The scenic drive will take you along towering sheer cliffs of red rock and twisting canyons cut by the Virgin River. But in amongst this stark landscape you’ll find surprising grottos of lush ferns, waterfalls and Emerald Pools.
For many, the bucket list hikes are the main draw and you’ll find many, from family friendly Riverside Walk, to the classic slot canyon adventure The Narrows to the strenuous and vertigo inducing Angels Landing. To enjoy these hikes safely, plan ahead and be prepared. Lots of water, snacks, check trail conditions and monitor changing weather conditions.
Looking for a place to escape the crowds? Perhaps the short drive to the ghost town of Grafton, a historic Mormon settlement with a small group of ageing wooden buildings and well preserved cemetery will peak your interest. It certainly inspired the moviemakers of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to use it as one of the filming locations.
You can drive much more directly to Bryce Canyon National Park thanks to the construction of the Zion-Mt Carmel Highway (RT 9 connector) in 1930. It’s a highly scenic stretch of road with its switchbacks and sweeping views back to Zion’s towering cliffs and the Great Arch. Its most impressive features however are the 2 tunnels, the longest being 1.1 miles. Gallery “windows” were created inside the tunnel to provide peekaboo views through to the stunning landscape.
The commentary continues for the entire 1.5hr drive that connects the 2 parks, along Highways 12 & 89.
Whether you call them hoodoos, goblins or fairy chimneys, you’ll be amazed at the sheer number of these formations in Bryce Canyon National Park. As you scan the amphitheatre suddenly you’ll start seeing shapes, faces and figures come to life in the rocks.
Each stop along the drive highlights a different view. Will your favourite be Sunrise, Sunset or Inspiration Point? Or maybe it’ll be at the furtherest point along the 18 mile drive at Yovimpa Point, which is one of the best spots to see the Grand Staircase coloured steps on show.
Get a closer glimpse by hiking one of the many trails that descend into the canyon. Queen’s Garden and Navajo Loop are two of the most popular.
Return at night and cast your gaze upwards. Without the light pollution we experience in cities the dark skies open up and the Milky Way and up to 7500 stars are visible in the sky.
La Verkin, Widtsoe, Henrieville, or Panguitch
Zion – Spend 1 full day exploring the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and enjoy some shorter trails. Enjoy another 1/2 day driving the switchbacks, the tunnel and East Zion including Checkerboard Mesa or include those on your travels between Bryce and Zion. Add more time if taking on some of the “big” hikes.
Bryce Canyon – You can see all the major highlights of Bryce in just one day. If you plan to do some longer hikes, or to go star gazing, it’s nice to have an extra day or two.
The complete tour route is approximately 120 miles each way including highways 12, 89 and 9
Zion National Park is one of America’s most diverse national parks. Its elevation varies from 3,700 feet (1,128 meters) to 9,000 feet (2,743 meters) and it is home to a vast array of towering canyons, forested mountains, and lush riverside scenery.
Bryce Canyon National Park is an otherworldly land of colorfully striped rock spires called hoodoos, natural bridges, and other fascinating rock formations. It’s not a canyon at all, rather it’s a collection of over a dozen natural amphitheaters carved by erosion on the eastern side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau.
Both Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks are open year-round but a majority of visitors come between April and September. June and July are the busiest months and parking lots in Zion often fill to capacity during this time. Bryce Canyon sees fewer visitors than Zion but parking areas still fill near popular trailheads all summer long.
Ideally, you need two to three days to really explore Zion National Park. This will give you enough time to hike one of the longer trails such as Angels Landing or the Narrows and enjoy all the major viewpoints.
Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the most compact, easy to see in a day national parks in the country but that’s not to say it’s not deserving of more time. If you only have one day or even just half a day, you can see a lot in a short amount of time.
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is narrow with little parking, so for most of the year visitors are required to take the shuttle bus into the park and should park at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center or in designated parking areas in the town of Springdale.
The rest of the park is open for self-driving including the 12 mile Mount Carmel Highway 9 for the tunnel, switchbacks, Checkerboard Mesa etc.
The Bryce Canyon Shuttle is voluntary unless you’re traveling in a vehicle measuring 20 feet (6 meters) or longer, which are prohibited from parking at the visitor center, Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, Bryce Point, and Paria View while the shuttle is operating. Shuttle season typically runs from mid-April to mid-October and buses from 8 am to 8 pm with shorter hours in April and October.
Visitors can hop on the shuttle in Bryce Canyon City, the visitor center, campgrounds, and several park viewpoints and shuttles run every 15 minutes.
All Angels Landing hikers require a permit through a lottery system. Visit nps.gov for more details and to apply for a permit.