Summer Road Trip – Bryce Canyon National Park
After a fairly short but interesting drive from Zion National Park, we made it to Bryce Canyon National Park in time for a quick lunch. We actually stopped at a diner just outside the park entrance. This turned out to be a mistake, the food is much better in the restaurant in the park. At least refueled, if not impressed, we checked in to our accommodation in the park at the very formally named The Lodge at Bryce Canyon.
First Impressions of Bryce Canyon National Park
With only two nights here, we figured we should waste no time in getting out to explore the park. The plan was to start at the southern end of the park’s scenic drive and work our way back to the lodge. Our first stop was the Bristlecone Loop trail, a nice one mile round trip to stretch our legs after the morning spent in the car.
As well as the ancient bristlecone pines the it’s named for, you can see great views across the canyon from this trail. The views are much panoramic than the ones we saw at Zion National Park.
Full Moon Hike
We were lucky enough to be in Bryce Canyon on a full moon night. This gave us the opportunity to join a guided full moon hike for a very different view of the canyon. A lottery process is held to determine who gets a spot, because space is limited for safety reasons. You need to wear proper hiking boots or shoes, because there is loose gravel (and steep drop-offs) on the trails. The rangers will check that you have them before issuing you with your lottery ticket.
Gathering at the starting point for the hike, we saw a nice sunset behind the trees.
Before heading down into the canyon, we stopped at the rim to see the full moon rising.
We then headed down into the canyon. It took a while for our eyes to adjust, then it was easy to see our way. There was enough moonlight to cast shadows (which meant that I had a Cat Stevens song stuck in my head for pretty much the whole hike), although according to the ranger the moonlight wasn’t as bright for us as it sometimes is for these full moon hikes. There wasn’t really enough light to take pictures and keep up with the group, but I managed to grab one moody shot of the moon though a trailside tree.
We hiked about a mile down into the canyon, reaching a part of the trail where the moonlight illuminated a wall of white rock formations. This was an impressive sight and definitely worth the effort to see. Getting back out of the canyon was quite a hard slog, especially after the long day we’d had. Bryce Canyon National Park is at a high enough altitude (8,000+ feet) that it was harder work hiking here than in Zion National Park. We slept well that night.
Viewing the Hoodoos
We slept so well that I didn’t manage to get up for sunrise as I had intended. I did make it out before breakfast, taking the short stroll from our room to the canyon rim to see the hoodoos and other rock formations in some nice morning light.
After breakfast, we headed to Inspiration Point to see the classic Bryce Canyon National Park view. There are three viewing area levels, and despite our tired legs from the previous night’s full moon hike we headed for the top level. It was definitely worth the effort.
After savoring the views from Inspiration Point, we drove south again to stop at some of the viewpoints we’d missed the previous day.
One of the most spectacular formations in Bryce Canyon National Park is Natural Bridge.
Late Afternoon Views
As the sun got lower in the sky, we headed back to the area around the lodge. Not surprisingly, it was built close to some of the more spectacular canyon scenery. Sunset Point (as you would expect) is a good place to see the late afternoon sun work its magic.
After a nice dinner at the lodge, we took advantage of our room’s proximity to the canyon rim and took a walk to enjoy even the “golden hour” views as the sunset drew closer.
Farewell to Bryce Canyon National Park
The next morning I had one last chance to catch a Bryce Canyon sunrise, before we drove to Capitol Reef National Park. I did manage to wake up in time this morning.
As well as the morning light on the rocks, the subtle sunrise sky was worth getting up for.
We had a longer journey ahead of us than the drove from Zion to Bryce Canyon, so after breakfast, we hit the road, off to new adventures.
Where to Stay in Bryce Canyon National Park
Note – one of the links below is an affiliate link. If you use it to make a booking, we’ll make a small commission (at no extra cost to you).
Even more so than Zion National Park, I recommend you try to stay inside the park at Bryce Canyon, if possible. Bryce Canyon Lodge is the only option if you need a solid roof over your head. The park campgrounds are also nicely located near the canyon rim. When we were first planning our trip there were no rooms available at the lodge for our dates, so we made reservation at a hotel just outside the park entrance. A week before we left I checked the lodge website again, and there had been a cancellation, so I was able to grab a room in the park instead.
If you can’t get a reservation at the lodge, you’ll be staying in the ambitiously-named Bryce Canyon City just outside the park. The comprehensive Ruby’s Inn organization has been doing business at Bryce canyon since 1919. They offer numerous products and services, including a Best Western hotel.
Where to eat in and around Bryce Canyon
The dining room at the Lodge at Bryce canyon is a full service restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The prices are what you’d expect to pay at a good restaurant, but the quality of food is very good, unlike some other restaurants where you pay a premium for the restaurant location.
For something more casual, the lodge also operates the Valhalla Pizzeria & Coffee Shop. You can also buy “grab and go” prepared foods or groceries at the general store in the park.
We stopped for lunch on our way to Bryce Canyon at the Canyon Diner, part of the Ruby’s Inn complex. It wasn’t that great, we may have been better off opting for the Cowboy’s Buffet & Steak Room at the Best Western, or waiting until we got to the lodge.
Overall, the dining options are limited, but the restaurant at the lodge is good. In any case, you’re not here for the foodie scene, it’s all about the views.
What to do in Bryce Canyon National Park
The big attraction is the amazing views, and there are lots of different ways to see them. Some of the most astonishing vistas are right next to the road, with accessible trails to the viewpoints. There are extensive trails along the canyon rim to access different viewpoints and perspectives. For more serious hikers there are trails down into the canyon. These require good hiking shoes with good “lug” traction and ankle support. There is lots of loose gravel on the trails, as well as steep grades (and steep drop-offs next to some of the trails).
If you are physically up to it, you should pick a trail and hike at least some distance down into the canyon to see some rock formations up close. You should also try to see the canyon at different times of day to see the changing colors with the changing angles of sunlight.
The Bryce Canyon National Park website has a good selection of trails listed, separated by degree of difficulty. In addition to the usual hiking guidelines for water and sun protection, the altitude at Bryce Canyon can be an issue (it certainly was for us). Pace yourself and drink plenty of water.
The park rangers provide talks, programs and guided walks, like the full moon hike we did.
If you are in the Bryce Canyon area for a longer period of time, or would like to take a scenic flight or an ATV tour, Ruby’s Inn has plenty of options for activities.
Our couple of days in the park was enough for us to see some highlights and get a taste of this extraordinary place. It should be in the itinerary for any visit to to Utah.