Bryce Canyon National Park, located in southwest Utah, is home to some of the most interesting landscapes in the United States. The park is known for its unique hoodoos, these tall skinny shafts of pink and orange rock protruding from the desert floor, sometimes reaching the height of a ten-story building!
With its towering hoodoos and cascading desert hills, visiting Bryce feels a bit like visiting a completely different planet. I’ve been to the park twice and have fallen a bit in love with this little magical slice of earth. I know how hard it can be to narrow down what to do in Bryce Canyon National Park if you only have 24 hours there.
If you, too, are short on time, keep on reading my guide below, for everything from where to stay, where to watch sunset, and of course, where to hike, to make the most of your one day in Bryce Canyon National Park.
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Table of Contents
- How to Get to Bryce National Park
- When to Visit Bryce National Park
- What to Pack for One Day in Bryce Canyon National Park
- Where to Stay for One Day in Bryce Canyon National Park
- One Day in Bryce Canyon National Park
- Other Things to Do in and Around Bryce Canyon National Park
How to Get to Bryce National Park
Unless you live within driving distance, you’ll either need to fly into Salt Lake City (approximately a four-hour drive from the park) or Las Vegas (approximately a four hour and 20 minute drive).
To get the best deals on airfare, I swear by using Skyscanner! During one of my visits to Bryce, I flew into Vegas and during our second trip, my husband, Justin, and I road tripped from our home in Seattle, stopping in Salt Lake City, to Zion, then Bryce, and finally, on to Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands.
Regardless if you’re flying in or road-tripping from home, you’ll likely need a car to get to and around most of the park. If you’re flying in and need to rent a car, I’d recommend booking as far in advance as possible to get the best deal.
Once you have your car, though- great news! All the Mighty 5 are easily accessible to one another and thus, basically BUILT for road trips. The majority of travelers fly into Vegas and then road trip from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park. Alternatively, if you’re considering going to all of them (you totally should!), check out my guide to planning a Utah National Parks road trip.
When to Visit Bryce National Park
While the most popular time to visit Bryce is May through September, it can be a great place to visit year round. While summertime brings crowds and heat, Bryce’s elevation (at 9,100 feet!) creates a much cooler environment than the other Utah national parks.
The fall brings perfect hiking weather (mid-60s to low-70s), less crowds, and cheaper accommodations (we visited in September and I’d say it’s the perfect time to visit!).
While winter in Utah can get quite cold (with highs in the mid-30s in Bryce Canyon), the park often gets a dusting of snow, giving a landscape that already looks like a fairyland an even more magical feel.
Springtime can bring quite variable weather, from snowfall to temperatures in the 70s, but also provides visitors the opportunity to see blooming wildflowers.
What to Pack for One Day in Bryce Canyon National Park
I hope that you got the socks and underwear part of your packing list sorted, but what about the odds and ends that will make your trip to Bryce Canyon a bit better? Here’s some of the extras I’d recommend bringing along for your trip:
- Sun protection: If you’re visiting during the summer, the sun in Bryce can get quite intense, so, for protection, I’d recommend packing sunscreen, sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection, and a hat.
- Hiking boots: In my opinion, all national parks are best explored on foot. I’ve seen one too many people trying to hike fairly epic trails in flip-flops, sneakers, and some even more sus footwear choices. Be kind to your ankles and instead, bring along a pair of real hiking boots- I’ve used these Merrell’s for years (men’s equivalent can be found here).
- Layers: No matter what time of year you visit Bryce, it will likely be chilly in the evenings and the early morning, so be sure to bring along some warm layers, like a cozy beanie or fleece pullover that can easily be tossed in your hiking backpack. If you’re visiting in the winter time, you’ll likely need a proper winter jacket (I have my eye on this packable jacket from North Face, which would be perfect to throw in a carry-on).
- Headlamp: Bryce has some of the darkest skies in the United States and thus, some of the best stargazing opportunities, which you should absolutely take advantage of while you’re in the park.
To be able to get to and back from your stargazing spot safely, I’d recommend bringing along a head lamp- we have these rechargeable ones, which are awesome since they came in a pack of two and we never have to worry about carrying around extra batteries!
- A cooler: There’s a couple of spots in the park for you to grab food: Bryce Canyon Lodge, with salads, sandwiches, and burgers; the General Store, with grab-and-go items, like wraps; and the Valhalla Pizzeria and Coffee Shop (closed for the 2021 season). These cafes are perfectly fine, but with mediocre food at inflated prices, wouldn’t you rather spend your time actually seeing Bryce during your limited time there?
Instead, if you’re roadtripping to the park like we did, I’d highly recommend packing a cooler (we have one like this and use it all the time for road trips!) to keep in your car with some food to take with you on the trail to cut down on costs, wasted time, and disappointing national park food.
