If you want to see the best of what Bryce Canyon has to offer, but only have a short time to visit, check out this guide on how to spend one day in Bryce Canyon National Park!
Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southern Utah, and it is an incredible place to visit! It boasts the largest collection of hoodoos on the planet through a series of natural amphitheaters. If you don’t know what a hoodoo is, it is the official term for the tall rocky columns that you will see throughout the park.
Bryce Canyon is one of the smallest National Parks in the United States, so you can many of the best things in the park even if you only have one day to visit. Many people visit Bryce as part of a longer road trip throughout southern Utah and the surrounding area.
In this post you will find:
- Information about your visit to the park
- Detailed itinerary for spending one day in Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.
It is worth buying an annual American the Beautiful Pass if you plan on visiting 3 or more National Park Service sites throughout the year. The pass gives you access to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas across the U.S. (including every U.S. National Park). You can buy an America the Beautiful Pass online or in person at many federal recreation sites – search for one near you here.
Best Time to Visit
The rim of Bryce Canyon is over 9,000 ft elevation at its highest point. Due to this high-elevation climate, weather can be extremely variable. Check the NPS website for current conditions and closures before your visit. There are pros and cons to visiting during each season.
Average highs between 36-58°F, with lows in the teens and 20s. We visited in mid-March one year, and many of the main trails were still closed because of heavy snowfall. However, you can beat the crowds, easily find parking, participate in winter activities, and find cheaper lodging during these non-peak months. Seeing those bright orange hoodoos dusted with fresh snow is quite a treat!
These are the most popular months to visit and for good reason. The weather is much more favorable with average highs between 65-80ºF daily. If you visit during these months, you have a much better chance of having all of the roads and trails open and available for use. There are also more activities going on within the park. However, summer monsoon thunderstorms are common between July and September, and the park can be very, very crowded during these peak months. Heading into the park early in the day can help avoid heat and crowds!
Where to Stay
There is only one lodge within the actual park, and it fills up very quickly, so you will have to book quite far in advance. The lodge is steps away from spectacular views and hiking, but it is bare-bones and does not have some of the modern conveniences like TVs or air conditioning that you would find in a hotel.
There are two campgrounds in Bryce Canyon National Park – North Campground and Sunset Campground. Both are located near the lodge. Read more about camping in the park here.
Bryce Canyon City
This is a very small town located just outside the park entrance, making it a very convenient location to stay. The town is dominated by tourism and consists of a few hotels, short-term rentals, restaurants, and entertainment options.
Tropic is another small town about 15 minutes from the park. It has a few restaurants, and a small grocery store, and is not as touristy.
If you plan on visiting multiple parks in southwest Utah, Kanab is a wonderful option for your home base during your stay.
~75 miles (1 hour, 20 min) from Bryce Canyon National Park
~30 miles (35 minutes) from Zion National Park
~75 miles to Page, Arizona (Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell, Antelope Canyon)
~80 miles to Grand Canyon National Park North Rim
In addition to being close to all of these incredibly popular destinations, Kanab itself is a very charming town with many lodging and restaurant options and lots of hiking and activities to do.
Navigating the Park
If you plan to visit Bryce Canyon during a time of year that is less busy, or if you plan to head into the park early, it shouldn’t be too difficult to drive your car through the park and find parking at the viewpoints and trailheads.
If you are only spending one day in the park, I recommend driving into the park so you can get the most out of your day.
Bryce Canyon National Park can get very crowded during peak season, so there is a free shuttle offered to help cut down on traffic. Parking lots fill up very quickly, making it nearly impossible to find parking at some of the most popular spots unless you are riding the shuttle.
You can access the shuttle from Bryce Canyon City or from the parking lot across from the Visitor Center in the park. The shuttle stops at the most popular points and comes every 15 minutes, making it easy and convenient to use.
There is also a free shuttle tour offered by the National Park Service. Reservations must be made in advance for this tour. Click here to learn more about the Rainbow Point Shuttle Tour.
How to Spend One Day in Bryce Canyon National Park
Get to bed early because you will be waking up before sunrise! Look up what time the sun will be rising in the morning (you can google it). Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get to the park before sunrise. You will often see the most beautiful lighting just before the sun rises.
Head to Sunrise Point at the Break of Day
As the name indicates, Sunrise Point is a wonderful place to watch the sunrise over the hoodoos, bathing them in glowing light. It is truly an incredible sight and worth getting up for.
Arrive well before the actual time of sunrise so you can see the stunning light and colors of the sky change and deepen before your eyes as the sun begins to emerge. Getting there early will also ensure that you secure a good viewing spot, as Sunrise Point can get busy.
Sunrise Point Bryce Canyon
Hike the Queens Garden & Navajo Loop Trails
You will be hiking among the hoodoos with this combination loop trail and will be treated to many incredible and unique geologic features along the way!
This hike combines two popular trails into one loop. The hike is 2.9 miles long with 615 feet of elevation gain. It is rated as moderate in difficulty and will likely take you 2-3 hours to complete.
You will start at Sunrise Point after viewing the sunrise, hike the Queen’s Gardens Trail, then connect to the Navajo Loop Trail. You will exit at Sunset Point and then take the Rim Trail back to Sunrise Point where you began.
This is a very popular hike, but since you are starting early, you will be able to avoid the crowds and have solitude on the trail!
