Southwest Adventure Part 3: Bryce Canyon National Park


Photo: Bryce Canyon At Sunrise (Bryce Point)

This is Part 3 of a planned 10 part series covering our U.S. National Park adventure across Utah, Northern Arizona, and Western Colorado. We will spend one whirlwind week traversing 1500 miles, exploring the natural wonders of each park and the surrounding cities. Our travels will take us on a zigzagged route across the southwest from Las Vegas airport to Salt Lake City. In Part 3, we'll travel to Bryce Canyon National Park to take in the park's towering vermillion hoodoos. Along the way, we'll admire the expansive amphitheater views from the Rim Trail, watch a spectacular sunrise from Bryce Point, and get a closer look at the famed rock features on the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop trails.


Bryce Canyon is famous for its towering vermillion hoodoos. The thousands of tall, spindly rock formations blanket the canyon floor in varying colors, shapes, and sizes. The sprawling crimson amphitheater ripples with these stone giants, spread out across the canyon like the audience of a stadium. The jagged scenery shifts its color palate throughout the day, alternating from pinks to oranges to rusty reds and back with the changing intensity of the sun's rays. Bryce Amphitheater is most impressive at sunrise, though, when the sun paints the entire canyon in hues of fiery orange.

Photos: Bryce Canyon Sunrise from the Rim (first) & Hoodoos on the Queen's Garden Trail (second)


The park offers a plethora of hiking options from skirting the amphitheater's rim to hiking down into the canyon floor to take in the hoodoos up close. I plan on doing both so that we can experience the breadth of this vast landscape, as well as truly appreciate the immensity of the sprawling hoodoos. I also intend to tackle the park's 17 mile (one way) scenic drive. A park highlight, the drive features views from the most scenic points along the canyon rim.

Before we do any of that, though, we have to finish our journey from Zion to Bryce. It is about a two hour drive between the two National Parks. Along the route is the scenic Highway 12 which runs directly through Red Canyon. Red Canyon certainly isn't as famous as its neighbors, but it's worth taking a peek--even if it's just a quick stop at one of the scenic turnouts along the road. Red Canyon even encroaches into the road itself--part of the fun of travel here is driving through the two blasted rock arches* in Highway 12's roadway.


*Note: For those traveling in an RV, the clearance is posted at 13'6" for these tunnels.

Photos: Red Canyon Blasted Rock Arches on Highway 12


Red Canyon is a part of the Dixie National Forest which encompasses about 2 million acres in Southern Utah. There are several short, moderately easy hikes that begin near the Red Canyon Visitor's Center* that sound very interesting, but we opt not to take the detour today. With only the rest of today and the first half of tomorrow to explore Bryce, we want to make the most of our time. We do stop at a scenic Red Canyon** turnout, though, to get out and take in our first glimpse of hoodoos.


*Tip: Some good options for a short hike in Red Canyon are the 0.7 mile (30 min) Arches Trail which passes 15 arches, and the 0.5 mile (30 min) Pink Ledges Trail which takes in several unique red-rock formations. Both begin near the Visitor's Center.


**Tip: Red Canyon also offers horseback riding through Red Canyon Trail Rides. You can find more information here.

Photos: Quick Red Canyon Stop


Back on the road, we soon arrive at Bryce Canyon City. "City" seems to be a bit of an overstatement. Bryce Canyon City is a village-sized area situated directly outside of the park, mainly consisting of a few lodging choices, minimal dining options, a gas station, a minimart, and a rodeo. Many of the village establishments are named after Ruben "Ruby" Syrett who settled here 100 years ago. His family still owns many of the buildings bearing names like Ruby's Inn and Ruby's General Store*. We only stop to take a quick look around, but I do spot an ice cream/homemade candy shop I may revisit at some point during our stay. That's one type of tourist attracting I can never seem to skip!


*Tip: The General Store sells groceries if you are running low on supplies, but you will pay a considerable mark-up on the items.

