Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks Utah in Three Days
Visit Zion and Bryce Canyon
National Parks in Three Days
Spending three days in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks is the perfect getaway.
The two parks are very close to each other and offer completely unique experiences with options for hiking at all different levels.
This guide will help you spend three days in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.
These National Parks are so well taken care of and visitor-friendly, it would be a shame not to take advantage of such spectacular miracles of nature!
Any trip to Utah is going to be a good one, and I’m here to help you plan three days in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.
You may not have time to visit all of Southern Utah’s Mighty Five (Arches, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Zion) but let me tell you about the best way to spend three days visiting two of the parks. (See my post about Arches National Park here.)
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Which National Park is better
Zion or Bryce Canyon?
Both parks are amazing and here’s why you need to see both:
#1 They are only about an hour away from each other.
#2 They offer dramatically different vistas, rock formations, and beauty.
#3 Zion is at 3900’ elevation and Bryce is at 7650’ elevation, so their vegetation is very different.
#4 Bryce is all about hiking down into the canyon filled with hoodoos, and Zion is all about hiking up from the river into the mountains.
#5 You can spend just three days total in Zion and Bryce National Parks and feel fulfilled with a day and a half in each park.
How many days do you need to see Zion and Bryce Canyon?
Three days is enough, but I don’t want to sound misleading. You actually need 4 or 5 days to make it work with travel time.
This itinerary includes the 4 hour drive from either the Las Vegas or Salt Lake City airports.
Here’s my itinerary:
~ Fly to Salt Lake City on Wednesday, drive to Bryce.
~ Visit Bryce on Thursday and Friday morning.
~ Drive to Zion on Friday and visit the park in the afternoon.
~ Visit Zion on Saturday.
~ Drive back to Salt Lake on Sunday.
Know before you go
When is the best time to visit Zion and Bryce Canyon?
Utah is gorgeous all year around, but best to check the National Parks websites for all updates regarding weather and closures.
~ Bryce Canyon is high in elevation (7,764’) which lends itself to cooler and more variable weather conditions:
You may encounter snowstorms as early as October and as late as April, and evening temperatures drop below zero during October through May .
Winter months are the coldest periods.
Spring daytime temperatures can be very pleasant.
Summer will be in the 70’s and 80’s, but also may include late afternoon thunderstorms, heavy rain, and lightning.
Fall temps range from the 60’s to 70’s.
~ Zion is not as cool because of the elevation difference (4000’) but because of the snow melt, the river may be high and affect some of the hiking choices through the Narrows or some of the hikes that are higher in elevation.
Winter months of December through March will be cold and wet, but stunning snow falls on the mountain peaks. Some trails will be closed due to ice.
Spring months offer warmer temps, similar to Bryce, although the variation can swing up to 30 degrees!
Summer months are hot, 80’s – 100 degrees. Flash Floods can occur July through September.
Fall is a bit cooler and less crowded, and gorgeous with changing colors.
How to get to Zion and Bryce Canyon
Zion National Park is approximately 160 miles from Las Vegas and about 300 miles from Salt Lake City.
Bryce Canyon National Park is about 75 miles (1 hour and 15 mins) from Zion National Park. I rent from Hertz, and have never had a problem with their cars driving on mountain roads.
Can I drive in Zion National Park?
Zion National Park allows you to bring your car into the park, but essentially, only to park near the entrance.
During “shuttle season” March – November, private vehicles are not allowed to drive on the Scenic Drive which leads to all the trailheads and sites.
The shuttle system has protected the park from excessive traffic and is super convenient. It picks up visitors at many stops in Springdale and shuttles into the park and all along the Scenic Drive.
The shuttles run from 7AM to 7PM, are free, and run frequently.
Can I drive in Bryce Canyon National Park?
Bryce Canyon National Park allows you to drive through the park to your trailhead and viewing destinations.
Is it hard to park in Zion and Bryce Canyon?
* True confession, I have National Park parking anxiety! I am always afraid that I will not get a spot and make my family and friends get up at the crack of dawn to get to the parking lot. I am never sorry for this, because it is a system that has worked for years! Trust me, these parks get crowded and the parking lots fill up! The good news is that both these parks have ample parking lots.
The Best Place to stay at
Zion & Bryce Canyon Parks
The Zion and Bryce region have a plethora of camping and lodging choices, including vacation rentals. Depending on when you are going, it may be difficult to find lodging near the parks.
Plan ahead and try to stay 2 nights near each park.
Lodging in Bryce Canyon:
→ The Lodge at Bryce Canyon – This rustic hotel is inside the park and has great access to the trails. Prices start at $71.
→ The Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn – Located in Bryce Canyon City just outside the park. This is your best option because it’s affordable, clean, friendly and has everything you could possibly need. A giant buffet breakfast is included in your stay, there is a grocery store, souvenir shop, and a lunch and dinner buffet. The food is OK, the people are super nice, and it is just 1 mile from the park entrance. We even found some awesome gluten free pizza at The Pizza Place in town. Prices start at $90
Zion and Bryce Canyon Park Tips
~ Be sure to get an America the Beautiful National Park Pass ahead of time. For $80 a year, you have access to all 400+ national park sites. And if you are a senior, 62 or over, that $80 gets you a LIFETIME pass!
~ There are plenty of toilet facilities in both parks.
~ Water, water, water! Did I mention you should bring a refillable water bottle and plenty of water?
~ Pack Snacks and lunch. (we bought supplies at the grocery store to make sandwiches for the hiking days.)
