It is easy to understand why Bryce is one of the most popular parks in the US. Most other parks in the US make you work hard to see the best they have to offer – at the Grand Canyon, you really need to go to the river to get the most of the experience (a beautiful but tough day walk down and back up 1500 m of elevation), at Zion you need to wade through the river up to the Narrows or sweat a bit to climb 500m up to see the views from Angels Landing. Not Bryce, Bryce just puts it all out there for you, and for the majority of visitors that just walk the 100m from the bus to the rim, they are rewarded for their minimal efforts with the best view the park has to offer. Bryce is not playing hard to get.
So, if you want to do it the easy way, Bryce is for you. However, of course I am going to recommend you do a bit of hiking as well. The trails are short and relatively easy, and we did them all (Queens, Fairyland, Navajo, Peekaboo and the Rim) – some walking, some running. Some of the climbs were breathtaking, as we weren’t quite acclimatised to the 2500m altitude. There are more people on the shorter trails so make sure you hit the long ones. I ran fairyland at 8.30 and apart from a few people near the trail head I only saw two people in an hour.
Most of the guide books say you don’t need more than a day at Bryce, and that is probably right – even covering all the hikes, we needed less than 24 hours. But what a 24 hours!
Food options in and near the park are limited and largely fried. We came prepared with vegetables, salad, cold cuts, fruit and yogurt
Lodging options are relatively limited – we stayed at the Best Western outside of the park as it had wifi, a fridge and a microwave. It also had a pool and gym. If you are really bored it had an incredibly tacky giftshop. The lodge in the canyon is nice but basic.
Get thee to the Zion Narrows – in my opinion one of the top five day hikes in the world…..
In a rare turn of events, hubby and I are on a hiking holiday together! Being French (well Parisian), camping and hiking are not typically high up on his list of preferred activities, so I was somewhat surprised when his holiday choice for this year was a tour of the US national parks. We have put together a compromise itinerary which will overjoy neither of us (too many hotels and not enough mileage for me, and too much camping and hiking for him), but hopefully we will have a fabulous time regardless.
First stop on the itinerary, once we had swiftly vacated the human cesspool that is Las Vegas, is Zion National park! Our favourite experiences:
Virgin narrows – top down
Without doubt one of the top five day walks of my life! Apparently it is 16 miles long and should be done over two days, or a 12.5 ‘strenuous’ day hike. We clocked more like 20 miles, but we meandered, took a thousand photos, and stopped for lunch and it took us 7.5 hours. The trail is actually the river and for much of the distance it is in deep slot canyons, with sheer cliffs towering above you on both sides. The photos don’t really do it justice as it is hard to appreciate the scale of the cliffs, but you can see I am dwarfed by the cliffs :-).
Expect to be knee deep in water for much of the day. I got to waist deep, but apparently in bad weather it can get up to your chest. In really bad weather you aren’t allowed to go as the flash floods will kill you. Both hubby and I had the most amazing day. Irritatingly even though I am much much fitter than him (10x), he kicked my butt today as he has the agility of a mountain goat on slippery rocks and through rivers. In a record though, I only fell once, and so did he.
There were two downsides to this trail. 1. It is mandatory to have a permit to do the full top down trail and these go like hot cakes. I booked three months ago to the day and got the last one. The bonus about this is that there were only about ten people on the trail for the permitted area which was the first half of the hike. 2. The last hour is like an episode of ‘dumb and dumber tourists’. Park visitors are allowed to come up river, and while some of them have the right gear, some of them are laughably ill equipped and out of shape. Ok, so we did giggle at people trying to walk in bare feet or struggling in the deep end when there was an obvious shallow crossing, but the closer we got to the trail end the more of them there were, and I got close to whacking a few people with my poles as they were irritating me with their dufusness.
Angels landing and the west rim trail
Definitely worth an early wake up to get the first shuttle into the park at 6am. With head torches on we headed up the 400m climb to scouts landing to the beginning of the steep trail up to Angels landing. Normally I can control my vertigo, but with 300m plus drop offs on both sides of the exposed ridge there was just no way I was going up, or worse having to negotiate my way down past the hordes of people that were coming up the hill, and that was before I saw the sign that said six people had died making the climb. Hubby went to the top, while I did a couple of extra miles on the well graded west rim trail and watched the sun come up. Hubby walked back down and caught the bus, but I jogged back down the trail and along the Kayenta to see the emerald pools and then down the sand bench trail – it’s a lovely easy 10k jog, you just need to dodge the surprised tourists
This was the bus drivers vote for the best trail in the park, and it was fantastic. Many fewer people than angels landing and it went higher. A wonderful place to watch the sunset and contemplat life, and late afternoon is the perfect time to head up as much of the path is in the shade. If you have time, take the detour to hidden canyon. Apparently it takes 8 hours to do the 8 miles round trip, but it took me 3….. I am assuming the park service doesn’t want to have any liability risk so they massively pad the timings.
The kolob arch
On the little visited east side of Zion there is a ‘strenuous’ day hike to the longest free standing rock arch in the world, which the guide book recommended as a two day walk (it was only 22km). It was a nice walk through the canyon alongside some pretty streams, but the arch was somewhat anticlimactic when we got there. Hubby did try and get up under the arch on a hairy non existent trail but didn’t succeed. On the way back, I was itching for some speed so ran up the hill to the trail head, surprising the crap out of the hikers I jogged past. It was nice but not amazeballs
We visited in September and were astounded by the volume of people. Lunchtime queues for the park shuttle buses were looooong. We got in early, hiked and headed back to town for lunch and then came back for the late afternoon. We definitely got the best light this way and avoided the worst of the crowds
Permits are a must for backcountry hiking and the top down day hike…. get yours here
We stayed at the Zion park motel, the cheapest in town at $92, and perfectly fine
Don’t expect to find anything remotely healthy to eat, but you can get absurdly overpriced groceries at the Sol supermarket. If you are not trying to be healthy the burgers at Wildcat Willies with sweet potato fries, followed by the chocolates at the Springdale candy company is a pretty robust refuel after a long day on the trails!