Bryce Canyon National Park is easy to squeeze into a Utah road trip. It’s a short drive from Zion, on the way to Escalante/Capitol Reef National Park, easily accessible from Kanab or even Page, Arizona. But if you only have one day in Bryce Canyon, it can be hard to narrow down what to do.
The good news is, the highlights of the park are all in a compact area. You can see a lot on short hikes and by driving to viewpoints that are mere minutes apart.
I spent three days in the national park, hiking nearly every trail and going to every overlook. I saw just about everything there is to see — more hoodoos than I could count, plenty of wildlife, and a diversity of forest environments. In this one day Bryce Canyon itinerary, I’ll walk you through what to prioritize on a quick day trip.
Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you decide to purchase through these links, I receive a percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you.
One day in Bryce Canyon: How to get there
Bryce Canyon is in a pretty remote part of southern Utah. The nearest “town” isn’t so much a town, as it is a small handful of tourist-oriented shops with a couple hotels mixed in. Public transport to surrounding towns is nonexistent.
That leaves you with two options: rent a car, or take a tour.
You can rent a car in Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, or Phoenix, depending on where you’re flying into. Vegas tends to have the cheapest prices. I always use rentalcars.com to compare vehicles and book.
Bryce is a few hours’ drive from all of these cities. So if you’re doing a day trip, you’ll need to drive in the night before. Better yet — spend a few days in Zion National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante, or Capitol Reef, from which Bryce is an easy 90-minute drive.
As far as one-day tours, starting in Vegas is your best bet. This option has good reviews. But it’s a long day, pretty rushed, and you won’t have the flexibility to do your own thing.
I rented a car and visited Bryce independently and was glad I did. It’s a safe, easy destination for solo female travelers too!
Bryce Canyon National Park entrance fees
You have to pay an entrance fee to visit Bryce Canyon National Park. There are a few options, depending on how many other parks you’re visiting and what your mode of transport is.
The best deal if you plan to visit multiple U.S. National Parks within a year is the America the Beautiful Pass. This costs $80 and includes admission to all federally managed lands. You can order it online at the link above, but you have to order far enough in advance of your trip to get it mailed to you — 6 weeks is a safe bet. If you book your trip last-minute you can also buy the pass at park entrances.
If you only plan to visit Bryce, you can purchase admission in advance here and show your ticket on your phone. It’s $35 if you drive in, or $20 per person if you walk in or use the Bryce Canyon Shuttle. You can use your pass for up to 7 days.
Additional pass options are available for seniors and veterans. Additionally, 4th grade students can access all National Parks for free.
When to do a day trip to Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon is a year-round destination. The canyon rim is at 8,000 feet — so the climate is dramatically cooler than the surrounding desert (and parks like Zion and Capitol Reef).
Spring and autumn are the most popular times to visit. During these times, morning temperatures are chilly — often below freezing. But the canyon warms into the 70’s during the day. I visited in late May and had mornings in the 20’s and days in the high 60’s. The weather was perfect for hiking, but it was also more crowded.
Bryce is often snowed in during winter. This is a fabulous time to visit if you want to see snow-covered hoodoos and have the park to yourself. But many of the trails close in winter, including the phenomenal Wall Street section of the Navajo Loop. Expect extremely cold (sub-zero) temperatures at night.
Summer may be the best time to visit. Morning temperatures will be tolerable, it doesn’t get terribly hot in the afternoons, and it isn’t too crowded.
Itinerary for one day in Bryce Canyon National Park
Ready to dive into all of the activities Bryce has to offer? Let’s get started!
Watch the sunrise from Inspiration Point
You only have 1 day in Bryce Canyon, so you’ll need to start early to make the most of it. And what better way to get acquainted with the park than by watching one of its epic sunrises?
Most visitors head to Sunrise Point at dawn, but the colors and views are actually better from Inspiration Point. Plus, you may have it all to yourself.
The best colors actually come out after the sun is up, within 15-30 minutes. So don’t pack up and leave as soon as sunrise is over!
Temperatures and wind on the rim can be pretty damn cold in the morning, even in shoulder season. You’ll need a good puffy coat, hat, and gloves to avoid shivering the whole time.
Explore the Bryce Canyon hiking trails
Hiking is #1 on the list of things to do in Bryce Canyon National Park. It’s the best way to get up close with the iconic hoodoos.
