If you’re considering visiting Southwestern Utah, you may be wondering whether you should head to Zion or Bryce Canyon, two national parks with uniquely beautiful landscapes. But why choose between the two, when you can easily explore both of these incredible parks? Here’s everything you need to know to plan an epic road trip for three days (with options for more or less) from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon.
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Is Bryce Canyon or Zion better?
Given that Zion and Bryce Canyon are each national parks that are less than two hours apart from one another, it’s easy to pit the two against each other when deciding where to spend your time. But it’s kind of like comparing apples and oranges- they’re two very different parks!
Zion is home to the epic Zion Canyon, with red sandstone cliffs that stretch up to 3,000 feet in the air and impossibly green pine trees sprinkled across the desert floor. With some of the most unique and jaw-dropping hikes on the planet—like Angel’s Landing, where you’ll climb across the narrow spine of a mountain 1,500 feet above the canyon floor or The Narrows, where you’ll literally hike through the Virgin River into a slot canyon—as well as other adrenaline-inducing activities, Zion is the perfect spot for adventure lovers.
Bryce Canyon, on the other hand, is home to a whimsical landscape, with a sunken amphitheater that offers the highest concentration of hoodoos (pink and orange rock spires that have been carved over time from rain and ice erosion) on the planet. While there’s plenty of cool trails in this park, the hikes tend to be slightly less daredevil-y than Zion’s offerings, and the park may be slightly better-suited for families, with lots of scenic overlooks and easier trails to enjoy.
So it’s not fair to say that one park is better than the other. And why not have your cake and eat it too—by road tripping to both of them!
How far is it from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park?
Zion National Park is located right outside of Springdale, in the southwestern corner of Utah. To get to Bryce Canyon, you’ll drive an hour and 50 minutes northwest along UT-9, US-89 N and UT-12 E to Bryce Canyon, near the town of Tropic.
How to get to Zion National Park
So let’s back up a second, though- how do you get to Zion in the first place?
I’d recommend flying into Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport, renting a car, and then making the two and a half hour drive northeast to Zion National Park. There’s no public transit options that will get you from Las Vegas to Zion and you’re going to want a car to get to and around both of the national parks.
As an alternative option, you could theoretically fly into Salt Lake City and drive four hours and 45 minutes south to Zion. However, I’d generally recommend choosing to fly into Vegas instead, due to the shorter drive time to Zion and the likelihood you’ll get better flight deals. At the end of the day, though, pick whichever airport works best for you!
How to get to Bryce Canyon National Park
Assuming you’re coming from Las Vegas, I’d generally recommend hitting Zion first and then Bryce, but if you prefer to do the other way around, you can drive four hours northwest from Las Vegas to Bryce Canyon. Alternatively, you can fly into Salt Lake City and drive four hours and 10 minutes south to Bryce Canyon.
Again, you’re going to want a rental car—it would be really challenging to navigate to these national parks without one.
Let’s take a quick look at each of these national parks.
About Zion National Park
Zion is home to stunning red sandstone formations, including the 15-mile long Zion Canyon; high desert landscapes; and the rushing Virgin River.
As mentioned above, the park is most famous for some of the most bucket list-worthy hikes, like the Narrows and Angel’s Landing. That being said, Zion is so much more than these two hikes, with over 20 trails and a variety of adventurous activities to choose from. So regardless if you’re a hardcore hiker or a total newbie, I’m confident you’ll find something to love here in Zion.
$35 for a one week per vehicle permit (or free, with an America the Beautiful Pass, which includes entry to all of the U.S. National Parks as well as 2,000 federal managed sites for an entire year!).
Things to do in Zion National Park:
Hiking, canyoneering, rappelling, via ferrata
Zion has a shuttle system, which departs from the Zion Visitor Center and takes you to many of the park’s most popular trailheads in Zion Canyon. The shuttle is the only way that you actually get down the main canyon area if you’re visiting from March through November (other than riding bikes or walking the 8+ miles to some of the trailheads!).
If you instead decide to visit Zion during the quiet winter in Utah (but for around the holidays in December), you can drive your car straight on down Zion Canyon, directly to trailheads.
It’s worth mentioning that the parking lot by the Visitor Center can get absolutely packed, so it’s best to show up early to ensure you snag a spot.