- America the Beautiful Pass: For one car, it costs $35 for a one-week pass into the park. However, if you have plans to stop by a couple of U.S. National Parks within a year span, these fees are waived if you pick up an America the Beautiful Pass, an annual pass that costs just $80 and gets you into more than 2,000 U.S. national parks, forests, shorelines (and on and on).
The proceeds support the National Park Service and if you plan to go to at least three national parks per year (which usually cost around $30-$35 per car per visit), picking up one of these bad boys is a no brainer. You can either pick one up here.
Obviously, if your adventures this year don’t include some National Park visits other than your trip to Bryce, purchasing a pass probably doesn’t make a ton of financial sense. But otherwise, it’s seriously one of the best money saving “travel hacks” that I know!
Where to Stay for One Day in Bryce Canyon National Park
If you want to stay in the park, you’re in luck- there’s a beautiful old building, called The Lodge at Bryce Canyon, centrally located within Bryce Canyon. While the prices can be a bit on the steep side (starting around $230/night and up), the location and the rustic vibes can’t be beat.
Otherwise, you can stay in the nearby town of Tropic, Utah. Consider:
- Happy Trails Bnb: Justin and I stayed here during my last trip to Bryce and I LOVED it. The owners were absolute sweethearts, the rooms were clean and cute (and came with snacks!), and there were so many sweet touches throughout the property, from the firepit to the rooftop hammocks (did I mention there were snacks?). 13/10, would recommend.
- Bybee’s Steppingstone Motel: If you’re just looking for a clean and quiet place to sleep at night, Bybee is probably going to be the cheapest rate you can find in town and, while the rooms are basic, they’re updated and comfortable.
- Bryce Valley Lodging: Affordable and charming cabins, just a short 15 minute drive from the entrance of the park.
If you’re instead looking to camp (whether by tent camping or RV), there’s two campgrounds at Bryce: the North Campground, which is first come, first serve, and the reservable Sunset Campground (both, $20/tent site; $30/RV site, per night).
If you’re like me and prefer to sniff out the best free campsites around (i.e., primitive campsites with no amenities), consider checking out Whiteman Bench or Tom’s Best Spring Dispersed Camping, which both look beautiful and are within close proximity to the park.
How to Get Around Bryce Canyon National Park
Unlike a lot of the United States’ sprawling national parks, Bryce has a relatively small footprint at just 56 square miles. And although it’s by no means as popular as its neighbor, Zion, in 2019, it still had almost 2.6 million visitors! As such, parking and traffic can, at times, be a problem.
To cut down on these issues, Bryce offers a free shuttle system that circulates and drops visitors off at the most popular spots in the park.
Alternatively, you’re welcome to drive in Bryce and park at your destination of choice. For what it’s worth, I’ve visited the park in both August and September (both on weekdays) and have never had issues with parking or traffic.
One Day in Bryce Canyon National Park
Now that you’ve figured out all the logistics, how should you actually spend your one day in Bryce Canyon National Park?
1. Sunset Point
Head to the park bright and early for sunrise at… wait for it… Sunset Point!
You’d think that Sunrise Point would be your go-to spot to catch the sun eclipsing the horizon; however, given the fact that almost all of the overlooks in Bryce Canyon face to the east and Sunrise Point can be super busy in the morning, due to its proximity to the busiest campground in the park, Sunset Point is where it’s at!
There’s something about sunrises in the desert- the sky turns unbelievable shades of pink and orange and Bryce Canyon will be lit up with an unbelievable glow. Make sure to bring some layers, though- Bryce can be quite literally freezing in the early morning.
2. Navajo Loop Trail
After sunrise, it’s time to head to your first trail of the day- the Navajo Loop Trail, which conveniently leaves straight from Sunset Point! During this trail, you’ll take switchbacks down under the rim of the canyon between colorful limestone canyons, as pine trees and hoodoos soar above you.
This hike is famous for its Wall Street section, a series of steep switchbacks disappearing into a slot canyon. Note that this section is closed from November through April, when temperatures drop below freezing at night, causing the chance for dangerous rockfalls to increase.
If Wall Street is closed, take the path to the left down the Two Bridges route, which, while less Instagrammable, is still gorgeous.
Once you hit the bottom of this descent, instead of heading back uphill and completing the Navajo Loop, I’d recommend instead continuing on to the Queen’s Garden trail (you’ll see signs pointing you in the direction of the junction of these two trails).
While hiking Queen’s Garden, you’ll pass through several archways carved in the hoodoos and gaze at interesting rock formations (including one that allegedly resembles Queen Victoria- not totally sure I see that one?).
The full Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden trail (starting and ending at Sunrise Point) is 2.9 miles in length and 646 feet in elevation gain and is a great hike for beginners and advanced hikers alike.