Photo: Bryce Canyon City Map

Soon, we are passing through the park gates. We flash our Annual U.S. National Park Pass* and collect the latest visitor's guide which includes a useful park map. There is only one entrance into this 16 mile long, 4 mile wide park. It's compact, with nearly all of the activity concentrated to the park's eastern side where the Bryce Amphitheaters lie.** There's one main road--literally named Main Park Road--running the length of the canyon. All roads eventually either loop back with this road or dead end making it nearly impossible to get lost for long.


*Tip: You can find more information about purchasing the Annual Pass (which will save you money if you plan to visit several parks) in the Part 1: Planning and Preparing "U.S. National Park Pass" section.


**Tip: The park runs a free shuttle. While it does not drive the distance of the the canyon's main road, you can take it to the major Amphitheater sights. Parking in the park is limited. Since we are staying on site and most of our visit does not coincide with peak hours, we are choosing to drive. It is not required [as of this writing] to use the shuttle, but it does run every 10-15 mins from 8am-8pm in peak season. Also, if driving a large vehicle (like an RV), see the note below about limitations on parking when the shuttle is in operation.

Source: https://www.nps.gov/brca (you can find the current season's Information Guide here)


We are spending the night inside of the park at the Lodge at Bryce Canyon. I have had a bit of trouble locking in a room here. I originally had a cabin booked, but they then decided not to open them up due to staffing shortages* which left me scrambling a bit since all of the other lodging reservations were full at that point. Luckily, I kept checking back and finally snagged a cancellation. I'm happy to be staying inside the park at this particular location. I want to experience a rim sunrise in the morning which means getting up early. The closer we are, the more sleep we can get and the less stress we will have getting to a good viewpoint pre-dawn. Plus, Bryce Canyon Lodge is a historic landmark.


Bryce Canyon Lodge** was built in the 1920s and has a historic log-cabin quality to it. The main building has a large stone fireplace and exposed timber roof. There is not much actual "lodging" inside of the main building, though. Aside from three guest suites and one studio, all of the Bryce lodging is in separate buildings. but the restaurant and check-in counter are both located inside the historic space, and there is a common area near the fireplace to relax.


We are staying in a lodge style room which is situated close to the rim, ideal for our purposes. We find that our room is happily ready, so we collect our key and drive over to our lodgings for the evening. After dropping our luggage, resetting for the afternoon, and refilling our hydration packs***, we're off again to explore.


*Note: As of summer 2022, the Bryce Canyon Lodge Cabins are back open for the season. You can find reservation information here.


**Planning Note: Do not assume you will have internet access or a good cell phone signal here--in your room or the main Lodge (this is the case in many of the National Parks). I couldn't even so much as send an email from my phone while we were staying at the Lodge. Do your research before your trip, print out anything you may need, and have sunrise/sunset times written down before arrival if you need them. Also, be aware that the Lodge rooms do not have cable or air conditioning (they will provide fans if needed).


***Safety Tip: A hydration pack is key to hiking in the heat; we each brought a hydration backpack with a 2L water bladder. They were comfortable, adjustable, lightweight, and had just enough space in the compartments for what we needed throughout the day (snacks, headlamps, walking sticks, money, extra memory cards, etc.). The 2L size worked well for us, but keep in mind that you should calculate for roughly 1/2 of a liter of water per hour for normal hiking conditions. However, when hiking in extreme heat and/or high altitude, you should increase that amount to as much as double the recommendation. For more information on what to pack and safety gear, see the Part 1: Planning and Preparing "Preparing for Your Trip" section.

Photo: Entrance To The Park

The walk to the canyon rim from our room is quick--less than five minutes--but rather mundane; you certainly wouldn't expect to encounter anything extraordinary at the end of the journey. My husband, who often enjoys being surprised by our itineraries (I'm the planner) has no idea what's coming. The foliage along our route doesn't give anything away, and we have only seen trees and asphalt between the park entrance and the lodge. It's such a surprise to suddenly find this massive kaleidoscope of colorful rock formations sprawled before us when we reach the rim that it even pulls me up short.


Standing at the canyon rim, where elevations range from about 8,000 to 9,100 feet above sea level, we feel as if we are floating above another planet--on very thin air. The otherworldly feeling is intensified by the sea of Bryce's brilliantly hued hoodoos sprouting up from the gulf below. The layers of color striping the canyon's walls and painting its hoodoos look as if they must be artificial, but they are actually just a result of Bryce's unique geology.