Otherwise, there’s an additional shuttle that you can take from the town of Springdale into the park, which conveniently stops at some of the hotels, like Flanigan’s Resort or the Driftwood Lodge, if you happen to be staying at or near these hotels. You can also park in several paid parking lots in Springdale and take the shuttle from there.
Best Time to Visit Zion National Park:
Zion is the fourth most popular national park in the United States, receiving 4.5 million(!!) visitors each year. Accordingly, you’ll likely enjoy your visit more if you try to avoid the park at its very busiest, during the weekends in the summer or on holidays from late May through September.
The best time to visit Zion National Park is usually from April to mid-May and late September to October, when the crowds are minimal and the temperature is perfect for exploring the outdoors.
About Bryce Canyon National Park
With its staggering collection of hoodoos, which are sometimes called “fairy chimneys”, Bryce Canyon looks straight up magical. Unsurprisingly, photographers flock here to capture these quirky formations, which glow punchy shades of orange and pink at sunrise.
Many of Bryce’s hikes, like the Fairyland Loop, take you below the rim of the canyon, while colorful hoodoos tower up to 150 feet overhead. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a different planet—or at least a Dr. Seuss book—as you take in the ethereal beauty around you.
One of the best things about Bryce Canyon is how (relatively) small it is at “just” 35,000 square acres (as compared to Zion’s gargantuan 146,000 square acres). While this may seem massive, it’s definitely possible to hit most of the main highlights in Bryce Canyon in just one day.
$35 for a one week per vehicle permit (or free, with an America the Beautiful Pass)
Things to Do in Bryce Canyon National Park:
Hiking, enjoying scenic overlooks, stargazing
There is a shuttle system in the park to decrease traffic congestion, but you’re not required to take it to move around the park.
I’ve heard that parking at popular trailheads can be tough during the busy summer season (especially on weekends), but during my two visits to the park, we’ve never had problems finding a parking spot.
Best time to visit Bryce Canyon National Park:
One of the important differences between Bryce Canyon and Zion is that Bryce is at significantly higher elevation than Zion. In fact, Bryce has areas that are as much as 5,000 feet higher in elevation than Zion. This means that Bryce is significantly colder—and snowier—than Zion for a significant portion of the year.
Accordingly, I’d avoid visiting the park in the wintertime, when many of the trails and facilities are closed due to snow. Instead, aim to visit in May or September through October. During these timeframes, the trails will be snow-free, the facilities will be open, and the weather perfect for exploring Bryce’s magical landscape.
Road Trip Itineraries from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park
Let’s dive into how to make the most of your road trip from Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park.
How many days do you need to visit both Zion and Bryce Canyon?
I’ve visited both Zion and Bryce Canyon twice. During my first visit, I took a solo trip and squeezed in a day trip from Vegas to Zion and Bryce Canyon. I also visited as part of a longer Utah National Park road trip, where my husband, Justin, and I spent two days in Zion and one day in Bryce Canyon, before continuing on to Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands.
While I’ve personally done both Zion and Bryce Canyon in one day, I definitely wouldn’t recommend it—at the end of my time in Bryce Canyon during that trip, I wound up getting super exhausted and dehydrated and had to sleep in my car for a couple of hours before I was safely able to drive back to Vegas by myself.
I think the ideal amount of time would be at least two days in Zion National Park and one day in Bryce Canyon—although you could inarguably spend more time than that in either of the national parks (but especially Zion).
So below, I’m going to outline a three day road trip itinerary from Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park, with bonus suggestions for two- or four-day itineraries, as your schedule allows.
Three Day Road Trip Itinerary from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon
Day 1: Zion National Park
Ideally, you will have flown into Vegas and made your way to Springdale the previous night so that you can get a bright and early morning start to the park.
Scout Lookout (with optional add-on of Angel’s Landing)
To get your bearings in Zion, let’s start the day by heading up the Scout Lookout—and, if you dare, Angel’s Landing. Both of these trails provide jaw-dropping views of the red walls of Zion Canyon, as well as the Virgin River and the surrounding forestland over 1,000 feet below.
To reach the trailhead, park in the Visitor Center parking lot and catch a shuttle to Stop #6, the Grotto. From here, you can start along Scout Lookout, a challenging four mile out-and-back trail with an optional half-mile extension to Angel’s Landing.