3. Scenic Viewpoints
Take a breather and save up your energy (and your legs!) for your afternoon hike. Consider driving to some of Bryce’s gorgeous viewpoints like:
- Bryce Point: Arguably the most iconic view in the park, this point offers some of the best views of the Bryce Amphitheater, with the largest concentration of hoodoos in the world!
- Inspiration Point: Located in the center of the park, Inspiration Point provides absolutely breathtaking vistas over the maze that is Bryce’s colorful hoodoos.
- Rainbow and Yovimpa Viewpoints: For a bit of a change of scenery, drive all the way to the south of the park (just a 25 minute drive from Inspiration Point) to these two connected viewpoints.
While the views here might not be quite as stunning as the first two, it’s the highest point in the park and provides a tiny peek into the ever-evolving geology of Bryce, where you can see the pink cliffs below and to the sides of you that will eventually be shaped into the beautiful hoodoos.
From Yovimpa Point, you can gaze at the colorful cliffs of the Grand Staircase and, on a clear day, even see the Grand Canyon to the south of the park. There’s a one-mile loop trail from Yovimpa Point back to the parking lot, where you can stroll under the canopy of ancient bristlecone pines, before you get back to your car.
I suggest you do a bit of viewpoint hopping and bring your lunch along. Nothing pairs with a sandwich quite like a spectacular view!
4. Fairyland Loop Trail
Walk off your lunchtime food baby with your final hike in the park- the Fairyland Loop Trail, which you can either depart from Sunrise Point or Fairyland Point, which is towards the north of the park.
This 7.8 mile loop trail is the best of both worlds- you’ll walk a portion of the Rim Trail, between the aforementioned Sunrise and Fairyland Points, for a vantage point above the Bryce amphitheater, and also journey below the rim of the canyon, which, in my opinion, is the best perspective to see the hoodoos. Did you know that hoodoos are also frequently referred to as fairy chimneys (like the famous ones in Cappadocia, Turkey)?
And after hiking the Fairyland Loop Trail, it’s easy to see why- this area of Bryce is easily the most whimsical landscape I’ve ever traipsed through. Word of warning, though- while the total elevation of this hike isn’t too bad (1,545 feet), the terrain is constantly rolling up and down- it’s definitely more on the moderate to challenging side of hikes, especially for beginners.
If you’re short on time or just want a slightly shorter trail, consider doing the Peekaboo Loop Trail, instead- the hikes offer similar views and elevation gain, but Peekaboo is a little more than three miles shorter than Fairyland.
Protip: Be sure to go to the bathroom before you go on either of these hikes! Between taking a LOT of photos and a snack break, it took Justin and I about four hours to complete the Fairyland Loop. When I had to pee in the middle of the trail, I learned a fun fact- there’s EXTREMELY limited places with decent privacy in the middle of a hilly desert canyon. So after a fairly mortifying run-in with two young male hikers, can confirm- definitely take a bathroom break before you hit the trail!
5. Paria View for Sunset
End your day by watching sunset at Paria View, one of the only viewpoints in the park where the hoodoos face west. This makes it a great place to catch the beautiful structures soaking up the last of the golden light.
I will say, given the shadows and the ways the hoodoos face, I’ve certainly seen more spectacular sunsets than in Bryce (so if you’re going to prioritize only seeing sunrise or sunset, I’d go for the former), but there’s something so special about this place, I’m all about soaking up every last second.
If you’re really in it to win it, consider staying past dark to stargaze in Bryce, which, due to the lack of light pollution, was named an International Dark Sky Park. Visitors during a moonless night can see up to 7,500 stars, with the Milky Way stretching across the horizon like a rainbow.
Bryce has a ton of spots that are open to the night sky and perfect for stargazing, like Inspiration Point, Sunset Point or Sunrise Point. Rangers lead about 100 astronomy programs per year at Bryce, so if that sounds up your alley, be sure to stop by the visitors center to check whether there’s any programming during your visit.
Other Things to Do in and Around Bryce Canyon National Park
Have a bit more time in Bryce? Consider:
- Hiking the Mossy Cave Trail, an easy one-mile roundtrip hike that follows along a stream to a natural grotto, which is covered with impressive icicles in the wintertime and lush moss in the summer.
- About thirty miles southeast of the park isKodachrome Basin State Park, which offers hikes through towering red rocks and natural arches. Definitely a hidden gem!
- Explore the enormous Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, which is bigger than all five national parks in Utah- combined! Some cool hikes to check out in Grand Staircase include Peek-a-boo and Spooky Gulches (two non-technical slot canyons), Lower Calf Creek Falls, and Coyote Gulch.
I hope you have the best time during your one day in Bryce Canyon National Park. Did I miss any of your favorite hikes in the park? Let me know in the comments below!