One Day in Bryce Canyon National Park: Hoodoos In All Their Glory
March 16, 2021
Originally posted July 2020; Revised and migrated March 2021
Travel date June 2020
We spent two days exploring Bryce Canyon National Park but the park could easily be experienced in one full day. There are several can’t miss sights in Bryce but most hikes and viewpoints provide a beautiful view of the hoodoos. Bryce is definitely a bucket list destination and shouldn’t be missed on your Utah National Park road trip.
During our visit to Bryce in early June 2020, the park campgrounds were still closed due to Covid19. Thankfully we were enjoying the cooler temps at our nearby free campsite in the Red Canyon area of the Dixie National Forest. For more non-Bryce-related things to do in the area, check out my Red Canyon and Grand Staircase Escalante posts.
Bryce Canyon National Parks Facts
Bryce Canyon National Monument was created in 1923 to preserve the “unusual scenic beauty, scientific interest, and importance”. It was upgraded to a National Park in 1928. The Bryce area has some of the world’s best air quality and panoramic views of three states with up to 200 miles of visibility. The lack of nearby light sources also makes Bryce ideal for stargazing.
What makes Bryce Canyon National Park special?
Overall, Bryce is only a quarter of the size of Zion making it much easier to see the whole park in one day. We are self-proclaimed national park junkies and really enjoyed both parks. Bryce hoodoos are so unique that it makes this park feel special.
What is a hoodoo?
Hoodoos are unique tall spire-shaped formations caused by thousands of years of erosion. They are associated with Bryce Canyon National Park but are abundant in the nearby Red Canyon as well.
Where to stay at Bryce Canyon
There are several accommodation options to stay at Bryce Canyon National Park, both inside and outside the park.
The Lodge at Bryce
Hotel accommodations inside the park are available at The Lodge. It is located centrally in the Amphitheater area of the park but was closed due to COVID during our visit.
Camping at Bryce
There are two campgrounds inside Bryce, the North Campground and the South Campground. Both campgrounds were closed during our June 2020 visit due to COVID. However several private campgrounds are available in the town of Bryce. Ruby’s Inn is one of the closest options with a restaurant, hotel, and general store. We camped for free in the nearby Dixie National Forest along Tom’s Best Spring Road.
Bryce Canyon Shuttle
If you are not on a tight schedule, the National Park Service runs a shuttle bus from hotels and campgrounds in Bryce. The buses arrive every 15 minutes and visit several key stops inside the park. We didn’t have any issues with finding parking spots inside the park so the shuttle isn’t necessary.
Best time to visit Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon is at 8,000 elevation so it stays cooler than surrounding areas even during summer. We experienced cold mornings and warm sunny days in early June. I recommend visiting Bryce whenever you can manage it regardless of the time of year. Even winter photos look beautiful with a light snow dusting the canyon.
Can you do Zion and Bryce both in one day?
Zion is 72-miles from Bryce Canyon. Technically you could do Zion and Bryce in one day but it would be a very rushed day and wouldn’t provide a true experience of either park.
Bryce Canyon to Zion
The drive from Bryce Canyon to Zion is very scenic along highway 89 and highway 12. Prepare for curvy, narrow roads but it is accessible by any vehicle with a confident driver. Kevin drove Pippi along this route without breaking a sweat. I wasn’t a relaxed passenger but he said it was an easy drive.
I’d recommend one day in each park with a quick stop at Red Canyon en-route between the two. Red Canyon is a managed by the National Forest Service and has several short hikes that allow you to get close to hoodoos without the National Park crowds.
Can you do Bryce Canyon National Park in one day?
Bryce Canyon National Park is small enough you could easily see the whole park in one day including a hike or two. However, we spent two days in the park so we didn’t have to rush to fit everything in.
Best time in Bryce for Photography
Sunrise is the best time for photography in Bryce Canyon National Park. Sunset casts shadows on the hoodoos causing shading in evening pictures. Unless you have professional photography training, I am sure any captured memories will be treasured.
One Day Bryce Canyon National Park Itinerary
If you only have one day at Bryce Canyon National Park, I would recommend:
start at the visitor’s center to learn more about the park
drive the Bryce Canyon Scenic Loop Drive
choose a hike based on your available time and abilities OR bike the multi-use trail to the amphitheater area
arrive early to catch sunrise at Sunrise Point
Easy Hiking Recommendations
Bristlecone Trail ~ 1.4 miles
Mossy Cave ~ 0.8 miles
Moderate Hiking Recommendations
Queens Garden ~ 1.8 miles
Navajo Loop ~ 1.3 miles
Drive the Bryce Canyon Scenic Loop
While visiting we decided to drive the Bryce Canyon Scenic Loop to Rainbow Point. There were several scenic overlooks along the 18-mile scenic drive back from Rainbow Point. Most visitors will be interested in the most famous hoodoos in the Amphitheater area along the first three miles of the scenic drive.
