Let’s say that you’re ready to spend some time visiting Bryce Canyon National Park at a more leisurely pace. Maybe you’ve already seen the canyon from the rim at the popular view points (Inspiration Point, Bryce Point, Paria View Point), already strolled along the rim trail from Sunrise to Sunset Point, already hiked some of the many trails into and out of the canyon (the Queens Garden to Navajo Loop trail is amazing!), or maybe it’s just more your pace. Whatever the reason, experiencing the 18-mile drive to Rainbow Point is worth a mention. This road is not only scenic, but it has a number of designated points to stop and see the ever-changing views (I counted 6 before Rainbow Point). The views are all really different and unique, some have places for a short walk, and all are worthy of a stop.
The national park service website recommends that you drive down to Rainbow Point first and stop at the viewpoints on the way back because that way most of the stops are on the same side of the road. During crowded times this would be the best way to avoid having to make left turns on a trafficky road. Makes sense! We visited Bryce Canyon at the end of December, a few days after Christmas, so there was very little traffic on this road. We took advantage of this by stopping at places based on how crowded the parking areas were (so we stopped at viewpoints both on the way down and on the way back) and were able to have places all to ourselves. Although it’s not very crowded in December, we ran the risk of the road not being open due to snow or inclement weather. Some years in the winter months the road to Rainbow Point is completely closed due to snow on the road. Thankfully, it was a beautiful sunny day and no snowy weather in sight, although I do have to mention it was very cold!
We started the morning heading straight down Rainbow Point Drive and skipping the popular Sunrise and Sunset Points where most of the cars were turning off. The elevations near the Visitor Center starts off at around 8000 ft and gradually climbs another 1000 ft until you reach Rainbow Point at 9115 ft. It was such a peaceful drive with very few cars. The morning sunlight brightened up the day and our moods.
The first place you can stop was Swamp Canyon. I had to look up why this place was called Swamp Canyon, and sure enough the nps website claims that the canyon is a “virtual wetland” with two small creeks and a spring providing water (year round) for the vegetation that thrive here. (There is a 4.3 mile Swamp Canyon Loop Trail if you’re interested in exploring more of this area).
The second stop, Farview Point, was given this name because of the far-reaching views of the Grand Staircase and Kaibab Plateau. This stop had a large parking area. We immediately headed over to Piracy Point (to the left) where we were pleasantly surprised at how great the viewpoint was! Many people seem to skip this area, and we had this serene place to ourselves for a while as we took it all in.This viewpoint was named Piracy Point because (according to the nps website) “with a little imagination two large buttes appear as sailing ships engaged in a naval battle.” I was hoping that it involved actual pirates and hidden treasures… especially hidden treasures 🙂
The Natural Bridge viewpoint was an interesting spot in which the “bridge” is very close to the viewing area. The bridge is described as not really being a bridge, but more of an arch because of how it was formed (by rain and freezing, not by stream erosion).
The views at Agua Canyon viewpoint are yet again different, and this stop has the Agua Canyon connecting trail nearby, which you can walk on a bit and get even more varied views.
We continued on to the final destination, Rainbow Point, to go on a short hike and stretch our legs.
We headed to the Bristlecone Loop trail (1 mile) and hesitated since there was so much icy snow on the ground. Our restlessness got the better of us and we headed onto the downhill trail gingerly. After the initial section, we found that most of the trail was easily walkable, just a few icy sections, but it added an element of excitement. Again we had the trail to ourselves and enjoyed the solitude of walking among the thousand-year old bristlecone pines and taking in all the views. I sound like a broken record mentioning the views over and over again, but really… the views!
There were two quotes from Henry David Thoreau from his journals that were hung on the walls of a covered sitting area which I absolutely loved.
“I need solitude. I have come forth to this hill… to see the forms of the mountains on the horizon – to behold and commune with something grander than man.” (August 14, 1854)
“Silence alone is worthy to be heard.” (January 21, 1853)
So wise you are, Mr. Thoreau!
At some point you will see a small trail that will take you to Yovimpa Point, don’t miss this if you have time. The panoramic views are worth the extra few minutes detour.
We finally left Rainbow Point looking for a place to pull the campervan over to have some lunch with a view. Only about two minutes on our drive, we spied a small 2-3 car paved pull-out that was perfect. It’s not labeled on a map, nor does it have any signs. No one was parked there and not many cars stopped here during the time we were here, but the view was amazing and a great place to stop.
Ponderosa Canyon and Black Birch Canyon viewpoints were stops that we made on the way back, but by this time (late afternoon), the sunlight wasn’t so great for pictures. Remember sunset at the end of December was 5:15 pm, it always felt like we needed more time.
Around sunset people gather at the many viewpoints around the rim. We headed to Bryce Point and joined the crowd of people waiting for the sunset.
At some point we decided to forgo the sunset. After the wonderful day, we didn’t want to end it packed like sardines at the viewpoint. We were very satisfied and happy with the sunset we saw the previous night from Paria Point. The drive to and from Rainbow Point (Hwy 63) was a great way to spend the day and get a feel for the uniqueness of Bryce Canyon without the crowds (at least in December).
The morning of our departure from Bryce Canyon, we couldn’t help but take one last look. We headed to Sunrise Point curious to see what the canyon looks like with the morning light. These turned out to be my favorite pictures, worth getting up early for!
Happy Travels everyone, there is much to be explored 🙂