How to make the most of one day in Bryce Canyon
Learn about all the things you can do in Bryce Canyon National Park in just one day (Written by Erin McCarthy)
Bryce Canyon National Park is just under 56 square miles, making it one of the ten smallest national parks in the USA. Both the size of Bryce Canyon and the fact that it is only 78 miles from Zion National Park make it a popular stop off while traveling through southern Utah. The main road that runs through the Park is 18 miles long, has thirteen viewpoints, and is best seen over the course of a few days. If time constraints leave you with having only one day to explore Bryce Canyon, stick to the northern area of the Park, specifically Bryce Amphitheater. Depending on your fitness level and interests, you can use the free shuttle, your own vehicle to see the sights, or step on trail and go for hike. Bryce Canyon has the largest collection of hoodoos in the world and these magnificently eroded rock spires must be seen to be truly appreciated. Either way you choose to, it will be spectacular.
Below you’ll find the ultimate guide to one day in this stunning natural wonder.
the BEST WAY TO SEE bryce canyon IN JUST ONE DAY
The easily accessible viewpoints of Bryce Amphitheater and its desirable hiking trails keep this area of the Park especially busy. If you’re traveling to Bryce Canyon National Park in the more crowded summer months (June through September) it would be best to utilize the free shuttle to maximize your time. Consider this: there is one parking space for every four cars that enter the park in the summer. Instead of spending your time circling around looking for a parking space, leave the driving up to someone else. You can leave your car either at the shuttle station parking lot in Bryce Canyon City or at the Visitor Center. There’s even a shuttle tracker that will show you where the shuttle is so you can avoid waiting for long periods of time.
Another way to get the most out of your day in Bryce Canyon is to book a guided day hike. These trips typically run between 5-7 hours and include trail snacks, gear, and a picnic lunch. Let a professional guiding company take you through the pink cliffs, dense forests, and teach you about the natural and cultural history of this spectacular Park.
sunrise in bryce canyon
Bryce Canyon is one of the most photographed national parks due to the spectacular kaleidoscope of colors that emerge when the sun rises over Bryce Amphitheater. The viewpoints here are all facing east, so it is a perfect place to view sunrise. When the sun first peeks over the cliffs you’ll have the chance to see the world’s largest collection of hoodoos at their most luminous: bright orange, soft ivory, and pastel pink are a dazzling sight to the naked eye. Even if you’re not a morning person, you will not regret getting up early to see this unique mix of colors. Make sure to stay for at least an hour to fully experience it. Below is a list of the best locations to view sunrise in Bryce Canyon National Park:
1. Sunrise Point: This aptly named viewpoint is one of the best places to view sunrise. If you look to the northeast you can see the beaming mesa of Sinking Ship. Stay tuned for the delicate dance of shadows and light on the jagged hoodoos, dotted amongst the pink cliffs of the Amphitheater.
2. Inspiration Point: Further south along the Amphitheater, and usually less crowded, is Inspiration Point. Be sure to look to the north toward the Silent City for an unforgettable light show. There’s a reason it’s called Inspiration Point— sunrise here will no doubt set a positive tone for the day.
sunset in bryce canyon
After several hours spent amongst the colorful rock formations and steep cliffs, it’s time to bid a fond farewell to your day in Bryce Canyon. You’re in luck as sunset in Bryce Amphitheater puts on a natural show to cap off the day. As the sun descends below the canyon rim, the blue sky will morph into pink and lavender hues. The fading sunlight leaves parts of the canyon in the dark and the hoodoos light up like candlesticks. Below is a list of the best locations to view sunset in Bryce Canyon National Park:
1. Sunset Point: Drive or take the shuttle to Sunset Point and the nearby Navajo Loop Trail. This one mile loop offers stunning views of the some of the iconic sections of the park as it descends down into the canyon floor. Here you can see the sunbeams bounce off Bryce Canyon’s most famous hoodoo: Thor’s Hammer.
2. Paria View: This viewpoint is perhaps the best place for sunset as it faces west towards the setting sun. It lies just a bit further south from Bryce Point. Peer down below to the slot canyons and be on the lookout for peregrine falcons. In the nearby meadows you can spot Mule Deer and the occasional Elk.
take a hike in Bryce Canyon
There are plenty of options for day hiking in Bryce Canyon and it is a fantastic way to see the impressive landscape of the Amphitheater. Keep in mind that Bryce Canyon is at a high elevation and in the summertime it gets very hot and dry. When you hit the trail, make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks. It’s best to be prepared so you can fully enjoy your day. Always adhere to safety guidelines and leave no trace principles when on trail. Day hikes in Bryce Amphitheater offer some of the most stunning scenery in the Western United States. Below are the best day hikes in the Bryce Amphitheater area:
1. Sunset Point to Sunrise Point: Drive to Sunset Point and park your vehicle, or take the shuttle. This half-mile section of the larger Rim Trail from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point is paved and wheelchair accessible. This is one of the more mellow hikes in the Amphitheater and offers great views of the hoodoos.
