With only two million visitors per year, instead of in two months like some other national parks, it might almost seem like you have Bryce Canyon National Park all to yourself. Almost.
At Bryce, you’ll find the largest concentration of hoodoos on earth. What on earth IS a hoodoo, you ask?
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines it at as, “a natural column of rock in western North America often in fantastic form.” They got the “fantastic” part right!
These rock formations occur on every continent, but here at Bryce, you’ll see the largest concentration of hoodoos in the world.
It is truly like stepping onto another planet!
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How to Get There
On Southwest Airlines, our hands-down favorite airline, you can fly direct from most cities into either Las Vegas or Salt Lake City, each only ~270 miles away. Rent a car and be there in no time (ie about four hours, not TOO far). 😊
Families Fly Free team members have chosen to fly into Las Vegas, spend some time there and then drive to Zion National Park followed by Bryce Canyon National Park.
Getting Around in the Park
Bryce is laid out differently than some other National Parks. Basically, it’s a canyon, which you access primarily from one side.
Simply head down a trail that leads into the canyon and take your pick of connecting trails. Eventually, you’ll want to pick one that leads you back up and then you can simply walk back alongside the canyon’s edge on the rim trail to your starting point.
The park does have a free shuttle service, running from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. May through September, bringing visitors to viewpoints, trailheads and other parts of the Bryce Amphitheater area of the park. It may still run in October with limited hours but there’s really no reason to take it then as the park is not nearly as crowded.
You can track the shuttle to see how long it will be until it arrives at your location via the Bryce Canyon Shuttle website, including stops outside the park itself like Ruby’s Inn and the Bryce Canyon Lodge.
Alternately, you can drive an 18-mile main road that takes you from north to south and to the park’s highest elevation at 9,000 feet, if it’s not closed due to snow.
Rainbow Bus Tour offers free guided tours to Rainbow Point twice daily. This tour lasts 3 1/2 hours and stops at many of the park’s scenic viewpoints. Leave the driving to someone else for a morning (9 a.m.) or afternoon (1:30 p.m.). Best of all? It’s free!!
It’s also ideal for backpackers who want to be dropped at trailheads to start their hikes. Reservations are a must. You can reserve a spot up to seven days in advance for one of the 40 seats by calling 435-834-5290.
When to Visit
This National Park is open 24/7 the entire year except for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but visiting during the off season (which is anytime outside of May through September) means there is not a lot of supportive infrastructure (ie tours, restaurants, shops, etc.).
When Lyn visited in April, which was still the off season, they found only a handful of places to eat. So plan for that or enjoy eating Subway for lunch AND dinner 😊 (most nearby hotels, at least, have free breakfast!).
Summer temperatures at Bryce reach a very comfortable 80-degree average high.
In winter, which can last from late October until April, snow can hinder your best-laid plans. With a fresh 6 inches of new-fallen snow, Cami found this to be true on her brief October stay when the scenic road was closed for the duration. Lyn and her family also found it still lightly snowing in April.
Additionally, Bryce Canyon is at a higher elevation than other parks like Zion (9,000+ feet at its highest point), so that makes it a bit cooler.
Bryce Canyon National Park Entrance Fees
The Bryce Canyon National Park entrance fee is $35 per car for a seven-day pass or $40 for an annual pass. You can also purchase a seven-day motorcycle pass for $30.
If you plan on visiting at least three national parks within a year’s time, spring for the America the Beautiful annual pass for $80. That allows you to visit as many National Parks as many times as you want in a year.
Senior citizens can purchase a lifetime senior pass for ALL national parks for only $80 or instead choose a $20 annual pass. Everyone in your car gets in for the price of the pass with the pass holder in tow!
The National Parks also honor active duty military members and dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, as well as Reserve and National Guard members, with a free annual pass.
INSIDE TIP: Want to volunteer in a national park? If you acquire more than 500 hours of service, this entitles you and three others to visit National Parks free for a year.
