An otherworldly labyrinth of vibrant red, orange and pink hoodoos
Bryce Canyon is less than a four-hour drive from Las Vegas, Nevada, and Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s the favorite national park of many visitors to the southwestern U.S., and it's easy to see why. While Arizona's Grand Canyon impresses with its massive, hulking scale, southern Utah’s Bryce is smaller, more intimate and approachable, and its surreal formations seemingly more delicate. In fact, it has taken millions of years for the forces of wind, ice and water to sculpt this land of stone spires, pinnacles and fins. This guide offers suggestions about how best to admire the canyon and provides practical tips for your trip.
Getting There from Las Vegas, Nevada
After experiencing the bright lights and excitement of Las Vegas, drive north on Interstate Highway 15 to St. George, Utah. Then pick one of two approaches to reach Bryce: via Zion National Park or Cedar Breaks National Monument. For Zion, take Interstate 15 to State Route 9. The entrance fee (valid for 7 days) is US$30 per vehicle. If you'd prefer to see Cedar Breaks (similar to Bryce, but smaller), continue on Interstate 15 to Cedar City, then follow State Route 14 to State Route 148 (also known as Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway, it is closed from late October or early November to late May).
Most visitors tour Bryce by car, so canyon viewpoint parking lots can be extremely congested during the busy summer months. A stress-free alternative is the free Bryce Canyon shuttle, which operates late April through September. Shuttle stops include Ruby's Inn (outside the park), the visitor center, and Sunset and Inspiration points. "The shuttle runs every eight to twelve minutes, and it's a great way to avoid traffic headaches," says National Park Service Ranger Kathleen Gonder.
During the busy summer months, roads in Bryce Canyon National Park likely will not be this empty.
Where to Sleep and Eat
Within walking distance of the canyon rim, the Lodge at Bryce Canyon includes a restaurant serving tasty fare in a classic Western dining room with wood paneling and a stone fireplace. There's also Valhalla Pizzeria, which serves coffee and baked goods in addition to Italian fare, pizza and salads.
Outside the park, the sprawling Ruby's Inn has more than 360 rooms, cabins, a campground and three restaurants. Ruby's also offers horseback, off-road vehicle and aerial tours, plus mountain bike rentals.
If the lodge and Ruby's are full, try the motels in and around Bryce Canyon City, off State Route 63. Camping is also available at two campgrounds within the park.
What to See
With 13 overlooks along the park’s 61-kilometer scenic drive, there's no shortage of perches from which to gaze at Bryce's beauty from above. Sunrise and Sunset points, near the lodge, offer panoramas of Bryce Amphitheater's densely packed pinnacles, and are among the park's most popular spots.
The views from nearby Inspiration and Bryce points are equally mesmerizing. In the park's southern region, don't miss the Natural Bridge viewpoint, which overlooks an impressive rock arch. Tip: Mid-morning light is good for photos.
Stop at the visitor center to see geology and wildlife exhibits as well as the 20-minute orientation film, "Shadows of Time."
There’s so much to see within Bryce Canyon. Be sure to carry your camera with you.
What to Do
To fully absorb the magic of Bryce, hike into the canyon. In the main Bryce Amphitheater, combine the Navajo and Queens Garden trails for a moderate 4.6-kilometer loop that passes the famed Thor's Hammer hoodoo and Wall Street slot canyon. Budget about 2 hours for this hike.
Within the amphitheater are several more trails, all connected and ranging in difficulty from moderate to strenuous. For those in good physical shape, Gonder suggests the 12.9-kilometer Fairyland Loop Trail. "Though it's strenuous, I love this trail that's home to the Tower Bridge and China Wall formations," she says.
In search of an easier walk? Try the 17.7-kilometer Rim Trail, which stretches from Fairyland to Bryce Point and has several access points. Whether you trek the entire length or stroll shorter sections, fantastic canyon views await.
Often overlooked due to its location in the park's northern section, the easy 1.3-kilometer round-trip Mossy Cave trail skirts a perennial creek among colorful hoodoos and ends at a small 4.6-meter-high waterfall.
Don’t want to walk? Let a horse do the work. From April through October, sit tall in the saddle on either a 2-hour or half-day canyon trail ride. Park rangers also regularly give geology talks at Sunset Point and lead guided rim walks. After dark, join a ranger for an astronomy program and peek through telescopes at the starry night sky. A schedule of ranger programs is posted at the visitor center.
Bryce Canyon’s famed Thor’s Hammer hoodoo rises above the park.
Going in Winter? Be Prepared
Bryce Canyon sits at a high elevation (up to 2,778 meters) and has an average snowfall of nearly 245 centimeters in winter (roughly November through March), resulting in dazzling views of red rocks set against powdery white backdrops. Pack warm winter gear, as daytime highs average 4.4 degrees Celsius, and can drop to as low as -34 degrees Celsius overnight.
During winter, snow enhances Bryce Canyon’s innate beauty.
From Bryce Canyon City, drive 20 minutes northwest to Red Canyon in the Dixie National Forest. The canyon's sandstone formations and soil are intensely red in color.
Looking for a lesser-known excursion near Bryce? Try the east fork of the Sevier River Scenic Backway, a well-maintained gravel road that runs 27 kilometers along the border of Bryce Canyon National Park to the Tropic Reservoir. This lovely, pine-wooded area, where you can fish, boat, hike, mountain bike or simply enjoy a picnic, stays somewhat cool even in hot summer months.