One Day at Bryce Canyon National Park

11 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.

One Day in Bryce Canyon National Park | The Brave Little Cheesehead at bravelittlecheesehead.com

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.

One Day in Bryce Canyon National Park | The Brave Little Cheesehead at bravelittlecheesehead.com

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.

One Day in Bryce Canyon National Park | The Brave Little Cheesehead at bravelittlecheesehead.com

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.

One Day in Bryce Canyon National Park | The Brave Little Cheesehead at bravelittlecheesehead.com


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!

One Day in Bryce Canyon National Park | The Brave Little Cheesehead at bravelittlecheesehead.com

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8 comments

  1. Great article! It's so funny- I almost didn't stop at Bryce Canyon, either! It wasn't on our original "list" of things to do. It was also pouring rain when we arrived. I wanted to keep driving because I didn't want to set up the tent in the rain, but I am SO GLAD I got overruled and we stayed!!

    You highlighted some great areas of Bryce with this article. It truly is a magical place. Thanks for sharing!

    Sarah

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    1. Hey Sarah! That is too funny that we had similar experiences. We're so jealous you had time to camp! If we could go back, that's what we'd do at both Bryce and Zion. They're both such awesome places to explore!

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  2. I'll need to look out for this National Parks free week if we ever get to move to Canada - would want to see more of the U.S Parks after getting a teaser with Yosemite, Death Valley and Monument Valley back in 2011 - was such a magic trip.

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    1. Ah! We haven't been to any of those yet! We almost drove out to Monument Valley on this trip... it would have only been abut 2 hours east of where we were, but just ran out of time! Are you guys still planning to move to Canada?

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  3. I'm heading to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in October in a small rented RV, and I'm planning on spending several days there and several at Zion National Park. I wasn'the sure I wanted to make the drive north to Bryce Canyon, but after seeing your photos and description I'm definitely adding it to the itinerary. Thanks for the great post and suggestions!

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    1. Yay! We're so glad to hear it. Bryce almost didn't make our trip plans, too. It was honestly a spur of the moment decision while we were driving, and we're so glad we did it! Hope you have a blast. When is the big trip?

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  4. Just wanted to say that I came across this blog...my husband and I (both from Wisconsin, now living in the Denver area the past ~8 years) will be traveling to Zion to camp for three nights in mid-May (then onto Vegas) to celebrate my 30th bday! I got the idea to start our trip a day early and visit Bryce. We will be arriving between 12-2pm, and will just have a half day there. Your blog and pictures and itinerary made me realize it's totally doable and worth it to visit and see many of the highlights and get in some light hiking! And we can check off another NP from our list! I am SO excited now! I can't wait to check out your other blog posts and explore your travels! Keep up the great work!

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    1. Thank you so much, Renee! We always love hearing from fellow Cheeseheads. :) That sounds like a great trip you have planned! Definitely jealous of your 3-days in Zion! We wish we'd had more. Consider a trip out to Page, AZ, for the Antelope Canyons and Horseshoe Bend if you can spare it! We're actually headed to Utah to hit up some of the other Might Five for MY 30th birthday this year! Cheers to doing it right -- National Park style!! :)

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