Photo: The Unique Geology of Bryce Canyon (Sunset Point)

The "canyon" we see before us is, in fact, not a canyon*. It is a series of horseshoe shaped amphitheaters carved into a plateau. The amphitheaters, constructed over millions of years, are comprised of varying layers of deposited sedimentary rock, each layer alternating in consistency (limestone, sandstone, etc.) and strength. Each of these layers also has its own unique mineral composition, and thus its own distinctive color. Oxidized iron is responsible for many of the canyon's famous shades. Over time, uneven weathering and erosion of the varying layers of rock have led to the hoodoo shapes we see today. Mechanical weathering--water seeping into rock crevices, freezing, expanding, cracking the rock, thawing and repeating--is the most important contributor to the unique, rippled patterned hoodoos.

Like Zion, Bryce is a part of the Grand Staircase geological formation--the uppermost portion in this case. The cooler temperatures here allow for mechanical weathering to works its magic over 200 days a year, when temperatures drop below freezing. The higher altitude is a welcome relief for the cooler weather but not much else. The 8,000 foot plus elevation really bothers me. I'm prone to vertigo, and I most definitely experience it here. Oddly enough, though, I feel the effects of our altitude much more when I'm indoors; outside, I feel ok--which is good since we're walking the rim of a canyon.


*Note: Since it's called Bryce Canyon (and feels quite a bit like a canyon to me), I'll still "incorrectly" be referring to it as a canyon here.


Bryce Amphitheater Map

Source: https://www.nps.gov/brca (you can find the current season's Information Guide here)


The wide, paved trail skirting the amphitheater's rim in this section of the park is well back from the edge. Regardless, though, the elevation drop into the canyon from the upper walls has more of a gradual, sliding descent, not a dramatic drop-off in most parts. We are currently standing between the famed Sunrise and Sunset Points. This is the most popular section of the Rim Trail* to traverse, but it's later afternoon and not crowded. The distance between the two scenic spots is only a half mile, but we are a bit closer to Sunrise Point; so, we turn in that direction first.


Note: The Rim Trail is only paved in a small section; elsewhere, it is a dirt path which runs 5.5 miles (one way) along the scenic amphitheater rim from Fairyland Point to Bryce Point.

Photo: Sunrise Point

Sunrise Point attracts a lot of people for sunrise as a result of its name. Ironically, most things I've read say that between the two of them, Sunset Point is actually a better spot to see the sunrise over the amphitheater. Regardless, it's beautiful in the late afternoon. Photographing just a piece of this overlook doesn't do it justice. The amphitheater practically encircles the jutting viewpoint, and only a small portion can be crammed into a camera lens at any one time.

Photos: Views From The Rim Trail


After taking in Sunrise Point, we follow the Rim Trail back the way we came and continue south toward Sunset Point. The view along this entire portion of the trail is constantly changing. There are so many unique perspectives to take in over the course of only a half mile. The temperatures is pleasant, and we don't see many other people. We must have missed the majority of today's day trippers.


Photos: Sunset Point


Sunset Point may be even more picturesque than Sunrise Point. While the name is a bit deceiving--sunrise is apparently quite spectacular here--it is certainly striking in the later afternoon sun, as well. The switchback trail leading down from here goes through the park's famed Wall Street, but we plan to view that tomorrow. After a long morning of hiking in Zion already, we want to rest our legs this evening before another pre-dawn start.


I believe I know where I want to watch the sunrise from in the morning, and it's actually neither Sunrise or Sunset Point. However, I want to scope the spot out tonight to ensure we like the it and know how to get there. So, we walk back to our rental car and drive the three miles to Bryce Point. Bryce Point is one of the top rated spots for sunrise, and I can see why when we get there. Its has sweeping, birds-eye views of the amphitheater.

Photo: Bryce Point Overlook

The hoodoo festooned canyon sprawls around us in a U-shape from Bryce Point's overlook. At an elevation of 8,300 feet, it is certainly not the highest point in the park, but it's situated well above the canyon floor with unobstructed views. I can certainly see why it's one of the top recommended viewpoints for sunrise.

