Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park: What to Know
November 9, 2021
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Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park are two of Utah’s top National Parks, and should definitely be on the top of any Utah national park road trip itinerary. Lucky for you, the two parks are less than 2 hours apart driving, so it’s easy to drive from Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park, and vice versa. The following guide will cover what you need to know about driving from Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park, plus highlights of each of the parks.
How far is the drive from Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park?
Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park are approximately 80 miles apart and one can be reached from the other in under 2 hours by car, about 1 hour and 40 minutes without traffic. The fastest route between the two parks starts on Route 12, takes you south on Interstate 89 and then west on Route 9.
Route 12 is one of the most scenic roads in Utah, and all of the US for that matter, so this is a drive to enjoy. I definitely recommend doing this hike during the day so you can soak up all of the views along the way.
How to get to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park
Both Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park are located in Utah, so it makes sense to include them on the same itinerary. If you’re just starting your trip planning itinerary, you’re probably trying to figure out how to get to either of the parks in the first place.
Getting to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park By Flight
The closest airport to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon is St George Airport, however it is a small airport with limited commercial flights. The closest major airport is in Las Vegas and then Salt Lake City International Airport.
You can reach Bryce Canyon from both Las Vegas and Salt Lake City in approximately 4 hours, You can reach Zion National Park from Las Vegas in 2.5 hours, and from Salt Lake City in 4.5.
Getting to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park by Car
As you can see from the airports above, you’re almost definitely going to want a car to visit either of these parks. In fact, exploring the whole area by car is the best way to do it. We stopped at both of these parks as part of a larger road trip that we took in our Cabana Van. I’ve put together a full guide on how to plan a campervan road trip.
Stops along the drive from Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park
Canyon Overlook Trail
Canyon Overlook Trail is one of my favorite Zion trails, and it technically isn’t even located inside of the park! If you’re driving from Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park, stopping for this quick, easy hike is a must. The trail is located near Springdale, Utah, just outside of the entrance to Zion. The free Zion shuttle system doesn’t stop at this trailhead, so you will need your own car to drive and park at the hike. Therefore, it makes the most sense to stop here on your way from Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park, as you won’t be driving around once you are within the park.
The hike is only 1 mile round trip with an elevation gain of 187 ft. The hike is an easy one, but you can expect a ton of other hikers on the trail. It is steep though, so I recommend always wearing proper hiking boots. The epic views at the end are quite the reward for your short climb. We completed the round trip hike, with photos at the top in approximately 45 mins, but I’d give yourself at least an hour.
Once you complete the hike, you will continue through the entrance of the park. You can expecting a winding 25 min drive through some of the most beautiful roads to reach the main visitor center and campgrounds. LIterally entering Zion on a beautiful day is serious main character energy. I turned up the music and felt like I was driving through a movie.
Don’t sleep on Thunderbird! Now that I’ve recommended a steep little hike, it’s time to dive into my next recommendation: pie. Arguably the better recommendation for this drive!
Located at Mt. Carmel Junction, the pie from Thunderbird is seriously out of this world. Thunderbird is a famous diner along the route from Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park. Known for their homemade pies, this is a stop that you’re not going to want to miss.
You can expect to pay between $4-5 for a slice of very large homemade pie. Being New Yorkers who are used to exorbitant prices, we expected a slice of $4 pie to be quite small.. and therefore we ordered multiple slices. Let’s just say we were rolling ourselves out of the roadside diner.
There is often a wait, so if you’re in a rush you can take your slice to go. Or, if you’re traveling with a group you may want to consider just grabbing a whole pie! Either way, don’t miss this class spot.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Best Hikes in Bryce Canyon – Navajo Loop
If you only do one hike in Bryce Canyon, it should be the Navajo Loop. Admittedly, despite two visits to Bryce Canyon over the years, I haven’t dedicated nearly enough time to this park. In fact, both of my visits to Bryce Canyon were on the way to Zion National Park (or vice versa). That said, spending a few hours hiking the Navajo Loop is an absolute must for a taste of this incredible park.
I recommend doing the hike counterclockwise, so you can experience these twisty curves from the top down, rather than having to hike up them.