2. The Rim Trail: This 5.5 mile trail travels around the rim of Bryce Amphitheater and offers some of the best views in the entire Park. The Rim Trail can be accessed at several points (Fairyland Point, Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, Bryce Point, and from the Bryce Canyon Lodge). Start at Bryce Point and stare into the Wall of Windows, a series of sandstone arches. At Inspiration Point, gaze at the three levels of a hoodoo maze at Inspiration Point, arguably the best view of the Amphitheater. Make your way toward Sunset Point and through the Silent City, an impressively tight formation of hoodoos, and finally to Thor’s Hammer. Be sure to listen for the quaking aspen just below the canyon rim between Sunset and Sunrise Points.
3. Queens Garden/Navajo Loop: This 3 mile moderately rated loop combines the Queen’s Garden and Navajo Loop trail. Fins, famous hoodoos, and douglas fir trees (plus its relatively short distance) make this the most popular trail in the park. It would be wise to get an early start on this hike if you’re visiting in the summer. Start at Sunset Point where and keep your eyes peeled for Thor’s Hammer. Head north along the rim of the canyon to Sunrise Point. Continue to the Queen’s Garden Trail where Queen Victoria rises from canyon floor. At this point the trail drops down into the canyon. Continue straight toward the Navajo Loop section through the Wall Street tunnel and back to Sunset Point.
4. Fairyland Loop: This hike is much less crowded due to the elevation changes of 2300 feet and its length—8 miles. Your journey begins at Fairyland Point and descends quickly into Fairyland Canyon. Climb back up to see views of Boat Mesa and descend again to reach Tower Bridge. Make sure to grab some water and a snack here because you’re about to start ascending to your final destination. Once you begin again, you’ll have views of the Chinese Wall and will eventually join back with the Rim Trail. Hike back along the rim to the beginning at Fairyland Point.
5. Tower Bridge: If you want to see Tower Bridge but you don’t have enough time for the full Fairyland Loop Trail, this is a great option. This 3 mile section of the Fairyland Loop Trail starts at Sunrise Point and travels along Bristlecones Pines and has views of the Chinese Wall. Take the spur trail to Tower Bridge, have a snack, and head back out the way you came.
6. Peek-A-Boo Loop: This steep hike starts at Bryce Point and travels a total of 5.5 miles through the heart of Bryce Amphitheater. This trail usually has significantly less hikers than others. If you’re looking to escape the crowds in the summer, this is the hike for you. Keep in mind you must travel in a clockwise direction on this trail. Be aware for horses as this trail is a shared-use path. The Peek-A-Boo Loop trail has several short, steep climbs. However, it is worth the effort to wind through ravines and see the bright pink and orange hoodoos contrast with the dark forest floor.
food and other attractions
There are two restaurants and a general store within Bryce Canyon National Park. The dining room at Bryce Canyon Lodge is open April through October for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Nearby Valhalla Pizzeria & Coffee Shop offers fresh, organic pizza, salads, and homemade espresso drinks and is open from June through September. The General Store, located near Sunrise Point and the North Campground, has grab-and-go snacks and drinks and is open from April through December. If you’re looking to pack a picnic lunch before you head into the Park, Ruby’s Inn in nearby Bryce Canyon City has a general store with groceries. Be sure to scope out a shady spot for lunch as it will get scorching hot with the midday summer’s heat.
Bryce Canyon National Park offers a variety of Ranger Programs throughout the year. Listen to a talk about the geology of the Grand Staircase, or take a guided walk along the canyon rim to learn about the cultural history of the Park. If you’re a night owl, be sure to check out a full moon hike or a constellation tour. In the winter, guided snowshoe hikes will lead you to snow-covered hoodoos. Snowshoes are provided at no cost if you sign up for one of these ranger-led winter hikes.
join a guided hiking adventure
Booking a trip to Bryce Canyon National Park is the opportunity to experience one of the most scenic hiking vacations in the United States. The biggest advantage to booking a guided tour is that it will allow you to focus your energy entirely on enjoying this iconic area. Permits, local transportation (excluded on some day tours), meals, and gear are all figured out for you on a Wildland Trekking tour.
Wildland Trekking offers several options for both inn-based and camping tours in the southern Utah area. You’ll have the chance to see magnificent rock formations, learn about the cultural and natural history of the area, and enjoy some solitude all while having the adventure of a lifetime.
BRYCE CANYON ADVENTURE TOURS
- INN-BASED HIKING PACKAGES: these tours are all-inclusive packages with lodging, amazing daily hikes, expert guides, meals, transportation and more!
- BRYCE CAMPING TOURS: camping-based hiking vacations are an opportunity to experience Bryce on trail and under the stars.
- BRYCE DAY HIKE TOURS: maximize your day in Bryce on a fully guided, award-winning hiking tour of one of the Park’s best trails.
- ALL UTAH HIKING TOURS: check out a full list of Utah offerings, which include Bryce Canyon, the North Rim, Arches, Canyonlands and more.
- UTAH BACKPACKING TRIPS: explore options for discovering Utah on an all-inclusive backpacking trip with expert guides and mind-blowing scenery.
About the Author
Erin McCarthy is a freelance writer and former Colgate University Outdoor Education Leader. When Erin isn’t writing, she is exploring the mountains and rivers of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. You can view her complete portfolio at www.erinannmccarthy.com.