Photo: Bryce Point Panoramic

Given there's such a large area spread around us, we decide that some spots may be better than others to set up our tripod in the morning. We're uncertain how crowded it may get, so we want to ensure we pick a good vantage point. The north-west facing direction from the platform looks very promising. With the sun rising to the east and the shape of the amphitheater, it appears that the early morning rays will light this section as it rises without causing a glare. We settle on this as the spot for tomorrow.

Photo: Bryce Point

Our morning plans determined, we make our way back to the lodge to shower and change before dinner. We decide to head back toward Bryce Canyon City to find some dinner. There aren't a ton of options, but Pine's Restaurant has decent ratings and is supposed to be famous for its pie; so we drive there. Unfortunately, with the scarcity of options in the area, we are told the wait will be exorbitantly long. Given our early A.M. start time for tomorrow, we decide to just go back to the lodge and order dinner there. We do stop on the way back to grab a drink to go with dinner, though.


Dinner is currently being served to-go only*, but we have a table in our room. We order and take the food back with us. I get the Vegetarian Noodle Bowl (noodles stir fried with Napa cabbage, radicchio, rainbow kale, carrots, Brussel sprouts, and broccoli, tossed with a garlic ginger broth and topped with crispy noodles), and my husband orders the Panguitch Pork Chop (topped with apple chutney and served with roasted red potatoes and chef’s vegetable). They're both very filling and hit the spot with a beer after a long day.


Soon after dinner, we settle down to sleep. I don't sleep as well as I typically would after a long day of hiking, though. Fear that I will oversleep and miss sunrise compounded with a mild headache and dry throat make for a restless night. Once up, my husband says that he is experiencing similar mild symptoms. At first, I'm worried that maybe we're coming down with something, but I soon realize that our symptoms are more in line with the effects of high altitude. We appear to be suffering the effects of mild acute mountain sickness (AMS).** We are fairly high up, currently around 8,000 feet. (For comparison, Denver, nicknamed the mile high city, is only 5,279 feet above sea level.) Luckily, our symptoms don't seem to be at a concerning point. We hydrate well and head out for sunrise, happy in the knowledge that tonight we will be sleeping at half this elevation in Arizona.


*Note: The Lodge at Bryce Canyon Restaurant is now back to full service in the dining room. No reservations required (seating is first come, first serve), serving regional cuisine and a decent wine list. Breakfast 7:30am-10am; Lunch 11:30am-3pm; Dinner 5pm-9pm. Another option open for summer (beginning in 2022) is Valhalla Pizzeria & Coffee Shop--more information can be found here.


**Safety Tip: Mild AMS is common at high elevations, but symptoms can advance to moderate or severe. At that point, action should be taken immediately. Know the symptoms and your risk factors and pay close attention to your body.

Photo: Bryce Point Sunrise Panorama

We arrive at Bryce Point in relative darkness. The horizon is just beginning to tint a light shade of pink. There is only one other couple here ahead of us, so we have our pick of spots and set up our tripod facing the direction we decided on yesterday.

Photo: My Very Focused Photographer

As the horizon begins to glow, so does the amphitheater. First, it emanates a soft pink, then the rock shifts to a more vibrant peach. Finally, as the sun touches the tips of the hoodoos, they begin to alight like birthday candles, each touched by the flame of a flickering match. It's magical to watch.

Photos: Views Of Bryce Point At Sunrise


The number of spectators around us increases exponentially as the sun begins to breach the horizon. Once the golden orb has fully emerged, we head off to our car to check out nearby Inspiration Point, hopefully staying a step ahead of the crowd today. On the way, we encounter a mule deer eating breakfast along the side of the still quiet road. We also spot a few more of his friends through the trees, munching in a nearby field. We're not too surprised to see them--mule deer are some of the most common animals found in the park--but they are the first real wildlife we've encountered at Bryce which merits a quick stop. Soon, though, we're off to Inspiration Point.

