Highway 89 Road Trip Day 4: Zion To BRyce Canyon

Today, the journey from Zion to Bryce Canyon unveils a fascinating transition in landscapes. Witness the awe-inspiring transformation from Zion’s vast canyon walls to the whimsical hoodoos and amphitheaters of Bryce. It’s a day of contrasts, colors, and unforgettable vistas.

This photo by canadastock

Morning: Cedar Breaks National Monument

The anticipation of another beautiful day starts as you say goodbye to Zion National Park, drive back onto Highway 89, and take a short drive to the magnificent Cedar Breaks National Monument on your way from Zion to Bryce Canyon.

As you approach, the landscape begins to shift, revealing the vastness and colorful intricacies of the land. Here, you’re met by an awe-inspiring view that stretches as far as the eye can see—a natural amphitheater painted in a stunning palette of reds, oranges, and yellows.

After soaking in the initial views from the main overlook, it’s time to get your heart pumping with a hike. The Alpine Pond Trail is your trail of choice this morning. This 2.2-mile loop, while set at a lofty elevation, remains friendly even to casual hikers. With only 196 feet of elevation gain, it’s categorized as easy, but the sights along the way are nothing short of grand.

Remember, due to the high elevation of Cedar Breaks, the air is thinner. It’s vital to stay hydrated, take your time, and enjoy every moment. While the hike is not particularly strenuous, it offers an intimate experience of the park’s landscape and a chance to witness some of the local flora and fauna up close.

Having immersed yourself in the natural splendor of Cedar Breaks, it’s time to set your sights on the next destination: Bryce Canyon National Park. But before that, a well-deserved break and perhaps a lunch spot from the recommended list will energize you for the adventures that lay ahead in the afternoon.

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Cedar Breaks National Monument, photo by Sara Edwards

Afternoon: Exploring Bryce Canyon

As you leave Cedar Breaks behind, the road unwinds and guides you to one of the Southwest’s most enchanting landscapes: Bryce Canyon National Park. The park isn’t actually a canyon, but a collection of giant natural amphitheaters. It’s famed for its unique geological structures known as ‘hoodoos‘, sculpted by time and the relentless force of erosion.

Your first agenda in Bryce Canyon is to drive directly to Rainbow Point. Situated at the southernmost tip of the park, this vantage point sits at over 9,100 feet in elevation. Here, the panoramic views offer a sweeping overview of the entire park and the expanse of hoodoos and formations stretching out below. You’ll also get a good look at Yovimpa Point, another famous viewpoint, showcasing a sequential layering of rock called the Grand Staircase.

On your return journey from Rainbow Point, there are numerous overlooks and viewpoints to pause and marvel at, such as Black Birch Canyon, Ponderosa Point, and Agua Canyon. Each of these has its distinct charm and gives a different perspective of Bryce Canyon’s vast landscape.

As the sun begins its descent, prepare for a memorable hike by merging two of Bryce’s most famous trails: the Navajo Loop and Queens Garden Trail. Beginning at Sunset Point, the Navajo Loop descends into the heart of the main amphitheater, getting you up close with the hoodoos.

As you transition to the Queens Garden Trail, you’ll encounter the park’s famous rock formation, Queen Victoria, before making your way up to Sunrise Point. The combined loop is roughly 2.9 miles and is considered moderate. It is also one of the most popular hikes in the United States.

By the time your hike concludes, you’ll have experienced some of the best that Bryce Canyon has to offer. But the day isn’t over just yet. The next phase awaits as you embark on your drive to Richfield, Utah, for a relaxing evening and some well-deserved rest.

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Bryce Canyon National Park, photo by mexiwing

Evening: Bryce Canyon to Richfield

As the sun dips below the horizon and a tranquil dusk envelopes Bryce Canyon, the park reveals one more enchanting aspect: its night sky. Bryce Canyon, designated as a Dark Sky Park, boasts some of the country’s clearest air. Like much of the drive on Highway 89, the stretch from Zion to Bryce Canyon is stunning at night.

With minimal light pollution, the heavens come alive, painting a canvas of twinkling stars, bright planets, and the silvery stretch of the Milky Way. If you have the time and energy before departing, find a quiet overlook, lay out a blanket, then gaze upwards.

But as the chill of the night begins to set in, it’s time to make your way to your next destination: Richfield, Utah. An approximately 2-hour drive from Bryce Canyon, Richfield, while very small, offers some accommodations to cater to travelers.

Upon arriving in Richfield, check into your chosen lodging and unwind. We recommend the local Hampton Inn. While the town itself may be modest in size, it possesses a warmth and welcoming charm. If you haven’t already had dinner near Bryce Canyon, consider grabbing a late meal in one of the local restaurants in Richfield. Finally, retreat to the comfort of your room.