~ Wear hiking boots unless you plan to only stay on the paved walkways and not hike on the trails. (I do not recommend sneakers, even if they have some tread, because of slippery gravel, wet areas, and general ankle twisting safety.)
~ Wear layers. Start with three and you will subtract and add throughout the day.
~ Don’t forget the sunscreen and a hat!
~ Bring sunglasses.
~ Your camera, of course!
~ Bring small sandwich bags or foil to pack your snacks and lunches for the trail.
Visiting Zion National Park
Zion is one of the oldest and most visited National Parks in the country.
It literally has something for everyone. Southern Utah’s famous red and orange rock, wildlife, slot canyons, perfectly groomed trails, water falls, and the rushing Virgin River at its base.
The park has several hiking areas:
~ Zion Canyon – the most popular and most visited.
~ Kolob Canyon – takes you through the red-rock box canyons.
~ Kolob Terrace – takes you through open fields and rock formations.
~ East Rim – offers climbs and views into the gulch.
~ Southwest Desert – takes you to a ridge with vast views.
If you’re spending three days in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, it doesn’t matter which you go to first. Just go to both!
The most well known hikes at Zion are the Angel’s Landing and the Narrows. Both are labeled Strenuous and require planning.
Angel’s Landing Trail
Is a steep, narrow, climb, with a chain rail to support you. Not for those who are afraid of heights.
This trail REQUIRES a permit. You must apply for the permit in advance and enter the lottery on the National Parks Website.
You can reach the trail and not climb the chain section and still see incredible views.
This trail is a 5.4 mile round trip, estimated at about a 4 hour hike.
Get off at the #6 shuttle stop The Grotto for this trailhead.
The Narrows is a walk in the river through slot canyons for 9.4 miles round trip and can take about 8 hours if you go the whole way. Most turn around sooner.
Many people rent gear for approximately $30 – $55 per person from Zion Outfitters in the park. If you choose not to rent gear, know that you will get wet, possibly up to your waist and it will be cold. There are also several shops in Springdale to rent from.
The rental packages include canyoneering shoes, neoprene socks, walking-sticks, waterproof pants, and jackets.
Bring a waterproof cover for your phone.
Leave your non- waterproof backpack in the car with your other valuables that shouldn’t get wet.
Get off at the #9 shuttle stop Temple of Sinawava for this trailhead that starts along the Riverside Walk.
Middle to Upper Emerald Pool Trail to the
Kayenta Trail to the Grotto Trail
Start at the #5 shuttle stop Zion Lodge.
This loop will take you on well groomed, unpaved trails with some moderate climbs, rock steps, and lots of spectacular views.
You’ll find the waterfalls and pools at the base of a cliff with some drop offs. We saw deer, and rocks, and peaks, and very few people early in the day.
Start at #9 shuttle stop Temple of Sinawava.
This is a 2.2 mile paved trail along the river with many opportunities to sit on rocks and have lunch by the water.
The walk can take 1 hour or longer, depending on how often you stop for photos and snacks!
This is the beginning of the Narrows trail, so you can get to the beginning of the Narrows without getting wet if you like!
Much of this trail is wheelchair accessible and very child friendly.
Start at #1 shuttle stop Zion Canyon Visitor Center.
This is a classic Zion hike listed as Moderate. It is 3.3 miles long and takes about 2 hours.
There are minor drop offs with spectacular views of the Tower of the Virgin, lower Zion Canyon, and Springdale.
Bryce Canyon National Park
I don’t know how to explain what it feels like to approach that rim and peer over into the sea of hoodoos and all their magnificence.
Bryce Canyon has the largest concentration of hoodoos in the world. If you don’t know what they are, they are rock formations which have eroded from cliffs because of frost and rain both creating cracks and sculpting limestone pillars.
The brilliant thing is that new hoodoos are formed as old ones dissolve into clay lumps.
Bryce is special that way because for 180 days of the year, the temperature swings dramatically from warm in the daytime, to below freezing in the night.
Really, you gotta see it to believe it!
Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop/Wall Street Trail
This is a 2.9 mile trail that can take up to 3 hours.
This most popular hike in Bryce begins at the rim of the breathtaking amphitheater of the canyon of hoodoos.
Start at Sunrise Point and go clockwise. This trail takes you through the most scenic and varied parts of Bryce.
Hike down into the Queen’s Garden and then climb up the switchbacks of the Navajo Loop Trail with its orange and red rock limestone cliffs.
Be sure to take the extra path into Wall Street.
You’ll pass through windows and arches with photo opportunities at every step.
It’s peaceful and gorgeous and puts you in direct contact with the magnificent hoodoos.
Tower Bridge Trail
This is a 3 mile down and back trail that can take up to 3 hours.
This hike takes you to see a stellar rock formation that looks like London’s Tower Bridge in a shaded area with nice spots for lunch.
You pass the unique Bristlecone pine trees which grow out of the rock and take you pass what is called the Chinese Wall.
This path was quiet and meditative on the descent and then offers a steady climb with surprising views of the sky against the hoodoos.
The Rim Trail
This is an 11 mile trail if you walk the whole rim and can take up to 7 hours.
It’s a paved trail connecting one way from Bryce Point to Fairyland point and takes you to the breathtaking Inspiration Point, Sunrise Point, and Sunset Point.
The Fairyland Loop
This is an 8 mile trail and can take up to 5 hours for the whole trail.
Begin at Fairyland Point and hike along the plateau rim with spectacular views of the Amphitheater.
There are elevation changes and some meandering trails with exquisite views.
Spending three days in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks was, without a doubt, one of the best Spring vacations I have ever had!
Do your best to spend three days in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks and it will leave you both satisfied and craving more!