Photo: Mule Deer

Inspiration Point came in a close second when I was making my choice of where to view sunrise. At an elevation of 8,100 feet, it has a commanding view over the amphitheater. There are several unique angles from which to take in the view here, with an upper and a lower viewpoint connected by a steep hill along the Rim Trail. We start at the lower viewpoint and then trek our way along the rim to the upper overlook. It's definitely a hike "up" to the top portion!

Photos: Inspiration Point


The view from Upper Inspiration Point is worth the burning calves, though. The sprawling panorama over the amphitheater is equally impressive with Bryce Point. There is a bit of a glare from the sun now that it's firmly in the sky, but it is definitely another great choice for a sunrise vista.

Photo: Inspiration Point (Upper Point)

While we're in this general area, we decide to take a mini detour to Paria View Viewpoint, as well. The two viewpoints are located 2 miles off the main road on a T-shaped dead-end, with Inspiration Point at one end of the T and Para View Viewpoint at the other. It makes sense to visit both together. The elevation is slightly higher here at 8,175 feet, which should most likely not be noticeable to an observer, but the canyon below is lacking in the garden of hoodoos we've experienced at the other viewpoints thus far, so it seems deeper as a result.

Photos: Paria View Viewpoint


After we've had our fill of views of the canyon from above, we head back to Sunrise Point for a hike* into the canyon that will take us up close to the hoodoos we've been admiring from afar. The Queen's Garden Trail is a 1.8 mile down and back hike into the canyon that begins at Sunrise Point. I've read about the unparalleled experience of hiking next to the Canyon's mammoth spires, so I'm excited to get out on the trail.


My plan is to just hike down a portion of the Queen's Garden Trail** and turn around since there's another canyon trail I want to check out after this. All of my pre-trip reading said that this is the easiest descent into the canyon. What they didn't tell me--I would argue--is that it's the hardest ascent. The farther down we go, the more I look back up the steep trail and dread the turnaround. The views just keep getting better the closer we get to the canyon floor, though, so I can't bring myself to make the about-face early as planned.


*Safety Tip: Canyon trails are strewn with marble-like rocks; tread carefully and wear fitted hiking boots with ankle support if possible.


**Note: The trail is 1-2 hour round trip (1.8 miles) with a 450 foot ascent.

Photos: Hiking The Queen's Garden Trail from Top Down


As we get closer to the bottom, we pass through narrow stone passageways and even keyhole doors cut through the rock. It's quite a fun adventure. We're also relieved to not find any steep drop-offs along the way--something we're never a fan of encountering. Once we get past the narrow , high-walled portion of the trail, it opens up again, and we come out at a section where we can truly take in the magnitude of the stone hoodoos towering around us. We look like tiny ants next to these rocky behemoths.

Photo: Hoodoos Along The Queen's Garden Trail

It's about time to turn around, but the thought of climbing back up this trail, with the worst of the steep portions now in the blazing sun, is not appealing to us at the moment. We encounter a few hikers coming from the opposite direction, and I stop to ask them if they're coming from the Navajo Loop Trail connection or just reversing on the Queen's Garden Trail. The Navajo Loop Trail is a 1.3 mile (1-2 hour) loop trail that departs from Sunset Point. I plan to do all or part of it after the Queen's Garden Trail. However, I know that you can connect the Queen's Garden Trail to a portion of the Navajo Loop Trail by walking 0.8 miles across the canyon floor. That takes you to the bottom of the Navajo Loop Trail where can pick a side of the ring (preferably the Wall Street side, if it's open) to hiking back up to Sunset Point. Since we plan to hike through Wall Street later, connecting the trails to avoid two hikes back up and out of this canyon is an appealing thought right now.


Sure enough, the hikers are coming from the Navajo Loop connection*, and they highly recommend it to us. They say coming down Wall Street is steep but manageable. We conclude that the ascent can't be worse than reversing our current direction, so we decide to go for it.** Connecting the trails is one of the most popular options in Bryce, and frankly, I don't know why I didn't just plan to do this from the beginning.