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Ruby’s Inn Cowboy Buffet & Steak Room, photo from their site

Dining Recommendations

hampton inn richfield
Hampton Inn Richfield, photo from their site

Lodging Recommendations

While there are ample camping and vacation rental options all over Highway 89, I personally highly prefer staying at Hilton-branded properties when traveling to national parks and during road trips. As such, here is the only recommendation for a place to stay in Richfield, Utah on day 4 of the ultimate Highway 89 road trip:

  1. Hampton Inn Richfield: 1100 W 1350 S, Richfield, UT, 84701
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Bryce Canyon National Park, photo by Sean Pavone

Quick Things To Note

Be Cognizant of High Elevations

Both Cedar Breaks National Monument and Bryce Canyon National Park are situated at high elevations. Cedar Breaks reaches over 10,000 feet, and Bryce Canyon’s highest viewpoints exceed 9,000 feet. Traveling from Zion to Bryce Canyon is mostly at higher elevation. This can lead to cooler temperatures, even in summer, and can also mean thinner air. If you’re not accustomed to high altitudes, take it slow and stay hydrated.

Alpine Pond Trail Specifics

The Alpine Pond Trail in Cedar Breaks is a relatively easy 2.2-mile loop, but its high elevation can make it slightly more challenging for some. The trail offers beautiful views of the amphitheater and a chance to see local flora and fauna. Remember to pack water, wear sturdy hiking shoes, and take your time to adjust to the elevation.

Be Aware of the Bryce Canyon Drive Time

Driving from the entrance of Bryce Canyon National Park to Rainbow Point takes about an hour without stopping. However, with the various overlooks and viewpoints along the way, it’s recommended to allocate additional time for stops to fully appreciate the park’s beauty.

About The Navajo Loop and Queens Garden Trail

These two trails in Bryce Canyon can be combined for a roughly 3-mile loop, offering a fantastic experience of the park’s iconic hoodoos. Though the paths are well-maintained, certain sections can be steep and require careful navigation. It’s essential to have good hiking footwear and ample water.

Minimal Richfield Accommodations

While Richfield is a modest-sized town, it’s wise to book accommodations in advance, especially during peak travel seasons. The town offers a mix of motels, hotels, and bed & breakfasts to fit various budgets.

Stargazing in Bryce Canyon

If you’re keen on stargazing, Bryce Canyon is among the best places in the U.S. to do so. However, remember that temperatures can drop significantly after sunset, even during summer. Bring warm clothing and perhaps a thermos of hot tea or cocoa to keep cozy as you gaze up.

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Bryce Canyon National Park, photo by sixfournorth

Frequently Asked Questions

What Should I Wear for the Alpine Pond Trail?

Given the high elevation and potential for varying weather conditions, it’s advised to wear layers, even in summer. A light windbreaker or jacket is recommended for the Alpine Pond Trail. Don’t forget comfortable hiking shoes, a hat for sun protection, and sunscreen.

Are There Services Available in Bryce Canyon?

Yes, Bryce Canyon National Park has a visitor center, a general store, and a couple of dining options. However, it’s always a good idea to pack snacks, plenty of water, and any other essentials before entering the park.

How Challenging is the Navajo Loop and Queens Garden Trail?

While not exceptionally long at around 3 miles combined, these trails do have sections that are steep, especially when ascending from the canyon floor. Most visitors with a moderate level of fitness find the hike manageable, but it’s essential to go at your own pace and take breaks as needed.

Is It Safe to Drive to Richfield in the Evening?

Yes, the drive to Richfield is on well-maintained highways. However, always exercise caution when driving after dark, especially in areas where wildlife might be present. Ensure your vehicle’s headlights are functioning well and stay alert. As always, we recommend Hilton properties, like the Hampton Inn Richfield.

Can I See the Stars Without Special Equipment in Bryce Canyon?

Absolutely! Bryce Canyon boasts some of the darkest skies in North America, making it an excellent place for stargazing. While telescopes or binoculars can enhance the experience, they’re not necessary. The naked eye can observe many celestial wonders from the park, including the Milky Way on clear nights.

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Cedar Breaks National Monument, photo by Wildnerdpix

Our Final Thoughts on Highway 89 Day 4

Day 4 of our Highway 89 journey was a kaleidoscope of colors, from the fiery amphitheater of Cedar Breaks National Monument to the whimsical hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park. The contrasting landscapes showcased the versatility and splendor of nature.

From Zion to Bryce Canyon, the trails taken, especially the delightful blend of the Navajo Loop and Queens Garden, provided immersive experiences where each step unveiled a new spectacle of geological wonder.

Ending the day under a blanket of stars in one of the darkest skies in North America was a humbling reminder of our small yet significant place in the vast cosmos. As we wrap up this day and look ahead, we’re invigorated with anticipation for the next set of marvels that Highway 89 will present. Day 5 awaits, and we’re certain it will be just as enchanting!