by Sue Markovitch
Bryce Canyon National Park is a magical place.
Whether you are taking an extended tour of the southwestern states, or simply enjoying a weekend getaway, Bryce Canyon NP is the perfect stop.
First, getting there. I drove from Phoenix, which was about 420 miles of gorgeous highway. I went through Sedona, Flagstaff, Page, Lake Powell Recreation Area, Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument and Kanab. It was spectacular. You could take days to get to Bryce, and see each of these beautiful places along the way.
There are also a number of airports that will get you within a few hours drive of Bryce: Las Vegas (275 miles), Salt Lake City (280 miles), or the smaller regional St. George (160 miles) or Cedar City (96 miles).
My itinerary looked like this:
Drive in Friday, arrive at 7:00 pm MT and check in (I lost an hour due to the time zone difference between AZ and UT). I stayed at the famous Ruby’s Inn Best Western which is just outside of the park entrance. I would have camped, but there was a cold spell and 30°F nights are not on my adventure itinerary. I checked in, then met my friends for a roaring campfire and stargazing before turning in early.
Saturday we hiked. There are several options depending on your fitness level and ability.
The Rim Trail is perfect for most levels and provides incredible scenic views along the way, no matter how far you decide to hike.
From AllTrails: “Rim Trail has 2 main routes. First is a paved trail that connects Sunrise and Sunset Points. It is an easy trail, that is fairly level, that has spectacular views of the hoodoos in the area. The entire trail runs from Fairyland Point to Bryce Point, which is a much more difficult trail. The “easy” portion of the trail between Sunrise and Sunset points is flat and paved.”
From the NPS site: “The Rim Trail offers hikers the opportunity to see the Main Amphitheater from above. The entire Rim Trail extending from Fairyland Point to Bryce Point has several steep elevation changes and is 5.5 miles one way.”
You can hike the entire Rim trail and take a shuttle back to your car, if the shuttles are running. They are seasonal, so check the NPS website.
NAVAJO LOOP TRAIL
From NPS site: “Navajo Loop Trail begins at Sunset Point and travels down into the main amphitheater. This is one of the more popular trails and can be combined with the Queens Garden Trail which will create a longer, but more varied, loop.”
We combined the Navajo Loop, Queens Garden Trail, and Peekaboo Loop Trail for a full morning of hiking. It was a spectacular 7+ miles of hoodoos, Thor’s Hammer, amphitheaters, rock walls, formations and arches. Lots of ups and downs that ended with what is commonly known as switchback hell, a short series of steep switchbacks to get us back out of the canyon up to the rim. We then had a mile walk back to Sunrise Point where we started. It was an amazing way to get down into Bryce and see everything from the canyon floor. Highly recommend!
Since we were covered with red dirt from our adventure, we went to our respective rooms and campsites to get cleaned up. I passed out pretty quickly for a short nap, then woke up ready for dinner. We cooked around the campfire and once again were treated with an amazing night sky. “Bryce Canyon is a sanctuary of natural darkness”, with a sky so dark you can see thousands of stars, the Milky Way, and even a shooting star or two.
I slept very well that night.
Sunday, we toured the park from top to bottom.
To do this, we loaded up the Kia Soul, forevermore to be known as Tonto, and drove 18 miles to Rainbow Point at the end of the park, which is the highest point in Bryce, at 9,100 feet.
At Rainbow Point, we accessed the Bristlecone Loop Trail for an easy one mile hike with spectacular views.
From AllTrails: “The Bristlecone Loop, accessible from Rainbow Point at the southern end of the park, meanders through the forest atop this highest portion of the park, reaching elevations over 9,100 feet. Here you will pass by Bristlecone Pines up to 1,800-years-old and experience vistas reaching into the Four Corners area.”
The only issue we had was breathing. At this elevation, if you are not used to it, you may feel a little lightheaded, short of breath, or headachy. Take your time. There is no rush with incredible views around every turn.
We retuned to the car and headed back down, while making it a point to stop at nearly every scenic turn off. There was plenty of room to park at each, and I was fascinated to see how varied the views were just a few miles apart. Ponderosa Point has a very different view than the Natural Bridge, for example.
Since we took our time and stopped for lots of photos, it took several hours to cover the 18 miles back down. As we descended, all the signs of high altitude left us. It was nice to breathe easy. By the time we reached the bottom, we were hungry and decided to find a local place for lunch. A Yelp search helped us narrow it down, and we headed to the tiny town of Tropic, Utah to check out The Pizza Place.
From Yelp: “A gem of a place, what a find! When you’re in the Bryce Canyon National Park area, this is an excellent choice to dine in or get carry out pizza. After a long day of hiking, I must not have realized I was starving because I practically destroyed a 10″ supreme pizza on my own.”
Agreed! We got two great flavors of pizza, tried some of the local beers, and really enjoyed the patio views of this delightful little town.
From Wiki: “Tropic is a town in Garfield County, Utah, United States, along Utah Scenic Byway 12. As of the 2010 census, the town had a population of 530. Tropic was founded in 1891.”
We headed back to the campsite to relax and get a fire going. We had two final goals for our Bryce Canyon weekend: sunset, then sunrise.
For sunset, we revisited a few of our stops from earlier in the day, such as Ponderosa Point, then stopped at Sunset Point as well as the Fairyland Loop trailhead. Dusk is truly the golden hour for picture taking, and it is also when wildlife become very active. We saw young deer playing around in a field near the road and wild turkeys crossing the street. It gets cool quick once the sun sinks below the horizon, so we headed back to a cozy campfire.
Before heading home, we got up early to head to Sunrise Point. I may have been a little overambitious, getting us there 30 minutes before the sunrise, but it did mean a great parking spot and a seat on a bench overlooking the Bryce Amphitheater.
It was the perfect way to end our stay at Bryce. I especially loved how we couldn’t see any of the hoodoos or trails below at first, but as light crept in from behind the distant mountain range, they began to light up. One by one, the red and orange rock came to life as sunrise point became crowded with people awaiting this special moment.
You could almost feel a collective gasp of delight when the sun finally peeked up over the distant mountain ranges of Utah. We sat quietly for a moment, taking it all in.
I let the entire weekend fill my mind. Shooting stars, the Milky Way, an amazing day of hiking in the heart of Bryce Canyon, the scenic drive to the top, friendship around the roaring campfire, and the sun showing off the beauty of this place.
It sometimes feels like two days isn’t enough, and if we don’t have a week to spend somewhere, it isn’t worth it. Let me dispel that myth right now. With Bryce Canyon NP, you can experience the entire park in two days, and even more importantly, you can get the soul reset that we all need in this crazy world.
As you drive away from the park, whether you are headed home, to another amazing place (Zion is a short drive away), or back to the airport, you will take with you much more than you brought. Your heart will be full, your soul will be lit up from the unique natural wonders you’ve been immersed in, and your spirit will sing the entire way home.