Road Trip to Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

Jim Kenney

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Road Trip to Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
by Jim Kenney
PugSki Travel Correspondent
(All photos by Jim Kenney)

On 10 June 2020 my wife and I made a day-trip from Salt Lake City, UT to Bryce Canyon National Park (BCNP). It was a beautiful day for a drive, sunny and somewhat cooler than recent weeks. The temps in the Salt Lake Valley may have hit 80 degrees. BCNP, even though it's hundreds of miles to the south, is at a fairly high elevation (7900-9100') and the mid-day temps there were a very comfortable 65 degs.

10 june bcnp.jpg


It was a somewhat grueling, 550 mile roundtrip, but we'd never been to BCNP before and I'm a crazy road warrior. We took a partially circular route to maximize the scenic interest during a long car ride. I drove every mile and loved it. My wife did her best to keep me alert by talking a blue streak much of the way. For the outbound leg we took Interstate 15 south for two hundred miles and then cut east on Rt 20 for about 50 miles to reach the park entrance. After entering BCNP there is an 18 mile out-and-back scenic drive, which we completed while making numerous stops at scenic overlooks along the way. For about 150 miles on the return trip we took two country highways (US 89 and Rt 50) that roughly parallel Interstate 15 to the east and through quiet rural areas. We rejoined 15 near little Scipio, UT for the final 120 miles of the trip. We were on the road for almost 12 hours, including about four hours spent sightseeing at BCNP.

Although the park gateway town of Panguitch (rhymes with sandwich and is a cute little place) seemed very quiet, Bryce Canyon City (tourist pit stop immediately outside the park) was quite a bit busier. We were able to find parking at the numerous smaller scenic overlooks in the park, but they were often close to full. I can only assume that we caught the park on a relatively slow day compared to traffic during a nice day in June in pre-covid times? If it was any busier, however, it might have been a little uncomfortable trying to maintain social distancing. The park's shuttle bus system was in operation and I'm sure that's a good option during normal peak times at the park.

I've put my wife through some crazy driving adventures. She's a saint. We stretched our legs at one of the first overlooks inside the park.
10 june kathy.jpg


Our plan was to drive directly to Rainbow Point at the end of the park's scenic drive and stop at overlooks on the return, but we couldn't help pulling over to see The Natural Bridge at about mile 12. (Several of my photos are panoramic and will enlarge when clicked on.)
10 june natural bridge.png


Our next stop was at Rainbow Point (elevation 9115') at the southern end of the park's scenic drive. Other than one gas stop on Interstate 15, this was pretty much a totally self-contained trip. We brought food and drinks from home and found a relatively private spot at Rainbow Point to set up our camp chairs for a nice picnic. There are hiking trails here and we took a short walk after lunch in the forest and along the rim of the canyon. Prior to our visit I had no idea this part of the park was over 9000' in elevation. The climb by automobile is deceptive, but I felt the altitude once there.

10 june rainbow pt pano.jpg


The next spot in the park where we spent a good bit of time was Inspiration Point at about the 3 mile mark on the scenic drive. It's one of the park highlights and we took a great hike along the canyon rim here including to Upper Inspiration Point at the far right of this panoramic photo. The canyon in the center of this photo is THE Bryce Canyon.
10 june THE bryce canyon pano.jpg


There are tremendous sheer cliffs along much of the canyon rim. We didn't have time to hike down into the canyon. I MUST do a return trip sometime to BCNP!
1591982100615.png


This is the million dollar view from Upper Inspiration Point and was our last stop on our visit inside BCNP. There was a good little (~250' vertical) climb to get up here. Good thing I did some training by skinning at Alta the day before.:P
10 june upper inspiration point.jpg


On the return trip to Salt Lake City from BCNP and about 15 miles west of the park there is a very scenic hiking and biking area called Red Canyon in the Dixie National Forest.
10 june red canyon tunnel.jpg


More of Red Canyon; I still feel like a kid in a geologic candy store driving around Utah. Our Subie passed the 100k mile mark on the odometer during this outing.
10 june outback.jpg