Along the way, you’ll climb 1,100 feet of elevation as you pass through the cooler temperatures of Refrigerator Canyon and up the infamous Walter’s Wiggles, an eye-popping series of 21 switchbacks cut into the mountain right before you reach Scout Lookout.
Once you’ve taken in the incredible views from this overlook, you can opt to continue along Angel’s Landing, arguably Zion’s most (in)famous hike.
While the views from its endpoints are absolutely jaw-dropping, Angel’s Landing isn’t renowned for its beauty. Rather, the hike is so infamous because the trail follows along a narrow mountain ridge, in some places so thin that you’ll need to cling to chains bolted into the rock. Oh yeah, and that’s all with sheer drop-offs of 1,000 feet to the canyon floor below.
At the end of this harrowing portion of the trail, though, you’ll have a new lease on life and be rewarded with incredible views down Zion Canyon.
To hike Angel’s Landing, you need to secure a permit, which you can find out more about here.
If you’re not into defying death and aren’t about that Angel’s Landing life, you can either hike back down the Scout Lookout trail or continue along the West Rim trail, a 15-mile trail that continues up to Lava Point, the highest point in the park.
Lunch in Springdale
Take the shuttle back to the Visitor Center and head into Springdale for lunch. Some of my favorite spots to eat at in town are Oscar’s Cafe and Park House Cafe.
If you’re planning on hiking the Narrows tomorrow (as suggested below), you’re going to need some special gear, like a dry bag, neoprene socks, and trekking poles, to take on the river. You can either buy them ahead of time, if you plan on using these items more than once, or instead, rent them in town from outfitters, like Zion Outfitters.
Canyon Overlook Trail
Drive back into Zion and park directly at the trailhead for your afternoon hike at the Canyon Overlook, an easy one-mile trail. There’s some fun elements to this hike, like crossing a wooden footbridge and a small cave you can explore. At its endpoint, you’ll be afforded stunning vistas of Zion Canyon, the Pine Creek slot canyon, and the dramatic switchback of Highway 9 carved into the landscape below.
The Canyon Overlook Trail is the easiest trail in the park that provides a view over the canyon itself, so it’s a great option for beginner hikers or those traveling with small children. It’s also one of the best places in Zion to spot mountain goats!
Watch sunset from the Watchman Trail
You should have time to squeeze in one last trail of the day along the Watchman Trail, which, in my opinion, is the best place in Zion to watch the sunset.
This three-mile trail departs from the Visitor Center and leads you to an overlook, with the impressive Watchman Mountain to your left, towering 6,545-foot above the canyon floor. From here, you’ll watch the sun sink beneath the canyon walls and create dazzling colors on the Watchman.
While the sunset here is nothing short of epic, the real show is the stars that will twinkle to life once the sky falls dark. The first time I really saw the Milky Way painted across the night sky was after watching the sunset along the Watchman Trail—it was nothing short of magical.
Grab a late dinner and head back to your hotel
You’re probably hungry from all that hiking! Zion Canyon Brew Pub and Bit & Spur in Springdale are both open until 9 PM if you still need a bite to eat.
Otherwise, head back to your hotel. Some of the best places to stay near Zion are:
Budget accommodations near Zion National Park:
- Zion Park Motel: This motel offers clean and comfortable rooms and a pool with views of the surrounding red rock cliffs. Plus, it’s right by a Springdale shuttle stop.
- La Quinta Inn & Suites at Zion Park/ Springdale: The La Quinta Inn is literally within walking distance to the Zion Visitor Center and near a Springdale shuttle stop. You’ll get a hot breakfast buffet, pool and hot tub, plus it’s pet-friendly if you want to bring along your furry best friend.
Mid-range accommodations near Zion National Park:
- Flanigan’s Resort & Spa: If you’re looking for an accommodation that’s a bit more of an experience, consider Flanigan’s, which leans into well-being with on-site activities like yoga, pilates, and meditative labyrinth walks. Besides being one with yourself, you’ll also be sooooo cozy here, given its soft beds and friendly staff.
- SpringHill Suites: There’s lots of nice amenities for you to enjoy, like a pool and a firepit and the daily breakfast is surprisingly good. Keep a lookout for mule deer and other wildlife on the hotel’s grounds- they seem to like to flock here!
