3 New Ways to Experience Bryce Canyon Country

See the stars, squeeze through a slot or visit in the winter.
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The Milky Way over Bryce Canyon National Park

The Milky Way over Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park’s new designation as an International Dark Sky Park makes it the perfect place to see the stars. It offers over 100 night-sky programs each year with activities like telescope-viewing, full-moon hikes and astronomy talks. The best time of the year to visit is during the annual Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival, June 17-20, 2020. This week-long event includes geology and astronomy talks, astronomy-themed junior ranger programs, model rocket building and more.

“The kids have so much fun building model rockets and launching them,” says Garfield County’s executive director Falyn Owens. “It’s their favorite time of the year.”

No matter where you stay in Bryce Canyon Country, make sure to step outside and look up after dark. There’s no shortage of incredible places to make you feel small.

Hiking Navajo Loop in Bryce Canyon National Park

Hiking Navajo Loop in Bryce Canyon National Park

Slot canyons have long inspired a sense of awe and wonder – and a desire to squeeze through their narrow depths. If you’re new to slot canyons, head to Willis Creek Slot Canyon in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This 2.6-mile roundtrip hike doesn’t have any technical sections and never gets too narrow, so it serves as a perfect introduction to canyoneering. Wear waterproof shoes since you’ll walk through Willis Creek most of the way as the canyon walls tower above you. As with all slot canyons, make sure to check the weather and never start a hike if rain is in the forecast as flash flooding is possible.

Willis Creek Slot Canyon in Utah near Bryce Canyon National Park

Willis Creek Slot Canyon

If you’re looking for more adventure, book a trip with Excursions of Escalante. Owens refers to owner Rick Creed as a “slot canyon genius.” He knows many off-the-beaten-path slots to get visitors away from the crowds. Creed is great at matching skills and abilities to trips, making sure you have just the right amount of fun. After spending the day guiding, Creed spends his evenings serving on the local search and rescue team. Book at excursionsofescalante.com.

After a day of adventuring, head to Stone Hearth Grille in Tropic, Utah. The towns of Tropic and Escalante lie between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, making them the perfect place to base out of during your Utah vacation. The Stone Hearth Grille, only open in the summer, serves some of the area’s best food. Sit on the patio nestled under the canyon walls and peruse the vibrant and inventive menu you wouldn’t expect in the middle of the desert. Make sure to start with the Beet “Ravioli,” sliced beets served with cashew butter, walnut pesto and microgreens. Locals consider it one of the best dishes in the county.

Bryce Canyon National Park in winter

Bryce Canyon National Park covered in snow

While the grille is not open in the winter, it’s worth returning when the snow starts to fall. The secret’s out – winter might just be the best season to experience Bryce Canyon country.

“Seeing Bryce in the snow is wild,” says Owens, “It looks like cake and icing.”

Ruby’s Inn is the perfect place to base your winter Bryce Canyon adventure. Many groomed cross-country ski trails originate from the lodge, and there are several snowshoe trails that allow you to get down into the canyon. You can even take a horse-drawn sleigh ride.

Best Scenic Route in Bryce Canyon Country

These little Utah towns along Hwy. 12 make for a unique vacation.

Just 20 minutes from Bryce Canyon National Park lies a string of towns like Panguitch, Escalante and Boulder that make for a great base to explore Utah’s red-rock country.

Start your morning at the Wanderlust Cowgirl Coffee in Panguitch where you can kickstart the day with a fresh-baked pastry or kolache paired with a cold brew, cappuccino, smoothie or chai latte. Or head to Rise & Shine Bakery located in a historic red brick house where you’ll find breakfast and lunch specials and savory empanadas, cinnamon rolls and pies.

Then hit the road and take Hwy 12, which connects Bryce Canyon National Park to Capitol Reef National Park. Just 25 minutes down the road, you’ll reach Bryce Canyon National Park. After exploring it, continue east where you’ll discover uncrowded natural attractions, such as Kodachrome Basin State Park, that locals argue would be national parks if they were located in any other state.

“There’s a different view around every corner from sandstone red rocks to forests,” says Falyn Owens, executive director of Garfield County Office of Tourism. “It’s incredible the changes you see on one road.”

The view from Shakespeare Arch in Kodachrome Basin State Park in Utah

The view from Shakespeare Arch Trail in Kodachrome Basin

Kodachrome Basin State Park is filled with brilliantly colored spires and named by a National Geographic Society expedition in 1948 after the popular color film. It’s 20 miles southeast of Bryce off Hwy. 12. Panorama Trail, which is 3-6 miles, and Shakespeare Arch, an easy 1.7-mile hike, are the most popular and for good reason. You can catch views into Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Bryce Canyon National Park from Shakespeare Arch.

From Kodachrome, head down Cottonwood Canyon Road, a graded dirt road, for another 10 miles to the Grosvenor Arch parking lot. It’s actually two sandstone arches that reach 150 feet into the blue sky, and they sit in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Grosvenor Arch in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Grosvenor Arch

After you explore Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, sleep like a star in the Shooting Star RV Resort on Hwy. 12 in Escalante. You can stay in one of nine Airstreams that are decorated to resemble a Hollywood movie star’s dressing trailer. Think Marilyn Monroe's trailer while she filmed Some Like It Hot.

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