Exploring Bryce Canyon National Park in a Weekend
To say Bryce Canyon is a must-see would be an understatement! I mean look at the beauty in this panorama…
For videos of the entire trip and each location, be sure to check out the Bryce highlight I created on IG in addition to the photos in this post.
You may be thinking if it is so amazing how can you see it all in 2 days??
Well, the park is actually rather condensed so if you are an active person who enjoys hiking, you will be able to do exactly what we did in 2 days and feel like you enjoyed the best of Bryce Canyon!
If you haven’t guessed by now, I am a planner - especially when it comes to travel! My goal is always to get the most out of my trips, however, that may be defined. For national park trips, I research a few things ahead of time and have always looked at the trails and maps:
Best camping spots
Best views (most popular AND hidden gems)
Best trails (most popular and why AND less crowded but incredible)
For Bryce Canyon specifically, there were a few things to consider that would cut into our timing. For starters, it is a few hours drive from any major airport so we had to account for drive time. We chose to fly in a day early and break up the +4hr drive with a night at a cattle ranch we found on the way so that we would have closer to a full day in Bryce for our first day. We also chose to spend a night camping and a night in the famed Bryce Canyon lodge that has cabins overlooking the ridge. Since we only had 2 nights we wanted to experience both types of stays in this park! The last thing to consider was the drive time to get back to the airport at the end of our trip. For us, this meant adding a day in Zion to break up the drive, see more, and extend our vacation. So, we ended up booking an afternoon flight after a day in Zion and driving back to Vegas in the morning before the flight. Here is what our itinerary looked like at a high-level:
Day 1: Fly into Vegas, rent a car, and drive to the Cattle Ranch to spend the night Day 2: Drive the remaining 2 hours to Bryce Canyon, select a camping spot, set up camp, then spend the day exploring the park before camping out at night. Day 3: Hike, check-in to Bryce Canyon Lodge, hike some more, catch the sunset, stargaze over the ridge. Day 4: Catch the sunrise over the ridge, then drive 2hrs to Zion for a night in Zion National Park. However, you could also just drive straight to Vegas for an afternoon flight.
While we had 2 full days exploring Bryce, the trip required 4 days in total. For this reason, many people roll a trip to Bryce Canyon into a longer trip that visits multiple National Parks in Utah. Zion, Bryce, and Canyonlands are all within driving distance of each other and can be visited in a week of travel. But that is a different trip and so for a different post!
If you’ve read any of my other travel posts, you will see a slightly different organization than this one. For National Parks trips, I find it makes more sense to outline our daily itinerary and then within each day, highlight the key points. I will also include the costs associated with each day to give you an idea of what to expect when planning your trip. If this organization doesn’t work for you, send me a DM on IG or a note using the contact form on this site and I am happy to talk with you further!
We chose to visit Bryce Canyon in July, mostly because we thought visitors would be lower during the heat of the summer. What we did not expect was the temperature swings in the park! But when you think about it, this makes perfect sense given the extreme elevation changes. Not only does the park have an elevation range of roughly 1700 ft but the entire park at its lowest point is about 7000 ft above sea level, with its highest point along the rim hitting 8800 ft. We could feel the elevation change and we watched the temperature drop as we drove from Vegas to Bryce.
Each day there is gorgeous, direct sunlight, and each day there is a cooling storm that passes through for about 30 minutes to an hour. The effect is stunning for views as you feel like you can see all sides of Bryce within 1 day. It also adds a nice temperature shift that requires packing layers. Our entire packing list can be found at the bottom of this post.
Day 1: Travel day, primarily
Since we live on the east coast, we gain time flying west. We flew out at noon on American with 1 connection, all to land in Vegas at 4:30 pm PST. That gave us 3-4 hours of daylight to rent our car and drive to our spot for the night.
Entrance to Sevier River Ranch
We arrived at the Sevier River Ranch & Cattle Company in Hatch, Utah just before the sunset. The ranch itself was in the middle of nowhere but it was the perfect secluded spot to kick off our trip. We found the spot on Bookings.com but we called to book rather than booking online. While this may seem like an extra step, it is worth calling for a few reasons:
Travel sites always take a cut of the reservation. So either, the customer is getting charged more on a travel site or the business is making less through a travel site. Either way, someone gets hit for the “convenience” of using a travel site. The beauty of the travel sites is to help you find a good spot with good reviews. You are not obligated to book through them then. Just look up the number of the business and work with them directly.