We drove the full loop and stopped at each overlook. The changes in vegetation and climate were noticeable as the elevation changed. I would allow a minimum of two hours to complete the 39-mile roundtrip drive.
The most popular overlooks in the park are:
Hiking Bryce: Bristlecone Trail
At the summit, we hiked the easy-rated Bristlecone Trail. It was a 1.4-mile circular trail through a pine forest.
We saw evidence of past fires and numerous woodpiles which we believed to be preparation for a future burn. It was a short, shady walk with a few good viewpoints.
Hiking Bryce: Queens Garden and Navajo Loop
Our main hiking in Bryce was spent on the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop combination trail. We made a few unplanned detours so our total hike was 5.1 miles. The NPS states the combination trail to be 2.9 miles.
Queens Garden Trail
Queens Garden is considered the easiest trail that descends into the canyon. It is a 1.8-mile trail into the canyon to a Queen Victoria-shaped hoodoo. The trip into the canyon is easy however we saw many hikers huffing and puffing on the way back up to the canyon rim.
The Queens Garden is named for a Queen Victoria shaped hoodoo. I spotted a hoodoo that met the description UNTIL we saw the National Park identified Queen. In the pic below, the NPS official Queen is on the right and my mis-identification is on the left.
My favorite part of the Navajo Trail was the “Wall Street” section which led us between tall canyon walls. It was one of my overall favorite parts of Bryce but I can’t be sure if the shade and cooler temps influenced my decision.
Warning – Wall Street closes when temperatures dip below freezing so be sure to check the trail status at the visitor center.
The downside of the Queens Garden to Navajo Loop combo was we ended our hike with a series of steep switchbacks to get out of the canyon.
We were mentally prepared for the climb but next time I would probably start with the Navajo Loop and end with Queens Garden trail because it was a less steep approach.
Hiking Bryce: Mossy Cave
We also did a highly rated short hike to Mossy Cave which is outside the fee area but still within the National park. It was an easy walk that led to a waterfall and an overhang in the rock where water accumulates and allows ferns and moss to grow in warm weather.
The waterfall impressed me more than the cave since we couldn’t explore the cave beyond the wooden boardwalk. I am sure the cave wouldn’t be as pristine if the National Parks allowed hikers access to roam freely but I was a little underwhelmed.
Biking the Bryce Multi-Use Path
We parked our car at the visitor center more than once and rode our bikes along the paved multi-use path to the Bryce Amphitheater area. The park was not overcrowded so parking was not a problem. We enjoyed the fresh air and exercise of biking rather than driving. One evening we rode to Sunset point to watch the sunset.
Another day we rode to Inspiration Point at the end of the multi-use path. At dusk we saw several grazing deer.
Arrive Early: Sunrise in Bryce Canyon National Park
My final recommendation for Bryce Canyon National Park is to arrive early to watch the sunrise over the hoodoos at Sunrise Point.
Since we no longer have 8-5 jobs, we don’t have any need for an alarm clock. We rarely get out of bed before 7 am but while at Bryce I decided to set the alarm for 5 am and attempt to see the sunrise over the hoodoos. It was our last day at Bryce so we got an early start on moving day and we got amazing views as a bonus.
RV Services in Bryce: RV wash and RV dump
Of course on the day we left Bryce the temps dropped and we spent the day in jeans and sweatshirts. Thankful for our early start, we were able to beat the crowds to the local Sinclair gas station to wash Pippi and the car, empty our waste tanks and refill our water for the next stop, Capitol Reef National Park.
Can you drive an RV on Highway 12 in Utah?
When leaving Bryce our next stop was Capitol Reef National Park but we knew there were multiple route options. Based on internet comments from other RVers I was scared to drive the scenic Hwy12 route. Kevin read the same comments and said he’d be fine to drive Pippi.
This area has a road named Hell’s Backbone so I was a bit anxious as we set off. We saw grades up to 14% but Kevin and Pippi both performed very well. Since we were taking the Hwy12 route, I decided to take advantage and stopover for a few days at the Grand Staircase Escalate National Monument.
Prior to Kevin’s Hwy12 decision, I had mentally written off several wish list hikes in the Escalate area because I had not been willing to drive three hours round trip to get to them from our previous campsite. Thanks to Kevin’s confidence in driving Pippi, we decided to spend a few days in Escalante to explore the area.
Bryce Canyon National Park
In conclusion, Bryce Canyon National Park is a spectacular place to see hoodoos. Any time spent in the park will be rewarded with once in a lifetime views and memories.