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One Winter Day in Bryce Canyon National Park | Utah Mighty 5 Road Trip

The Mighty 5 National Parks in Utah are an incredible way to experience the array of natural wonders the state has to offer. A road trip through these parks will bring you through stunning canyons, over rocky peaks, and under massive arches -- all in one week! I highly recommend getting yourself an America the Beautiful National Park Pass before heading off on this trip.


In this series, I'm taking you on a journey through the Mighty 5. It's broken down by each park for easier consumption and for those that are looking for info on just one or two instead of the entire five. I'm giving all the juicy details of the parks, including where I would definitely hit with more time or skip if I'm in a rush.


You can also view the entire trip in video form here!


In this leg, we're exploring Bryce Canyon National Park. This was the fourth park I visited on my road trip after Capitol Reef. Bryce Canyon sits at the highest elevation of the five parks we're exploring, which makes for colder conditions and thinner air.


Keep the elevation in mind when packing and preparing for your hikes. Most hikes will start along the canyon rim and take you down into the hoodoos, meaning you'll be climbing on your way out. It's important to pace yourself and take breaks. Don't go any farther than you're sure you can climb back out!


I'm describing the itinerary here as I've done it across two half-days, but feel free to combine everything into one day if it fits your schedule! In fact, I'll point out recommendations for different timings at some of the stops compared to what I did.



Bryce Canyon has so much to see that one day barely scratches the surface. I made it a jam-packed day, so let's get started!


Highlights:

  • Southern Scenic Drive

  • Bryce Amphitheater

  • Figure-8 Combination Loop Trail(6.4 miles)

Total mileage: 6.4 miles


Favorite Adventures:

  • Agua Canyon on the Southern Scenic Drive

  • Inspiration Point in Bryce Amphitheater

  • The Peekaboo Loop portion of the Figure-8 Combination Loop Trail


Check out this leg of my road trip in this video!


Pro tip: Check the weather and road conditions in Boulder Mountain before making this drive, especially if you're visiting during the colder months. My Airbnb host for the Bryce Canyon leg of my road trip graciously offered the advice to wait until after 11 a.m. to drive through this pass, which is situated at over 10,000 feet above sea level! I was thankful to avoid icy roads.


First off, I made the drive from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon National Park. This drive is unbelievably beautiful. I'm a sucker for a scenic drive and wish I had had an extra or two to explore this area. Known as Scenic Byway 12, this 124-mile stretch of road takes you through pastel hills and vast vistas. It's definitely a worthy addition of a few stops if you have the time! It's on my list to return to explore The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which is located along this road.


Desert scene with a road winding through and storm clouds in the distance.
A stormy view along Scenic Byway 12

I stopped by my campsite for the next couple days (reserved through Hipcamp) to check in before heading into the park. By the time I reached the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center, it was almost 3 in the afternoon. I popped in to grab a map and ask the park rangers about the trails I was hoping to do on this trip: The Fairyland Loop and The Figure-8 Loop, which includes the Navajo, Queen's Garden, and Peekaboo Loops. They let me know that each trail would take around four hours to complete and recommended doing the Figure-8 Loop if I could only choose one.


I knew I didn't have time for either one this afternoon, so my goal for this day was to complete the Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive. The park has one main road that goes north to south into the canyon. From the entrance, the first three miles are within the most popular area: Bryce Amphitheater. The remaining 15 miles of the drive are known as the Southern Scenic Drive and can easily be done in an afternoon.


Towering orange hoodoos with pine trees and snow at their bases
Rainbow Point on the Southern Scenic Drive

Pro tip: When doing the scenic drive, it's recommended to drive all the way to the southernmost point and work your way back, stopping at all the viewpoints along the way back toward the entrance. This puts all the stops on your right side, making it easier and safer to pull into the parking areas.


I drove the 18 miles to Rainbow and Yovimpa Points at the end of the road. These are also at the highest elevation (9,115 ft!), so the road was extra snowy and icy here. Each viewpoint along the scenic drive provides a unique view of the hoodoos below. Since it doesn't take much time to stop and reach the views, I encourage you to walk around at each viewpoint if you can!


Make your way back toward the main entrance, parking at each pullout to admire the views. You'll make stops at:

  • Black Birch Canyon - Not actually black birches and not actually a canyon.

  • Ponderosa Canyon - Beautiful Ponderosa Pines! Some exceed 150 feet in height.