Queen’s Garden & Navajo Loop Trails
Check Out the Visitor Center & General Store
If you are hungry and didn’t pack breakfast, you can continue .25 more miles on the Rim Trail past Sunrise Point to the General Store to get something to eat and drink. The General Store opens at 9 AM but is closed during the winter season.
Head back to your car. Drive 1.2 miles back to the Visitor Center – you passed it on your way to Sunrise Point. The Visitor Center opens daily at 8 a.m.
Hit the bathrooms, fill up your water, learn from a park ranger, get your Junior Ranger books stamped, and watch a 20-minute film about the park if you wish to.
Cruise the Scenic Drive
Hop in your car! It is time for the scenic drive. You will be stopping at a few viewpoints and doing one hike along the way. The drive is 17 miles from the Visitor Center to your final stop, and then you will return the way that you came.
You will be driving to the end of the scenic drive first and then stop at the viewpoints on your way back. It will take you about 30-40 minutes to drive to Yovimpa & Rainbow Points (end of the scenic drive), depending on traffic.
From the Visitor Center, drive south on Hwy 63 for 17 miles. You will see signs for Yovimpa Point and Rainbow Point.
Check out the Views at Yovimpa & Rainbow Points
These viewpoints are the furthest from the Visitor Center at the end of the scenic drive. Rainbow Point is the highest point in the park at 9,115 feet. Each viewpoint offers a sweeping view for miles and miles. They face opposite directions and are very close together (opposite ends of the same parking lot), so it is worth checking out both viewpoints.
Hike the Bristlecone Loop Trail
You can begin this hike from either Rainbow Point or Yovimpa Point, and the hike is a loop trail so you will end back where you started.
This one-mile-long trail offers a nice variety – you will walk through a 1,800-year-old fir & pine forest and will be treated to vast sweeping vista views along the way.
This trail stays above the canyon rim, making it good for all skill levels. It is a quick-and-easy family favorite among some of the oldest trees on the planet.
Pull Over to View Natural Bridge
Head back to your car and start your way back along the scenic drive. You will drive for about 5.5 miles before pulling off to the right to the Natural Bridge Viewpoint. There is a small parking area right off the main road.
Natural Bridge is one of my favorite sights in the park! You will have a perfect view of this incredible natural arch. I love the contrast of the orange rock with the bright green forest peeking through.
Check Out Inspiration Point & Bryce Point
Get back on the road and continue driving for about 10 miles. Turn right onto Bryce Point Road. You will then take a quick left onto Inspiration Point Road. You will come to a parking lot with access to 3 different viewpoints.
As the name indicates, you will feel inspired looking out high above the differing levels of colorful hoodoos that fill the canyon at Inspiration Point. There are 3 different viewing areas, and each one gains elevation and gets more spectacular as you continue on. If you are limited on time, head straight up the short, steep trail to the final top viewpoint.
Drive back along Inspiration Point Road and then take a left onto Bryce Point Road. Continue about 2 miles to the Bryce Point parking area.
Bryce Point is one of the most stunning views in the park. You will see miles and miles of hoodoos. It is about 200 feet higher in elevation than Inspiration Point and gives you a different perspective. You will have a short hike to get to the stunning viewpoint.
Drive Back & Get a Late Lunch in Bryce
It is probably mid-to-late afternoon by now, and I am sure you are getting hungry! Head out of the park toward the town of Bryce to get a late lunch/early supper.
Make a stop at Old Bryce Town to get some ice cream, browse the gift shops, check out the famous rock shop, and pose for photos in the western-themed jail or cutouts.
Old Bryce Town
Mossy Cave Trail
After fueling up and checking out the town of Bryce, head to Mossy Cave Trailhead. Drive north on Hwy 63, then take the first exit at the traffic circle and head east on Hwy 12 for a little over a mile. You will see a marked pull-off on the south side of the road. Make sure to only park in designated parking areas or you will be ticketed or towed.
Mossy Cave Trail is a short and easy 0.8-mile hike that follows a stream and leads to a mossy grotto. You will be treated to a waterfall or water drippings (depending on rainfall levels) in the warmer seasons and spectacular hanging icicles in the winter.
There are 2 stream crossings that are normally quite easy to navigate (rock hop), but if water levels are higher (like in the spring from winter runoff) the crossings could be a bit more challenging if you don’t want to get wet.
This is a very popular trail, but hopefully, you can avoid crowds by visiting at this late afternoon/early evening time.
Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park
Watch the Sunset at Fairyland Point
Drive back toward the town of Bryce and continue south on Hwy 63 toward the park. Make a stop at the Bryce Canyon National Park sign for a quick photo op if you’d like to!
Turn left onto Fairyland Spur Road about 1/4 mile after the National Park sign. Park and walk out to Fairyland Point. Fairyland Point offers a different view and perspective than the main section of the park, and is typically less crowded!
While you won’t have a direct view of the sun setting from this point, you will be able to see the play of colors as the sunlight moves across the hoodoos and colors the sky in pink and orange hues.
Fairyland Point Bryce Canyon
Bonus: Stick Around to Do Some Stargazing
Bryce Canyon National Park is a designated International Dark Sky Park. Fairyland Point, as well as many other locations in the park, are excellent for stargazing. You can see the Milky Way and up to 7,500 stars on a moonless night.
That rounds out your one day in Bryce Canyon National Park! It is a jam-packed day, but it is worth it to see many of the best highlights of the park in a short amount of time!
If you have more time to spend in the park, check this out:
Traveling with kids? Check out these posts for tips on traveling with young children!