We made our way to Bryce Canyon initially from Canyonlands NP, and decided to take a bit of a longer but a trillion times more scenic route via the byway HWY 95 - 12 - 24, a HWY that also took us straight through Capitol Reef National Park. For anyone travelling to Bryce, if you have a little extra time to take this route, it is a MUST! The views every second of the way make you feel as though you are in the painting of a landscape that is too gorgeous and perfect to even be real. We took our time, stopping pretty often to capture photos of the mountains, forests, wildlife, rivers, and everything in between and around us.
We arrived in Bryce Canyon mid-week, which was great as it wasn’t anywhere near as busy as we had been warned about! It was after lunch by the time we cruised into the park, and we weren’t exactly prepared with what we had planned to do or see whilst here, so we made our way into the Visitor Centre for some hiking information and maps. The helpful as usual rangers gave us their top recommendations about what to do/see in the limited time that we had, and we were on our merry way!
We found that Bryce Canyon was much smaller and compact than the other national parks that we have visited throughout our time in the states, which made the fact that we only had a little under 24 hours to spend here really no problem at all. In our opinion, the most impressive sights in Bryce Canyon are the views into the “amphitheatre” that are seen from the outer and upper rim of the canyon. Amphitheatre is how the park references the area where the hundreds of thousands of hoodoo’s are found - the iconic rock formations that you see in most typical Bryce Canyon photographs (as pictured in many of our own too!). The most popular viewpoint for this is from Sunrise or Sunset point, where hundreds of travellers and photographers come to admire the views out and below - this was our first “wow” moment in Bryce! But we wanted a little bit more.. so we decided to hike the short (approximately 3 miles / 5 km’s) Navajo / Queens Garden loop trail which took us down into the amphitheatre, giving us a whole different view and perspective of Bryce Canyon!
The Navajo trail is probably the most popular trail in the park, and we understand why! With many switch-backs that take you down into the canyon, we were constantly in awe of the different shaped rock formations, trees, and archways that can be found along this track. A short and rather easy walking trail, the paths are well maintained and before you know it, you are climbing your way back up and returning to the gorgeous views from the top once again. We were stoked that there had been some recent snow-fall in Bryce, meaning that the top’s of the hoodoo’s were lightly sprinkled with white powder.. adding that delicious layer of icing on the cake!
We watched the sun go down at Sunset Point - it’s obviously been named this for a reason and it was absolutely beautiful watching the pastel pink/purple colour that the sky turned before darkness fell upon us. The campground at Bryce Canyon looked very well setup, with picnic tables, fire pits, toilets etc. and there were also many vacant spots for the night, but we decided to save some pennies (it will cost $20 per night if you decide to camp in the campground), and instead we made our way only a couple of minutes back outside of the park to the Dixie National Forest where we were advised earlier by the staff in the visitor centre that we were able to camp for free. There were a few other people also setting up their tents, having fires, and sleeping in their cars - so for anyone on a bit of a budget or just wanting to escape the campground crowds, this is definitely a great little spot enjoy for the night!
Bryce Canyon is well known-for it’s dark night sky, the weather forecast for the night was clear, so we set ourselves a 3am alarm and went to bed rather early. Before we knew it, we were driving back into the park in complete darkness, the stars bright above us. We arrived back to Sunset point at around 3.30am where there was a small handful of other photographers also attempting to capture the gorgeous milky way beauty above the amphitheatre of the canyon. It wasn’t too many hours longer that we had to wait for sunrise - the mule deer who had been sleeping in the long grass nearby started to wake, and we changed shooting location, capturing the sun flares making their way up above the tall pine trees. A successful morning of photography, worth every second of lost-sleep! Even during the week in quiet season, we found the popular look-out spots in Bryce to be quite congested and busy.. all of the photos that we have published have been taken from slightly further away from these typical hot-spots, only a few extra minutes walk along the rim edge where you can capture the same gorgeous views, but without the crowds.
During high season there are shuttle busses that run to and from the main viewpoints in Bryce Canyon, but as we visited during quiet season, the roads are instead all open for private car access. We drove from the main part of the park along to the furthest end (around 45 minutes all up one-way, including quick stop-off’s to take photos). With lots of different look-out spots, all giving you a slightly different viewpoint and aspect of the amphitheatre, if you do have an extra hour or two to spare in Bryce Canyon, we would certainly recommend this scenic road within the national park!
Pretty content with what we had covered during our short time in Bryce, we decided to get moving once again and start making our way to our next destination - Zion National Park! For anyone who is considering stopping by in Bryce NP while visiting Zion, we definitely consider it a MUST-DO, only a 1.5 hour drive max from the east entrance of Zion, it’s a perfect little day-trip to make!
If Zion National Park is also on your bucket-list, make sure you check out our blog post about our incredible 7 days that we spent there - link to our Zion guide here! Feel free to email us with any other questions you may have - we always love hearing from you guys! & if you haven’t already, make sure you sign up to our mailing list so that you’re notified next time we post a blog about our national park experiences :)