Guide to: Bryce + Zion National Parks
So you're itching to take a trip to two of the most epic Utah National Parks?! I don't blame you. The second I saw photos of the insane red formations at Bryce (I didn't even know what a Hoodoo was yet) and the grand rock faces at Zion, I was eager to go and see the real deal. Bryce + Zion are two of my all time favorite National Parks - and *BONUS*....they're just 2 hours apart from each other. But don't be mistaken by their proximity- these two parks couldn't be more different. Which is why I 100% recommend going to BOTH at some point, and if possible, within the same trip! If you have the time, you can make this happen pretty easily. And I will show you how to do just that in this blog post! In fact, I once did a Bryce + Zion trip over the course of just 4 days! And that includes the 10 hour drive each way from Denver which means: 2 days of driving and 2 days of exploring. So if anyone knows how to get the MOST out of the parks in a consolidated time-frame, it's this girl!
Disclaimer: even if you do decide to do just one park or the other instead of both, these itinerary tips still apply for the most part. You'll just have more time to see other aspects of the park if you're not spreading your time across the two :)
Since I don't know exactly how much time you'll have allotted for each park, I'm simply going to give you my go-to trails/activities in each park and roughly how long each will take so you can plan accordingly *keep in mind a hike that takes me 5 hours could take you 4 or 8 hours depending on fitness level, amount of stops, etc*
Be sure to save for your trip planning! HERE WE GO!
BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Peekaboo Loop- Ideal if you want to see a lot of the park and cover as much ground as possible in one hike! You'll weave in and out of the hoo-doos (the red, sphere-like structures) as you travel from the top to the bottom of the canyon). You'll begin at Bryce Point for the 5.5 mile loop. The trail is considered hard because of the incline changes. Be sure to follow signs to ensure you're staying on the correct trail. Estimated time needed: 4-5 hours
Navajo Loop + Queen's Garden- This 3.5 mile long loop will take you through several parts of the canyon with incredible views. You'll park at the Sunset point and head down from there. The hike is considered moderate and you will see many notable gems along the route such as "Wall street", "Thor's Hammer", "Two Bridges", "Queen Victoria" and the "Queen's Garden". Estimated time needed: 4 hours
Fairyland Loop Trail- If you're up for a longer (8 miles), yet moderate hike through the northern area of the park, check this one out! You'll begin at Fairyland Point and wind through the hoodoos, also seeing "Tower Bridge" and a portion of the rim trail. Estimated time needed: 5-6 hours
-Catch sunrise at Sunrise Point
-Catch sunset at Sunset Point (and capture some golden hour photos of course)
-Take in the views from Inspiration Point
-See Natural Bridge Arch
-Rainbow Point + Yovimpa Point (20 min drive from Bryce Point)
Where to Stay:
Camping- You'll have two main campground options in Bryce so be sure to book early OR if you're winging it, arrive early in the morning when the rangers are doing their rounds figuring out if any spots are vacant from people who left their reservations early.
Yurts- On my most recent trip to Bryce, my fiance and I stayed at a Yurt about 30 minutes outside the park. This made for a unique stay in the winter time when it was definitely too cold to camp yet we still wanted an outdoorsy experience!
Lodging- The Lodge at Bryce Canyon makes for the perfect, cozy stay just five minutes from the park!
ZION NATIONAL PARK
The Narrows- Talk about a unique "hiking" experience! The narrows draw people in from near and far to experience a water hike through the canyon! I have done this hike in both cold temps and warm temps. During colder months, I'd recommend renting a wetsuit at a nearby gear shop. They'll equip you with everything you need to stay warm and (somewhat) dry. During the heat of summer, this is the MOST ideal hike you can do during the day to avoid the intense Utah heat. So if you are looking for something to do during the middle of the day, this will be your jam. Just rent some hiking sticks and you'll be good to go in your typical swim apparel. While the AllTrails review states that the trail is 15 miles, don't fret. You can do as much for as little as you'd like. Just enjoy the experience! Estimated time needed: Up to you! You could spend all day or just go for a few hours
Angel's Landing- Considered one of the most epic hikes of all time, Angel's Landing is not for the faint of heart. It is considered to be difficult because of it's steep switchback climbs, cable section, and danger-factor (can be quite scary if you are afraid of heights). This 5 mile out-and-back trail is extremely popular and I recommend the experience! The views at the top of the entire park are WELL worth the climb. Just be sure to wear good quality shoes and go in ideal weather conditions. Estimated time needed: 4-5 hours
Observation Point- If you're looking for all the views but less of the crowds compared to Angel's Landing, be sure to check out this hike! This 7-mile out and back trail is rated as moderate/hard since it has a steady incline to the top. Be sure to bring your camera/phone for photos!!! The views are stunning. Estimated time needed: 5-6 hours
Zion Canyon Overlook Trail- For a much shorter overlook experience with incredible views featuring a different perspective of the park, try this trail! Especially if you're not an avid hiker or are short on time, this 1 mile out and back will be perfect for you. Estimated time needed: 30 min-1 hour
The Watchman Trail- If you're looking to skip the shuttle and head straight to a trail, the Watchman will be your ideal trail. You can park right by the Visitors Center and hop on the trail from there. It's a just over 3-mile loop rated as easy. Estimated time needed: 2 hours
Emerald Pools Trail- An easy, shorter trail good for all fitness levels. Tends to be fairly crowded but is beautiful if the water levels are high in the pools! Estimated time needed: 1-2 hours
-Bike ride or run along the Pa'rus Trail
-Drink Sangria at The Bit & Spur (in Springdale)
-Take the shuttle along the Zion Scenic Drive
-Watch sunset halfway up the Angel's Landing trail
-If you're feeling extra adventurous- book a canyoneering or rock climbing excursion
Where to Stay:
Camping- Zion only has 3 campgrounds within the park:
Book in advance for your best chance at snagging campsites especially if you plan to go during busier months. There are also many campgrounds outside of the park in case all of these are taken.
Glamping- For a slightly more *classy* and comfortable experience, try glamping! Here are two very popular glamping companies you can choose from when visiting Zion:
Lodging- If you're wanting a top-notch stay, The Majestic View Lodge is nestled right in the heart of Zion and offers the most idyllic lodge experience.
Best Times to Visit:
My favorite months to explore these parks are March-May or September-November. I recommend avoiding the dead of summer because of the high temperatures and crowds. Note that if you go in early spring, late fall or even winter, you could have pleasant weather or you could experience snow. It is definitely more of a gamble. During those less-predictable months, I'd come prepared with spikes for your hiking shoes, especially for Bryce, which experiences lower temperatures or more ice on the trails. I'd also come equipped for cold temperatures during the morning/evening hours and warmer temperatures during the day.
I hope this gives you some guidance on your itinerary for visiting these incredible parks! So start planning your spring visit - I can't wait to hear all your favorites!