At times the views along Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive appear to be from another world. For miles and miles the canyons below are filled with odd and interesting shapes. And here you are sitting at over 9,000 feet and can often see hundreds of miles into the horizon.
After a wonderful day of hiking, this drive was the perfect end to our day in Bryce Canyon National Park. The crowds had thinned and we were able to bop along at a leisurely pace, occasionally having an overlook all to ourselves. Do not miss this part of the park, it is amazing!
The Scoop on Bryce Canyon National Park Scenic Drive
The Bryce Canyon National Park Scenic Drive runs the entire length of the park, ending at the highest elevation at Bryce Canyon Rainbow Point (9115 ft). At 18 miles long, with light traffic and no stops it is about a 35 minute drive. But of course you’re here to see the sites so plan 2-3 hours. Although you can see some of the interesting scenery from your car, this scenic drive can only be really enjoyed by hopping out at the overlooks.
So Let’s take a look at the Overlooks on Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive
Go to the furthest point first! The overlooks are all on the other side of the road. So to avoid crossing traffic it is easier to drive to the end and work your way back. We always find that starting at the end lets us pace ourselves. If we are moving along quickly there’s time for a break overlooking the canyon. Or if we are running out of time, perhaps skip a stop or two.
Bryce Canyon Rainbow Point and Yovimpa Point (mile 18)
You’ll find the views from Yovimpa Point and Rainbow Point, at the farthest end of Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive, are well worth the drive!
The Southern view from Yovimpa overlooks the Grand Staircase. Each step in the Grand Staircase is named for its dominant rock color: pink, gray, white, etc. The colors in these layers, created over millions of years, are breathtaking. According to the NPS, on a clear day you can see the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, about 100 miles away, from here.
Then wander across the parking lot to Rainbow Point where you can look over the entire park. It’s easy to see that the park is made up of a series of bowls, or amphitheaters, when you look to the North.
Check out these related articles about Bryce Canyon National Park: Hiking the Unforgettable Queens Garden and Navajo Loop Trail and Hiking Bryce Canyon Rim Trail: The One Hike You Won’t Want To Miss
Here you are at the highest elevation in Bryce Canyon National Park, 9,100 feet. Blue Spruce, Douglas Fir and White Fir are homes to a wide variety of birds so this is a great spot to relax with a little bird watching.
If you have an extra 45 minutes to an hour take a walk on Bristlecone Loop Trail where you can walk along ancient Bristlecone Pines. Some are over 1500 years old. I can’t even imagine a tree that old, can you?
Trailheads at Yovimpa Point
Bristlecone Loop Trail Easy 1.0 mile trail
Riggs Springs Loop Strenuous backcountry 7.5 mile trail
Under the Rim Trail Strenuous backcountry 23 mile trail
Black Birch Canyon Overlook (mile 16)
Black Birch Canyon Overlook is a quick pull off to enjoy this much smaller canyon. On a clear day you might be able to see the Grand Canyon on the horizon to the South.
Ponderosa Point (mile 15)
Ponderosa Canyon was named after the giant ponderosa pine that live on the canyon floor, some more than 5 feet in diameter. The Ponderosa Point overlook provides a great opportunity to see the difference in coloration between the steps on the Grand Staircase.
Look for the Agua Canyon Connecting Trail here (Not at Agua Canyon Overlook as the name might suggest). The purpose of the trail is to connect to the back country Under The Rim Trail. However you might enjoy going down part way for some open views of the canyon away from the crowds. This trail isn’t heavily used so the conditions aren’t always great.
Agua Canyon (mile 13)
The Agua Canyon Overlook is most interesting because of 2 formations that are so top heavy they look like they could crash to the ground at any moment. Fact is that they actually could and by the time you read this the landscape could change.
This canyon is also home to many birds including the condor, which was introduced through a captive breeding program. So pull out your binoculars and check out the birds you see riding the wind. We were enthralled watching Raven enjoying the evening breeze.
Natural Bridge Bryce Canyon (Mile 12)
The massive Natural Bridge of Bryce Canyon is so close to the Scenic Highway that you can practically see it from your car. Hop out and admire this 85 foot long arch of beautiful red rocks. Utah.com named Natural Bridge along the Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive as one of the top 7 arches in the state. That’s pretty impressive when you consider the hundreds of natural arch formations in Utah.
Farview Point (mile 11)
Aptly named, Farview Point is the best overlook to see far into the distance. The National Park Service says on a clear day you can see up to 160 miles to the Arizona Black Mesa. Wow!
Trailheads at Farview Point
Trail to Piracy Point Easy 1.0 mile trail
Piracy Point Bryce Canyon (Mile 10)
The short flat trail from Farview Point leads to the Piracy Point Overlook which if you use your imagination the 2 large buttes could be 2 pirate ships in battle.
Swamp Canyon (mile 6)
Tighter than the others, Swamp Canyon is known for the rock formations that create tall walls. “Swamp” might be a bit of an exaggeration. But if look into the canyon you will notice it is greener than most. A spring and 2 small creeks in this canyon provide enough water that plants thrive.
Trailheads at Swamp Canyon
There are 2 connecting trails, Sheep Creek and Swamp Canyon, to the Under The Rim Back-Country Trail. You can combine them for the 4.3 mile day hike Swamp Canyon Loop Trail.
Consider an Alternative to Driving!
The Rainbow Point Bus Tour is a great alternative to driving the Bryce Canyon National Park Scenic Drive. The 3-4 hour narrated bus tour follows Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive stopping at each overlook. In addition to the wealth of knowledge the guide provides, you will also miss the peak hour traffic jams at the most popular stops.
Currently in peak season the bus tour leaves twice a day from the same stop where you pick up the Bryce Amphitheater shuttle. There is a huge parking lot just outside the front gate that will fit vehicles and RVs of all sizes. For this tour (not the regular shuttle) you will need to call ahead for reservations. Check the NPS website for updates on times and reservation details.
Ending our day driving the Bryce Canyon Scenic drive was a great choice. The setting sun bouncing off the canyon walls resulted in some stunning pictures. As we returned to the front entrance we enjoyed watching the wildlife starting to come out for the evening.
Most important, don’t forget to Pin this to your vacation board if you are dreaming of a visit to Bryce Canyon! And of course, we’d love your comments below.
While you are here, check out the story of our Crazy Road Trip seeing 5 Utah National Parks in 5 Days! Are you crazy enough to take the challenge?
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