One Perfect Day in Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park has something for everyone: hikes, jaw-dropping overlooks, scenic drives, a historic hotel, good pizza, and a cave. And with a bit of planning, you can do it all in one perfect day. Each time we visit this park, it feels like we’re seeing the place for the very first time. In this post, we suggest an itinerary for one perfect day. But stay as long as you’d like in this truly magical landscape.

We also released a podcast episode to accompany this blog post. You can listen to it right here.

Many people visit Bryce as part of a broader tour of southern Utah. With that in mind, we’ve put together our version of one perfect day in the park. Bryce is very compact, so it’s easy to see all the highlights in a day.

For more suggestions of places to visit while you’re in the area, check out Southern Utah: 20 Incredible Places Beyond the Mighty Five.

Where is it?

Bryce Canyon is in the southwest part of the state. It’s about a two-hour drive northeast of Zion National Park and a similar distance southwest of Capitol Reef National Park. Being so close to each other, visiting all three in one trip makes a great itinerary.

When was it made a national park?

Bryce Canyon was made a national monument on June 8, 1923. Originally, it was part of the National Forest Service. A year later, its name was changed to Utah National Park and it was transferred to the National Park Service. Four years later in 1928, Utah National Park was changed to Bryce Canyon National Park.

Bryce Canyon Amphitheater
The Bryce Amphitheater

How did it get its name?

Mormon pioneers settled here in the 1850s. The canyon is named after Ebenezer Bryce, who homesteaded the area in 1874. Ebenezer and his family settled right below what is now called the Bryce Amphitheater. Ebenezer grazed his cattle near the hoodoos and canyons. People credit him with saying that Bryce was a “helluva place to lose a cow.” The early pioneers called the place Bryce’s Canyon.

Best time of the year to visit

The park is open year-round. It’s most crowded from March through October. Based on our many visits to the park, we’ve found that November is a great time to see the park with a lot fewer people. If you choose to go during peak season, get there early in the day to avoid the crowds.

What’s it like in winter?

Winter in Bryce Canyon National Park is magical if it’s snowing. But snow can also bring road closures, difficult driving conditions, and slippery trails. If you visit in winter and want to explore the park beyond the overlooks, bring snowshoes or MICROSpikes. Remember, the elevation of Bryce Canyon rim ranges from 8,000 to over 9,000 feet.

Bryce Canyon National Park in snow
Bryce Amphitheater in snow

Your perfect day starts at the visitor center

The visitor center is west of the main park road, just inside the entrance kiosk. It opens at 8 am. Go in and talk with a ranger who can help you fine-tune your itinerary for the day. While not mandatory, consider leaving your vehicle at the visitor center and taking the free shuttle into the park. During peak season, this will save you the hassle of trying to find parking.

The main attraction

The amphitheater is the key feature of the park. Even if you merely walk to the rim and peer over the edge, it’s worth the trip. But we encourage you to do more than look at the landscape. Take a walk or hike in the park.

Walking the Rim Trail from Sunrise to Sunset Points is a pleasant ½-mile stroll that will give you jaw-dropping views of the canyon below. If you are feeling a little more energetic, hike down into the amphitheater.

By far the most popular trail is the Queen’s Garden/ Navajo Combination. The 3-mile loop has about 600 feet of elevation change. One of the most remarkable sections of this hike is Wall Street (below Sunset Point). The tight canyon consists of a series of steep switchbacks and is well worth the effort to experience. Wall Street is often closed in the winter or when there’s been a recent rockfall. If it’s closed when you’re there, you can still hike to or from Sunset Point via the Two Bridges Trail.

Hiking trails in Bryce Canyon National Park
Source: National Park Service

After your hike, take a look at the lodge

Bryce Canyon Lodge sits a few hundred feet back from the rim of the canyon. It’s a historic lodge that dates back to 1924. With 114 rooms, the lodge has suites, motel-style rooms, and cabins. The lodge and cabins are the work of master architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood and are excellent examples of the type of rustic architecture sometimes called “parkitecture.” Encouraged by the National Park Service and often built by the railroads, these classic park structures evoke the golden era of the national park service.

One of the classic parkitecture-style cabins at Bryce Canyon Lodge
One of the classic parkitecture-style cabins at Bryce Canyon Lodge

The lodge has an inviting lobby, gift shop, and restaurant. In recent years, the dining room in the lodge has been the only place to get food inside the park. This year the lodge and dining room were open March-November.

Given its location to the rim, the lodge is a fantastic place to stay. There’s no more convenient way to see the sunrise or sunset than being able to walk a short distance from your room to the rim of the canyon. And it’s also a great place to stargaze. Make sure to bring a flashlight or headlamp for the walk to and from the rim.

Other hiking options

If you want more hiking or to get away from the crowds, try the Fairyland Loop trail to the north of the amphitheater. This trail is our favorite in the park. As an 8-mile loop, plan on at least four hours to complete. And take plenty of water. Fairyland Loop is a strenuous hike mainly due to its length, but it also has a fair amount of elevation gain.

Fairyland Loop Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park
A portion of the Fairyland Loop

Another alternative is to hike the rim trail from Sunrise Point to Bryce Point, which is about 5.5 miles round trip. If you go north to south, you’ll be climbing up in elevation much of the way. But if you want to avoid the uphill, park at Bryce Point, hike from there to Sunrise, and take the park shuttle back to Bryce Point.

Take a driving tour to the south end of the park

While many of the park’s attractions are north, don’t skip driving the park road to the south. From the park entrance to the end of the road at Rainbow and Yovimpa Points, the main park road is 18 miles. The road beyond the amphitheater is called the Southern Scenic Drive because of the many viewpoints along the way.

If you make it to Rainbow Point, be sure to hike the short, .8-mile Bristlecone Loop. The loop meanders through the forest atop this highest portion of the park. Here you will pass by Bristlecone Pines that are up to 1,800-years old.

Bristlecone Loop trail in Bryce Canyon National Park

Finish your day with a sunset

As the sun sets in the west, watch the hoodoos to the east glow in the fading light. Sunset Point may seem an obvious place to view the last rays of the day, but most spots along the rim of the canyon are equally spectacular.

There you have it, one perfect day. If you’re like us, you’ll put this itinerary on your regular travel rotation and repeat the experience every year or two. It never gets old.

More about the national parks

Interested in suggestions for visiting other national parks? Check out a couple of our most recent posts: Top Ten Things to Do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Three Perfect Days in New River Gorge National Park.

Matt and Karen Smith visiting Bryce Canyon National Park in 2010
Matt and Karen Smith visiting Bryce Canyon National Park in 2010. It was hazy that day because a small forest fire was burning about a hundred yards away from us when we took this photo.

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