The Complete Bryce Canyon Trip
Exploring the Bryce Canyon Region
The Bryce Canyon region of Utah is a tale of two worlds colliding. It’s where the hoodoo-filled red rock desert meets high alpine forests, and where sandy washes narrow into steep slot canyons. Bryce Canyon National Park itself drops away from a flat, sagebrush-filled plateau. Known for its iconic hoodoo spires, the Bryce Amphitheater is a marvel when viewing from above, and below. The sheer sprawl of the park means there’s little time for downtime. Shuttles travel back and forth the length of the park from the visitor center 17 miles south to Rainbow Point, with plenty to do at every stop along the way. From ranger programs highlighting the park’s unique geology, to horseback rides, to guided hikes under a full moon, Bryce Canyon is much more than simple sightseeing. And because the park is surrounded by groves of evergreen trees acting as a barrier from the elements, Bryce Canyon is a perfect place to set up your camping gear.
The park is just the start of your journey, though. Sitting on one of the top steps the Grand Staircase, a road trip through the Bryce Canyon region lets you experience the morphing geology of the area. Around every bend the landscape changes dramatically, making the simple act of getting to where you’re going an adventure.
Along the way, small towns bring a taste of civilization to the rugged terrain along Utah's All-American Road: Scenic Byway 12. Whether you’re stopping for the night, or just a snack, you’ll be met with warm hospitality — even in the cooler months.
- Start: From Salt Lake City, drive roughly four hours south to Red Canyon Visitor Center
- Finish: From Boulder Mountain head back to Salt Lake City, or extend your stay
- Hours of driving: 16+ hours, including travel between the region and Salt Lake City
- Red Canyon
- Pansaugunt Western Wildlife Museum
- Dark Skies of Bryce Canyon
You may be familiar with the iconic hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park, but the path to the park is full of unexpected sights that might have you pulling over every few miles to grab another panorama to add to your phone’s photo gallery. If you arrive from the southwest, passing through the lush Dixie National Forest shows off a greener side of Utah. Your first taste of hoodoo country will be during the climb up state Route 12 through Red Canyon, where you can stop for a morning hike to see these imposing formations up close.
As the mile markers count down to your arrival in Bryce Canyon you may look around and notice how ... flat it all feels. No, you didn’t make a wrong turn; Bryce Canyon is cut out of the Paunsaugunt Plateau, a verdant plain populated with loads of wildlife. Once you enter the national park you quickly see what the fuss is all about. Just beyond the treeline at the edge of the parking lot the ground falls away, revealing thousands of hoodoo spires jutting from the canyon floor. You can wander the Outer Rim trail, or simply find a bench to sit and watch the shadows dance across the valley as the sun sets.
Where to Stay
Reserve a camping site in Bryce Canyon, or book a hotel just outside the park gate in Bryce Canyon City.
Tips for Prepared Travelers
- How to Stargaze in Utah
Start your journey with a hike in Red Canyon, choosing a family-friendly loop like the Bird’s Eye Trail or the more moderate Golden Wall Trail, both beginning at the Red Rock Visitor Center. Or get your heart pumping by riding your bikes all the way up the canyon on the paved Red Canyon Bicycle Trail.
The museum has a fine selection of wildlife from Utah, and all over the world, including a massive collection of more than 1,400 butterflies. As you poke around the museum, you’ll also find more than 400 species of animals, including birds of prey, bugs, and aquatic animals.
As an accredited International Dark Sky Park, Bryce Canyon is the ultimate place to experience the splendor of the night sky. Protected by a special force of park rangers and volunteer Utah astronomy enthusiasts, Bryce Canyon is known as the last grand sanctuary of natural darkness and has one of the nation's oldest astronomy programs.
Photo: Prajit Ravindran
- Outer Rim Trail
- Mossy Cave Trail
- Kodachrome Basin State Park
Morning brings with it another opportunity to really take in the beautiful, bizarre sights of Bryce Canyon. You’ll find out just how different the park can appear, all depending on where you are viewing it from. The first hike is a family-friendly stroll along the Rim Trail which weaves its way around the perimeter of the canyon, giving you plenty of options to dip down into the canyon via various trailheads without committing to a day-long hike through the heart of the canyon. Each turn brings with it a new viewpoint which makes it feel like you’re in a whole new park as the hoodoos appear to morph and shift with the passing sun.
If you arrived from the east on your first day, you’ll be amazed at how quickly the plateau gives way to the classic red rock canyons on your way down to the short Mossy Cave trail on the northeast end of the park. Your new perspective — looking up, instead of in — on Bryce Canyon lets you examine the details that make the hoodoos so unique.
Where to Stay
Camp at Kodachrome Basin State Park, or backtrack to Tropic for dinner and more a cozy place to rest your head.