*Tip: You can start the hike from either side, but I highly recommend starting at the Queen's Garden trailhead and then hiking up through Wall Street both for the views and because hiking up the Wall Street switchbacks is significantly easier than hiking down them. I find the reverse to be true of the Queen's Garden--going down seems to be significantly easier than hiking up the steep, inclined hills in the sun.


**Note: The total distance from the top of Queen's Garden (Sunrise Point), through the canyon, up the Wall Street half of Navajo Loop, and then connecting Sunset Point back to Sunrise Point for a full loop comes out to about a 2.9 mile (2-3 hour) hike. (The other half of the Navajo Loop is known as the Two Bridges side. If Wall Street is closed, you will have to take that route up to Sunset Point. The Two Bridges side features Thor's Hammer--a hoodoo shaped like Thor's Hammer at the top. If you still want to see it after reaching the top of Wall Street, you can follow the Navajo Loop in the opposite direction about 50 yards, see it, and reverse back up.)

Photos: Canyon Floor Connecting Queen's Garden And Navajo Loop Trails


The canyon floor is shaded at this time of the morning, and it's still pleasantly cool down here. The atmosphere is peaceful; we don't encounter a large number of people. The trail is well worn, so we don't have to worry about getting lost along the way, and the 0.8 miles is relatively flat and easy to navigate. We're free to just take in our surroundings and relax a bit for the first time this morning.


I'm looking forward to Wall Street since I've read so much about it. Wall Street is a short, narrow slot canyon that leads to a walled-in 30 switchback trail back to the rim at Sunrise Point. The trail is a highlight of Bryce Canyon, but it can close due to rock fall or winter weather. I'm excited to find that it is open today.

Photos: Wall Street And The Switchback Trail Leading Up To The Rim From It


When we reach it, I find Wall Street equal parts awe-inspiring and claustrophobic. Looking up at the rocky overhangs floating above us, I can see why this area is periodically closed for rock fall. I hope today's not the day one of the jagged shelves decides to break loose. After exploring the slot canyon space, finding it so narrow in parts that the rocks nearly meet over our heads, we hike up toward the switchback trail to Sunset Point.


The switchback trail certainly gains elevation as it climbs up and out of the canyon, but the hike is not nearly as hard as I would expect. The constant reverse of direction keeps the trail from getting too steep in places and allows for a quick reset when needed. As hoped, this is significantly easier than the long, inclined trail back out of the Queen's Garden trail to the rim. It's also a bonus unique experience walking between the steep stone fins bordering the trail on both sides.

Photos: Wall Street From Above


Once up and out of the canyon, we glance back at where we came from below and are surprised to see how far down we were just a few minutes ago. The switchback trail from a distance reminds me a bit of the tracks of an ant farm tunnel. Moments like this really make me feel insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe!


Now at Sunset Point*, we simply need to follow the Rim Trail back around the half mile to Sunrise Point where we left the car. I am more than ready for a cup of caffeine after a very early morning start with limited sustenance. Luckily, the Bryce Canyon General Store and Snack Bar** is located just off Sunrise Point. We stop to use the restroom there, as well as make up a cup of much needed coffee (for my husband) and tea (for me). We also browse the souvenirs. I'm always on the lookout for a good Christmas Ornament to commemorate our trips. It's a fun way to revisit our adventures year after year as we decorate the tree.


*Tip: A ranger Geology Talk takes place at Sunset Point daily at 11am (20-30 mins); no reservation needed. There are also several other good ranger-led programs offered at different locations throughout the park. An Evening Program is presented at the outdoor theater Memorial Day to Labor Day at 9pm (45 mins). A Stargazing program is offered at 10pm on Friday and Saturday (in summer season, Saturday only in winter season). Both evening programs require same-day signup (opens at 8am at the Visitor's Center until full). Additional information on this and other offerings can be found a the Visitor's Center or on the NPS website's calendar here.


**Note: The Bryce Canyon General Store and Snack Bar is open 9am-6pm. It sells grab-and-go food (pizza slices, salads, sandwiches), drinks (coffee, tea, soda, water, beer), groceries, ice cream, camping equipment, and souvenirs. There is seating on the store's porch.