Bryce Canyon hikes get quite crowded with day-trippers. But since you made it to the park before dawn, you have a chance to set out on a popular trail before the masses show up. You have a few hiking options this morning, depending on what distance and difficulty you’re comfortable with.
The best hike in Bryce Canyon is the Fairyland Loop. This 8-mile trail descends alongside hoodoos, deep into the canyon, past the Chinese Wall, to the Tower Bridge, through a ponderosa pine forest, and back up to Fairyland Point. It’s a little of everything that makes Bryce so magical, with near-panoramic views the whole way. And since it’s a little longer than many trails in the park, it’s usually less crowded too.
Fit hikers should have no problem knocking out the Fairyland Loop before lunch. The climb out of the canyon is long, but it’s not difficult. You’ll feel the elevation a bit but you can still keep a pretty good pace on the wide, flat trail. It’s easier if you go counter-clockwise starting from Sunrise Point.
If you’re hiking in Bryce Canyon with kids, or if you just don’t feel like hiking a full 8 miles, the best alternative is the Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop. This is the most popular trail in the park, so you’ll definitely see other people, but the scenery is worth it.
The hike begins from Sunrise Point and drops straight into the canyon. You’ll follow the trail through and around hoodoos until you reach the namesake rock formation — a hoodoo that looks like Queen Victoria.
Next the trail meanders to the canyon floor, where it intersects with the Navajo Loop. Here you have two options: climb up via Two Bridges, which passes the iconic Thor’s Hammer hoodoo, or go up Wall Street.
I did both routes and far preferred Wall Street. The hike takes you through a slot-like section of the canyon, with towering cliffs on all sides and a bit of a scramble through the cave. Then, you climb a laughably steep stretch of switchbacks all the way to Sunset Point. The Two Bridges route is easier, and it’s the only option in winter.
Whichever route you choose, the Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop is about 3 miles long and is moderately difficult. But it’s one of the most view-packed hikes — a great option when you’re rushing through Bryce Canyon in one day.
Have lunch at the Lodge Restaurant
Of all the National Park lodges in the U.S., the lodge at Bryce Canyon might be my absolute favorite. It just exudes coziness in the chilly high-elevation climate. The rocking chairs on the porch are the perfect spot to laze around after a hike. You’re mere steps from the canyon rim. The staff is absolutely lovely.
But most of all, the lodge restaurant is awesome.
Due to COVID-19, the restaurant is doing takeout-only at the moment. You order at the register, wait for your meal inside, and take it out to the canyon for a scenic picnic.
I ordered the elk chili and a couple sides and ate at Sunrise Point. Prices are pretty reasonable considering the remote location, and service was quick.
Unfortunately the restaurant closes in early November until mid-March. During winter, you’re on your own for food in the park.
Walk the Rim
Ready to burn off lunch? Good, because it’s time to hit the trails again!
You can’t miss strolling along the canyon rim to the many stunning viewpoints on your Bryce Canyon 1 day itinerary. The Rim Trail connects all the overlooks on a 6-mile-one-way, very easy hike. You can use the park shuttle to get back to your starting point when you’re done.
The easiest — and most consistently scenic — stretch of the Rim Trail is between Sunrise and Sunset Points. This half-mile path is paved and wheelchair-accessible. It’s also the only place in the park where you can bring pets. You’ll be treated to 180-degree views nearly the whole way.
Personally, my favorite stretch was between Bryce Point and Inspiration Point. This part got my heart pumping — it’s single-track with some ups and downs — but it was quieter than the other areas and still very scenic. Plus, wildflowers dot the forest all around, and I saw mule deer.
If you don’t want to hike the rim, you can also drive between viewpoints on the Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive. Parking can be an issue, so you may want to leave your car and use the shuttle instead.
Stop by the Visitor Center
By now you’re nearing the end of a long day, so it’s time to give your feet a break and head indoors. The Bryce Canyon Visitor Center is worth a stop on your way out.
The displays feature information on the unique hoodoo formations that make Bryce Canyon what it is. You’ll also learn about the Indigenous history and colonial history of the region. While Bryce was likely not permanently inhabited by Indigenous Peoples, the Paiute, Fremont and Anasazi tribes inhabited the region and often used the lands around Bryce.