Tips for Prepared Travelers
- Hiking Southern Utah with Younger Children: Tips for Family Friendly Adventure
Your Bryce Canyon National Park entry fee includes free access to the park shuttle, which you can ride to one of the stops along the rim and hike back along the Outer Rim trail. Pick a distance that your group feels comfortable walking, and get off at that stop and hike north back to the entrance.
On the eastern edge of the park are two trails worth stopping for. The Mossy Cave trail is a short hike that lets you see the hoodoos from below. In late spring you can also watch the Tropic Ditch Falls carry meltwater away from the park.
The first official name, “Chimney Rock” reflects the area’s 67 monolithic stone spires, part of a multicolored landscape so beautiful it earned the nickname “Kodachrome” after a popular Kodak film. The name stuck and today visitors enjoy camping and hiking across 2,240 acres of photogenic, geologic wonder. Nearby Grosvenor Arch (pictured) offers a quick glimpse into Grand Staircase, but check road conditions before traveling.
- Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
- Zebra Slot Canyon
Welcome to the Grand Staircase, a layer cake of rock formations that stretches all the way from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon. Take turns driving on the scenic route from Kodachrome Basin State Park to the town of Escalante this morning, so everyone can get a chance to see the rainbow of sediment stretch out along each step of the Staircase. Near Escalante you can stretch your legs at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park while you inspect the thousands of fossilized trees spread out over the area. With the uptick in visitors to the region, Escalante is also a great place to seek out a guide for one of the nearby slot canyons, giving you an expert perspective on canyoneering.
Stick around Escalante for lunch before jumping back in the car to descend further into Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument along the Hole-In-The-Rock-Road to and take your pick between the Devil’s Garden, a collection of otherworldly hoodoos formed by blowing sand and wind, or a more technical hike through the Zebra Slot Canyon.
From there, you’ll drive up “the hogsback” to Boulder, where you can have dinner at Hell’s Backbone Grill. You’ll have your back to the best views on the ride up to Boulder, so be sure to stop frequently at designated overlooks to see the ground you’ve covered.
Where to Stay
Spend the night at a guest ranch in Boulder for a taste of Utah’s friendly, rural hospitality.
There’s nothing scary about this petrified forest. Take a hike along the hill above the reservoir to see fossilized remains of trees — some over 150 million years old — and pop into the visitor center to get a look at dinosaur bones as well.
This short, but iconic slot canyon is an easy, popular opportunity to try your hand at canyoneering. Check with the BLM office in Escalante to check the water level in the canyon before attempting the hike. Better yet, hire a guide to show you how the locals explore.
Boulder lives at the top of the Grand Staircase. This tiny town has become a favorite stopover for visitors trying to hit a number of national parks in a single trip. Grab dinner at the Hell’s Backbone Grill and stay at one of the guest ranches surrounding the town.
- Anasazi State Park Museum
- Burr Trail
- Boulder Mountain
The last day of this Bryce Canyon region adventure starts at the Anasazi State Park Museum, a recreation of an Ancestral Puebloan dwelling situated next to the Coombs Site, showing pieces of the original unearthed village. The Anasazi were known for their multi-storied cliff houses. They remain an engineering marvel, considering these homes were made nearly 1,000 years ago. Though much of the region has entered the 21st century, these artifacts remind us that a life built around reverence for the land could sustain entire communities, long before we considered it hospitable
Spend the rest of your morning meandering down the Burr Trail, a scenic drive that begins in Boulder and weaves through a handful of canyons along the Grand Staircase towards Capitol Reef National Park.
After lunch back in Boulder, grab your fishing gear and toss a line into one of Boulder Mountain’s many alpine lakes. Take a load off and enjoy your final afternoon in the Bryce Canyon region while you wait for the brook trout to bite.
Where to Stay
Camping at Lower Bowns Reservoir on Boulder mountain.
Extend Your Stay
Don’t want your trip to end? Take the Burr Trail from Boulder all the way to the end, arriving in Capitol Reef National Park, and spend a few extra days exploring the Capitol Reef region.
Inside the museum, you’ll find artifacts from the site and gain insight into how these people made a life for themselves in such a desolate environment. Outside, the kids will love being able to go inside the recreation of an Anasazi dwelling while parents can check out the original dig site.
This mostly paved, partial dirt road provides one of the most scenic drives in the state and connects the Grand Staircase area to Capitol Reef National Park. Stop off at the secluded Long Canyon slot canyon for another canyoneering experience well off the beaten path.
Dotted with high alpine lakes full of fish begging to be caught, this family-friendly destination is the perfect place to stretch your legs and dip your toes during your road trip. Fishing not your thing? Take a hike (literally) on one of the four major trails that offer short, steep ascents up the mountain.