Calling directly almost always gets you a lower rate. Especially if you tell them you found their business on a travel site but wanted to work with them directly to be sure they got as much of your business as possible. Almost all small businesses understand the value of this so if you are looking to stay at a local 1 location spot, I would always recommend calling. This does not work the same for large hotel chains, FYI.
Regardless of where I find and how I book, I always try to leave a good review for the small businesses we work with or stay at. It’s a nice way to get them visibility and say thank you.
If you clicked on the link for the ranch above, you’ll notice it takes you to a google search page. This business is so small that they only operate through their Facebook page and through larger travel companies. If you stay here, definitely call to book because you will certainly get a better rate!
Total costs for the day:
Car rental: $30/day
Ranch Stay: $100/night
Food on the road and snacks for rest of trip: $60
Day 2: First Day in Bryce
No matter where we are, we try to find a local coffee shop because one of us needs coffee to function, but we both love checking out local spots. So we found Sevier Coffee Co through reviews and local recommendations. We grabbed a cub for the road around 8 am and made our way to Bryce for a 10 am start at the Visisto’s Center. For every park, we stop at the Visitor’s center to pick up a map and to find out if there are any notices, warnings, or important pieces of info about the park from the rangers. This is hugely helpful as there’s no way to know about animal risk, weather conditions, trail closings, etc. without talking to the rangers who work the park.
Let me take a quick minute to highlight entrance fees. Almost all parks have entrance fees on top of campsite fees. Bryce’s entrance fee is $35 per vehicle and is good for 7 days. But all parks vary in price and length of stay. If you plan to visit more than 3 parks within a year, I recommend purchasing a US Park Pass for $80. The pass gives you free entrance to 2000 recreation sites across the states and is well worth it.
Once we arrived in Bryce, we went straight to the North Campground to claim a spot. This campground is a first come first serve so we took our chances by getting there early. It is also close to the visitor center and a few of the trails we wanted to check out.
We set up our tent and the basics then hopped back in the car to drive the length of the park. This is typically what we do first for every park. In my experience, I’ve found driving the length or loop of a park helps you get your bearings and is a good way to start off with the highlight overlooks before jumping into the hikes and up-close experiences.
We started our drive at the visitor's center on the north entrance of the park and drove south along the north to south road or UT 63 to the very end to work our way back. The entire length of Bryce Canyon and this road is about 18 miles from the entrance to the southernmost point at the Rainbow overlook. We stopped and nearly every overlook on our drive back north to get a view of the park from as many angles as possible. Here are a few pictures from some of our favorites in order from south to north.
In total there are 15 overlooks. While we stopped at all of them, some had similar views. But all are worth getting out of the car for a few minutes or longer to take in the insanely cool geological structures that make up Bryce.
After finishing the overlooks and getting a feel for what the park looks like from above, we picked our first trail to finish out our first day in Bryce.
As I mentioned earlier, the weather shifts dramatically, so around the early to mid-afternoon, we took a short 20 min break in the car at one of the overlooks while a storm passed through.
Our first hike was Peek-a-boo Trail. We added in Navajo loop because it made sense to us based on the trail layouts. I encourage you to map out your paths before starting your hike as a lot of trails intersect and it’s good to know how long each trail is and where it leads so you don’t get lost or stuck. Check out one of the signs for 4 different trails. If you’re familiar with the map, this will make sense to you. If not, it could be tough to navigate.
Anyway, Peek-a-boo was one of our top 3 trails and we elected to complete it on day 1 because it is 5.5 miles long and we were confident we could complete it within 2 hours. This gave us plenty of time and daylight to head back to our campsite and set up for the night. This hike is tough but GORGEOUS! If you are comfortable pushing yourself, 2 hours is enough time. If you are a more novice hiker, plan for 3 hours and bring water and some energy snacks. Here are a few highlights from the loop!
We got back to the campsite, hungry and tired, but also wonderfully overwhelmed with all of the beautiful things we’d since in only our first day. The north campground has a central bathroom and clean water so we were set for the night. We made dinner over a campfire, drank some whiskey, and watched the sunset.
Total costs for the day:
Tent camping site: $20
Park entrance fee: $0 because we have a US Park Pass
Day 3: Second Day in Bryce
If you’ve been camping, you know that you tend to sleep and get up with the sun. For us, that meant asleep by 9 ish and up by 6 ish. We made some campfire coffee and breakfast, then slowly packed up the car for the day. We ended up starting our first hike with Queen’s Garden trail right around 8:30/9 am. It’s just under 2 miles so it took us about 45 minutes. This left us some time to explore a few of the quicker trails with entrances close to the Lodge. You really can’t go wrong with any of them, so I recommend picking the ones that look the least crowded. We checked out the other side of the Navajo loop trail since we only hiked half of it on our way to Peek-a-boo the day before. We also walked along the Rim Trail to kill some time before check-in.