Luxury accommodations near Zion National Park:
- Cliffrose Curio: This hotel perfectly mixes modern and comfortable, with upscale touches, like private balcones and soaking tubs. Consider booking one of the aptly-named Riverside Suites, where your room will be right along the Virgin River.
- Desert Pearl Inn: If you’re looking for a romantic getaway or something a bit bougier than most of the chain motels in Springdale, the Desert Pearl Inn may just be the perfect choice for you. The rooms are spacious, with epic views of the mountains, and there’s a gorgeous pool area to relax after a day of hiking.
Day 2: Zion National Park
Hike The Narrows
Wake up bright and early to take on The Narrows, a choose-your-own-adventure bucket list hike that snakes through the Virgin River into the very narrowest section of Zion Canyon. And to be clear, when I say the trail is through the Virgin River, I mean quite literally- you’ll be anywhere from ankle to waist deep in water throughout the hike.
To get to the trailhead, grab a parking spot near the Visitor Center and take the shuttle all the way to the last stop, #9 or the Temple of Sinawava.
You can choose the distance you hike, which usually ranges from two miles (roundtrip) to the banks of the river or ten miles, if you want to hike the trail in its entirety. Most hikers choose to end their trek at Wall Street (making for a six-mile round trip hike), the most famous section of the canyon, where the walls narrow to just 22 feet across and yet stretch over 1,500 feet in the air.
Lunch in Springdale
Grab lunch in Springdale (FeelLove Coffee or Park House Cafe are great options!) and return any gear you rented from an outfitter shop.
Drive to Bryce Canyon National Park, with an optional stop at Observation Point
Start making your way from Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park.
You can take I-15 N, which is usually the fastest route (by a few minutes) but I’d instead recommend taking UT-9, which winds directly through Zion National Park (including going through a 1.1-mile tunnel carved into a mountain!) and offers stunning views practically the entire time.
If you hiked the full length of The Narrows trail, you probably do not have time (or energy, for that matter!) for any more adventures in Zion for the day. However, if you just hiked up a couple of miles along The Narrows, you may have enough time for one more hike to Observation Point via the East Mesa Trail, which leads to my personal favorite viewpoint in the national park.
The trailhead is located on the northeastern side of the park and is basically en route as you make your way from Zion to Bryce Canyon.
This 6.7-mile moderately challenging hike takes you to a viewpoint that looks straight down the canyon, at a vantage point that’s a whopping 600 feet higher than Angel’s Landing. Who says you need to climb on a narrow mountain ridge, over a thousand feet in the air, whilst clinging to chains to get epic views in Zion?
Sunset at Bryce Canyon National Park
Drive your way to Zion and if time allows, try to catch sunset over the park’s amphitheater. To be honest, sunrise is definitely the real showstopper in Bryce Canyon, but I’m never one to advise against taking in as many sunsets as you can!
Even though there’s an overlook called Sunset Point here, I actually wouldn’t recommend it for sunset, due to the crowds and the underwhelming views. Instead head to Paria Point, which is one of the only overlooks in the park where the hoodoos face west to catch the last glowing rays of the sun.
Get dinner and head to your hotel
Grab a late dinner at the Pizza Place and head to your hotel. Consider staying at:
Budget accommodations near Bryce Canyon:
- Bybee’s Steppingstone Motel: If you’re just looking for a clean and quiet place to rest your head for the night, this is going to be the most simple and affordable place to stay near Bryce.
- Happy Tails BnB: This is where Justin and I stayed while visiting Bryce Canyon the last time and LOVED it. The family that owns this bed-and-breakfast is so sweet and the clean, updated rooms come with everything you need (including snacks!).
Mid-range accommodations near Bryce Canyon:
- Bryce Canyon Inn: These cozy cabins are located just a five minute drive from the park, offer cozy beds, and have stunning views of the surrounding desert landscape.
- Bryce Country Cabins: This hotel has adorable log cabins, with spacious bathrooms and nice perks, like fire pits to unwind around after your day on the trails
Day 3: Bryce Canyon National Park
Catch sunrise at Sunset Point
Bryce Canyon looks its most magical at sunrise, with the first golden rays of the day casting fiery hues on the pink and orange hoodoos.
