Utah is packed with a lot of national parks (5 in fact!), making Utah an adventurous destination with wonders that are so uniquely striking and always a good idea for exploring. Utah is all about the attitude for those adventurous souls and also the altitude, thus its tagline is “Life elevated.” If you’re coming from a neighboring Southwest state like Arizona, you can consider taking a road trip up to Utah to visit its national parks. And if you’re in a time crunch, this article is for you, if you’re looking to explore Bryce Canyon National Park in a day.
*This blog post is also a continuation of my other blog post “How To Visit Zion National Park In One Day”.
My family and I took a road trip to Utah from Arizona, which is 6 hours away, but that’s not including the time we took up to make stops. It’s a lengthy drive and we even left in the early morning on a Friday to get to Utah, which took up most of the day. We arrived in the evening to check in our hotel at Best Western Plus Zion West (highly recommended!) in La Verkin, Utah, which is 30 minutes away and kind of the base of going up the mountain to Zion National Park.
When we went to check out Zion National Park, we arrived just slightly before sunset. Sunset flew pretty fast since this visit was during the fall time, so it got dark easily. Since it was getting dark, we did not have time to explore the national park, let alone check out the visitor center to gain some information. We did enjoy the scenic drive getting before the national park and the sights of the rugged mountains. We had to push back the plans to go explore the park by the next morning, yet we still had plans to go visit Bryce Canyon National Park.
The thought of visiting two national parks is nerve-wracking when you want to get a good experience of both the national parks. But, it’s highly doable! Zion and Bryce are an hour and a half drive from each other.
Some important tips before attempting to do both national parks in a day
First things first, allow yourself time to get up early. We woke up at 6 am to get ready, go downstairs to the lobby of our hotel to take advantage of the free breakfast (because the free breakfast started at 7 am!), then we ended our breakfast after an hour and left at 8 am.
Timing is everything as you can see. Aside from being organized with that, make sure you have plenty of gas in your car. Gas stations are so far in between and you’ll be driving along long highways.
Get to the visitor center for both as always! I always recommend stopping at visitor centers to get the best-explained guide of visiting national parks from park rangers because when you visit a new national park every time, they’re quite intimidating from how huge they are and how to find your way around.
Also, if you do not want to waste time, I recommend packing all your lunch and dinner ahead instead of stopping for it. That was something we didn’t do on our way to Bryce and being in a long line in Subway just took time away.
Let’s set a time for your exploration of each park at a maximum of 3 hours. This is good enough if you’re trying to crunch both visits in a day, but it’s always recommended that you spend a good 2-3 days and more if you want to explore each park thoroughly.
Exploring Bryce Canyon National Park
Some history and information on the park
Bryce Canyon National Park is majestic. When I first came across seeing this national park on Instagram, I just couldn’t believe such a park with all these formations existed! It blew my mind as much as it did in person. Its orange-colored rock formations that are sharply shaped make the park distinctive from a lot of other national parks. Eccentric. Peculiar. Out of this world.
These unique formations are called “hoodoos”, which are tall thin rocks with its bottom consisting of soft rock that was covered by a harder-but-less-eroded rock, undergoing a lot of weathering processes. They’re usually found in dry and deserted environments. Kind of similar to a pinnacle (also known as a spire or tower), hoodoos differs from them from their shape where they almost resemble totem poles in comparison to a thick bottom that tapers to the ground that pinnacles have.
You’ll come to find out getting to Bryce Canyon National Park is a remote area. It leads to long highways that pass by Dixie National Forest with the first sign of hoodoos, but you won’t see much of those and you’ll be driving through plains until you enter the park. The drive through Bryce reminds me a lot like the drive-through of the Grand Canyon South Rim where its surrounded by Ponderosa pine trees.
Bryce Canyon may be named as a “canyon”, but it really consists of amphitheaters of natural rocks, so what you’ll view is the series of rugged landscapes. Before it became a national park on February 25, 1928, the park was named after Ebenezer Bryce, a Mormon rancher who saw the badlands behind his 1870s ranch, and before the Mormon pioneers settled there, Native Americans once inhabited the area. Native Americans had also believed in a legend that the hoodoo rocks are “Legend People”, people where the god Coyote turned them into rocks. Bryce Canyon’s landscape has been around for about more than 65 million years.
