If you want to appreciate Bryce Canyon National Park, you need to drive down the park’s primary access road, Utah 63, and stop at several overlooks. You don’t need to drive the entire length of the road, but if you do, you’ll be rewarded with more great views.
On the third night of my southern Utah vacation in 2013, I arrived at Bryce Canyon with just enough time to drive to a few viewpoints, after checking into my motel (Ruby’s Inn, which has a near-monopoly on motel rooms in the area, and a prime location at the entrance to the park).
Since sunset was only a couple of hours away, I decided I’d start my tour at…
You might think that Sunset Point would provide a great view of the sunset. It doesn’t. All of the viewpoints of Bryce Canyon offer somewhat similar views, since they’re all located on the east side of the road. This means that at some point, the sun will dip down…
… casting deep shadows on the amphitheater of hoodoos. Even before the sun has fully set, the canyon will be dark.
Also worth noting: Bryce Canyon isn’t really a canyon — it’s the eroded side of a mountain. The northern end is formed in somewhat of a horseshoe shape, though, allowing for some slightly varied views of the same area.
Since I was visiting in late March, there was still plenty of snow in the shady areas. The snow accumulation causes the park to close some of the trails that wind around amongst the hoodoos, below the rim.
While some of the deeper trails were closed by snow, the Rim Trail was open. This trail connects Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration, and Bryce Points — the four major viewpoints in the Amphitheater area. The Rim Trail is slightly below the rim in many places, so you can get the feeling of being amongst the hoodoos, without losing a lot of altitude.
TIP: From Sunset Point, the Navajo Loop and Queens Garden Trails provides a great trek down, around, and back up to the rim. I made this loop during a visit in 2007.
After some exploring at Sunset Point, I drove south to…
The sunset was quickly advancing, and the amphitheater was already getting very shadowy.
But, some light was still falling on a few interesting formations. That’s not snow atop those hoodoos, it’s a different type of rock that’s capped them off.
TIP: My 2007 visit to Bryce Canyon also included stops at Paria View, Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Rainbow Point, and Sunset Point.
I debated whether I should bother driving any further south on the park road, with night falling so quickly. After going back and forth, I decided to continue on, making my next stop at…
Bryce Canyon’s Natural Bridge would look a lot better in the morning or midday. Once it starts to get dark, you won’t be able to take a very good picture, but it’s still worth seeing.
There are several other small viewpoints along this section of the road, but aside from the occasional distraction, the road is somewhat boring (as you’ll see in the Drivelapse video, later on this page).
I didn’t stop again until…
At the end of Utah 63, you’ll reach one more nice viewpoint, with a grand view of southern Utah. Rainbow Point does, indeed, display a rainbow of colors. Even though some of the other viewpoints were cast in darkness by now, there was still enough sun shining here to allow for a nice view.
You’ll also be able to capture this nice shot of the road, just before you reach Rainbow Point.
On the drive back, I had put away the camera and assumed that my photo-taking was done. Then, I came across a burned-out patch of forest…
… which was set against a fiery post-sunset sky. Even though I had to park on the road and trudge through some snow (the parking areas weren’t shoveled yet), and even though the evening temperatures were plummeting, I still managed to get some nice pictures of the trees.
This opportunity was a surprise, since I didn’t think there were any good westerly views at Bryce Canyon. I was wrong.
The Bottom Line
It’s not necessary to take the entire drive out to the end of U-63 at Rainbow Point. But, if you’re in the area, driving scenic Utah 12 or US 89, you should at the very least consider stopping at a couple of the viewpoints in the Amphitheater area. It won’t take much time, and who knows when you’ll be back here again?
I’d also recommend visiting at sunrise or sunset. At midday, the hoodoos look somewhat flat, since there are no shadows to accent their unique shapes. If you visit in the evening, be sure to arrive a couple of hours before sunset, since it gets dark early on the east side of the mountain, where all the viewpoints are located.
Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southern Utah, east of I-15 and US-89. From the interstate, use Utah Route 14, 20, or 143 to get over to US-89, then drive to Utah Route 12, and head east. The entrance to Bryce Canyon is located 20 miles from Panguitch, the nearest town.
Utah Route 63 runs 20 miles south from Route 12, providing access to all the major viewpoints of Bryce Canyon. Most of the viewpoints are located within the first few miles of U-63, and all are on the east side of the road.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive through Red Canyon to Bryce Canyon: