading down into the canyon like amphitheater. From Queens Garden, you can begin the short, steep and beautiful 1.3-mile Navajo Loop, which passes through the only slot canyon in Bryce, known as Wall Street.

Moderate to Strenuous Trails

For those up for more of a challenge, try the steep but stunning Peek-A-Boo Loop hike that starts at Bryce Point and zigzags down the rim and through the heart of the amphitheater. Tip: Trails below the rim, like this one, involve steep climbs back up, so wear good hiking shoes and pack water. Park visitors can also explore Peek-A-Boo Loop on horseback with Canyon Trail Rides from April through October. For another strenuous but less crowded trail, try the Fairyland Loop, where you’ll trek along the rim through many of the park’s dramatic hoodoos.

Seasonal Trails

Traveling in winter? Trade in your hiking boots and go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing on the Bristle cone Loop or the Rim Trail between Bryce and Fairyland points, or join the park’s Snowshoe Rangers for a guided 1-mile, snowshoe tour.

Known as one of the last grand sanctuaries for natural darkness, the night sky in Bryce Canyon bedazzles its beholders.

 

Look Up and Catch Incredible Sky Views

Bryce has one of the darkest night skies in the United States, making it exceptional for stargazing. On a moonless night, travelers can see up to 7,500 stars. Visit in June for the Annual Astronomy Festival, or join one of the park’s Astronomy Rangers on guided moonlight programs in spring, summer and fall.

If you have extra time before or after your visit to Bryce, hop on Scenic Byway 12, which accesses Bryce and many of the surrounding area’s gems, including Capitol Reef National Park, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Dixie National Forest. Enter Scenic Byway 12 via U.S. Highway 89, 7 miles south of Panguitch, or from Utah Highway 24 in the town of Torrey.

Take in some of Utah’s most breathtaking views from behind the wheel on Scenic Byway 12.

 

Where to Sleep and Eat

There are several lodging options inside the park, including two campgrounds: Sunset Campground, located near Sunset Point, and North Campground, across from the park’s visitor center. The campgrounds offer about 200 sites for recreational vehicles and tents. A limited number of these sites can be reserved up to six months in advance; the rest are first come, first served. A third option inside the park is The Lodge at Bryce Canyon. A National Historic Landmark dating back to 1925, The Lodge offers accommodations and dining to park visitors each summer, with limited options also available in winter.

Pitch a tent beneath the stars at Sunset or North campgrounds.

Drive just north of the park to Bryce Canyon City for more options like Bryce Canyon Pines motel, which also houses Bryce Canyon Pines Restaurant,where you can enjoy a cowboy-size steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, then indulge your sweet tooth with a slice of blueberry pie.

Alternatively, drive 10 miles east of the park on Scenic Byway 12 to the town of Tropic to stay at Bryce Trails Bed & Breakfast, where you can watch the sun set over the canyon while enjoying s’mores and popcorn in front of the B&B’s outdoor movie screen and bonfire. For an upscale dinner in town, try a tender fillet served with Yukon gold potato puree and a glass of malbec at Stone Hearth Grille.

About the Author

Rebecca Gross is a writer and researcher who loves adventure and travel. She has a master’s in the history of design and specialized in the visual culture of postwar American travel, writing her thesis on the visual experience of America’s national parks. Rebecca hails from New Zealand, lives in Australia and regularly visits the States.