Important info before visiting
The entrance fee for a vehicle to Bryce Canyon National Park is $35, which is valid for 7 days. A motorcycle is $30 and an individual with no car is $20, all valid for 7 days too. Of course, you can save more with an annual national park service pass and I recommend that you get one if you plan to travel to as many national parks as you can in a year as it will reduce your costs for entrance fees every time until its expiration date.
I would also check on the hours of the day of the week when the visitor center for Bryce Canyon National Park is open until. It varies during holidays though. Here’s a useful schedule from the National Park Service site:
Stop at a viewpoint in Bryce Canyon (or a few).
Seeing the grand scenery of Bryce Canyon is something you must not miss when you’re visiting. There are a few viewpoints you can stop by to see the amphitheater and each one gives a different perspective. You can get a glance at Bryce Canyon from at any time of the day from sunrise to sunset (with viewpoints specifically named after these), but did you also know that Bryce has one of the darkest skies in the country? This means that Bryce is perfect for astrophotography and stargazing because the area is far from the pollution that clouds up in civilization. You can see thousands of stars at night even on a moonless one! You can go to any viewpoint for any night escape.
Here are viewpoints you can stop by at Bryce:
- Fairyland Point: At 7,758 ft, this viewpoint gives you views of Fairyland Canyon, a canyon that shows an eye-to-eye level view of hoodoos, and Boat Mesa, a structure that separates Fairyland Canyon from Bryce with distinct geological formations like the Tower Bridge and Tower China Wall.
- Sunrise Point: At 8,017 ft, this is a mile from the visitor center and it offers incredible vistas during sunrise, therefore why it’s called Sunrise Point. In the morning, it casts a glow over the hoodoos.
- Sunset Point: At 8,000 ft, this is considered the main amphitheater of the national park. This spot is perfect for birds and bird watchers since it has the Ancient Douglas fir trees that attract many birds due to it being a resource for producing nuts, buds, and berries that are nourishing for the birds like most evergreen trees.
- Inspiration Point: At 8,100 ft, the view here is stretched! You’ll see more hoodoos spread out and the spot is also great for wildlife and bird watching.
- Bryce Point: At 8,296 ft, you can see a nice glance of Boat Mesa, a structure that separates Bryce Canyon from Fairyland Canyon, and the Claron Formation, an area of rocks that consist of pink, pale-orange, light-gray, and white limestone, among the hoodoos.
The best way to get the most of a national park is the hikes. One hike that took my breath away (literally, it got my heart racing due to the higher elevation) is the Navajo Loop trail, a hike that many claims to be their favorite as well. It also got me reminding a bit of a trail in the Grand Canyon (although I haven’t hiked it yet), but I also read from other sources that some points resemble it.
The Navajo Loop trail actually begins at the Sunset Point and it can also be combined with the Queen’s Garden trail (if you want a longer hike). What makes this hike phenomenal are the views that you can take in like the amphitheater of Sunset Point, a close look at the hoodoos, and a scenic view enclosed the canyon walls with some Ponderosa pines to look for.
It does have steep switchbacks so you’d have to be very careful and take your time getting down especially by the starting point since the trail does lack guardrails in some parts. It’s a lot harder and tiring to hike up than down because of how steep it is to climb up, but it’s scarier to hike down. The hike is 1.4 miles long with an elevation gain of 459 ft and it is a loop type of route. Since you only have limited time to visit the park, doing the Navajo Loop Trail is perfect to do and it can take about 1 hour to get done.
Other easy and quicker hikes you can do for the meanwhile of visiting the park in a limited time:
- Mossy Cave: 1 hour long on average, 0.8 mi round trip, 200 ft elevation gain
- Sunset to Sunrise: 1 hour long on average, 1.0 mi round trip, 34 ft elevation gain (considered the easiest walk and it has a paved portion – handicapped and pet-friendly)
- Bristlecone Loop: 1 hour long on average, 1.0 mi round trip, 200 ft elevation gain
- Queen’s Garden: 1-2 hour long on average, 1.8 mi round trip, 357 ft elevation gain
ELEVATION: 4,500 FT TO 11,000 FT
AREA: 35,835 ACRES
DECLARED AS NATIONAL PARK: 1928
CLOSEST CITY/CITY LOCATION: BRYCE CANYON CITY
Find a place to stay by Bryce Canyon National Park!
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