And, don’t forget, if you have a fourth grader, your whole family gets into National Parks free during their school year and the following summer as part of the Every Kid in a Park Program. These special passes alone are honored at more than 45 Federal Recreation sites throughout the United States!
You can also access Bryce Canyon National Park FREE in 2022 on the days below, but keep in mind these days will be even MORE BUSY than usual:
|January 18||Martin Luther King, Jr. Day|
|April 17||First day of National Park Week / National Junior Ranger Day|
|August 25||National Park Service Anniversary|
|September 25||National Public Lands Day|
|November 11||Veterans Day|
Add to that a NEW free day (which most people will probably NOT know about, you’re welcome!):
- August 4: One year anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act.
Bryce Canyon Visitor Center
Stop at the Visitor’s Center at Bryce Canyon to check out their award winning film “Shadows of Time” and museum exhibits before obtaining driving and hiking directions for your excursions in the park.
Grab a brochure describing all the various ranger-led activities, including activities like rim walks, talks, astronomy and geology programs and even a full-moon hike! Don’t forget about the junior ranger in your group.
The Mysterious, Otherworldly Hoodoos
Bryce’s most popular sight is the Bryce Amphitheater, which is full of the iconic signature of this park: the hoodoos.
According to the National Park, the hoodoos are uniquely formed in this area, because of wild swings in temperature that vary between freezing nights and warm afternoons. These formations are created by weathering and erosion, including snow and ice melt that allows water to seep into fractures of the rock, refreezing and expanding.
They start from a thin wall of rock, in which frost and ice eventually create “holes” or “windows” within the wall. From there, the “top” of the window eventually gives way, separating the wall into limestone spires called “hoodoos.”
Here are some famously-named and shaped hoodoos to look for:
- Thor’s Hammer
- The Chessmen
- Tower Bridge
- Wall of Windows
- The Poodle
- Queen Victoria
You’ll be able to view the hoodoos and magnificent vistas from many vantage points, but the four main vistas are at Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point and Sunrise Point, easily accessible right inside the park’s main gate. No need to make the long drive if that doesn’t appeal to you.
Hiking at Bryce Canyon
The best way to truly experience Bryce Canyon National Park is to get in the canyon among the hoodoos. You’re apt to find at least one day hike that suits your group, ranging from easy to strenuous. Some trails are also shared by horses and mules during the summer, so you may want to hike clockwise to reduce your chance of encountering these animals or their leavings.
Many of the trails intersect and connect to form loops of varying distances and difficulties, depending on long of an adventure you’re hoping for that day.
Up for a longer backcountry hike? You can get your permit in person at the Visitor Center for overnight stays before setting off on the Under-the-Rim trail, which is about 23 miles long. It’s divided into four sections and is incredibly strenuous, so it’s not for the faint of heart.
Navajo Loop Trail
One pretty spectacular trail Cami did recently, in 20-degree weather, snow and ice, was the Navajo Loop trail, accessed at Sunset Point, starting on the left, with a detour on the Queen’s Garden trail.
Taking a peek and pictures of the Queen, she backtracked and then rejoined the Navajo Loop traversing through the fabulous Wall Street slot canyon area (often closed November-April) and then slid her way UP the icy switchbacks that concluded the loop. Simply unforgettable!
Sunset to Sunrise Trail
This is the easiest hike in Bryce’s 60-mile trail system and is part of the Rim Trail that runs along the edge of the canyon. It’s only 1-mile round trip and very close to the Visitor Center.
Most people will want to stretch their legs after entering the park, as well as pause and take in the incredible Bryce Amphitheater, and this paved trail is a perfect spot to do both. Plus, you can bring Fido, as long as he’s on a leash.
Bristlecone Loop Trail
Bristlecone Loop trailhead is found at Rainbow Point. You’ll hike through Bristlecone pines (some up to 1,800 years old) and experience panoramic vistas that could reach as far as the Four Corners area on a clear day.
Be on the lookout for many different types of birds that you may not see in your normal habitat such as grouse, woodpeckers, owls, ravens and Stellar’s Jays (resembling a blue jay but only black) along this 1-mile hike.
Queen’s Garden Trail
Lyn’s family opted to take the Queen’s Garden Trail, which is the least difficult descent (get ready for some steep downhills, though it’s designed with lots of switchbacks to help) into the canyon.
At the end of the trail, you’ll come across the Queen herself. Just make sure you have an appointment to visit!😊
The 5.5-mile Peek-a-boo Loop roundtrip hike, listed as strenuous because of the 1500+ foot elevation gain, gives you a great overview of the canyon, passing by the Wall of Windows. For a longer hike, you can also combine the Navajo and Peek-a-Boo Loops together to form a Figure 8.
Mossy Cave Trail
You don’t even have to go into Bryce Canyon National Park to experience some of what it has to offer. A great little trail outside the confines of the park, called the Mossy Cave Trail, is free and open to all.
It’s a short (1 mile roundtrip) and simple trail that offers fantastic scenery that runs alongside a coffee-with-lots-of-cream colored stream, and, you guessed it, leads to a mossy cave 😊 . Great for kids!
It also offers views of a few “windows” in the rock walls that have not yet become full “hoodoos,” which is super cool. Another fun place to climb up to for adventurous adults, just give yourself some time to recover if you’re a flatlander.
“I Hiked the Hoodoos” Program
The National Park Service wants to motivate you to see the park on foot, so the “I Hiked the Hoodoos” program is designed to reward you if you hike a minimum of 3 miles.
Alternately, you can find 3 specific benchmarks and make a pencil rubbing or take a selfie at these benchmarks. Bring your evidence and claim your gift at the Visitor Center’s front desk.
Cami was already out of the park by the time she did the final “Hike the Hoodoos” trail, but was curious to find out what the major award would have been had she completed it. A quick search turned up the answer of an “I Hiked the Hoodoos” Bryce Canyon National Park pin. Now you know too!
Hike and Drive
You can drive the entire length of the main park road and end up at the highest point of Bryce Canyon: Rainbow and Yovimpa Points. The Park Service recommends hiking the easy 1-mile Bristlecone Loop, mentioned above, to break up the driving.
On the way back, stop at Natural Bridge which is an arch sculpted from some of the reddest rock you’ll find at Bryce, a stark contrast to the Ponderosa Pine forest surrounding it.
Make one last stop at Agua Canyon where you’ll find “The Hunter” and “Rabbit” hoodoos with Navajo Mountain in the background.
Keep your eyes peeled for the elusive California condor. A large black bird with white under its outspread wings, its wingspan can measure up to 9 feet in length. Wouldn’t it be cool to see one of those?
Other Activities in Bryce Canyon
There are lots of great adventurous things to do while visiting Bryce Canyon.
If you didn’t bring your own horse, you can still take advantage of riding a horse at Bryce via Canyon Trail Rides. Choose from 2 or 3-hour rides through the canyon.
You’ll be greeted by a cowboy when making your reservation at the lodge. Soon you’ll be saddled up and ready to make your way into the heart of the canyon.
See Bryce Canyon on an ATV (all terrain vehicle) accompanied by a guide April through the end of October. Ruby’s Inn offers guided ATV tours of Bryce Canyon for either a half-hour or full hour through pine forests and along the rim of the canyon.
You must be 16 years old to drive an ATV and 7 years old to be a passenger.
Bryce Canyon Rodeo
See a real live rodeo Memorial Day through mid-August, Wednesdays through Saturdays. The Bryce Canyon Country Rodeo features cowboys, broncos and more. Ride ’em cowboy!
Imagine seeing hoodoos from above! Take a flight over the canyon with Bryce Canyon Airlines & Helicopters.
They offer a 35-minute flight over Bryce, or you can combine Bryce with the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley or Zion for 1.5-4 hour flights.
