Driving across America Part six: Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, Utah

Driving across America Part six: Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, Utah

The rugged scenery of Utah’s attractions is not only immensely beautiful but also surprisingly diverse. It’s worth following a rough loop in this state to see as many of the sights as possible in six amazing national parks. Make sure you have a tent or an RV so you can stay at each!

Zion National Park

Zion is all about towering cliffs, picturesque river valleys, canyons and amazing aerial views. It’s a photography and hiking paradise, and it’s relatively cheap to stay here at the park and private campsites. The town itself is a pleasant place for a meal, a coffee and some artistic souvenirs. It’s also very popular, so you’ll need to book a place or arrive early in the day to get a space.

Typical Zion scenery

Getting around is easy at Zion. There’s a free shuttle bus from the town and campsites to all of the main trailheads, so you don’t need to use your car. Just hop on the bus and get off wherever you want to walk. There are loads of easy tracks, which take you among the peaks, cliffs and canyons of the park. Check out the Emerald Pools, the Court of the Patriarchs, Hidden Canyon, Big Bend and the canyon narrows at the end of the road, where you can walk in the river until the cliffs close right in. The star attraction of the whole park, however, is Angels’ Landing – an amazing walk up a chain ascent to the very roof of the park. Don’t try this if you’re afraid of vertical drops.

View from Angel’s Landing

Bryce Canyon National Park

A short (and very dramatic) drive from Zion is Bryce Canyon, which is equally breathtaking but in a totally different way. The park is at over 2500m elevation, and so is colder and wilder. There are also bears and mountain lions here, so you’ll need to keep all food and strong-smelling materials in the bear-proof lockers at campsites. You won’t believe the view when you finally see it from somewhere like Sunset Point. The distinctive feature of the park is the ‘hoodoos’: hundreds of weird, knobbly rock pillars that have emerged via erosion – like a petrified forest.

‘Hoodoos’ at Bryce National Park

There are plenty of scenic opportunities at Bryce. You can drive around the rim and just look down at the remarkable geology, or you can walk down into the canyon and stroll among the hoodoos. This is a magical experience – like walking in a dream, where every corner shows something even more unusual. Try the Navajo trail, the Fairyland track, the Queen’s Garden or the fantastic Peek-a-boo track to experience the variety of colours and textures. It’s possible to spend two or three days here seeing the place in different lighting conditions.

Walking in fairyland

After so many days of camping, you may want a bit of luxury and some home-cooked food. Driving out of Bryce, you can get a great American breakfast (pancakes, bacon, sausage, eggs etc) in the small town of Tropic and visit Kodachrome State Park, where there are cabins to rent.  Alternatively, you can stay in the town of Canyonville at the Grand Staircase Motel for a reasonable rate and enjoy the feel of a proper bed before the next stage of the adventure.

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