Being at Bryce you may feel unusually tired if you’re used to being at, or close to, sea level. This is because the park is located at a rather high elevation. Make sure to take this into account when planning out your hikes. Also, make sure to drink plenty of water! I love to throw a Drip Drop into my water bottle (always a Vapur) for some extra electrolytes.
Where to Stay in Bryce Canyon
When planning your accommodation in Bryce Canyon you have the option of either booking within or just outside of the park. Staying within the park is obviously the most convenient, and will provide you with some of the best views. However, staying outside of the park in Bryce Canyon City is definitely the more affordable option if you don’t plan on camping.
The only hotel within the park is the Lodge at Bryce Canyon. The amenities are basic but the location is unbeatable. If this is out of your budget, but you’re still interested in staying within the park you can camp. There are two campgrounds at Bryce Canyon. I recommend booking a reservation in advanced, but you can also arrive in the early morning to try to snag a spot.
Your other option is to stay just outside of the park in Bryce Canyon City, where you will find plenty of hotel and airbnb options for all budgets.
Zion National Park (Springdale)
Best Hikes in Zion National Park
Angel’s Landing. I don’t even know where to start! This is not just one of my favorite hikes in Zion, but one of my favorite hikes in all of the US. It is challenging, a bit terrifying, and 100% worth it for these jaw-dropping views. This hike is considered to be one of the most strenuous and technical in the park, so it is very important that you are careful! The trail starts on a nice paved path, but you’ll quickly arrive at the never-ending switchbacks that will definitely test your endurance. Many people consider this to be the most difficult part of the hike. Once you complete all of your switchbacks you’ll start the climb. This is is a narrow, single-file climb with a metal chain to hold onto for support. While this part of the hike is less challenging, it requires focus as it can be quite dangerous.
People typically complete the hike in about 5 hours. We were a bit crazy and really booked it up the switchbacks to beat the crowds, and ended up completing the entire hike in only 3 hours. It was probably all of the extra energy from my famous breakfast burrito at the top!
My biggest piece of advice for completing this hike is to do it as early as possible. During the high season in Zion, you will be required to take a shuttle to the trailhead at the Grotto. Make sure to be on it for shuttle bookings, and snag that earliest shuttle at 7am. If you’re visiting during the low season and able to drive to the trailhead, I would recommend starting while it is still dark. That said, I personally do not recommend finishing the top, steep part of the climb until it is light out. Check back in the coming weeks for a full guide to hiking angel’s landing. And of course, drop any comments below in the meantime!
The Narrows is another classic Zion hike that should not be missed. What is great about this hike is that you can determine the length, as it is more about the journey than the destination. We opted to hike about 5.5 miles roundtrip through this knee deep water.
If you’re hiking in the summer you should be fine without the gear, however the temperature of air and water was quite chilly when we hiked in May so the waterproof gear was very much needed for a good hiking experience. We grabbed ours for $55 from Zion Outfitters, located right within the park for convenience. However, I’m sure you could snag a better deal at one of the shops in Springdale.
Watchmen at Canyon Junction
The Watchmen hike is another classic and popular hike in Zion. The hike is just 3 miles roundtrip, with the trailhead conveniently located between the Visitor Center and the South Campground. The location is perfect if you are staying at the campground, as you won’t need to take the shuttle anywhere.
This hike is particularly popular as it is not too difficult and only takes 1-2 hours, but offers some of the most spectacular views, especially at sunset.
Where to Stay in Zion National Park (and nearby)
By far the best place to stay near Zion National Park is Springdale. Located just outside of the park, Springdale is your best bet for a whole bunch of reasons. The town is super close to the park, and there are accomodation options for any budget.
However, if you want to stay within the park I recommend camping. There are three different campgrounds in Zion National Park. South Campground, Watchman Campground, and Lava Point. We stayed at the South Campground and it was perfect for our few days exploring the park. It was conveniently located near the Visitor Center and shuttle, plus the views were fantastic. In order to snag a spot you will want to book exactly 2 weeks in advance of your visit when bookings open up.
There are also additional lodging options within Zion including the Zion Lodge.
Planning a US road trip, here are some other articles to check out:
- Tips for Planning a Campervan Road Trip
- Best Hikes in Sedona, Arizona
- Grand Teton Hiking Trails
- Ultimate Grand Teton Itinerary
- Schwabacher Landing: What you Need to Know
- Best Things to do in Moab