It’s only about a two hour drive between Zion and Bryce. We stayed at the Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn, in Bryce Canyon City, which is right outside the entrance to the park. The Inn/hotel thing we stayed at was huge. There was a separate laundry building, a general store, a buffet, a post office...I eventually realized that the same family owns pretty much every single thing in this town. The whole town had kind of a country-western feel. It wasn’t a very exciting town itself, but, it was super close to the park -- and there’s not really anywhere else to stay.
We arrived in the evening, settled into our gigantic room, and went to the general store to get some things for breakfast and for snacks for the next day. We relaxed at the hotel and I looked over some maps to make a game plan for our first day in the park.
Bryce Day 1
We woke up the following morning and it was COLD. One of the waiters we had a restaurant in Zion warned us that although it wasn’t that far away, Bryce would be much colder than Zion was. I think it was about 18F when we woke up. We bundled up then caught the free shuttle in our hotel driveway that took us into the park.
The shuttle system at Bryce runs in a continuous loop, meaning you need to pay a bit more attention and plan better about where you want to get off, since at each shuttle stop the bus is only traveling in one direction. The road through the park is at the top of a canyon, so it’s very easy to see great views by just walking along the rim.
We decided our first hike would be Navajo Loop/Queen’s Garden. This was also recommended to us by our waiter from Zion. Immediately, we were awestruck by the hoodoos (the tall rock pillars that make up the landscape at Bryce). They looked so cool! It was really amazing how different all 3 parks we visited looked, even though they are relatively close to each other. The trail led us down into the canyon (which they call the amphitheater) so we could walk among the hoodoos. Really glad we did this for our first hike - it got us really excited and we forgot about the cold, and it was less windy once we got down into the canyon.
After we made it back to the rim, we were both pretty hungry so we went to the Bryce Canyon Lodge for lunch (it’s also really the only place inside the park to get food). We were both cold and each got a hot chocolate that was sooo good. The food at the lodge was surprisingly good, and the lodge was cozy and had a nice atmosphere and it was really nice relaxing there and warming up after our hike.
After lunch we headed back outside to wander around the rim and take in all the views. We walked along the rim trail for several miles, chatting and admiring the landscape. I had planned to take a path to cut back towards the visitor center at some point, but the paths weren’t marked very well so we passed it. We had been walking for quite a long time and I looked at my gps on my phone and realized we were way past the last trail to cut off on. The rim trail goes on for a long time, but, it wouldn’t have brought us back to where we needed to go, so we had to turn around and back-track for a bit. I thought my mom was going to be annoyed, because we had walked probably 6 or 7 miles already, but she handled it fine.
We headed back to our hotel and started to think about what to do for dinner. The big complex we were staying at was really the only thing in town, so, we headed down to the restaurant/buffer in the hotel. Definitely a tourist trap - overpriced, food wasn’t very good. But, not much you can do about that...there weren’t any other options.
Bryce Day 2
I noticed on our first day that the park wasn’t very crowded, and there were lots of parking spots, so we drove ourselves into the park on the second day. The shuttle only goes through a section of the park, so if you want to drive further up the park road, you have to use your own car.
For our first hike of day 2, we went back into the canyon on the Tower Bridge Trail. My mom liked the idea of doing the hardest hikes in the morning, instead of waiting until after we had already walked a lot and trying to do them in the afternoon. The temperatures were still below 20F when started, but, no wind this day. Again, it was super cool walking among the hoodoos. We walked until we came to the Tower Bridge, a rock formation the trail is named after. You can continue walking on this trail but it’s a very long, difficult (I heard) trail to make a full loop, so we just turned around and hiked back out the same way we came in.
By the time we were hiking back out the sun had really started warming things up. I had removed layers down to my tank top when I reached the rim. Layers….so important! I learned that most days of the year, Bryce sees temperatures that are both above and below freezing. This is actually what forms the hoodoos - not a river. Water freezes in the rock and expands, and then thaws out and flows later in the day when it warms up. That night, it freezes again, etc. etc. The frequent freezing-and-thawing is what made all these beautiful formations.
We headed back to our car and I think we went back to the lodge for lunch again this day too. Then we drove out to Rainbow Point, which is about 13 miles out along the park road, past where the park shuttle will take you. We did a hike there called Bristlecone Loop, which was really interesting. There were piles and piles of brush and sticks all over the place. I later read that all this stuff accumulates on the forest floor when there’s not fires to clear it out.
