Here’s how I spent 1 day at Bryce Canyon National Park on my big Southwest National Parks road trip:
First things first, a bit about the logistics…
On this trip I was tackling Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Antelope Canyon and the Grand Canyon as a loop from Las Vegas.
I did Bryce Canyon on a day that I was transitioning between places, and it worked pretty well. If you’re trying to lay out your own road trip itinerary, here’s what I did specifically:
I spent a couple nights in Virgin, UT while I explored Zion National Park. I checked out of the place in Virgin, drove to Bryce Canyon (about 2 hours) and spent the day, and then drove on to Torrey, UT where I spent the next two nights.
Whether you’re visiting Bryce on a transition day of your road trip, or you’re driving back and forth from Kanab or Springdale, it’s pretty doable as a day trip.
Actually, I think most people end up visiting Bryce Canyon as a day trip from the Zion area. That’s part of what makes this such a great trip…there’s sooooo much to see and do in a relatively small area.
One Day at Bryce Canyon National Park
Anyways, here’s what I did in one day at Bryce Canyon. And we didn’t even get a super early start so this is from about 11AM to 5 PM.
11:00 AM: Arrived at the Visitor Center to get my passport stamped, buy all the souvenirs, and chat with a ranger. Even when I’ve done my research beforehand, I always make it a point to talk to the park rangers to ask for their recommendations, get tips, weather or road updates, etc.
It usually pays off and it 100% did this time. I got a tip from a park ranger about the Navajo Loop Trail that was SUPER helpful. I’ll share it below when I get to that.
One thing the ranger really wanted me to do was to ride the shuttle through the most popular part of the park. Bryce isn’t that big and most of what people come to see is in a relatively concentrated area around the visitor center. During the busy season (April to October) there’s a shuttle that runs on a loop from the visitor center that goes to the most popular stops. It’s not mandatory like it is in Zion, but when it’s super busy it could be a better idea to ride the shuttle instead of battling for parking.
Since I had limited time in the park (plus a combo of some people in our group hiking and others not), we decided to take the gamble and just drive ourselves.
This was on a weekday in the third week of August and it ended up being fine.
12:00 PM: Arrived at Bryce Lodge to grab some lunch and check out the lodge. Now maybe you’re thinking…YOU DIDN’T EVEN GET HERE UNTIL NOON AND YOU’RE WASTING TIME AT THE LODGE?? Well, YES! First of all, the pizza place at the lodge came highly recommended by the park ranger, plus visiting the lodge is always a priority for me. I LOVE National Park lodges and Bryce is kind of the big one around here (I didn’t think Zion Lodge was very impressive).
Anyways, the Valhalla Pizza is actually in a little building off to the side of the lodge and it was REALLY GOOD. The pizzas are cooked fresh when you order so we waited about 15 minutes after we ordered.
After lunch, we walked over to the lodge for a peek around. This is what I was expecting! The Lodge at Bryce Canyon feels cozy and grand all at the same time and they have a great gift shop!
1:30 PM: Arrived at the Sunrise Point parking lot to hike the Navajo Loop Trail. This is the most popular hike in the park (plus an amazing overlook) and we didn’t have a problem finding a place to park.
I knew I wanted to get at least one hike in at Bryce Canyon and this was my #1 priority. The Navajo Loop is not just Bryce Canyon’s most popular hike, but I think it’s also one of the most famous National Park hikes ANYWHERE.
It’s only 1.5 miles but it’s pretty dang magical. It’s laced with those famous switchbacks down into the canyon plus up close views of the hoodoos and some pretty cool geological features.
This is the kind of hike I LOVE. It’s relatively short with a BIG pay off and it just feels…special.
Don’t be fooled by the 1.5 mile distance though, it’s definitely moderate and if you’re out of shape it might feel downright difficult.
Here’s the big tip the park ranger gave me: once you descend down into the loop trail from the rim, you’ll have to decide which direction to hike the loop (right takes you to “Wall Street” first and left takes you to “Two Bridges” first. GO RIGHT.
The park ranger said if we hiked this way in the afternoon, we’d have a little more shade on the second half when we were climbing back out of the canyon. And that was true, but I also noticed a couple of other benefits: 1) if you go to the right, the first set of switchbacks (the ones you’re walking DOWN) seem a lot steeper than the second set (the ones you’re walking UP). I don’t know about you but I’d rather the less steep set when I’m coming up. 2) If you go to the right, you’ll be hiking down through what I think is the most impressive part of the hike first. 99% of the people on the trail were coming to meet us and they looked like they were about to die. I felt like I was able to enjoy the views (and the view is better when you’re hiking down anyways) because I wasn’t having to labor so hard at the beginning.
And something good to know…this hike is pretty steep (especially coming down that first set of switchbacks into Wall Street) so you’ll DEFINITELY want a good pair of boots. I’m not a super avid hiker and I mostly get by with Keen/Teva sandals but I was sooooo glad I had actual boots on this trip.
3:00 PM: Finished at the Navajo Loop Trail and drove to the end of the road at Yovimpa Point. The park ranger recommended driving all the way there without stopping and then doing stops on the way back since all of the viewpoints are on the right side of the road.
This may be a hot take, but I felt like what we saw at Sunrise Point was better than the viewpoints out this way. If you have time and you like a drive, go for it. But if you’re crunched for time, I’d probably just choose to spend it back in the main part of the hike.
With a bit more time I probably would have done the Queen’s/Navajo Combination Loop which is about 3 miles. Adding the Queen’s Garden Trail to the Navajo Loop will give you those big open views of the hoodoos PLUS the famous switchbacks of the Navajo Loop.
But if you’re coming out to this end of the park, definitely stop at the Natural Bridge overlook. That was the best one by far!
4:15 PM: We made it back to the center of the park and stopped at some of the big overlooks closer to Sunrise Point. Inspiration Point was pretty, but I think Sunset Point is the don’t miss overlook. If you’re staying near Bryce (or don’t mind driving in the dark), it would 100% be worth sticking around for sunset.
5:00 PM: We left Bryce and headed to Torrey, UT to spend the night. Read all about Capitol Reef (including the hotel I stayed at) in this post.
Is One Day Enough Time at Bryce Canyon?
If you’re wanting to do multiple hikes or activities, you could definitely spend a couple days here, but I think you can see a LOT in just one day. I wasn’t even really there for a full day and I was able to do everything I wanted to.
I would definitely go back though! And next time I want to go horseback riding through the hoodoos!