24 Hours in Bryce Canyon National Park
Written by Brian Callender | Photography by Julie Boyd
Closing out a busy 2017, Julie and I were excited to visit our tenth and final National Park of the year. Having spent the previous three days in Zion, crossing off a couple of bucket list hikes along the way, we were looking forward to exploring a new National Park together. Bryce Canyon National Park is just a short, hour-and-a-half drive northeast of Zion, making it easy to visit on the same trip. Because the Bryce is on the smaller side for National Parks, we felt comfortable spending a shorter amount of time on our visit.
Zion to Bryce
We departed from Zion around noon and jumped on the Mount Carmel Scenic Byway (Highway 89) headed north. After turning east on Highway 12, we stopped in Red Canyon for photos at two tunnel archways. This is definitely an area we would love to come back and explore further in spring or fall when the snow has melted. We arrived at the small town of Bryce in the early afternoon and tried unsuccessfully to check into our hotel, the Best Western Ruby’s Inn. There are actually to Best Western hotels in the town of Bryce, and they are across the street from one another. In winter, when we visited, there were very few other options, as many places were closed for the season. Since the hotel was right outside the National Park, the location was perfect and the cost was incredibly reasonable for our one night stay.
An Afternoon in Bryce Canyon
Arriving in the late afternoon, we headed straight to the Visitor’s Center to grab our passport stamp and get a lay of the land. We decided it would be best to drive through the park and scout for sunset and sunrise locations, and plan a hike for the following day. The drive from the Visitor’s Center to Rainbow Point, the last stop in the park, is 17 miles, which we made a beeline directly to. Each stop provides a different vantage point of the canyon below, though most were bathed in shadows from the late afternoon sun. In total, we must have stopped at roughly ten of the thirteen easily accessible vistas, admiring the views from each.
Of course, we found the best view for sunset was at the aptly named, Sunset Point. This was a particularly popular destination with tourists, but we had no trouble finding a place to park. While Julie focused on capturing the day’s sunset, I walked over to the check out the Lodge at Bryce Canyon which was closed for the season. I have a serious fascination with National Park hotels and lodges, particularly those that are historic landmarks such as this one (Yosemite and Crater Lake are other recent lodges I fell in love with).
Once the sun had gone down, we decided it was time to grab dinner before calling it a day. Since the town of Bryce is so small, and we were there in the offseason, many of the dining options were closed for the season. Our hotel had a restaurant, which had a line the stretched into the lobby, and mediocre reviews. So, we decided to skip it and try Bryce Canyon Pines Restaurant, just off Highway 12. Unfortunately, it seemed that everyone else in Bryce had this exact same idea, and the wait time was well over an hour. Hungry, and with no interest in waiting around, we drove 23 miles to the small town of Panguitch for C Stop Pizza. Was it a little crazy to drive nearly 50 miles round-trip for pizza? Probably. But we were happy to have pizza back in the comfort of our hotel room, along with a round of beers that we brought from home, and the opportunity to relax before our early start the next morning.
Julie and I have long running joke that the most amazing sunrises and sunsets always occur when we are getting ready for work or on our way home. More often than not, when we head off on our adventures, we run into bright blue skies and sunshine, or grey skies and no sun. While experiences aren’t dampened by the weather, it doesn’t always lead to the best photos. On this morning however, we hit the jackpot.
Up early, we headed straight for Inspiration Point and were greeted by a pretty incredible sunrise. I can always judge how great the colors of a sunrise or sunset are by the simple fact that my non-professional iPhone photos actually turn out well. Julie and I both agreed that it was well overdue, and were happy that the last sunrise of our trip was better than we could have hoped for.
Hiking the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop
After enjoying the morning sunrise, we were ready to head into the canyon to experience the Bryce Canyon Hoodoos up close. These giant sedimentary rocks, formed through weathering and erosion, are a weirdly incredible site to witness. While the rim of the canyon provides exceptional views, you really get to appreciate the size and beauty of the hoodoos as you walk among them.
From Sunrise Point, the trail descends gradually and it’s just 0.8 miles to the Queen’s Garden. Along the way we passed through two tunnel archways, before reaching the aforementioned garden. Named after a statue of Queen Victoria, Julie and I didn’t really see the resemblance to the monarch, but appreciated the uniqueness of the rock nonetheless.
Continuing along, we connected with the Navajo Loop, and made our way to Wall Street. This was our second visit to a location known as Wall Street; the first was just a few days prior in the Zion Narrows. The canyon walls at this point are massive on either side, and made us feel pretty small by comparison. While much of the hike up to this point had been relatively secluded, our luck ended at Wall Street, which was crowded with other day hikers.
The trail from here switchbacks up to the top of the canyon, and dropped us out at Sunset Point, where we then walked back the additional half-mile to our car. It was a great way to wrap up our visit to Bryce Canyon; a place we would love explore further the next time we are in Utah.
Have you been to Bryce Canyon before? Let us know in the comments!
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More tips and inspiration from our winter road trip through Utah: