Bryce Canyon National Park Utah is home to the world’s largest concentration of hoodoos, a geologic term for irregularly shaped stone towers. Located atop a massive geologic sequence of sedimentary layers called the Grand Staircase, Bryce Canyon in Utah is not actually a canyon but a series of natural amphitheaters filled with these spire-like rock formations.
Visitors come from near and far to hike through the amphitheaters, getting an up-close look at the thousands of hoodoos. Despite being the smallest of Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks, at only 55 square miles, Bryce Canyon receives the second-highest number of annual visitors, about 2.6 million annually. For this reason, the park trails can become overrun with hikers at certain times. Despite the crowds, Bryce Canyon is definitely worth a visit. And with a bit of planning, you can hopefully dodge the crowds and hike the best trails.
Hiking at Bryce Canyon: Shorter trails
There are 50 miles of trails at Bryce Canyon National Park, including many shorter and longer day hikes and a few backcountry backpacking trips. Most of the trails plunge through the heart of Bryce Amphitheater, where you’ll find the densest collection of hoodoos, while a few other trails wind through lesser-visited parts of the park. You will find a Bryce Canyon trail map helpful.
Because of the high elevation at Bryce Canyon (the rim varies from 8000 to 9000 feet), hikers will need to allow time to acclimate or move slowly and take breaks.
By far, the most famous trail in the park is the 1.3-mile Navajo Loop Trail. This route includes the stunning Wall Street section, a pair of steep and scenic switchbacks, and the Thor’s Hammer rock formation. Though this is a short trail, it’s considered to be of moderate difficulty by the park service, given its total elevation gain is about 550 feet.
Another amazing trail is the Queens Garden Trail, which is 1.8 miles, one way, and offers the most gradual and easiest access to the dramatic floor of Bryce Amphitheater. Because this trail is one-way, it must be done as an out-and-back or by connecting to another trail. One common loop is to combine Queen’s Garden with the Wall Street section of the Navajo Loop Trail.
Perhaps the most hiked trail in the park is the 5.5-mile Rim Trail. This trail follows the rim of Bryce Amphitheater between Fairyland Point and Bryce Point, and it is paved for 1 mile between Sunrise and Sunset Points. Hiking the Rim Trail allows visitors to view the dramatic rock formations from above. You can walk as little or as much as you want, and when you’re done you can hike back or take the shuttle to where you parked. Along the rim trail, there are many viewpoints to stop at, with those around Sunset Point and Inspiration Point being many visitor’s favorites for the density of hoodoos.
Hiking at Bryce Canyon: Longer Trails
If you’re looking for a slightly longer and harder trail, consider the Peekaboo Loop. This 5.5-mile trail has 1500 feet of elevation change and runs through the heart of Bryce Amphitheater in a required clockwise direction. This loop, which includes access to the Wall of Windows, can be started from either Bryce Point or from the junction of the Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden trails, meaning there are several possible ways to customize with other trails.
One of the best trails at Bryce Canyon is also one of its hardest day hikes. The Fairyland Loop Trail is 8 miles long with 1700 feet of elevation change through the lesser-visited northern part of the park. For your efforts, you’ll be rewarded with remarkable hoodoos and named features like the Chinese Wall and Tower Bridge.
If you want a more remote experience, the park offers a pair of trails where backcountry camping is allowed. While these trails do offer views of hoodoos and colorful cliffs, they are typically more forested hikes through Bryce Canyon pines. The shorter option is the 8.8-mile Riggs Spring Loop Trail from Yovimba Point, which has four backcountry campsites at the southern end of the park. For the more adventurous, the Under-the-Rim Trail runs for 23 miles between Bryce Point and Rainbow Point and has eight backcountry campsites. Permits are required for backcountry camping near Bryce Canyon and are available at the visitor center.
When to Visit Bryce Canyon
With most of the rim ranging in elevation from about 8000 to 9000 feet, it tends to have relatively cooler temps compared to Utah’s other national parks. Due to this high elevation climate, weather for Bryce Canyon Utah can be quite variable, and it’s recommended that you check current conditions before visiting.
Summer days tend to be mild, with June and September seeing daytime highs in the high 60s to low 70s. July and August see daytime highs in the high 70s to low 80s, but these months also see frequent afternoon thunderstorms. Spring and fall are cool to cold, with daytime temps ranging from the 40s to 60s. And snowstorms are possible from October until May.
Because of the mild climate, it tends to be quite crowded from May through September. If you want to dodge the crowds, you have two options. Either take a chance with the weather during off-season months, like March, April, October, and winter months. Or time your Bryce Canyon best hikes during the high season for early morning.
Bryce Canyon National Park Road, Shuttle, & Bike Path
The park road is an 18-mile paved highway (UT-63) running parallel to the rim through Bryce Canyon National Park. The end of the road is Yovimba and Rainbow Points, and, along the way, there are many lookouts to stop at.
From early April through mid-October, the NPS operates a shuttle service that’s free with park admission. The shuttle makes 13 stops around the Bryce Amphitheater and the hotels and shuttle station at Bryce Canyon City, just outside the park entrance.
During shuttle season, the park also offers a twice-daily Rainbow Point Shuttle Tour at 9:00 AM and 1:30 PM. The trip takes 3.5 hours and stops at many of the park’s scenic viewpoints, including Rainbow and Yovimba Points. Reservations are required and can be made up to 7 days in advance by calling 435-834-5290.
Another way to experience the park is by bicycle using the Shared Use Path. This paved pathway runs for 5 miles from Inspiration Point and Bryce Canyon City and continues another 13 miles to Red Canyon in Dixie National Forest.
