One of the main reasons to visit the state of Utah is the limitless opportunity for outdoor adventure, especially in the Mighty 5 National Parks.
If you have the opportunity to explore these popular parks, you will love the beauty you find at Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park. Both are not far from the international gateways of Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. At Zion and Bryce Canyon, discover the vastness of scenic Utah. It’s no exaggeration – Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park are home to some of the most stunning natural landscapes in the U.S.!
Bryce Canyon National Park – Horseback and Hoodoos
Bryce Canyon National Park is not a real canyon, in that it is not eroded by flowing water. Instead, its natural geologic formations are caused by water freezing and thawing, as well as natural erosion from rainfall.
Upon your arrival, you will be immediately captivated by one of its most unique features, the hoodoos. These limestone-rich pillars range from average human height to more than 10 stories high. Because of Bryce Canyon’s unique erosional patterns, hoodoos are more abundant here than anywhere else in the world.
There are a handful of opportunities to hike or horseback ride through the canyon with local guides. Notably, the most popular trail is The Navajo Loop Trail because it winds its way through a multitude of hoodoos and slot canyons. The reds and oranges of the canyon walls combined with the green of the Douglas fir trees makes for some memorable vistas. Many people combine the Navajo Loop Trail with other trails for a longer outing.
More leisurely hikes can be enjoyed along the canyon rim. Unlike the deeper canyon trails, a rim trail hike gives you an opportunity to enjoy the splendor of the hoodoos from above. And no matter which trails you choose, don’t miss a sunset view from one of the many great vantage points.
Beyond Bryce Canyon
If you’re staying near Bryce Canyon and have an extra day or two during your trip, consider a visit to Canyonlands National Park. This park is about a four-hour drive away, so make this trip a longer visit by staying overnight in one of the park’s nearby towns. This park is full of adventure for outdoor enthusiasts, particularly if you enjoy whitewater rafting.
On Your Way to Zion – Scenic Byway 12
Within a two-hour drive from Bryce Canyon is one of the most-visited parks in the U.S., Zion National Park. On your way to Zion, drive through some amazing rock arches on Scenic Byway 12, Utah’s All-American Road, and take in the beauty of the surrounding Dixie National Forest and Red Canyon. The Scenic Byway 12 is an easy and quiet road with a beautiful landscape, which makes for a comfortable drive from park to park.
The Natural Wonders of Zion National Park
Located in the southwestern portion of the state, Zion National Park is known for its unparalleled views of an otherworldly landscape: dramatic cliffs, sandstone canyons and towering rock formations. Park your car in the town of Springdale, also known as the Gateway to Zion National Park. This is a charming town with lots of colorful boutiques and nice hotels, making it a perfect spot to stay and take a break before or after your visit.
From here, take the free shuttle into the park. Zion National Park is huge and there are many popular scenic spots. You can’t see it all in one day, so there are free buses to take you to each scenic spot, where you can hop on and off at your convenience. The shuttles run from early spring to late fall and have frequent stops, even more so during the busy summer months. It’s extremely convenient and has helped to preserve this beautiful park.
Shortly after entering Zion, get your first fantastic views into a wide canyon. The color combination of red-orange rock and deep green trees is truly stunning. The Zion Narrows is a favorite for hikers. Walking in the Virgin River, listening to the sounds of the stream and birds will make you feel Mother Nature’s greatness.
At the Grotto shuttle stop, get your first look onto the steep mountain called Angels Landing. The Angels Landing hike is at first quite moderate, but after a while you will be climbing up a narrow path holding onto the chains that are provided for guidance. But the difficult stretch of this hike is worth it. High up there at last, the panoramic view onto the Zion Valley is truly breathtaking.
Take a little break at the Zion Lodge before you hop onto the shuttle to go to the starting point of your next hike – Weeping Rock. This easy hike is a great pick for families. After a short walk, reach an overhanging rock formation from which water seeps through and constantly drips, hence the name. All around, rare ferns and other plants grow that only exist here in this micro-climate created by the wet rock. Another family-friendly option is the Lower Emerald Pool trail, which has a nice waterfall view.
Not far from Zion National Park is the very popular Snow Canyon State Park. Though this side trip isn’t on the way to Bryce Canyon, if you happen to have extra time in your itinerary, Snow Canyon is a fun family stop. There are both walking trails and driving tours, and the park has several parking lots for convenience. The Sand Dunes trail is a children's favorite – a short hike that ends with sand dunes where kids can play in the sand.
Lodging Available Near Both Parks
Not far from Zion and Bryce National Park, you’ll find a wide variety of lodging options from national hotel chains to smaller family-owned properties. They are very convenient and comfortable, have beautiful scenery and complete facilities.
Even if your journey to Utah’s National Parks ends here, the impressions you’ll get from visiting these special places will stay with you for a long time. Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park are full of rich and colorful outdoor explorations and attract many tourists every year. You should be one of them! Come and explore these two big parks – and everything in between!