A Simply Awesome Day in Southwest Utah

Welcome to our series “A Simply Awesome Day in...” where we share a full day’s excerpt from one of our vacation destinations. Today, we offer a fun day from our Southwest Utah Itinerary, a 7 day trip that includes Zion, Bryce, Kodachrome Basin State Park, and Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument. 

Our goal is to help simplify your trip planning by sharing all the details you need for an enjoyable family vacation.

Day 4 of Southwest Utah Itinerary: Sunrise Hike and Scenic Drive through Bryce Canyon National Park

0706170713_HDR.jpg

Map courtesy of the NPS

Overview

  • Drive to Bryce Point just before sunrise and hike the Rim Trail 2.5 miles back to Sunset Point while watching the sun light up the hoodoos.
  • Have a hearty breakfast buffet at the Restaurant at Bryce Canyon Lodge.
  • Drive 16 miles to Rainbow Point at the south end of the park at and hike the short Bristlecone Pine Loop trail.
  • Stop at several beautiful viewpoints, such as Farview and Natural Bridge, on the way back north through the park.
  • Have lunch at Valhalla Pizza near the Bryce Canyon Lodge.
  • Continue north on to Fairyland Point and then east to kid-favorite Mossy Cave Trail, accessed from Hwy 12.
  • Have dinner in nearby Tropic, Utah.

Early Morning: Sunrise Hike And Breakfast

  Map  courtesy of the NPS

Map courtesy of the NPS

Rim Trail Hike: Bryce Point to Sunset Point

  • This section of the Rim Trail is approximately 2.5 miles long and is rated easy. It is fairly flat, with only minor uphills around Inspiration Point.
  • Plan on around 90 minutes to hike this because, even though it is flat and relatively short, you will stop for lots of pictures.
 Looking back towards Bryce Point from the Rim Trail.

Looking back towards Bryce Point from the Rim Trail.

  • There is a steep drop-off on the right side of the trail for the most part (it is a rim hike after all) but I was not uncomfortable despite a very healthy fear of heights.
  • The trail is set back from the edge by a comfortable margin (except for some short sections) and I felt safe hiking with kids aged 12, 10, and twin 8 year olds. We did paint them a cautionary image beforehand though, of death and dismemberment should they start roughhousing and go over the side.
  • I would hike this trail with even younger kids but there would definitely be more hand holding.
 This was by far the scariest section of the Rim Trail and it was pretty short. The rest of the trail was set back more from the edge. 

This was by far the scariest section of the Rim Trail and it was pretty short. The rest of the trail was set back more from the edge. 

  • You have to drive out to Bryce Point because the park shuttles don’t run early enough to get you there for sunrise. The parking at Bryce Point is not a problem at this time of the morning, even in July (when we were there).
  • After you finish at Sunset Point, you can take the park shuttle back to Bryce Point to retrieve the car or you can hike back for it after breakfast. The shuttles start running at 8am from mid- April until the end of October.
  • You can walk out to the overlook at Bryce Point for the sunrise but it gets fairly crowded and serious photographers will have set up in the best spots. We walked out to see the view and then continued down the Rim Trail till we found a good spot. We then had the sunrise all to ourselves.
  • Aim to be at Bryce Point about 20 min or so before actual sunrise. It is amazing to watch the first rays peek over the mountains in the distance.
 The first rays of sun.

The first rays of sun.

  • I hate getting up early but this was absolutely worth it. It was one of our best hikes on the whole trip and the hardest part of the expedition was winnowing down some of the 900 pictures I took.

*** You can keep going on the Rim Trail all the way to Fairyland Point if you want (3 miles additional miles from Sunset Point). There is no shuttle pick- up at Fairyland though, so you will have to hike back to the shuttle stop near the General Store (about 2.5 miles).

*** If you are here in the winter, there is a good chance the Rim Trail will be closed from Bryce Point to Inspiration Point because of snow. In this case, I would drive to Inspiration Point and hike from there to Sunrise Point (instead of Sunset) on the Rim Trail (1.5 miles).