On our rural return route to SLC we stopped for a quick visit to Butch Cassidy's boyhood home along US 89 near Circleville, UT. This was a fun surprise that broke up the trip.
10 june butch sign.jpg


There was a plexiglass panel inside the door of Butch's house and I figured out a way to sneak a selfie into this trip report:ogbiggrin:
10 june butch selfie.jpg


Our final surprise before returning to Interstate 15; this is Big Rock Candy Mountain where the Sevier River flows with lemonade...at least according to the old hobo song.
10 june big rock candy mountain.jpg


Big Rock Candy Mountain song:
 

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fatbob

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I'm more familiar with this version as a slice of perfect British 80s indie guitar


Bryce is awesome - I was there 26 December last year and the year before - even more photogenic in the snow. Were you not tempted to do the double/treble with Zion & Cedar Breaks - guess motels are still a bit sketchy?
 
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Jim Kenney

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I'm more familiar with this version as a slice of perfect British 80s indie guitar


Bryce is awesome - I was there 26 December last year and the year before - even more photogenic in the snow. Were you not tempted to do the double/treble with Zion & Cedar Breaks - guess motels are still a bit sketchy?
We were on the covid express. Minimal stops, maximum open countryside.
 

BC.

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I’ll live vicariously through your reports.....we just cancelled our July trip to UT. (Zion, Bryce, Arches/Moab). We’ve been to all of them before, but our daughters wanted to visit again this summer.......UT is a special place.
 

Ski&ride

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If it was any busier, however, it might have been a little uncomfortable trying to maintain social distancing. The park's shuttle bus system was in operation and I'm sure that's a good option during normal peak times at the park.
A better option would be to bike the 18 mile. You’re then free to stop anywhere along the edge. Not limited by parking opportunities.

Even better option will be to visit in the winter, as the photo offered by fatbob.

about 15 miles west of the park there is a very scenic hiking and biking area called Red Canyon in the Dixie National Forest.
Having been to Bryce twice, I now go to Red Canyon as my primary destination

Much fewer people, much better experience.
 
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Jim Kenney

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@Ski&ride , good points. I noticed the nice bike trail in Red Canyon was being used. In my lack of experience I did not realize Bryce Canyon was primarily a "rim" experience for casual visitors like myself. It's somewhat like the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in that respect. There were a few cyclists on the scenic road inside the park, but not too many. For a high elevation road, the scenic drive in the park is not too hilly. For a mountaintop drive, I'm much more familiar with Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Cyclists ride it too, but it is extremely undulating with constant long climbs and descents - challenging biking.
 

Ski&ride

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In my lack of experience I did not realize Bryce Canyon was primarily a "rim" experience for casual visitors like myself. It's somewhat like the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in that respect.
The “rim experience” is the typical first impression of casual visitors, but by no means “primary” experience. You can hike down from the rim, to be “IN” the hoodoos. The view and the experience is entirely different.

Unlike the Grand Canyon, the hike down from the rim of Bryce is relatively short. Extremely rewarding for such little energy expenditure.

For the mountain bikers of this board, the trail in Red Canyon is long and mostly downhill. (Short steep climb up, but the scenery compensate the suffering. Then long and gradual descent into the forest, pure joy)
 
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Ski&ride

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There is skiing to be had there :geek:
You can actually cross country ski the rim in the winter. The scenery is pretty unique. (Also a bunch of other XC ski trails outside the park, with just as good scenery)

I think you might be able to snowshoe somewhere below the rim too. But I was there only with my XC skis so didn't investigate further.
 

fatbob

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Winter is good but usually the road is closed past the main amphitheatre viewpoints - sunrise and sunset. It's also worth getting in early in the day and can be surprisingly cold - the altitude is not what you necessarily expect. Lots of tourists in unsuitable footwear and wanting for decent gloves - if they've roadtripped from Vegas or LA not necessarily anticipating mountain weather.

The drive up through Escalante and million dollar highway to Capital Reef NP and through to Green River for Moab is pretty cool too.
 

