Bryce Canyon is one of the more underrated national parks in Utah, according to many travelers. It’s often overshadowed by its extremely popular neighbor, Zion National Park. While Bryce Canyon might seem like it doesn’t have as much to offer, it definitely does. From hiking among the hoodoos to stargazing at night, Bryce Canyon has it all, including one of the oldest astronomy programs in the nation.
Stargazing in Bryce Canyon National Park is a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else. Seeing the Milky Way (and up to 7,500 stars!) glowing above the hoodoos is something you literally can’t go anywhere but here. So, how, where and when can you go stargazing in Bryce Canyon? Read on!
Is Joshua Tree National Park Open During the Government Shutdown?
Effective December 22, 2018, the United States Government officially entered a partial shutdown due to lack of funding and budget approvals. If you’re currently planning a trip to Bryce Canyon National Park, you might wonder: is Bryce Canyon National Park open during a government shutdown? Yes, Bryce Canyon National Park is open during this government shutdown. The National Park Service is still operating at the gates and maintaining the campgrounds and facilities in Bryce Canyon National Park. Please be respectful of the rock formations, trails, and designated roads if you visit Bryce Canyon National Park at this time – as at any time you visit.
Now, here’s everything we learned about taking a stargazing trip to Bryce Canyon National Park.
How to Travel to Bryce Canyon National Park
If you’re flying to Bryce Canyon National Park for your stargazing trip, the most convenient airport is located in Las Vegas. It will be about a four-hour drive from Vegas to Bryce Canyon. From Vegas, take I-15 N to exit 95 towards US-89/Panguitch. From there it’s a few back highways, a right on UT-20 E, another right onto US-89 S, a left to stay on US-89 S, a left onto UT-12 E, and a right onto US-63 S, then voila, Bryce Canyon National Park!
If you’re coming from the Moab area, take the scenic route. From Moab, take I-70 W and take the exit for UT-24 towards Hanksville and Capitol Reef. In Hanksville, turn right towards Capitol Reef. In Torrey, take the left turn for Scenic Byway 12. There should be signs from there. Google Maps may not offer this route, but putting in directions from Moab to Capitol Reef, then Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon will bring it up.
How to Go Stargazing in Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon will have some areas better than others for stargazing since the park isn’t as wide open as others and does have a lot of trees in certain areas. It also has a lot of great overlooks that are perfect for admiring the stars. There are several ways to go stargazing in Bryce Canyon National Park.
Photo credit: Barton Davis Smith via Flickr
Attend a Regular Ranger Program
There are a few options for different astronomy-related ranger programs in Bryce Canyon. The first is a basic astronomy program, which is offered about 100 times per year, featuring a multimedia program followed by stargazing. Check in at the visitor center to see which program topic sounds of most interest to you to figure out where it’s being held. There are no reservations, just show up 15-30 minutes before to get a good seat.
Attend a Special Stargazing Event
Occasionally there will be special guest astronomers from the Salt Lake Astronomical Society during the regular programs. In June, there is an astronomy festival featuring a star lab, guest speakers, solar viewing, and more. There is solar viewing three times per week, seasonally, as well. If you want to get out, the park offers full moon ranger-led hikes on full moon nights. There are a limited number of tickets available for each 2-3 hour hike. The location is announced only to ticket holders and flashlights are prohibited.
Go Stargazing On Your Own
If ranger programs aren’t your jam, then you can go stargazing on your own just as easily. Find a pull off or overlook with a clear view of the sky and set up shop. If there is little to no moon, trust me, the overlooks will be just fine. It gets dark. After three summers living at Lake Powell in Utah, it still blows my mind how dark it gets.
Where to Go Stargazing in Bryce Canyon
Photo credit: Barton Davis Smith via Flickr
While there are quite a few overlooks great for stargazing in Bryce Canyon, some are better than others. These overlooks will offer similar but different scenery, especially the first and last.
- Natural Bridge Overlook – This overlook will offer a different view than most others. Instead of just hoodoos, you’ll get to admire the stars over (and under!) the natural bridge.
- Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, or Sunrise Points – These are all great views over the Bryce Amphitheater, the most iconic area of the park. The skies are wide open. You can’t go wrong here.
- Farview Point – This viewpoint can be appreciated best during the day offering views of Arizona 160 miles away, but that just means there is plenty of open skies to see the stars. It may be less busy than the Bryce Amphitheater area.
- Mossy Cave Trail – This is the place to escape the crowds since it isn’t on the main scenic road. Back out on Highway 12, you’ll find the Mossy Cave Trail and parking area. There is also a waterfall here offering a different foreground for stargazing that stands out from the rest of the park scenery.
While there are plenty of places within Bryce Canyon National Park to go stargazing, you can find stellar stargazing in the whole area. The skies are incredibly dark in this area making it a prime stargazing destination.
Astrophotography Tips while visiting Bryce Canyon
Photo credit: Barton Davis Smith via Flickr
Whether you’ve been around the astrophotography block or are just starting out, there are a few tips that will make sure you can capture amazing star photos at Bryce Canyon.
- Bring a Tripod & Remote. This will help keep your camera steady and your photos sharp.
- Include the Hoodoos for Interesting Foreground. While you may be there to admire the stars, don’t forget to feature the hoodoos (rock formations particular to this area) in some of your pictures.
- Bring Extra Batteries. You should just always have extra batteries, especially if it gets cooler at night. In high altitude desert locations like Bryce Canyon National Park, you’ll definitely need them.
- Avoid Light. If you do need light to see, use red ones so that your eyes stay used to the darkness and you can still see the stars.