Map of Bryce Canyon Drive

Source: https://www.nps.gov/brca (you can find the current season's Information Guide here)


Our caffeinated beverages stowed in the car's cupholders, we settle into our seats to begin the Bryce Canyon Driving Tour. The drive officially begins at Fairyland Point, which is back in the direction of Bryce Canyon City. The spot isn't known for its views of the canyon, though, so we are going to skip it rather than detour back in that direction. We've also already explored the next five viewpoints along the route (Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, Bryce Point, and Paria View Viewpoint). So, our next logical stop along the route is going to be Swamp Canyon*.


*Tip: On busy days, it may be easier to drive to the end of the Main Park Road and then work from Rainbow Viewpoint (the last point) back toward the park's entrance so that all of the turns are right turns instead of needing to make all lefts across oncoming traffic.

Photos: Swamp Canyon (first); Far View Point (second)


Swamp Canyon is a forested area of Bryce Canyon. It's not as sparsely vegetated as the areas we've explored of the Canyon up until this point. In keeping with the greener portion of the canyon, the next viewpoint we reach, Far View Point, looks similar in terms of being more densely forested. At an elevation of 8,819 feet, it's also the highest elevation we've encountered thus far.

Photo: Natural Bridge

Our Next overlook is at Natural Bridge (elevation 8,627 feet). They certainly haven't worked to come up with super creative names for the viewpoints at Bryce Canyon. Natural Bridge is a limestone arch that resembles a bridge, sitting at the edge of the overlook. It's the first real arch we've seen on the trip, so it feels like a fun preview for Arches National Park which we will be doing in a few days.

Photos: Agua Canyon (first); Ponderosa Canyon (second)


Past Natural Bridge is Agua Canyon (elevation 8,800 feet)--complete with two enormous hoodoos. The top-heavy rock towers here are quite impressive. Further down, we encounter Ponderosa Canyon's overlook with scenic views out across the verdant hills in the distance.

Photo: Black Birch Canyon

Our penultimate stop is Black Birch Canyon (elevation 8,750 feet). Interestingly, it has no black birch trees, so this "creative" name is a bit of a misnomer--but Bryce "Canyon" is familiar with misnomers by now. Past Black Birch is the final viewpoint. It's also the highest point in Bryce at 9,115 feet--Rainbow Point*. From the elevated, panoramic vista we encounter at Rainbow Point, the area does more resemble a plateau than a canyon. It's a rather impressive overlook of our surroundings--and we've been at a lot of unique viewpoints at this point, so that's saying a lot!


Note: You can reach Rainbow point via a short path from the nearby parking lot; across the parking lot, another short path leads to Yovimpa Point and another (slightly less impressive) viewpoint.

Photo: Rainbow Point

Our driving tour of Bryce Canyon complete, we drive the 30 minutes back to the Lodge. We plan to grab lunch at the restaurant before heading to our next destination. There is a bit of a line to order in the dining room, but it moves quickly. I'm famished, so I splurge and get the Bryce bison burger with bleu cheese and sautéed mushrooms and a side of French fries. My husband opts for the more healthy Sonoran salad with grilled chicken (greens with roasted corn, tomatoes, onions, black beans, cheddar jack cheese, cornbread croutons and cilantro lime dressing).

Photos: Lunch at Bryce Canyon Lodge


My meal is quite filling; so I skip the bun and share my fries with my husband to save some room for a stop at the Ice Cream Shop we saw in Bryce Canyon City on our way back out of the park. It seems like the perfect treat after a long morning with still so much to do today. Our next stop after lunch is going to be Kodachrome Basic State Park for another hike, followed by a scenic drive down Cottonwood Canyon Road through Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, and tonight, we will be sleeping in Page, Arizona. It's already been an incredible day, and we still have so many exciting experiences ahead of us!


As we exit the gates of Bryce Canyon, it feels a bit bittersweet to be leaving such a captivating place less than 24 hours after our arrival. We truly have maximized our limited time to the fullest, though. There's always the chance we'll be back to explore more someday, but for now, there are many more adventures awaiting us on the road ahead!


Click Here To Read Part 4: Kodachrome & Grand Staircase Escalante



Credit for Some of the Featured Photos: Kyle Perkins

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