And, in my opinion, the best place to watch sunrise in Bryce Canyon National Park is actually Sunset Point. It faces east, has spectacular views, and (unsurprisingly) has a fraction of the crowds that you’ll experience at Sunrise Point. No need to duke it out with other photographers here (as compared to Sunrise Point!).
Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden
It’s time for your first hike of the day, which conveniently leaves from Sunset Point, the Navajo Loop trail.
Along this trail, you’ll make your way under the rim of the canyon, with hoodoos towering further and further overhead. The Navajo Loop is most famous for its Wall Street section, a series of tight switchbacks that were carved between two rows of hoodoos that slowly disappear into a slot canyon (note that this section of the trail is closed from April through November, due to high rock fall risk).
Once you’ve hiked to the floor of the canyon along the Navajo Loop, instead of heading back uphill, continue your hike along the Queen’s Garden Trail instead. On this hike, you’ll make your way up to the rim of the canyon, passing through doorways etched into hoodoos and past some of the most stunning rock formations in the park.
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 the perfect hike for beginners or for folks that are just plain tired from hiking for the past two days straight!
Grab lunch and stop at some scenic overlooks
All of the food options in Bryce Canyon are pretty lackluster, in my opinion, so I’d suggest buying a grab’n’go item from the Bryce General Store.
Take your sandwich on the road and drive the Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive, making stops at scenic overlooks. Two of the best ones are Bryce and Inspiration Points, each which provide a unique perspective over the amphitheater and its otherworldly landscape.
Optional: Hike the Fairyland Loop
It’ll be early to mid-afternoon, so you can either say goodbye to Bryce for now, with plenty of daylight left to make your way to your next destination.
Alternatively, if you’ve got time to squeeze in one more hike, you can get one last look at Bryce’s whimsical landscape along the Fairyland Loop Trail. This moderately-challenging 7.8 mile trail takes you down into the canyon, below the hoodoos (which, in my opinion, is the best way to see ‘em!) and back up to the rim to some of the best overlooks in the park, like Sunrise and Fairyland Point. Once you’re done, hit the road and move on to your next destination.
Going on a road trip from Zion to Bryce in a shorter or longer timeframe? I gotchu.
Two Day Road Trip Itinerary from Zion to Bryce
As mentioned above, I really wouldn’t recommend squeezing Zion and Bryce into one day, but I actually think you can see some of the best highlights in both of the parks with just one day in each.
Day 1: Zion National Park
Choose your own adventure! Pick either:
- Hike Angel’s Landing/Scout Lookout or The Narrows in the morning and Observation Point in the afternoon
- Hike Angel’s Landing/Scout Lookout in the morning and The Narrows in the afternoon
Drive to Bryce Canyon National Park in the evening and sleep in Tropic.
Day 2: Bryce Canyon National Park
- See sunrise at Sunset Point
- Hike Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden
- Drive the Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive
- Hike the Fairyland Loop Trail
Four Day Road Trip Itinerary from Zion to Bryce
Have one more day to play around with? Even better! You’ll be able to see more of each of the parks while not feeling so rushed.
You could certainly devote two days each in Zion and Bryce, but I’d personally recommend spending three days in Zion and one in Bryce. While Bryce Canyon has incredibly unique scenery, the park is small and you can definitely get a good feeling of the park with just one day there.
With that in mind:
Day 1: Zion National Park
- Hike Angel’s Landing/Scout Lookout
- Hike Canyon Overlook Trail
- Hike the Watchman Trail for sunset
Sleep in Springdale.
Day 2: Zion National Park
- Hike The Narrows
- Hike Observation Point via the East Mesa Trail
- Watch sunset at the Canyon Junction Bridge
Sleep in Springdale.
Day 3: Zion National Park
- Hike in the Kolob Canyon section of the park
- Drive to Bryce Canyon National Park
- Watch sunset at Paria Point in Bryce Canyon
Sleep in Tropic.
Day 4: Bryce Canyon National Park
- See sunrise at Sunset Point
- Hike Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden
- Drive the Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive
- Hike Fairyland Loop Trail
I hope this helps plan your Zion to Bryce road trip itinerary. Do you have any questions about either of the parks? Did I miss any hidden gems? Let me know in the comments below!