Need other astrophotography tips? Here’s a list of 10 tips for photographing the stars that will help you capture amazing night sky pics.
Where to Stay near Bryce Canyon National Park
From private cabins to rustic lodges, camping to more rustic lodges and cabins, Bryce Canyon has plenty of accommodation options. If you want to splurge (and probably book way in advance) a night or two at the Lodge at Bryce Canyon, just steps from the iconic Bryce Amphitheater. This is the only lodging, other than camping, in the park boundaries.
Outside of the park, you’ll find a lot more options in all price ranges. From Ruby’s Inn in Bryce Canyon City just outside the park entrance is a great option if you plan to visit the park a lot, coming and going during the day and night.
Bryce Pioneer Village or Bryce Country Cabins in tropic are both great options if you want to be a little farther from the action. Even near the lights of the sleepy village of Tropic, you’ll be able to admire the stars; you will also be closer to the Mossy Cave area. You can find a lot of cabins and rustic lodging in Tropic.
If you choose to go camping while visiting Bryce Canyon National Park, there are two campgrounds in the park near the visitor center that fill up by mid-morning. There are plenty of other camping options nearby. Kodachrome Basin State Park is about 30 minutes from Bryce Canyon and offers camping. You can also camp for free on National Forest and BLM land in the area, or pretty much all over out west.
What to Do During the Day in Bryce Canyon National Park
Photo credit: Daniel Knieper via Flickr
In between nightly stargazing sessions, you might want to plan some activities to enjoy Bryce Canyon National Park by day. The number one thing to do? Strap on your hiking shoes and hit the trails! There is plenty of hiking in Bryce Canyon to keep you occupied during the day.
- Queens Garden/Navajo Loop is a great option if you have one day in the park and want to get into the canyon and walk among the hoodoos, which I would highly recommend. While this may be the #1 hike I recommend, it’s also the most popular in the park, so get started early. It is two trails (Queens Garden and Navajo Loop) combined into one. You can also add in the Wall Street hike. This is a great day hike because you can add a lot to it. You can even do part of the Peek-A-Boo trail if you’d like to really get away from people.
- Sunset Point to Sunrise Point is a great option if you’re limited on time and just passing through the park. It’s also a great filler if you have a spare hour. This is a nice, short, one-mile hike round-trip. When it’s really clear you can see Navajo Mountain 80 miles away.
- Fairyland Loop is an eight-mile hike with 2,300 feet of elevation gain. This is a great option if you want a full day hike that takes you into the hoodoos. If you don’t want to do the whole loop, consider just an out and back trip to the Tower Bridge.
Photo credit: Megan Johnson
- Peek-A-Boo Loop is a great alternative to the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop trail. It comes in at 5.5 miles round-trip, making is a good option for a hike to take a good portion of the day without being too long. It gives you time to do another short hike, too.
- Mossy Cave is more of a mossy alcove and not necessarily worth the trip over since this stop is out of the park (still part of the park) on Highway 12. The real attraction here is the waterfall cascading through the fiery landscape. The hike is just under a mile, but you can wander a little at the top of the waterfall, too. This is a good stop on your way in or out of the park or on your way to Kodachrome Basin.
- Kodachrome Basin State Park may not be in Bryce Canyon, but it is just a short drive outside of the nearby town of Tropic. If you want to see more of the area without the crowds, this is a great option. There is plenty of hiking here as well.
If hiking isn’t your thing, you can also spend some time exploring the park by car, as well as the surrounding region.
Other FAQ about Stargazing in Bryce Canyon National Park
When is the best time to visit Bryce Canyon?
Summer will be the best time to visit Bryce Canyon National Park, as the weather is great and they offer astronomy programs multiple times a week. This, however, brings the crowds with it; you’ll need to plan ahead to secure campsites and expect more people on the trails.
If you want fewer people and slightly cooler temperatures, fall would be perfect. Spring can be a bit windy. Winter is great for a totally different experience seeing the snow-covered hoodoos, but astronomy programs will be held a lot less frequently.
Can you see the Milky Way in Bryce Canyon? What time of year?
As you can see in the photos above, it’s definitely possible to see the Milky Way in Bryce Canyon National Park. As long as the sky is clear. It will be more pronounced in the summer but is still visible in the winter.
Are there guided night tours in Bryce Canyon?
There are a few options for guided stargazing tours in Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce Canyon Country offers astronomy/night sky tours from the nearby town of Tropic. There are also ranger-led full moon hikes with limited tickets available.
Photo credit: James Faulkner via Flickr
Other Tips for visiting Bryce Canyon
- Prepare for any weather. The weather varies considerably, from 90°F and sunny to 50°F, cloudy, and rainy. It can get pretty chilly at night because it’s at a higher elevation. If you arrive on a cold and foggy day, still go into the park! This can make for a totally awesome experience and you’ll probably see fewer people.
- If you plan to visit more than three national parks on this trip (or during the year), purchase the ‘America The Beautiful’ National Park pass for $80. This pass offers free or reduced admission at most U.S. National Parks, and you’ll likely save money over the course of a year.
- Make sure you have time to hike into the canyon on your trip. It makes the experience a million times better than just driving by all the overlooks.
- Make sure to drink lots of water and wear lots of sunscreen. The desert is a tough place, and it’s best to have at least one gallon of water per person with you at all times.
- Give yourself one full day in the park by day – along with your nighttime activities. Bryce Canyon really is a unique park with a lot to offer that you can’t find anywhere else.
Do you have other questions about visiting Bryce Canyon National Park for a stargazing trip? Email/contact us!
Featured photo by Barton Davis Smith via Flickr