Additionally, if you aren’t visiting in winter, don’t miss the epic video showing sweeping views of the snow-covered canyon. It’ll make you want to plan a winter trip back for sure!
If you aren’t too tired: Stay for sunset and stargazing
If you have a long drive back to your accommodation, you could wrap up your Bryce Canyon itinerary after stopping at the Visitor Center. But if you want to see more, stay in the park after the day-trippers go home.
Bryce isn’t much of a sunset park. Yeah, the canyon is pretty at blue hour, but since the views are east-facing you won’t get quite the same effect as you got at sunrise. It’s still worth sticking around for — just don’t expect anything quite as spectacular as sunrise, even from Sunset Point.
But the real magic happens after dark. Stick around for a couple hours and watch the stars come out. There’s almost no light pollution in this remote corner of the desert — so on a clear night, you can see constellations you’d have no chance of spotting at home.
If you do stay after dark, be very cautious driving back out. Elk, bears, mule deer and other species are most active at night and often hang around the roads.
Best places to stay near Bryce Canyon National Park
If you’re spending a day in Bryce between Zion and the eastern Utah parks, you could consider staying overnight. I’ll be honest — the lodging in the Bryce area really, really sucks — so you’re better off continuing onward at the end of your day if possible. But if you must stay in the Bryce area, there are a few options.
Camping is the cheapest accommodation option in the Bryce Canyon area. The park operates two frontcountry campgrounds — North Campground is open year-round and is first-come, first-serve. Sunset Campground is open spring-fall and you can reserve online. Sites are $20 for a tent or $30 for an RV. You can shower at the General Store for a small fee.
You can also camp in the backcountry along the Under the Rim Trail for free. You need a permit from the Visitor Center. The closest campsites to a trailhead are about a 4 mile walk from Inspiration Point.
Camping options exist outside the park as well, but they’re a lot more expensive and you don’t get the benefits of waking up on the canyon rim.
The biggest downside to camping is, well, it’s really freaking cold outside the height of summer. You’d need a 20-degree sleeping bag to consider shoulder season camping here.
The Bryce City area has a handful of super-cheap, slightly-dodgy motels. Think Old West-style inns designed for a quick stopover and not much else.
I stayed in one of these motels and I’m not even going to link you to it. It wasn’t dangerous or unclean (at least not by my backpacker standards), it was just extremely dated and not very comfortable. But it was also $40 a night, so, hard to argue.
Ruby’s Inn is a slightly better option for a slightly higher price. If you have a AAA membership, you can get a room starting from $80 in low-ish seasons. It’s tacky, wildly overtouristed, and they’re not following COVID precautions, but it’s probably the best budget option around.
There are not many things to do in Bryce Canyon City — it’s a small town — so consider it a place to crash while you spend your time in the park.
If you can afford a splurge, the Bryce Canyon Lodge is well worth it. The cabins and rooms are wonderfully cozy. Plus, you get to wake up literally steps from Sunrise Point.
Rooms start from around $200. You’ll need to book as far in advance as possible — like, booking a year in advance wouldn’t be crazy.
You can check availability and rates here.
What to bring for your Bryce Canyon day trip
The #1 thing to remember when spending one day at Bryce Canyon is that it’s a lot colder than the surrounding areas. If you’re coming from Zion, Capitol Reef, Escalante, Vegas, or the Grand Canyon, be prepared for a shock to your system.
Decent hiking gear will keep you warm in the mornings and cool when the sun comes up. The key is NO cotton. Synthetic fabrics and Merino wool do a much better job of regulating your body temperature. This fleece is the only mid-layer I’ve ever needed when hiking in temps as low as 10 degrees. It’s also worth packing a windbreaker and/or puffy.
Additionally, you’ll want trekking poles if you plan to hike into the canyon. These Black Diamond poles are extremely reliable — I’ve hiked over 2,000 miles with them and they’ve never slipped.
Finally, it’s important to bring lots, and lots, and lots of water for even the shortest hike in Utah’s high desert. Yeah, I know it’s cold and you don’t feel like drinking. But you can get dehydrated super-easily when the air is this dry. Park rangers recommend drinking a liter of water every 1-2 hours — if it’s above 70 degrees, err on the more-water side.
Bryce Canyon is a favorite among the U.S.’s southwestern National Parks. Don’t miss it on a road trip around Utah — even if you only have a day to explore!
Like this post? Pin it!