Once the cabin at The Lodge at Bryce Canyon was ready, we checked in and grabbed lunch from the Lodge. I mentioned earlier that we like to try different aspects of a place when we visit. These cabins have been on our list for a while because they sit right on the rim and are prime locations to catch sunsets and sunrises over the park. They have simple interiors, like a standard hotel room. There is just enough space to sleep, but there are no expectations you would spend additional time in the room. Each cabin does have a cute porch that we used a decent amount!
While this was a bit of a pricier experience, we budgeted for it ahead of time and were very happy to have a warm shower and this experience as part of our trip. The cabins around about $230/ night but the lodge also offers rooms in the main lodge or guest houses for less. We opted for the cabins because we figured the low cost of camping 1 night would off-set the higher price. For any frugal traveler, 2 nights of camping is definitely doable here!
After checking in, we had 1 more trail we could not miss: Fairyland Loop.
The total trail is 8 miles long with a lot of elevation change and tons of little trails, creeks, and overlooks to explore along the way. We started this trail at about 3 pm and even though we are good hikers, we didn’t want to push our luck with the full 8 miles. We ended up hiking 3 miles out (to the spot pictured here) and turning around for 3 miles back. While this may sound like the same hike, the different directions made it look like a whole new trail both times.
The pictures didn’t really do it justice, but I did manage to capture some stunning videos. I’ve shared all those videos on the Bryce highlight of my IG stories.
The first part of the hike is nearly all desert rock and sand-colors. The shifts between white, pink, orange, and red rock were stunning and no matter how I tried to capture it, the camera never got it quite right. The real point here is you have to see it in person.
We ended our last day in Bryce with drinks on the ridge watching the sunset, followed by dinner from the Lodge. It was an early to bed night for us to because of our big plans to be up at 4 am for the full sunrise! Total costs for the day:
Lunch at the Lodge: $50
Cabin: $230/night + tax
Dinner at the Lodge: $60
Day 4: Leaving Bryce for Zion (or airport if you are only checking out Bryce)
There’s nothing quite like getting up early enough to catch a sunrise! There’s something softer and more subtle about a sunrise. In every place I’ve been lucky enough to see one, it’s been a different experience. And so far, Bryce Canyon showed us the best sunrise either of us have ever seen!
After watching the sunrise fully rise into the sky we showered, packed up the car, and drove out for a day in Zion National Park. We had been to Zion once before during the winter and wanted to check out a few of the lesser-known spots during the summer. We also were extremely excited to experience Under Canvas for the first time. But that is for another post! To check out our first trip to Zion and our excursion to Valley of Fire (which is a phenomenal and little-known state park), use the links here: Valley of Fire is a Hidden Gem!
Zion National Park - these hikes are great for any time of year, but this post will help you plan a trip while there’s snow on the ground too.
All in all, Bryce Canyon is one of our favorite national parks because of the striking beauty that you truly cannot find in other places and because it is very accessible to hikers.
To finish out this post, here’s our total costs and packing list for the trip.
Total costs (without flights and without Zion) came out to ~$660 for us both
If we had camped both nights, the costs would have been ~$440
And if we had stayed in a cheaper spot the first night (there were spots closer to Bryce for $50 or less a night), we could’ve saved a bit more
3 hiking outfits for each of us (3 bottoms, 3 sports bras, 3 tops/tees) —> these clothes double as travel clothes so we used each item we brought)
1 pair of hiking boots each
6 pairs of socks each —> this is NOT excessive when camping and hiking. The most important thing to pack for hiking or camping trips is comfortable and absorbent socks and underwear. If you are going to short-change anywhere, cut back on tees or shorts/leggings. But never skimp on socks and underwear! Plus, they take up so little space.
2 normal outfit (jeans, flannels, vest)
Comfy and warm clothes for the campsite (sweatshirts, sweat pants, sneakers)
Toiletry kits for each
Camping items: tent, sleeping bags, cooking/eating supplies, reusable water bottles, etc.) —> these items are more specific to how you like to camp and how long you will be camping for so I don’t go into great detail here as everyone has different preferences.
Camelback and day pack
Thank you for reading about our experiences and if you have any questions, please reach out on IG or here!