Where to Stay
Inside the Park
Bryce Canyon Lodge
The only non-camping lodging in the park is at the historic Bryce Canyon Lodge, built in 1923 and a National Historic Landmark, where you’ll find 15 cabins, along with motel rooms, studios and suites, a restaurant, pizzeria and a gift shop, but NO TVs.
INTERESTING FACT: Of the four lodges built in Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon, Zion and Cedar Breaks National Monument, it is the only original structure still standing, making it extra special!
And cell phone service? Don’t count on it unless you connect to WiFi in the lobby. You’re in a National Park, you know, so get out and experience the beautiful surroundings. As they say, “Unplug and unwind”! 😊
Each room has a mini-fridge and a microwave to help save on eating costs. Yea!
All campgrounds are first-come first served, cost $20 to $30 and do not contain sewer, electrical or water hookups for your RV, although there are nearby flush toilets and showers.
Outside the Park
Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel
Team members Lyn and Cami have both stayed, on separate occasions, at the Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel just outside the park and highly recommend it. This is one of the nicer Best Westerns Lyn says she’s seen and probably the nicest hotel in the area.
Walking into the expansive lobby, you’ll be greeted by a comfortable seating area complete with roaring fireplace for those cold days! Cami’s group especially enjoyed this when experiencing unseasonably cold temps in October (down to 10 degrees). BRRRRR!
The property has an outdoor pool, which you can use in warmer months, a hot tub for aching muscles, a handy laundry to clean all those dirty hiking clothes and a hearty daily breakfast buffet to fill up before heading out for a day on the trails.
The rooms have up-to-date furnishings complete with microwaves and refrigerators (fill it with water!) and the best part, a separate 2-sink area outside the rest of the bathroom, perfect for families.
Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn
Just down the street, you’ll find its sister property, the Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn.
The rooms here are a bit more like a motel, but you’ll find that’s the case around many National Parks. You can actually get a room with a whirlpool INSIDE the bedroom though! 😉
Accommodations do come with a complimentary breakfast buffet, and there’s also an indoor and outdoor pool, a guest laundry (yea!), fitness center and a General Store in addition to an on-site restaurant.
You can also board the Bryce Canyon Shuttle (mentioned above), which runs May through September, in front of Ruby’s Inn.
To board the shuttle, you’ll need a Park Pass (which you would normally buy at the Visitor Center or main entrance), which you can also buy at the front desk of the Best Western Grand or Ruby’s Inn.
Bryce View Lodge
The Bryce View Lodge, which is also really a motel, is on the free shuttle route, as well, and again, rooms are basic.
At this hotel, you’re part of the Ruby’s Inn family and are granted access to all the amenities at Ruby’s Inn across the street like the guest laundry and indoor pool.
On site at this hotel is Ebenezer’s Barn & Grill Restaurant, which is open nightly April through October.
Where to Eat
An important thing to know when visiting Bryce Canyon is that its “season” runs May through September.
Not all the restaurants are super close to the park so keep that in mind. Several are a 20-minute drive and only open for dinner.
But, you’ll likely only be staying a night or two, so it shouldn’t be a big deal. “We just found ourselves eating Subway a few more times than we would have liked,” Lyn said.
Inside the Park
Valhalla Pizzeria & Coffee Shop
Valhalla Pizzeria does not open until mid-May and closes mid-September, but if it’s open when you’re visiting, enjoy lunch and dinner in a casual atmosphere. They serve pizza, salads, baked goods, coffee, beer and wine.
Bryce Canyon Lodge Restaurant
Open late March through early October, the Bryce Canyon Lodge Restaurant is known for its “rustic elegance” and features a grand stone fireplace. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (expect dishes like steak, chicken and seafood), seating is first-come, first-served and you can wear casual attire.
Inside the Lodge, you’ll also find the General Store, serving hot and cold grab-and-go foods like pizza, soup and sandwiches. You can also pick up some groceries in a pinch.
