Three Days In Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Utah
Spending three days in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, is the perfect getaway. This guide will help you spend three days in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. The two parks are very close to each other and offer completely unique experiences with options for hiking at all different levels. I always like to plug the National Parks in the U.S. They 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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Why You Need To See Both Bryce and Zion:
#1 They are just 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 in Zion and Bryce National Parks and feel fulfilled with a day and a half in each park.
How do I spend three days in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks?
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 is my sample 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 to Go
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:
Note to self: 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 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.
Where to Stay
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. If you can book nights at the Zion Lodge and the Bryce Lodge INSIDE the parks, that would be a very special and lovely experience. Otherwise, check Expedia for lots of other choices.
The town of Springdale is closest to Zion and is where the shuttles depart from. My trip was last minute, so I had to stay over 30 minutes away in Hurricane, which was fine, however it impacted us returning to the park for sunset or an evening visit. St. George is a close-by city with many lodging and dining choices.
Lodging in Bryce was easier because the closest town is Bryce Canyon City and offers the Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn. This is your best option because it is 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.
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.
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.
Bryce Canyon National Park allows you to drive through the park to your trailhead and viewing destinations.
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.
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?
Snacks/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/or hat!
Camera, of course!
Bring small sandwich bags or foil to pack your snacks and lunches for the trail.
These are protected and special lands. Please be respectful and follow all the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace!© Plan Ahead and Prepare,Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly, Leave What You Find, Minimize Campfire Impacts, Respect Wildlife, Be Considerate of Other Visitors. And, I would like to add, NO Drones Allowed in National Parks! They are disturbing to both wildlife and people.
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, and the Kolob Canyon, Kolob Terrace, East Rim, and Southwest Desert. If you are 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. Some say it is 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 linked here. 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.
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. If you choose not to rent gear, know that you will get wet, possibly up to your waist and it will be cold. Many people rent gear for approximately $30 – $55 per person from Zion Outfitters in the park. There are also several shops in Springdale to rent from. The 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 will 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, like many, react to Bryce Canyon as if it is the true essence of the word awesome. 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 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
This is a 2.9 mile trail that can take up to 3 hours.The 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. You 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 will pass through windows and arches with photo opportunities at every step. It is peaceful and gorgeous and puts you in direct contact with the magnificent hoodoos.
This is a 3 mile trail that can take up to 3 hours. This is not a loop, but a down and back up journey. 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.
This is an 11 mile trail if you walk the whole rim and can take up to 7 hours. It is 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.
This is an 8 mile trail and can take up to 5 hours. Begin at Fairyland Point and hike along the plateau rim with spectacular views of the Amphitheater. There are elevation changes and some meandering trails.
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!