Home to premier rock climbing, mountain biking, paddling, and hiking, Southern Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are two of the most stunning—and most fragile—examples of natural splendor on the planet. This trip itinerary details ways to experience their wonder responsibly so you can have a great time, feel good about it, and preserve their magic for generations to come.
A five-day adventure, it goes off the beaten path and gives travelers a more intimate experience with the landscape. From making use of the many free shuttles to visiting in off-peak times (when you can enjoy mild weather and fewer crowds), this journey shows how to visit some of the U.S.’s most iconic and precious wild lands while treading lightly. Bring camping gear to get the most out this trip and get ready to drive some of the most scenic roads in the country.
Itinerary / 5 DAYSPLAN YOUR TRIP
DAY 1 The gateway to Bryce Canyon
Once you reach Bryce Canyon City, visit Ruby’s Inn General Store for all of your camping and food supplies (and pick up a few souvenirs). The century-old Ruby’s is home to a hotel, diner, and restaurant and offers guides and activities. Whether you’re camping or looking for a hotel, all accommodations in the Bryce Canyon area fill up quick. It’s best to reserve your campsite or hotel room as early as possible.
Within the park the only hotel is The Lodge at Bryce Canyon, which also offers cabins. Rooms at the cozy stone and log lodge are hard to come by during peak vacation times. Book early or give the lodge a call to see if there are any last-minute cancellations. Sites at the North Campground in the park are available on a first-come-first-serve basis but the Sunset Campground offers rolling reservations six months in advance. Reserve ahead so you’ll be guaranteed a site.
Summer is peak season at Bryce Canyon so consider planning your trip for spring or fall. Accommodation will be easier to secure and you’ll enjoy milder midday temperatures and an even more intimate nature experience. (Though at 7,000 feet above sea level, evenings and nights can be quite chilly outside of summer, so pack accordingly.)
Once you’re settled in, stop by the Visitors Center via shuttle to check for special events like night hikes and to get the latest trail conditions. To get a taste of what the park has to offer, set out on the Rim Trail, a moderate 5.5 mile out-and-back trail where you’ll enjoy a spectacular view into the Main Amphitheatre of the canyon.
DAYS 2-3Hiker's paradise
After a healthy breakfast at The Lodge at Bryce Canyon Restaurant, hop on the shuttle and disembark at Sunset Point for the Navajo Loop Trail, a “greatest hits” trail of rock formations in the park including famous hoodoos (tall, thin spires of rock) like Thor’s Hammer, Wall Street and Twin Bridges. The hike takes about an hour and a half. Add on the Queens Garden hike within the loop for a bonus tour of three of the park’s most striking rock formations. While this hike is relatively short, the elevation gain returning to the canyon rim should not be underestimated.
The second day hike is one that many visitors miss but is absolutely worth it. Fairyland Loop is a moderate eight-mile loop that takes about four hours to complete. The entrance to Fairyland Point lies between the park’s entrance and the Visitor Center so many first-timers pass right by it. Expect epic views of the canyon and formations like the Sinking Ship framed by fragrant Douglas fir and juniper.
DAYS 4-5Escalante's dramatic scenery
In the morning, continue driving on Scenic Byway 12 toward Boulder. Stop in Escalante (about 50 minutes away) for breakfast or lunch. Thanks to its location on the byway, there’s no shortage of cafés and restaurants. Check out the French-inspired Mimi’s Bakery & Deli and pick up snacks for the day at local favorite Escalante Mercantile, a natural grocery store.
Continue on the byway for another 20 minutes for an epic roundtrip hike and swim at Lower Calf Creek Falls. (Note that this is a popular hike and there’s minimal parking available so this one should be saved for off-peak times. When on the trail, please respect your fellow hikers and the landscape by sticking to the path.) There’s also camping at the trailhead. If you’re planning on camping try to arrive early in the day to claim a site. The hike itself is a moderate six-mile loop. Expect about four hours depending on how long you wish to spend swimming at the 126-foot, waterfall-fed pool. The water is cold but refreshing after a somewhat taxing hike that winds through the red desert sand. Enjoy the lush vegetation and cooling mists before making your way back to the trailhead.
If you’re not camping, head to Boulder, just 20 minutes up the byway from the trailhead. (Campers will also want to head to town for a memorable meal in the morning.) The town is home to a thriving restaurant scene. Stop by the Burr Trail Grill for contemporary comfort food or visit Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm which is only open seasonally, so be sure to check in advance. The Boulder Mountain Lodge is a cozy but classic spot for a restful last night.
Before leaving town, visit the Anasazi State Park Museum to explore the cultural heritage of the area. The site was once home to one of the most populous Anasazi (respectfully known as Ancestral Puebloan) settlements west of the Colorado River. Now a preserved archaeological site, don’t miss the self-guided tour that winds through ruins and a replica pueblo for a cultural experience that will deepen your appreciation of this exceptional place.