From the junction along UT 12, the 18 mile scenic drive through Bryce Canyon National Park
first crosses flat grassland for 2 miles, past the busy Best Western Ruby's Inn
complex which includes a post office, art gallery, restaurant, RV park, several shops, two gas stations and a 368 room hotel. This is the first stop on the park shuttlebus system, a free service that next reaches the visitor center, Sunset Point, Sunset Campground, and the southernmost stop at Bryce Point. The return route visits several more overlooks, and the full drive takes about 50 minutes.
Beyond Ruby's Inn the land gradually rises and becomes covered by quite thick forest of ponderosa pine as the road crosses the park boundary and passes a one mile side road that leads to the first overlook, Fairyland Point
, where the pink and orange hoodoos are every bit as beautiful as at the more famous vistas further south, just on a slightly smaller scale. The point looks out over Fairyland Canyon, a narrow, sheltered ravine separated from the main amphitheater by a high promontory to the south (Boat Mesa), and so offering slightly more intimate views (see 360 degree panorama
). Two trails start here - the Rim Trail
along the plateau edge, and the Fairyland Trail
that descends deep into the eroded landscape, eventually meeting the rim again at Sunrise Point.
map, showing all roads, trails and viewpoints.
Fairyland Point can be visited without payment because the side road forks off one mile north of the national park entrance station. But once through here, and paying the $25 entry fee, the main road passes by the visitor center/museum and the 104-site North Campground
, set in wooded land just a short walk from the rim. This is one of two campsites within the park, the other being Sunset Campground
1.5 miles further south, on the west side of the road further away from the cliff edge. Nightly prices (2020) are $20 for a tent site and $30 for an RV site, while for those who prefer free camping without any facilities (or neighbors), the nearest places are in the Dixie National Forest along track FR 117, forking off UT 12 six miles west of the park turn-off.
The Main Viewpoints
The rim near the North Campground overlooks the largest and most colorful area of formations in the park, best viewed from the next four named viewpoints (Sunrise
, these latter two reached by another side road). Sunset Point has perhaps the finest views of all,
as it projects out a little from the rim and is situated in between the 2 ravines that run through the hoodoos - Campbell Canyon in the north and Bryce Canyon in the south, at the center of Bryce Amphitheater (see 360 degree panorama
). Sunrise Point is part of a developed section of the plateau with such facilities as a nature center, lodge and general store, while the other three are more isolated though all are often very busy. All may be visited by the NPS shuttlebus, and by frequent tour buses, which usually allow only a brief glimpse of the sights before moving quickly on to the next overlook. Besides the Rim Trail that connects all the viewpoints, seven paths
descend from the plateau; they are interlinked and allow for various loop hikes, lasting from one hour to all day. Peekaboo
, Queens Garden
are the most popular, this latter passing two of the most photographed features in Thor's Hammer (a slender hoodoo) and Wall Street (a slot-like ravine). Most people just walk a short distance down one of the routes then return the same way, however. The quietest trail is the one to the Hat Shop
and beyond, starting from Bryce Point.
The Road South
Also along the side road to Bryce Point is Paria View
, a less-seen overlook with views southeast over upper Yellow Creek and the more distant valley of the Paria River, into which the creek flows after 10 miles. From here southwards, the viewpoints along the main road are more widely separated, the hoodoos occur in smaller outcrops, and the land becomes more densely forested as ponderosa pines give way to Douglas fir, spruce and aspen at the higher elevations. Swamp Canyon
, the next point south, has lighter-colored rocks mixed with tall trees, and generally restricted views, but more can be seen along two paths that descend from the rim (the Swamp Canyon and Sheep Creek trails), together forming a 4.3 mile loop, including a short stretch of the backcountry Under-the-Rim Trail.
The next overlooks are Whiteman Bench
(also a picnic area) and Farview Point
, which as its name suggests has good, long distance views, from a group of colorful hoodoos below the rim, over the long valley of Willis Creek (forming a slot canyon
downstream), and across countless square miles of distant ridges and ravines. A short path leads to Piracy Point
, looking out above an eroded basin to the north. The road moves into the forest for a while, to pass a steep hillside, then returns to the plateau edge at Natural Bridge
- a large arch in the sandstone rock framing pine woods several hundred feet below on the floor of Bridge Canyon. South of here, the succeeding three points (Agua Canyon
, Ponderosa Canyon
, Black Birch Canyon
) are close together and have quite similar views, as at each, the ground drops steeply away to a narrow ravine bordered by a band of hoodoos at either side, and wooded hillsides beyond. The steepness of the cliffs allows just one footpath along this section of the road - the short Agua Canyon Trail, also linking with the Under-the-Rim Trail.
End of the Road
The scenic drive ends at 9,115 foot Rainbow Point
, where the land curves round to the east so allowing views back north over many miles of the rim and the vast, undulating, wooded country further east. Even better is the vista to the south at Yovimpa Point
, a ten minute walk away through the forest. In the foreground are more large, steep, colorful cliffs and pinnacles, then the land falls away in a succession of cliffs and terraces at gradually lower elevation, including the next two steps of the Grand Staircase (White Cliffs and Vermilion Cliffs). On cloudless days the views continue to the Kaibab Plateau and Navajo Mountain in Arizona, 100 miles distant. Although the park boundary ends 2 miles south of Yovimpa Point, the hoodoos of the Pink Cliffs continue several miles further, to the far southern end of the Paunsaugunt Plateau near the mountain town of Alton. For an alternative perspective, the one mile Bristlecone Trail
reaches several nearby overlooks, while the much more strenuous Riggs Spring Trail
descends over 1,600 feet and winds through the enchanting scenery.