One Day at Bryce Canyon National Park11 May 2016
Originally, Bryce wasn’t even part of the plan. We figured we only had time for so much, and we didn't want to overcrowd our southwest U.S. road trip. So, decisions had to be made. And Bryce just didn’t make the cut.
But once we started relaying our Zion-Kanab-Page trip details to our friends, we heard one after another sigh in disappointment when they learned Bryce wasn’t on the agenda. So, when our Day 3 road trip plans suddenly (and somewhat unfortunately) cleared after we didn’t get selected for The Wave permits, we canceled our Page hotel reservations and filled the void by rerouting to Bryce.
Based on our friends’ sentiments, we feared our short, day visit wouldn’t do the park justice. And with the early morning spent boating Lake Powell, and the Arizona sunset expected around 7 p.m., we knew our time in Bryce would be brief. We killed three hours of the day just getting to the park, stopping only to refuel and grab lunch in Kanab at Big Al’s Burger shop—quite possibly the best dining decision we made all week. (I’d return to Utah just for another one of Al’s burgers. Seriously, it was so good.) But even though we entered the park as late as 3:30 p.m., we covered a lot of land in a short period of time.
WHAT WE DID
We pulled out of the shiny new Bryce Canyon Visitor Center with an ambitious game plan. But once the park ranger himself signed off on our plans, we cruised out of the lot and headed down the park’s 18-mile out-and-back road. To avoid crossing over park traffic, we chose to begin our viewpoint pull-offs only once we made it to the very final viewpoints, Rainbow and Yovimpa Points, about 30 minutes later.
We reached the end of the road and stood in awe of the hoodoos. This place was unlike anything we'd seen before. The stark red rocks contrasted beautifully against the bright blue skies. And to think: this was only the beginning. We gradually made our way back toward the park entrance, stopping only to enjoy eight ranger-recommended viewpoints in the park, all accessible from the east side of the road: Rainbow and Yovimpa Points, Agua Canyon, Natural Bridge, Farview Point, Bryce Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point.
By the time we reached the final pull-off at Sunrise and Sunset Points, only about an hour’s time had passed. It helped that the park was pretty desolate. In fact, there were hardly any cars or visitors, considering it was the Sunday of admission-free National Parks Week.
The four of us laced up our hiking boots and headed out for a 3.1-mile loop through the hoodoos between Sunrise Point and Sunset Point. The ranger noted it could take us anywhere from two to three hours, despite it being a brief, easy-to-moderate hike. We quickly learned it’s not the terrain that takes time, rather it’s the hundreds of photo ops you'll want to take to try and capture the scenery.
Just as our friends promised, Bryce Canyon did not disappoint. The landscape is captivating, beautiful, other-worldly. While the viewpoints are incredible, we all agreed that our very favorite part of the entire road trip was weaving up and down the Queens Garden trail (1.8 mi), peaking above and around hundreds of the dusty red hoodoos that cover the park.
At the beginning, the hoodoos and red archways stand only about two stories high, if I’m being generous. But as we hiked deeper into the valley along the Navajo Trail (1.3 mi), we found ourselves enveloped between giant hoodoo peaks and towering, red canyon walls. It’s indescribable. Just breathtakingly beautiful.
And to imagine this was a place that nearly didn’t make the list.
RECAP & REMINDERS
Unlike Zion, there aren't any mandatory shuttles at Bryce—you can travel in your own vehicle, pulling off at any viewpoints you choose (and on your own schedule, too). However, this also means there will likely be more traffic and congestion on the roads in Bryce than in Zion.
Drive straight through the park, beginning at the Visitor Center, until you've reached the final viewpoints: Rainbow and Yovimpa Points. The drive is 18 miles and, without traffic, should take about 30 minutes to get from one end to the other. Wait to pull off to see any of the viewpoints until you get to the end. Enjoy the view and then start the trek back toward the entrance of the park. Now begin making your viewpoint visits, so you're not crossing over traffic into the small parking lots.
Once you've made it back to Sunrise or Sunset Points, head down into the hoodoos to explore the Queens Garden and Navajo Trail (about 3.5 miles). Make sure you have about 2+ hours to do it. It's not a very challenging hike, but you'll certainly want to have appropriate hiking boots to ensure safe footing on the sandy and rocky trail.
Follow our footsteps in Bryce. Pin our One Day at Bryce Canyon National Park map to prep for your trip, and check out our full southwest U.S. road trip itinerary!