Bryce Canyon National Park’s 18-mile scenic drive winds north-south through the park, ascending more than 1,000 feet to its highest elevation of 9,115 feet at Rainbow Point. While many visitors concentrate their time on the rim of Bryce Amphitheater, viewpoints offering expansive vistas far beyond the amphitheater await as you head south through the park.
To reach the southern half of the park, continue south on the scenic road past the turn-off for Inspiration Point. About three miles down the road Swamp Canyon offers views of Mud and Noon Canyon Buttes—geologic precursors to Bryce Canyon’s famous pinnacles. Swamp Canyon also gives access to the Swamp Canyon and Sheep Creek connecting trails.
The next scenic stop, Fairview Point, offers a panoramic view of the Table Cliffs and the Kaibab Plateau. Just down the road the next pull-out offers a close-up view of Natural Bridge, a natural stone arch spanning 85 feet across and standing 125 feet high. Natural Bridge is a stunning sight any time of year, but is particularly striking in winter when the deep rust-colored stone contrasts with a crisp blanket of white snow and dark green fir trees, beneath Bryce Canyon National Park’s perennial bright blue skies. At the next pull-off, Agua Canyon, take in breathtaking views of massive hoodoos surrounded by a backdrop of the Pink Cliffs. Navajo Mountain soars 10,000 feet high in the distance. Just past Agua Canyon, the pull-out for Ponderosa Canyon offers expansive views of the multi-colored steps of the Grand Staircase and the different trees and plants that grow on each layer. Surrounded by Douglas Fir and Blue Spruce Trees on the viewing platform, Ponderosa Canyon is actually named after the huge Ponderosa Pines that soar up to 150 feet from the canyon floor with trunks measuring up to five feet in diameter. Just down the road, Black Birch Canyon overlook offers similar views.
Bryce Canyon National Park’s scenic road ends at the parking area for Rainbow Point. Sweeping vistas surround this highest-elevation scenic viewpoint, and the spur trail to Yovimpa Point leads to even more expansive views. This southernmost tip of Bryce Canyon National Park offers incredible views of the Pink, Gray, White, Vermilion, and Chocolate Cliffs of the Grand Staircase. The uppermost layers, the Pink Cliffs, make up Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos. In the distance is the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on the Kaibab Plateau. Visibility from Rainbow Point can be up to 100 miles on a clear day, and the air is some of the cleanest in the country.
Trails accessible from Rainbow Point include the easy one-mile hike along the Bristlecone Loop Trail which leads hikers through an ancient Bristlecone Pine forest with 1,800-year-old trees. The more strenuous 7.5-mile backcountry Riggs Spring Trail loops between Rainbow and Yovimpa Points. Hikers can gain access to the Agua Canyon Connecting Trail from the Ponderosa Canyon stop.
Plan to spend about two hours and as much as a half a day to make the 18-mile drive, and longer if you plan to hit the hiking trails. You can drive straight to Rainbow Point and work your way back, or make stops along the way and then revisit your favorite viewpoints on the return drive. Bryce Canyon National Park is open year-round and is accessible by taking Scenic Highway 12 to Highway 63. A free shuttle is available within the park to major viewpoints from May through October.