8. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Pros: Breathtaking Views, Abundant Wildlife, Centralized Location, State of the Art Visitor Center, Easy Access, Family Friendly
Cons: Small in Size, Sometimes Overcrowded, Very little natural water
Dates of Visit: August ’06, August/September ’09, May ’10
Bryce Canyon is probably the hottest park on this list right now as I continue to enjoy myself more and more every time I visit. In fact, this park has gone from a middle of the road contender to one of my favorites in the country. Although it is smallest in size on this list, it packs quite a punch. If you have never visited, the scenery here is second to none. Jaw dropping at first sight and continually beckoning the interpid sole.
Unbelievable scenery awaits you at Bryce Canyon
The base elevation of this park is over 8,000 ft. making it the coolest national park in Utah during the summer. There are two rather large campgrounds inside the park and several more just on its outskirts.
Furthermore, summer also means monsoon season and Bryce Canyon is certainly known for its spectacular skies. Sunset and sunrise views here are both fantastic, arguably some of the best views in the world. I give a slight edge to sunrise for photography as most of the park’s vistas are facing East and the color is slightly better.
There are about 40 miles of hiking trails in the park, which is substantial considering its size. Hiking is relatively difficult here because of three reasons: 1) all the trails descend into the canyon 2) the air is thinner 3) there is no water in the canyon. There are backpacking opportunities as well and getting a backcountry permit is relatively easy because this park is more geared for tourists rather than hardcore hikers.
There are two items of interest that have specifically captured my attention that I want to talk about. First off, the trees in this park are absolutely beautiful. I could spend days here wandering around looking at the distinguishing character of the trees. The way they are set apart and scattered amongst the red rock makes it seem like a natural chess board. In my opinion, this is a very underrated aspect of the park.
The trees are fascinating at Bryce Canyon
The second suprising tidbit about this park is the abundance of wildlife. Now, I haven’t seen a lot of diversity, but cruise the main road in the park at sunset and you’re sure to see some deer and or antelope grazing in the meadows. There are quite a few birds in the parks as well…..
Because of its location, there are plenty of opportunities for other forms of recreation in and around the park. Whether it be ATV’s (certainly not my thing), fishing, swimming, rodeos, horseback riding, rock climbing, bicycling, etc., it is all here. For a first time visit, I’d suggest spending a solid week in the general area devoting about 1/3 of your time specifically to Bryce Canyon. At any point in time, two to three nights seems like the perfect stay there. It’s just simply not that big of a park to spend a week or longer there.
A visit to Bryce Canyon wouldn’t be complete without the mandatory stop at Ruby’s. The folks at Ruby’s basically discovered Bryce Canyon and put it on the map so they are the only game in town. Ruby’s is like the grand central station of Bryce Canyon. It has everything you need, want, or forgot from high-end souvenirs to groceries and sporting goods. Of course, don’t forget to try the buffet. I’ve personally sampled it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Your dining options are pretty limited in these parts and for that fact alone – I do endorse this buffet.
At $11.99, lunch is a dollar more than breakfast I believe and much better quality. It’s not the greatest selection in the world, but it is hearty, decent quality, standard american fare: salad bar, soup, chicken, pork, corn, carrots, beans,and a pretty killer desert bar that features some scrumptious brownies and soft serve ice cream. (The desert bar is not available for breakfast) It also runs until 5pm before it switches to dinner and the prices goes way up. If you get there at 4:30 you’ll pay for lunch and get to eat dinner, which basically involves adding some fish and maybe beef. Between shopping and eating plan on spending at least a couple of hours there. It is actually a pretty cool place and most of the employees are helpful and friendly.
So there you have it, Bryce Canyon in a nutshell: indescribable views, amazing colors, special wildlife, the best buffet around, and literally bus loads of Europeans everywhere. This park is awesome. Please don’t make the mistake of just driving through. Get our your vehicle and explore! That is a fantastic place and highly recommend a summertime visit.