Where to stay when visiting Bryce Canyon
Most visitors to Bryce Canyon tend to stay outside the park in hotels, cabins, and campgrounds in Bryce Canyon City, along Highway 12, or in towns like Panguitch or Tropic. To help you find lodgings, the Garfield County Tourism Bureau maintains the travel website www.brycecanyoncountry.com.
For those who want to stay inside the park, there are a few options located on the rim of Bryce Canyon. The historic Lodge at Bryce Canyon has a total of 114 rooms, suites, and cabins.
Nearby, there are two large campgrounds operated by NPS. North Campground offers 99 sites on a first-come-first-served basis from spring through fall, with 30 of these sites open year-round. Sunset Campground has 100 sites available from mid-April through the end of October with reservations required between mid-May and mid-October.
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Which is better, Zion or Bryce?
When deciding between Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, it really depends on what you’re looking for. Zion offers towering red rock formations and a lush canyon environment, while Bryce features unique hoodoos and a more compact landscape. Both have their own beauty, so it’s up to your preference!
Can you drive your own car through Bryce Canyon National Park?
Yes, you can definitely drive your own car through Bryce Canyon National Park. There’s a scenic drive that takes you to various viewpoints and trailheads, allowing you to explore the park’s stunning landscapes at your own pace.
What’s the best month to visit Bryce Canyon?
The best month to visit Bryce Canyon is generally from May to September. During these months, the weather is warmer, and most of the park’s facilities are open. Just keep in mind that summer can be crowded, so if you prefer fewer people, consider visiting in May or September.
How far apart are Zion and Bryce?
Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks are about 85 miles apart. The drive between the two parks takes around 2 to 2.5 hours, making it possible to visit both on a single trip.
What not to miss at Bryce Canyon National Park?
Don’t miss the iconic viewpoints like Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, and Inspiration Point. The Navajo Loop Trail and Queen’s Garden Trail offer stunning hikes down into the canyon among the hoodoos. Bryce Point is also a must-see for panoramic views.
Is Zion better than Bryce for hiking?
Both Zion and Bryce offer fantastic hiking opportunities, but they have different landscapes. Zion has diverse trails that lead to slot canyons and along the Virgin River, while Bryce’s hikes take you through its unique rock formations. The best choice depends on your hiking preferences.
How hard is the Navajo Loop Trail in Bryce Canyon?
The Navajo Loop Trail in Bryce Canyon can be moderately strenuous. It involves descending into the canyon, which means the return hike is uphill. The trail includes steep sections and switchbacks, so be prepared for some challenging terrain.
How difficult are Bryce Canyon hikes?
Bryce Canyon hikes vary in difficulty. Some are relatively easy, like the Rim Trail, which offers panoramic views without much elevation change. Others, like the Fairyland Loop or Peek-A-Boo Loop, can be more challenging due to steep descents and ascents.
Which campground is best at Bryce?
The North Campground and Sunset Campground are the two main campgrounds at Bryce Canyon. Both have their own advantages, but the North Campground is more popular due to its proximity to the visitor center and viewpoints.
Where can you camp at Bryce Canyon National Park?
You can camp at the North Campground or the Sunset Campground within Bryce Canyon National Park. These campgrounds offer a convenient way to stay close to the park’s attractions and trails.
What can you not miss at Bryce Canyon National Park?
You absolutely shouldn’t miss the chance to hike down into the canyon. The Navajo Loop Trail and Queen’s Garden Trail provide an up-close experience with the hoodoos. Additionally, catching the sunrise or sunset from one of the viewpoints is a must.
What do people do at Bryce Canyon National Park?
There are a variety of activities at Bryce Canyon National Park. Hiking the trails, taking in the breathtaking vistas, attending ranger programs, stargazing (the park is a designated International Dark Sky Park), and simply immersing yourself in the unique landscapes are all great activities.
What is the most popular hike in Bryce?
The most popular hike in Bryce Canyon is the Navajo Loop Trail. It takes you down into the amphitheater among the hoodoos and offers a memorable experience. Combine it with the Queen’s Garden Trail for an extended hike.
What is the best time of year to hike Bryce Canyon?
The best time of year to hike Bryce Canyon is in the late spring, summer, and early fall. This is when the weather is most favorable for hiking, with warmer temperatures and less snow on the trails.
Is Bryce Canyon colder than Zion?
Yes, Bryce Canyon is generally colder than Zion due to its higher elevation. The rim of Bryce Canyon sits at around 8,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level, leading to cooler temperatures compared to Zion, which has a lower elevation.
What is the rainy season in Bryce Canyon?
The rainy season in Bryce Canyon typically occurs from July to September. However, the park doesn’t receive as much rainfall as some other areas, so even during the rainy season, you can expect relatively dry conditions compared to other parts of the country.
Is it hard to get a campsite at Bryce Canyon?
Obtaining a campsite at Bryce Canyon can be difficult, especially during the peak summer months. It’s recommended to make reservations well in advance to secure your spot, especially if you plan to visit during the busier times.
Can you camp in Bryce Canyon for free?
Camping in Bryce Canyon National Park is not free. There are campground fees associated with staying in the North Campground or the Sunset Campground. These fees help maintain the facilities and services provided to campers.
How many days do you need in Bryce Canyon?
To fully experience Bryce Canyon National Park, it’s recommended to spend at least 2 to 3 days there. This allows you to explore the main viewpoints, take a few hikes, and experience the park’s unique landscapes without feeling rushed.
Cover photo: Bryce Amphitheater at Sunset. Bryce Canyon NPS photo