  • Agua Canyon - A couple famous hoodoos here: "The Hunter" and "The Rabbit."

  • Natural Bridge - Not actually a bridge, but rather an arch or window!

  • Farview and Piracy Points - Two points connected via walking path with panoramic views.

  • Swamp Canyon - The transition zone between Bryce Amphitheater and the cliffs of the rest of the scenic drive.


A prominent hoodoo in front of a large collection of smaller ones.
"The Hunter" hoodoo at Agua Canyon

The three miles closest to the park entrance are you access points to Bryce Amphitheater, which contains most of the parks popular hikes and the most densely-packed hoodoos. This area has four main viewpoints: Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration, and Bryce Point. 


Huge collection of hoodoos illuminated by the sun
Inspiration Point just before sunset

If you're short on time, definitely check out these viewpoints. I particularly liked Inspiration Point, which is a favorite for sunrise as the lighting illuminates the hoodoos and dramatically changes their color.


From the visitor center, it took me around two and a half hours to complete the entire scenic drive (stopping at every viewpoint) and return to the visitor center. Thankfully there wasn't any traffic and it was super easy to find parking at each stop. If you're visiting during peak season, plan to spend more time waiting for parking.


Hoodoos and pine trees with large mesas in the distance.
Sunrise Point in Bryce Amphitheater

By this point, it was around 5:30 in the evening and I was ready to call it for the day. I drove out to my Hipcamp location for the night and got some rest, knowing tomorrow would be my big hiking day for Bryce Canyon.


 

Entering the park bright and early, we're starting off with arguably the best trail in Bryce Canyon. I consulted with a park ranger the previous day about which hikes I should tackle with my limited time and they highly recommended the Figure-8 Loop. This trail includes the Navajo Loop, Queen's Garden Loop, and the Peekaboo Loop. My Hipcamp host also shared that the Peekaboo Loop is his favorite in the park, so I knew we had a winner!


Pro tip: If visiting in the winter, get your hikes out of the way early in the morning. The paths will remain frozen and you'll avoid needing to trudge through a melted mess of soupy, red clay and slush. Just remember to bring microspikes/crampons and trekking poles!


Trail map with a path highlighted that creates a figure-8.
Route for Figure-8 Loop in the winter

I started my hike at Sunset Point around 8:30 in the morning. I went down the Queen's Garden side of the first loop in the 8. I was surprised how quickly you lose elevation on this trail, descending into the landscape of hoodoos.


Grey skies and snow-covered hoodoos
The snow was pouring down during my Queen's Garden leg of the hike.

The trail was easy to follow and the fresh snowfall made my boots grip the ground without any trouble. At the center junction of the 8, I took the leftmost path to follow the Peekaboo Loop Trail in a clockwise direction. This was definitely my favorite portion of the hike!


View through a doorway carved in stone, looking out to a snow-covered hoodoo landscape
Magical winter wonderland doorways

With this loop completed, you'll return to the center junction. Now you have a choice to make for your return path. The leftmost path is the Wall Street side of the Navajo Loop; this is only open during the warmer months and closes in winter. The path just right of that is the Two Bridges side of the Navajo Loop; this is the only option in winter unless you want to double-back on the Queen's Garden Trail.


Tall rock walls connected by two stone bridges, snow falling all around.
Two Bridges on the Navajo Loop Trail

I can only speak to the Two Bridges side, but it was beautiful. If I'd had a choice, I would have opted for the Wall Street side though. The whole trek took me around three and a half hours, with minimal stops. I only passed one other couple the entire hike until the very end when more people started trickling in! It was incredibly tranquil wandering through the hoodoos and magical doorways with snow falling. By noon, I was already back to Sunset Point.


Winding path covered in snow descending between tall rock walls.
These switchbacks are a famous section on the way back to Sunset Point.

My plan had been to also tackle the Fairyland Loop Trail around the rim of the canyon, but decided to leave that for another day due to the snowstorm that was happening during my visit. Instead, I drove back out of the park to explore the surrounding area. This afternoon was spent exploring Kodachrome Basin State Park and Grosvenor Arch (update coming soon!).



With our short visit over, it was time to say goodbye to Bryce Canyon and move onto park number five and our last (and possibly most exciting) park in the series: Zion.


Thanks for coming along on this journey with me and I hope to see you out there.


Happy adventuring,

A

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