Rounding out Utah’s Big Five National Parks are Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park. These two are in the southwestern portion of the state.
The great thing about the National Parks in Utah are that none of them are the same, they each offer something.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Entering the park, the visitor center is pretty quick on the right. Here’s a great place to start your trip to get information on any hikes or sightseeing you want to plan on doing. You can also watch a 20-minute film introducing the park or walk through the exhibit they have on display.
Also, be sure to talk to the rangers here to get an idea of what parking is like throughout the park. There is limited parking and it fills up very fast. They offer a free shuttle service that loops through the park which may be a good idea to avoid the hassles of parking, especially in the busy season.
Our favorite hike in Bryce Canyon is the combination of the Navajo Loop Trail and the Queens Garden Trail. This hike is just under 3 miles and starts at Sunset Point. Walking down into the canyon and down into “Wall Street” is like something I’ve never seen before. The colors and the rock formations are out of this world. For more information on this combo hike, check out www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/qgnavajocombo.htm.
A little FYI though, on that webpage it recommends not hiking down Wall Street and up Queens Garden. We actually did this route at the recommendation of a ranger at the Visitor Center. We also saw the looks on people’s faces that were hiking up Wall Street and I think we chose the right route.
Another hike we really enjoyed is Mossy Cave Trail. This hike is actually out of the park toward the town of Tropic. To get there, head out of the park, and go east on Hwy 12 for about 3.5 miles. This road has a pretty steep decline, so keep a sharp eye out for a parking lot right off the road on the right hand side.
This hike is very short, less than a mile round trip, but it follows a small creek and has a very neat waterfall view. The hike has an intersection which going left will take you to Mossy Cave and going right will take you closer to the waterfall. I suggest doing both! We did this hike at sunset which gave amazingly rich colors.
Along with the fantastic views you get during these hikes, Bryce Canyon also has several spots to park and just soak in the fantastic vistas.
The two that I enjoyed the best were Inspiration Point and Sunset Point. These both offered views of the canyon and all the hoodoos and other rock formations below. The thing that I enjoyed about it the most is that even though these viewpoints look down to the same place, they look totally different from each end.
Bryce Canyon has two campgrounds right in the park. The North Campground has 99 sites in a mix of RV and tent sites. There are no hookups at these sites, so be prepared. There is a general store near this campground which offers laundry, showers, snacks and supplies.
There is also Sunset Campground, which is a mile and a half further into the park and consists of 100 sites. Again, no hookups at this campground either.
For more information on camping in Bryce Canyon, check out www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/campgrounds.htm.
Outside the Park
There are plenty of things to do outside Bryce Canyon. From campgrounds and hotels to restaurants and activities, you’ll be able to find it.
The town of Bryce is right outside the park. Here you’ll find Ruby’s Inn, which is combination of a hotel, rv resort and campground. They also have a general store, restaurant, and several activities such as horseback riding, mountain biking and ATV tours. I’m not sure who Ruby is, but she pretty much has the town of Bryce locked down. For more information on Rubys Inn, check out http://www.rubysinn.com.
We stopped for a quick bit at the Canyon Diner (which is also part of Ruby’s conglomerate), which is a cafeteria style fast food joint. It offered a quick dinner for a reasonable price, which worked for me!
The town of Tropic is east of the park on Hwy 12. This small town was referred to us by one of the gals working in the Bryce Canyon gift shop. She said they have a nice pizza place in town that was family friendly, had good pizza for an honest price. We decided to check it out.
It’s called Pizza Place, so when the lady told us about the pizza place in Tropic, I didn’t realize she was talking about THE Pizza Place. Anyway, it was decent pizza and was reasonably priced, which again worked for us.
There’s not much else in Tropic. It’s one of those towns that when driving through, if you blink, you miss it. There are a few other stops there if you’re looking for food, such as The Cowboy Grill, Rustler’s and a few other western style restaurants.
The town of Panguitch is a bit bigger, but also a bit further from Bryce Canyon. It’s about a half hour from the park.
We found a decent RV park that was very affordable called Paradise RV Park & Campground. It’s just north of Panguitch on Hwy 89. We definitely could not complain about this park. It was wide open, so we had several sites to choose from, it was close enough to the park and the cost was super cheap after the Passport America discounts.
Check out more on Paradise RV Park by visiting their website at www.bryce-zion-paradiserv-park.com.
There is a main street in Panguitch that has several stores and restaurants. We ate at Cowboy’s Smokehouse Cafe, which offered an “old West” style of eating.
Zion National Park
The final National Park we visited in Utah is Zion National Park. I know this may sound sacrilegious, but it was probably my least favorite of all the parks in Utah. I was turned off by the crowds at the park, even though we visited during the week in the Fall. Also the fact that you are forced to park and ride the shuttle throughout the park was also a bit of a turn off.
This might be a bit biased since we didn’t spend enough time in Zion. We took 2 day trips from Panguitch to Zion, which was about an hour and a half away. I think if we stayed in or closer to Zion my opinion would be different.
We drove into the park from the east end on Hwy 9. This took us through a long tunnel that cut through a mountain. And by long tunnel, I mean its over a mile long. It’s pretty cool to drive through and look out the windows along the way that overlook The Great Arch.
The other thing to know is if you plan on traveling through this tunnel with an RV or a trailer, you will require a special permit to enter the tunnel. This is so National Park employees can shut down traffic from both sides then let the oversized vehicles travel through. This can also cause traffic jams if traveling there during the busy season.
For more information on the tunnel including vehicle restrictions and specifics on the special permit, visit www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/the-zion-mount-carmel-tunnel.htm.
Once getting through the tunnel and making your way down the switchbacks to the canyon floor, you’ll proceed to the Visitor Center parking lot. Again, stop in here and talk to a ranger about what you’re looking to do in the park and they’ll get you set up.
This is also the main stop for the shuttles that take you up to the nine stops throughout the park.
As we were only in the park two days, we only did two hikes. The first hike we did was The Narrows. We didn’t do the entire hike, which is almost 9.5 miles, we only did about 2.5 or 3 miles. The thing we liked about it is walking in the river for a lot of it. The kids loved it!
We walked as far as we could before our feet and legs went numb from the frosty temperature of the water, then turned around. The hike is really neat with the rock walls towering above on both sides of the river. As you get further and further upriver, the rock walls get closer and closer, hence the name “The Narrows.”
The other hike we did was up to the Emerald Pools. There are three pools, Lower Emerald Pool, Middle Emerald Pool and Upper Emerald Pool. These are three separate hikes, but can be done all at the same time. I think total it’s about three miles round trip.
For more information on hiking in Zion, including maps, check out their website at www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/hiking-in-zion.htm.
A few miles up the road from the Visitor Center is Zion Lodge. This rustic lodge looks amazing from the outside and would be an awesome place to stay while visiting Zion. They have cabins, hotel rooms and suites to choose from.
The lobby of the lodge is a great place to kick back and relax by a fire after a long day of exploring the park. For more information on Zion Lodge, visit www.zionlodge.com.
Just outside of Zion National Park (and by that I mean you can walk to it from the visitor center) is the town of Springdale. This is a very quaint little town that has tons of restaurants and lodging options for those looking to stay and eat close to the park.
For more information on Springdale, check out www.visitutah.com/places-to-go/cities-and-towns/springdale.
Utah is one of the most unique places in the world with so many fantastic national parks to explore. Bryce Canyon and Zion are two that are must visits when in this beautiful state!