AmyPJ

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My favorite park in Utah. Yes, do take a trip down there to hike into it! The hoodoos change as you hike through them. It's kind of surreal.

I'm sure we'll get down there again this fall with the bikes. Thunder Mountain trail is right there and is spectacular.
 

SSSdave

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There is far more at Bryce NP than most that just do a few popular trails ever see. Enough one could spend a month there in May and hike new areas every day including some fascinating places off trails. There are vast areas of Utah where people have rarely if ever walked much like our other waterless Southwest desert regions with much outside parks on BLM lands that the general public has yet to discover.

Another good road trip mid May through early June is east on route 24 through Capitol Reef into Caineville and out on the back roads to places like Temple of the Sun or Factory Butte. And then swinging north for Goblin Valley. Best to visit many areas of the Colorado plateau mid spring between late April and early June when water still flows in seasonal streams and wildflowers are blooming. After early June when most Americans vacation, landscapes become hot and dry with flowers long gone. Provia 100F 4x5 drum scan from 2005 near Caineville where dinosaur bones and otherworldly weirdness abounds.

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Caineville1.jpg
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Wendy

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There is far more at Bryce NP than most that just do a few popular trails ever see. Enough one could spend a month there in May and hike new areas every day including some fascinating places off trails. There are vast areas of Utah where people have rarely if ever walked much like our other waterless Southwest desert regions with much outside parks on BLM lands that the general public has yet to discover.

Another good road trip mid May through early June is east on route 24 through Capitol Reef into Caineville and out on the back roads to places like Temple of the Sun or Factory Butte. And then swinging north for Goblin Valley. Best to visit many areas of the Colorado plateau mid spring between late April and early June when water still flows in seasonal streams and wildflowers are blooming. After early June when most Americans vacation, landscapes become hot and dry with flowers long gone. Provia 100F 4x5 drum scan from 2005 near Caineville where dinosaur bones and otherworldly weirdness abounds.

. View attachment 104550 .
That sort of looks like The Wave at Coyote Gulch, I think east of Kanab. Maybe over the AZ border; I can’t remember. Needed a permit to hike it.

@Jim Kenney if you travel south of Bryce, about 30 minutes, along the Pariah River, you get to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, one of the most remote places in the lower 48. Amazing scenery, hiking, and lots of dinosaur bones and petrified wood. Lots of mountain lions, too. The state park there, Kodachrome Basin State Park, is amazing with awesome campsites. I was fortunate enough to spend 5 summers in this area and got to know it well. There are some crazy slot canyons to hike around there. One, Bull Valley Gorge, has a car hanging off a bridge, that crashed in the 1950‘s. At the beginning of the hike, the gorge is about waist deep, then it gets deeper and narrower. Some places I had to squeeze through sideways, while the walls were way over my head. Incredible.


Also Highway 12 traveling east from Escalante......OMG, that’s jaw-dropping scenery. We used to stop at the Kiva Cafe on that road...cool little place. There’s some cool swimming holes back in there, too....Upper Calf Creek, or Lower Calf Creek, I can’t remember which. @AmyPJ you should check that out.

This area of the country is near and dear to my heart.

Thanks for sharing and bringing back great memories!!!
 
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AmyPJ

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That sort of looks like The Wave at Coyote Gulch, I think east of Kanab. Maybe over the AZ border; I can’t remember. Needed a permit to hike it.

@Jim Kenney if you travel south of Bryce, about 30 minutes, along the Pariah River, you get to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, one of the most remote places in the lower 48. Amazing scenery, hiking, and lots of dinosaur bones and petrified wood. Lots of mountain lions, too. The state park there, Kodachrome Basin State Park, is amazing with awesome campsites. I was fortunate enough to spend 5 summers in this area and got to know it well. There are some crazy slot canyons to hike around there. One, Bull Valley Gorge, has a car hanging off a bridge, that crashed in the 1950‘s. At the beginning of the hike, the gorge is about waist deep, then it gets deeper and narrower. Some places I had to squeeze through sideways, while the walls were way over my head. Incredible.