Outside the Park
Bryce Canyon City, the nearest infrastructure, is not home to a ton of restaurants and if you are going slightly off season, your choices might be even more limited.
Here are some of them:
- Cowboy’s Buffet and Steak Room
- Bryce Canyon Pines
- The Pizza Place
- The Bryce Canyon Lodge restaurant
- Stone Hearth Grille
- Uptop Steakhouse
- Ebenezer’s Bar and Grill
Cowboy’s Buffet and Steak Room
Located at Ruby’s Inn, Cowboy’s Buffet and Steak Room is decent fare, but a bit high priced. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and are also open in the off season, thank goodness!
It is set up buffet style with different stations like a salad bar and dessert area. You can also order steaks and more off of the menu, and they do have a kids’ menu.
Bryce Canyon Pines
Cami would highly recommend Bryce Canyon Pines restaurant, open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, for some good down-home cooking such as an open-faced roast beef sandwich or country fried steak topped with mashed potatoes and gravy as well as turkey and rice soup absolutely perfect for the cold night she was there.
Leave plenty of room for their delicious homemade pie for dessert. So many to choose from including banana blueberry, boysenberry, chocolate cream pie or everyone’s favorite–apple! You will walk (or waddle) away from here with your belly and taste buds completely satisfied!
Stone Hearth Grill
For a nicer meal in a more rural setting, check out Stone Hearth Grill, which is in nearby Tropic, about a 20-minute drive. The restaurant is open for dinner and serves steak, seafood and chicken with a mountain view.
The Pizza Place
Lyn says she and her family always like to find a pizza place wherever they travel, because it’s a meal everyone likes.
At Bryce, you can try the super casual The Pizza Place which Lyn recommends and which is also in Tropic, but slightly closer at a 13- to 15-minute drive.
What to Bring
- Hiking boots
- Hiking stick
- Plenty of water (1 liter every 1-2 hours; note: there are seven water refill stations located throughout the park)
- First-aid kit
- Flashlight (in case you end up hiking later than intended or for stargazing)
- Sunscreen and hat
- Whistle should you need help or need to scare wildlife
- Mirror can help rescuers locate you
- Waterproof clothing, especially during the rainy season
- Layers for changing weather
INSIDER TIP: Take pictures of the Amphitheater at dawn or dusk around the “golden hour.” The golden hour is the time after sunrise or before sunset when light is redder and softer than when the sun is higher in the sky. The orange-red-pinkish hues will pop with vibrancy during the golden hour, and your friends and family will be amazed by your astounding photography skills.
Festivals at Bryce Canyon National Park
At this annual festival, you can join park rangers for family-friendly geology programs and bus tours, guided hikes and even special guest speakers during the evening programs. There are many exhibits and family-oriented activities at the Visitor Center during the event.
Interested in gazing at the stars while on vacation? Be sure to plan your visit during the Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival.
Led by Astronomy Rangers and local Astronomical Societies, attendees will enjoy a variety of activities and programs offered both day, and, of course, night!
Nearby Attractions to Visit
If driving, you’ll probably want to hit several other parks in the surrounding area, including Zion and Capitol Reef (designated a “gold tier” International Dark Sky Park). Although Cami heard that the star gazing at Bryce was supposed to be “phenomenal” itself, but alas, cloud-covered skies dashed all hopes of that! 🙁
These parks are all part of Utah’s “Mighty Five” National Parks, including Arches and Canyonlands on the eastern side of the state, where you’ll experience wave after wave of deep canyons and colorful mesas.
The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, where Cami and crew enjoyed tubing, wake boarding and jet skiing on Lake Powell, is another great family-friendly option in the region.
Lyn and her family checked out Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park and Kodachrome Basin State Park. They highly recommend these state parks, which have more of Utah’s fabulous landscapes without all the crowds!
Want to learn more about Bryce Canyon National Park? Read their FAQs.
Want more general National Park tips? Check out our post on 7 Top Tips for Visiting America’s National Parks.
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