In Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks

Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks entry signs.

During our stay in Reno, Bill asked us which National Parks are we planning to see. We said: Yosemite, Death Valley, Sequoias, Grand Canyon… “Are you going to Zion and Bryce? Because Zion made much greater impression on me than the Grand Canyon.” We looked at the map – it’s not that far so we added those park to our list. It turned out to be a very good decision, because Bryce and Zion happened to be the most beautiful places we’ve seen.

Zion National Park

Zion was the fourth National Park in the US that we visited. Located in the southwestern part of Utah state park has extraordinary landscapes. This area was originally named National Monument Mukuntuweap, but after becoming a National Park it was renamed to Zion. That’s what it was called in 1858 by Mormon settlers delighted with almost heavenly sights.

View at the valley in Zion NP from the trail to Angels Landing.
View at the valley.

The park is very picturesque and a wide variety of rock formations created by nature can be found here. The most spectacular views can be admired in Zion Canyon. 800 meters deep gorge was carved by the small and inconspicuous Virgin River. Unusual colors of rock formations are the result of more than 150 million years of sediment deposition of layers with different origin. The biggest impression on us made the view from the place called Angels Landing.

Angels Landing trail.
Angels Landing trail.

This almost 4 km long route unquestionably can be called the most scenic and most interesting route we’ve ever hiked. The first 3 kilometers go up quite steeply, but almost entirely with a paved path. The last part of the route is meant for people who have no fear of heights and are not afraid of climbing while using chains. But the fear is totally worth the incredible view over the valley, which you can see from the top of Angels Landing.

View at Virgin River from top of Angels Landing.
View at Virgin River from top of Angels Landing.

Interestingly, the landscapes in Zion National Park fascinate and intimidate with its vastness and colors anyone, who decides to come here. The first explorers of the park, fascinated by its beauty, gave individual places in Zion majestic names.

View at the valley from top of Angels Landing.
View at the valley from top of Angels Landing.

These include Angels Landing, Virgin River Narrows, The Three Patriarchs, Great White Throne, Temple of Sinawava, Subway, Observation’s Point, Emerald Pools.

Virgin Rivers Narrows canyon.
The Narrows.

We were able to see several of these places. The second unique hike we did in Zion Canyon was the Virgin River Narrows. The trail leads literally through Virgin River, which as a true mountain river is definitely cold – even in summer. Since we didn’t have waterproof shoes, after the first 5 minutes we exactly felt how cold is the water in the river.

View from inside Virgin River Narrows canyon.
View from inside The Narrows.

But it didn’t matter. The view of high canyon walls that surround the tight riverbed was definitely worth the few hours in cold water and almost a week of drying shoes.

Bryce National Park

Is there a moment when the amazing views stop impressing you? Definitely not in south-western Utah, in Bryce Canyon National Park. High rocks in the colors white, orange, red, and various mixtures of these colors, ensure the breathtaking views from the beginning till the end of visit to the park.

View at Queen's Garden.
View at Queen’s Garden.

Definitely the most beautiful landscapes can be admired in Bryce Canyon, which is the canyon is only by the name. Looking at Grand Canyon, Virgin River Narrows in Zion and many others, an integral part of the landscape of the canyon is a river, that carved the canyon.

Panoramic view from Bryce Point.
Panoramic view from Bryce Point.

Bryce Canyon characteristic shapes of rocks were created not by the river, but by the erosion of inner rock. The water that flows into the cracks, expands due to large fluctuations in temperature during the day (especially in the period from October to April, when the temperature at night drops below 0 °C). Constant freezing and thawing of water causes the crumbling of limestone rocks and forming of Bryce Canyon.

View from Sunrise Point.
View from Sunrise Point.

Another interesting fact is from what the park got its name. At first, the Indians living in these areas called canyon Angka-ku-wass-a-wits, which means “Faces painted in red.” This comes from the legend of ghosts of people living in the canyon, after coyote god turned in the rock for their evil deeds.

Panoramic view from Bryce Point.
Panoramic view from Bryce Point.

Since the early 1870s, European settlers began to arrive to these regions. In 1875, Ebenezer Bryce and his family arrived here and settled near the river. He built several kilometers of irrigation canal and a road that ended at the edge of the canyon, to have better access to the surrounding forests. Although Ebenezer Bryce moved to Arizona in 1880 inhabitants of the surrounding villages still called it Bryce Canyon. 5 years of work was enough for Ebenezer Bryce to get one of the most beautiful canyons we’ve seen so far named after him.

Queen's Garden Trail.
Queen’s Garden Trail.

Bryce Canyon has some sensational viewpoints, from which you can admire the incredible panoramas. These include Bryce Point, Sunset Point, Sunrise Point. However, we strongly recommend to walk one of the trails and take a moment to enjoy this amazing place. One of the most popular routes is the Queen’s Garden Trail.

Bryce Canyon.
Bryce Canyon.

Going down near the viewpoint of Sunrise for about 2-3 hours walking between that measure from 1.5 to 45 meters high rocks amazing to come out on top of the canyon Navajo Loop Trail just off the Sunset vantage point. The route is not difficult or demanding, but leaves a superb impression that will remain in our memories for a very long time.

Practical tips:

  • Although we already wrote it, we remind it once more – if you are planning a tour around National Parks in the US and want to visit more than three of them, definitely buy Annual Pass. It’s a ticket to more than 2,000 state-owned “places of recreation” such as National Parks, forests, dunes, craters and many others. Annual Pass costs 80 USD, it’s valid for one year from the date of issue and can be bought in almost every National Park and in places of tourist information. The card is signed by name, but provides access for all people traveling in a car with the owner of the card.
  • Depending on the type of transport, the cost of 7-day admission ticket to Zion National Park costs 15 USD(on foot, bicycle or horseback), 25 USD (motorcycle) and 30 USD (by car). Detailed information on fees can be found here.
  • Similar to Zion 7-day admission ticket to Bryce Canyon National Park costs 15 USD (on foot, bicycle or horseback), 25 USD (motorcycle) and 30 USD (by car). Detailed information on fees can be found here.
  • Official map of Zion National Park can be found on Park website.
  • The official map of Bryce National Park can be found on Park website.
  • In the period from March to October in Zion National Park the main road in the canyon is closed to public traffic. Fortunately, there’s a free shuttle bus running every few minutes, that goes around the park and stops in various known spots. It’s best to leave the car on one of the parking lots at the Tourist Information, Museum or before the entrance to the Park – there are bus stops from those points as well.