Breakfast At The Restaurant At Bryce Canyon Lodge

The restaurant at the Lodge is a 0.25 mile walk from Sunset Point. It opens at 7am and offers a buffet and a'la carte plates. The buffet had just about everything you could want; french toast, eggs, cereal, yogurt, fruit, oatmeal, bacon, etc. Price was $15/ adult and $8/ kid (12 and under), including a drink, and we thought it was good value for the money. We enjoyed the food and thoroughly stuffed ourselves.

***There is free wifi in the lobby of the Lodge but it is minimal. You might be able to check email but that is about it. 

Retrieve The Car From Bryce Point After Breakfast

Screenshot 2018-02-11 at 18.38.59.png

Catch the shuttle southbound from the stop on the main road by Sunset Campground. It is 0.5 miles from the lodge to the southbound shuttle stop by the entrance to the Sunset Campground. Find the paved shared use path (blue dotted line on map) that runs by the lodge and it will take you right to the crosswalk by the shuttle stop.

*** You don’t want to get on the bus in front of the Lodge or at Sunset Point as they are northbound stops and you will have to ride all the way to Bryce City before it heads south again.

The shuttles run starting at 8am mid-April thru Oct. See the shuttle webpage for a list of stops.

If you are here Nov- Mar, then someone will have to walk back to the car as the shuttles don’t run at all. Try parking at Inspiration Point instead and hiking from there to the Sunset Point (1.5 miles). Have breakfast at the Lodge and then hike back to the car afterwards.

 View from Inspiration Point.

View from Inspiration Point.

Late Morning: Scenic Drive Through Bryce Canyon National Park And A Short Hike

Once you get back to your car, drive south on the main park road for 16 miles (30 min) to Rainbow Point. You must drive as the park shuttles do not go south beyond Bryce Point.

Rainbow Point

Rainbow Point.jpg
  • Enjoy the view from the Rainbow Point overlook which has a view north over the entire Bryce Canyon NP. Then take the short and pretty Bristlecone Pine Loop Trail for a 1 mile RT hike.
  • According to the NPS site, some of the pine trees along the trail are 1,800 years old which is pretty mind- blowing when you think about it. The Roman Empire was falling apart, the Mayans were reaching the height of theirs, and some of these trees have been here since then. I thought that this was extremely cool but the kids were unimpressed.
  • The kids did really like the hike though, especially as it was crowd free. In fact we only saw 2 other people on the whole trail.
  • Detour out to Yovimpa Point on your way back to the parking lot to see why Grand Staircase National Monument is so named. (Hint: you can kinda see the “stairs.”) The information plaque will explain it.
  Map  courtesy of the NPS

Map courtesy of the NPS

On the way back north on the main road, stop at as many of the 6 overlooks between Rainbow and Inspiration Point as you feel like. They all have phenomenal views, but if you are time strapped, I would emphasize:

 

 

  • Farview Point - you can hike out to Piracy Point for a better view and fewer people (0.4 miles there and back.)    
 Natural Bridge- very descriptive name.

Natural Bridge- very descriptive name.

Lunch

Screenshot 2018-02-11 at 19.04.49.png

Stop at Valhalla Pizzeria and Coffee Shop near the Main Lodge.

  • Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • A decent lunch option, especially if it is nice enough to sit outside.
  • The pizzas were good enough for our hungry crew although I don’t think I am swallowing the bit about them being artisanal and organic. But the price was right and they had local craft beer in cans so I was happy. For a national park place, I thought it was pretty good.
  • Parking can be a pain, but it only took us a few minutes of circling to find a spot on July 4th weekend which is one of the busiest times of the year.

*** If Valhalla Pizza is too busy, then try the General Store. It has drinks, sandwiches, hot dogs, pizza slices, and lots of ice cream. There is no inside seating but a large porch has tables and there are picnic tables outside as well.

Afternoon Day 4: More Scenic Driving And Ending With Another Great Kid- friendly Hike

After lunch, continue driving north to Fairyland Canyon. Take your first right after the Visitor Center (a good place to stop for the bathroom) to drive out to Fairyland Point.

 View from the parking area at Fairyland Canyon.

View from the parking area at Fairyland Canyon.

This is the least busy part of the park which makes is worth getting out of the car just by that fact alone. But walk a short way (less than 0.5 miles) on the Fairyland Loop trail and you will be rewarded with some beautiful views. If you look north, you can see the mounds left when the hoodoos eventually erode away. Eventually all of the canyon will look like this.

