Overview - At Bryce Canyon, Utah delivers once again in the National Park department. Bryce may be one of the most beautiful parks in the world. Out of every single park that we visited, the colors that literally jump off the rocks in Bryce Canyon will leave you breathless.
Details - Bryce is extremely easy to get through in one day. We decided to camp at Bryce after driving through Arches earlier in the day. Bryce is similar to Arches in that it is largely a driving park. There is one main road that dead ends and will provide you with scene after scene of amazing geologic formations with very little effort. The key once again to this park is to get up early for the sunrise. If there is one thing that you need to do at Bryce, it is get up to see the sunrise.
Hiking - Our first "hike" wasn't really a hike, we mostly just stared off in to the sunrise from Sunrise Point as the sun came up. It is important to note though that Sunrise Point gets extremely crowded, even at 5am, so if you want to get a prime spot for photography, check the sunrise times and get there a little bit early. Be sure to click through to see a larger version of the pictures below. The pictures really don't do it justice. It was simply incredible.
Also, if you want to avoid the crowds, you can hike about a quarter mile south, just down the paved path, and watch from anywhere along there all the way down to Sunset Point. Despite its name, it is an equally amazing spot to see the sunrise from. Ironically, as far as seeing the sunset goes, you will have to see for yourself, as we were not there for a sunset.
From Sunset Point, we started off down the Navajo Loop Trail with nary a soul in sight. After sunrise, the place clears out of people for a couple of hours, so this is the prime time to stay out and take a look around. The Navajo Loop Trail (1.4 miles RT, slightly challenging) is well worth the 45 minutes it takes to hike the whole thing. You feel as though you are Indiana Jones, hiking right next to Hoodoos and rock crevices the size of small buildings. Be sure to wander around the detours off the trail, as you can get very close to some of the Hoodoos. However, with that in mind, please stay on the marked trail. The detours are marked, but very lightly. This trail has been subject to abuse, so if you are unsure, just stay on the trail. Some pictures from the Navajo Trail Loop below.
If you have time, and hopefully you do, take the time to hike the Queens Garden Trail (2 miles RT, slightly challenging). This trail will take you down in to the canyon and closer to some of the hoodoos. You can connect it with the Navajo Loop Trail if you want, but it is better to hike the entirety of both trails so you don't miss anything. Combined, take your time to enjoy the views, both will take you about 2 hours total.
After you are done watching the sunrise and taking in the views from the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop Trails, we recommend you start the drive through the rest of the park. While we drove through and stopped at all of them, we would recommend a different course if we were to go back. Drive all the way to the back of the park / end of the road first. This will do two things, one, all the stops are on the right side/canyon side of the road (East Side), so it makes it a lot easier to pull in to stop. Two, it is less crowded working backwards as most people will see the park in the opposite manner. Feel free to stop wherever you would like with what time you have, however, the two stops you can't miss are the Natural Bridge and Bryce Point. The Natural Bridge is in some ways more impressive than the arches in Arches National Park. There is no hike involved in this stop, simply a small lot to park and look. Takes 5-10 minutes.
After the Natural Bridge comes my favorite stop, Bryce Point. Please, please, make the hike all the way up to the highest viewpoint, right where the trail splits off to the Under-the-Rim-Trail. While it may look like a steep 1/4 mile climb up from the parking lot, Bryce Point has the absolute best views in the park. You can see the entire canyon sweep out before you. Allocate at least 30-45 minutes for this stop to appreciate the view. It is truly spectacular.
Final Words on Bryce
Overall Verdict - Bryce is the most beautiful park that we stopped at on our grand tour of the West's National Parks. An absolute can't miss.
Days/Nights to Camp/Spend Here - We recommend ending your driving day at Bryce, camping for one night, and spending the morning touring the park. After visiting in the morning, we recommend traveling on to your next destination, Zion for example.
Camping Evaluation - We stayed at Sunset Campground, as opposed to North Campground, because it was where we could find a spot. We came in to the park at around 6pm, and got the second to last spot there. So we were really lucky. The campground was nice with tent only sections minimizing the RV noise. Standard accommodations for a campground. It was also closer to Sunrise Point, which was nice in the morning as it meant a shorter drive at 5am, but honestly, there really isn't that much of a difference. North Campground does take reservations, so if you have a reasonably rigid itinerary, which we didn't, that is always an option.
Best Time To See Arches - Have to see sunrise, it is a must, so early in the morning works best. Check the sunrise times for your visit, but we were up at 5 am to explore the park and see the sunrise, but we were there in July.
Tips/Tricks -If Sunrise Point is too crowded for you, take a walk down the paved path to Sunset Point which has equally amazing views. Also, drive the park backwards for ease of use and the absence of crowds.
Best Hikes - The Navajo Loop (1.4 miles RT, slightly challenging) and Queens Garden Trails (2 miles RT, slightly challenging) deserve your time.