One Day in Zion & Bryce National Parks

view of yellow wildflowers with a background view of sandstone mountains.
Zion National Park. Photo © Steve Estvanik/

Filled with staggering beauty, drama, and power, Southern Utah seems like a place of myth. Zion National Park contains stunning contrasts, with towering rock walls deeply incised by steep canyons containing a verdant oasis of cottonwood trees and wildflowers. Bryce Canyon National Park is famed for its red-and-pink hoodoos, delicate fingers of stone rising from a steep mountainside. At sunrise, the light is magical, the air crisp, and the trails nearly empty.

There are countless ways to explore the parks. Trek through narrow canyons, take in sweeping vistas on a scenic drive, or explore hoodoos up close on horseback. Whatever you choose, once you’ve caught a glimpse of the region’s magnificence, it’s likely you’ll want to start planning your return trip.

Here’s the best way to spend one day in Zion and Bryce National Parks:


virgin river in the valley of zion
The Virgin River in Zion. Photo © Judy Jewell.

Get an early start for your half day in Zion. Stop at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center to fill up your water bottles, then board the Zion Canyon shuttle.

Hop off at Zion Lodge and warm up with the easy hike to Lower Emerald Pool Trail.

Ride to the end of the shuttle route, the Temple of Sinawava, and follow the paved Riverside Walk along the Virgin River. Take time to admire hanging gardens, where plants grow from cracks in the cliff walls. At the end of the 1-mile (1.6-km) walk, the trail goes into the river, but water-hiking the Narrows is a seasonally accessible, full-day plunge that demands preparation. Save it for your next trip.

Ride the shuttle back to Zion Lodge and grab a quick lunch at the Castle Dome Café snack bar before returning to the visitor center and your car.


Leave some time to enjoy the drive to Bryce. The Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, which leads from Zion Canyon through a series of switchbacks to a high plateau with fine outcroppings of Navajo sandstone, has plenty of roadside viewpoints and even better vistas from the 1-mile (1.6-km) round-trip Canyon Overlook Trail.

Once in Bryce, you’ll want to get an eyeful from the Rim Trail, and then head down to commune with the hoodoos. The Queen’s Garden Trail, which descends from Sunrise Point, is a favorite.


Sunset Point. Photo © Judy Jewell.

By this time, you’ll need a real meal, so treat yourself to a sitdown dinner at the Lodge at Bryce Canyon.

After dinner, a stroll on the Rim Trail between Sunset and Sunrise Points will leave you with memories of glowing orange and pink spires.

Summer days are long, but try to stick around for sunset and join the scrum of photographers at Sunset Point. Bryce is even spectacular after dark—the lack of light pollution makes this an excellent place to view the Milky Way.

Travel Tips for Zion & Bryce

• This itinerary works best April-October.

• Avoid the largest crowds and intense heat by traveling outside the July-August window.

• Make reservations for lodging and dining up to a year in advance at Zion Lodge (888/297-2757) or the Lodge at Bryce Canyon (877/386-4383); however, last-minute bookings are often available. The Lodge at Bryce Canyon is open April-October.

• Check to make sure shuttle reservations aren’t required at Zion.

• Stuff your pack with a picnic lunch, lots of water, and snacks.

Parking may be full, especially in summer, at Zion. Pay for parking in Springdale for easy access to the free Zion-Springdale shuttle.

Feeling inspired? Start planning your adventure today.

Taking a longer trip? Get the comprehensive guide.