  Map  courtesy of NPS

Map courtesy of NPS

Finish your driving tour at Mossy Cave Trail

  • This is a kid-favorite because one branch of the trail ends at a shelter cave with moss growing in it and the other branch ends at a waterfall. It an easy 0.9 miles RT so it makes a good hike to end the day with. The proximity to water helps keep it cool as well.
  • You will need to drive out of the park, back out to Hwy 12 and turn right (east) for 4 miles to get to the trailhead. The hike is in the park, just at the eastern edge.

*** If you need a pick- me up before Mossy Cave, stop at Bryce Canyon Coffee in nearby Tropic for a quick caffeine jolt. It is 3.5 miles southeast of the trail head, right on Hwy 12 at the Bryce Canyon Inn. 

 Photograph courtesy of Don Graham, Original title Mossy Cave Trail, Bryce Canyon, Ut 9-2009/  CC-BY-SA-2.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Photograph courtesy of Don Graham, Original title Mossy Cave Trail, Bryce Canyon, Ut 9-2009/ CC-BY-SA-2.0/ Wikimedia Commons

 Have Dinner In Tropic At:

  • The Pizza Place, a great reviewed, inexpensive pizza place also at the Bryce Canyon Inn. 
  • Stone Hearth Grille is the only fine dining option in the area around Bryce. We never ate there as there is no entree less that $24 and we had 4 kids with us, but we heard that it was very good. Only open for dinner and the only place I mention in Tropic that is not on Hwy 12. Call for reservations and directions.
  • Rustler’s Restaurant is conveniently next to Clarke’s Country Market. We only stopped at the market for camping supplies but the restaurant looked nice.
  • I.D.K.BBQ. This delicious food truck is actually in Cannonville (a few miles south of Tropic on Highway 12) in the parking lot of the Grand Staircase Inn. The opening hours vary based on the time of year so check the facebook page or contact them to confirm. It is worth the effort.

*** Or you can head back to Bryce Canyon to have dinner at the Lodge or Valhalla Pizza.

Do Some Stargazing

After dinner (if you and the kids aren't bushed), make sure to take part in one of the astronomy programs put on by the Park Rangers. The night sky from the Rim is spectacular and you should make a point to stay up late at least once during your stay. Check out the schedule at the Visitors Center or look online. 

 Not my picture as none of mine turned out this fabulous (there was a full moon while we there) but this is what you can see.  https://pxhere.com/en/photo/51761 7 / Creative Commons 

Not my picture as none of mine turned out this fabulous (there was a full moon while we there) but this is what you can see. https://pxhere.com/en/photo/517617 / Creative Commons 

End of Day 4 in Southwest Utah

Happy Trails!

If you loved this day, then you will love all 7 days of the Southwest Utah Itinerary which covers Bryce Canyon, Zion, Kodachrome Basin State Park, and Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument.

Daunted by planning such a large trip? This itinerary covers everything you need to know: lodging recommendations (hotel and Airbnb), camping options, family friendly hikes that combine the best scenery in the shortest distance, restaurant recommendations that adults and kids will like, and ways to beat the summer crowds.

We also include all the little details- not just trail length and difficulty, but also elevation changes and whether it is safe for kids. We include detailed maps to the parks and surrounding areas so you can know exactly where you are going.

Most importantly, we plan out the days so that you get the most out of it without cramming too much in. Sometimes we forget that vacations need to be about getting away from stress, not racing to see everything. Take the time to enjoy these parks, they are some of the most beautiful I have seen. 

What Makes Our Itineraries Unique?

“We’ve put in the hours to research a fantastic trip, our own families have loved them, and we share all the details so you can experience the same. ”

It's all in the details. If it is something we would want to know before going, it has been included in our itineraries. Our own families have visited these museums, explored these hikes, and eaten at these restaurants.

We have found out, sometimes the hard way, what works and what doesn't. Like where that trail actually starts (because it is not always obvious from the parking lot) or is it okay to take your kids to that craft brewery? How far of a walk is it from the train station to that museum?

Liked this blog? Check out some of other National Park Blogs.