A friend recently told me that we would spend all of our time at Zion National Park “looking up” and all of our time at Bryce Canyon “looking down.” That statement couldn’t have been more spot-on!
My husband and I spent two full days exploring Zion and dedicated one full day to seeing Bryce Canyon. Bryce Canyon National Park was spectacular and definitely lived up to all the hype. We could have easily spent more time there if our schedule had allowed.
Bryce Canyon is located in southern Utah and is one of Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks (between Zion and Capitol Reef). It is approximately four hours from both Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. We traveled to Bryce from Zion and it was a scenic 80 mile drive that we easily drove in under two hours.
Bryce Canyon seems to be a little underrated and is always overshadowed by Zion, though I have never heard of anyone visiting Bryce and being underwhelmed. We certainly were not. Both parks have colorful orange and red rocks but that is where the similarities end. Bryce’s geology is very different. Both are fantastic parks in their own way and certainly deserve a visit.
Bryce Canyon was certainly unlike anything that I have ever seen before. The park is filled with red, orange and white towering rock formations known as hoodoos. These spiky limestone “pillars” have been formed by water and wind erosion over millions of years. What we see today seems like something out of a fairytale land or maybe even another planet. Some rock formations appear to be delicate and fragile – others look like strong rock columns that have been stacked by giants. Beautiful, unusual and mesmerizing – all at once. Every view seems different with the sun and shadows constantly changing the colors. When you add in the white sandy hills, the remaining snow drifts and the green tree line in the far distance, the views are truly amazing.
We arrived at the park entrance mid-morning and our first stop was the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center. We learned of the road and trail closures (due to snow/ice), picked up maps, and bought souvenirs. David and I seem to have a habit of always underestimating the weather in certain places we visit, whether it is due to altitude, winds or unpredicted cold fronts. It is now a joke with us to see how much money we spend in each park buying hoodies, jackets, hats, etc. for things that we could have easily packed and brought from home, but didn’t. We now have a wide and varied collection of items with many park logos, including our new knit caps from Bryce Canyon. The wind at that altitude was brutal!!
We left from the Visitor’s Center and decided to drive the Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive to the farthest point and work our way back to the park entrance. The route runs 18 miles (one way) to Rainbow Point. Unfortunately, with all the late and heavy snows, the road had not been snowplowed to that point and we could only go as far as the Natural Bridge Overlook. Our first official views of Bryce Canyon were at Natural Bridge and they did not disappoint. Wow!
One of my favorite stops was at Bryce Point, which runs along the Rim Trail. We parked and walked along the paved section of the trail that overlooked the Bryce Amphitheater. This section is an expansive area along the canyon floor where thousands of hoodoos stand like silent soldiers. There is no other place in the world that has as many hoodoos as Bryce Canyon! There are various viewpoints along the six-mile Rim Trail where you can walk/stand and marvel at all these unusual rock formations far below. Fantastic photo ops!
Sunset Point was another very scenic stop along our drive through the park. This is the point where the Navajo Loop Trail and Queen’s Garden Trail begin and where you can view Thor’s Hammer. This seemed to be the most popular viewing spot in the park and the only place where we saw full parking lots and small crowds. The hoodoos and views from this observation point were certainly the reason why it was so appealing.
The canyon rim along these overlooks sits at an elevation around 9,000 feet. This particular day was clear and sunny with warm temperatures. The elevation and light winds made it feel much cooler than expected. Snow still covered much of the park (especially in shadows) and many trails were closed due to icy conditions. It was easy to see why the high altitude and cool temps make Bryce a prime vacation spot in the heat of the summer months.
Bryce Canyon National Park is relatively small and you can see the highlights in one full day, including the 13 vantage points along the Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive and maybe do a short hike or two. If you are more serious hikers, you may want to spend at least a couple of days in the park.
This visit to Bryce ended up being a perfect day for us and we were so glad that we got to experience the park in all its glory. As a side-trip from Zion, it was an easy drive and well worth the effort. Even though some roads and trails in the park were still closed, we thoroughly enjoyed not fighting for parking and pushing through crowds. No regrets!
See you on the trail!