Also Highway 12 traveling east from Escalante......OMG, that’s jaw-dropping scenery. We used to stop at the Kiva Cafe on that road...cool little place. There’s some cool swimming holes back in there, too....Upper Calf Creek, or Lower Calf Creek, I can’t remember which. @AmyPJ you should check that out.

This area of the country is near and dear to my heart.

Thanks for sharing and bringing back great memories!!!
Been to Calf Creek Falls, plan to go back! I agree, that whole area is spectacular.
 

Daniel

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That sort of looks like The Wave at Coyote Gulch, I think east of Kanab. Maybe over the AZ border; I can’t remember. Needed a permit to hike it.

@Jim Kenney if you travel south of Bryce, about 30 minutes, along the Pariah River, you get to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, one of the most remote places in the lower 48. Amazing scenery, hiking, and lots of dinosaur bones and petrified wood. Lots of mountain lions, too. The state park there, Kodachrome Basin State Park, is amazing with awesome campsites. I was fortunate enough to spend 5 summers in this area and got to know it well. There are some crazy slot canyons to hike around there. One, Bull Valley Gorge, has a car hanging off a bridge, that crashed in the 1950‘s. At the beginning of the hike, the gorge is about waist deep, then it gets deeper and narrower. Some places I had to squeeze through sideways, while the walls were way over my head. Incredible.


Also Highway 12 traveling east from Escalante......OMG, that’s jaw-dropping scenery. We used to stop at the Kiva Cafe on that road...cool little place. There’s some cool swimming holes back in there, too....Upper Calf Creek, or Lower Calf Creek, I can’t remember which. @AmyPJ you should check that out.

This area of the country is near and dear to my heart.

Thanks for sharing and bringing back great memories!!!
The photo referenced in your reply to SSSdave was taken in the Caineville Mesa/Bentonite Hills area north of route 24 between Capital Reef N.P. and Hanksville, not all that far from Factory Butte. Those mountains in the background are part of the Henry Mountains, one of the last mountain ranges to be explored in the lower 48 states and home to a large bison herd of around 700 strong. The Henrys are a great place to explore on a mountain bike or a dirt bike although, if on a mountain bike, one can ride to within close proximity of the herd without causing a stampede, as the bison seem to be perplexed/unconcerned by such a quiet contraption. In my opinion, the summits of the highest peaks in the Henrys are only rivaled by Navajo Mountain for the most stunning, expansive views of a wide swath of Southern Utah.

I used to go to Coyote Buttes (home to "The Wave") soon after ski season ended for several days up to a week on multiple occasions during the pre-lottery/permit implementation for the area. It's in Utah very, very close to the AZ state line. Here's a website that illustrates what some of that area looks like: https://utah.com/the-wave. Right next door are Paria Canyon and Buckskin Gulch, other gems that now also requires a permit: https://utah.com/paria-canyon & buckskin gulch . Every trip I've taken down Buckskin Gulch has been a different adventure, as the obstacles and challenges can change drastically from year to year.

Lower Calf Creek Falls is by far the more popular and developed of the two CCF. It has a developed trail with a small BLM campground and nowadays requires an entry fee. Upper Calf Creek Falls is several miles north and sees far less visitation than LCCF but far more visitation than many years ago. The falls are not quite as impressive as LCCF but the swimming hole is outstanding: no matter how hot the day, the water is always very cold and deep with plenty of places to launch into it from the surrounding sandstone. The trail to get to it is far more strenuous than the one to LCCF, which keeps the number of users down, and often features opportunities to see rattlesnakes along the way to and from. Lower Calf Creek, prior to plunging over LCCF is remarkable. It cuts a narrow, fast moving, path of water through the sandstone and is full of trout that literally can be caught/swept out of the water by hand.

Kiva Koffeehouse is located between Escalante and Boulder in the Hell's Backbone area: https://www.kivakoffeehouse.com/about
 

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