On the drive back from Rainbow Point back towards the visitor center, we stopped at a bunch of scenic overlooks. The landscape really looked different at every stop! The hoodoos also look different throughout the day as the sunlight hits them differently. All the stops were beautiful.
We continued driving around, stopping wherever we felt like it. We got some souvenirs at the General Store that is within the park, and stopped at the Visitor Center. I read at the Visitor Center that Bryce Canyon is one of the darkest places in the country - there’s very little light pollution and the sky doesn’t have a lot of clouds. I decided I wanted to come back after dark and see this for myself.
We left the park and drove past our hotel a ways to get dinner at Subway since we didn’t want to eat at the weird hotel buffet again. We relaxed at the hotel for a while then around 8pm or so, when it was dark out, drove back into the park.
I’ll be honest, it was a little bit scary being in the park at night. We drove to one of the overlook areas near the General Store inside the park, and it was REALLY dark and no one was around.I had originally thought that we would park and then walk a little ways out to one of the overlook points, but, it was so dark we didn’t need to leave the parking lot of the General Store. We got out of the car and I could not believe how many stars I could see. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was so beautiful.
We got back in the car and I pulled over a few times along the main road to stick my head out of the window and look up. I’ve never been anyplace with so little light pollution from cities, and such clear skies. You could a big band of star clusters stretched through the sky -- the Milky Way Galaxy. SO COOL. I could have stared at it all night. I wish I could have captured pictures of this, but I don't have the right camera for this, and, it probably wouldn't have demonstrated how awesome it was to see this in person anyways.
We drove back to the hotel and I looked at the sky from the hotel parking lot and could only see a small fraction of the stars I could see while I was in the park. Amazing how much the lights from traffic and buildings and cities block out.
We had considered going back into Bryce on our third day, but we felt we had really seen most of the park and were able to do everything we wanted in the two full days we had there. We packed up our stuff and drove a little bit to do a hike at Mossy Cave, which was an area outside of the park but was recommended to us by a few people. The weather was warmer this day, and it was a nice quiet hike that ended at a waterfall. Now, being that I live in an area with lots and lots of waterfalls, I’m probably spoiled. The waterfall at the end of this trail was water trickling about 3 feet over a rock. Kind of funny...but I guess still impressive since it’s kind of in the desert!
After our Mossy Cave/Waterfall Hike, we started our ~4 hour trip back to Las Vegas. We had been away from big cities, traffic, and lots of people for over a week. It was weird getting back to driving on big highways with lots of traffic. I like the wilderness a lot more!
We arrived in Las Vegas in the early afternoon, so we drove out to Red Rocks Canyon. Now, if we had visited Red Rocks before going to the National Parks, I probably would have thought it was really cool. But since we had just seen a bunch of amazing landscapes and scenery, Red Rocks just seemed OK.
So I should explain what Red Rock Canyon is, because the idea is kind of cool and it’s really close to Las Vegas. It’s a large desert area with big red rocks. There’s a big visitor center/museum where you can read all about wildlife and the area. There’s a 13 mile road that loops through the park, and you can only drive one-way on it. There’s a bunch of overlooks along the 13 mile road where you can park and then go hike. It’s really cool that this wilderness area is so close to a big city - I imagine if you lived in Las Vegas, this would be a nice place to easily escape to.
I thought we would do some hikes, but it was over 80F and there is NO shade anywhere here, and neither of us felt like walking in the full-on sun after we had already walked over 50 miles during our trip. So we just drove around the loop and stopped at a few places to try to see wildlife (we never found any).
We went to our last hotel, La Quinta, by the airport. We repacked our luggage and prepared for our early morning flight. We walked to a nearby pizza shop for dinner, then went to bed early and headed home the next day.
Overall Thoughts on Bryce
Bryce, like Grand Canyon, has lots of relatively easy hikes along the Rim Trail that allow you to see beautiful views without having to work too hard (but I do think the rim trail here was more challenging than Grand Canyon). Of the three parks, I think Bryce was the worst with signage and maps. The map and park guide here weren’t as helpful as the ones in the other parks. Also, I liked the shuttle service in Bryce the least, because it only goes in one direction. But, it’s still super handy and really nice that you can take the shuttle from town into the park.
For getting food inside the park, I think Bryce was the best -- the lodge had really good food. Bryce also had the best souvenirs, I think….I just happened to like more of the shirts here than at the other parks.
This trip was so fun. At Bryce I bought a book that has a few pages of info on each of the National Parks. I want to visit them all!! What an amazing experience our country has to offer. I hope our current President doesn’t ruin that for us. The next National Park I plan on visiting is Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii at the end of January!