The Grand Canyon sees around 5 million visitors a year for good reason: its grandeur is unlike any other place in the world. However, just a few hours away, there is another “canyon” national park that is smaller, much less trafficked, more colorful, and surrounded by distinct natural wonders. Bryce Canyon Country includes Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park, Kodachrome State Park, and so much more in its 3-million-plus acres of protected lands. It’s the perfect Grand Canyon alternative for anyone who wants to see Utah’s natural splendor without the same level of crowds — Bryce Canyon sees about 2.5 million annual visitors, Capitol Reef about 1.5 million, and not even one million visit Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument every year.
The Bryce Canyon Country parks and protected lands are home to hoodoos (which cannot be found in any other National Park), ancient petroglyphs, dinosaur bones, and thick, wooded forests. There are nearly endless exploration opportunities between the monuments.
There are many different ways to see Bryce Canyon Country depending on the kinds of activities you like to do or the activities you’re open to trying. You could spend a lifetime exploring this area, but most people usually only have a few days or a weekend to spare. These are a few must-see attractions, places to stay, and places to eat for your journey through Bryce Canyon Country.
Things to do in Bryce Canyon Country
Go horseback riding with Canyon Trail Rides
One of the best ways to see the formations inside Bryce Canyon National Park is by horseback. There are specific trails in the park that are horse-only, and the only outfitted guide to lead tours is Canyon Trail Rides, which has been working in the park for more than 50 years. The company’s extremely educated and dedicated guides will take you down to the bottom of the red rock hoodoos that are only accessible by horseback.
On both the two- and three-hour tour, the guide shares information about how the hoodoos were formed, the bristlecone pines that carpet the floor, and the legends of the cowboy that have rode through the canyon walls. It’s not only a stunning ride, but also more fun to be riding a horse than hiking down then back up the steep canyon trails.
It’s always important to know that even though the bottom of the canyon can be up to 20-degrees hotter, you should wear long pants to prevent rubbing as you ride and you should secure all hats before departure. No bags of any kind are allowed on the tours.
Canyon Trail Rides: 280 Bryce Way, Tropic, UT 84776
Canyoneer with Excursions of Escalante
The nearly 2 million acres that make up Grand Staircase Escalante are seemingly unexplored, yet there are people like Rick Greene of Excursions of Escalante who have spent decades wandering through as many of the sandrock canyons as they can squeeze through. There is only one designated trail in the entire monument. The rest is completely open for exploration, and Rick has found 33 incredible spots he likes to take his tour groups.
Excursions of Escalante leads all day adventures that range from easy slot canyon hikes to more extreme repelling Excursions depending on how comfortable people feel pushing their limits and going, literally, over the edge with Rick. Before you go on any canyoneering expedition with him, he will give you an extensive safety briefing. All tours come with coffee and tea at his headquarters before departure, a packed lunch, water, all the required gear, and ice cream at the end.
Make sure to read and sign all of the waivers before arriving, as you won’t be able to head out if you haven’t come prepared and properly dressed. You must wear long shorts or pants (leggings are not recommended due to tearing, and long sleeves can be necessary), and sturdy hiking shoes are an absolute must.
Excursions of Escalante: 125 E Main St, Escalante, UT 84726
Take a ride with Grand Staircase ATV
An easy way to explore the wonders around Bryce Canyon Country is by ATV or UTV (side-by-side). With Grand Staircase ATV’s Justin and Bree Shakespeare, you can either drive your own four-wheeler or have them show you around on theirs. Regardless, they will share their knowledge of the area and take you to all of their favorite places.
Bree and Justin have been guiding tours for almost 20 years, and both grew up in the town of Tropic. They truly know the ins and outs of the monument, the public lands, and Bryce Canyon National Park. They have miles and miles of trails they can take you through on one of their one-day expeditions, or you can get adventurous and take a three-day trip that includes lodging and all your meals.
Where to eat in Bryce Canyon Country
Between adventures in Grand Staircase National Monument and Bryce Canyon National Park, make a stop in the town of Tropic for quick and delicious barbecue. Pick between a meat plate, barbecue sandwich, nachos, baked potato, or salad, and don’t forget the peach cobbler in a cone for dessert.
i.d.k. BBQ: 161 N Main St, Tropic, UT 84776
4th West Pub
Grab dinner at the only pub on Utah’s Scenic Highway 12, which runs between Capitol Reef National Park and Bryce Canyon, at 4th West Pub in Escalante. Enjoy local beers and classic bar fare at this renovated service station. Try to time a visit with trivia nights, held every third Thursday of the month, or during one of the live music shows on the second Saturday of each month.
4th West Pub: 425 W Main St, Escalante, UT 84726
Looking for a different type of dinner experience? Check out a country Western show at Ebenezer’s Barn & Grill from April to October, where you can enjoy a cowboy meal of flank steak, barbecue, or baked salmon or chicken while listening to The Bryce Canyon Wranglers share the story of Bryce Canyon National Park through classic country hits and original pieces. It’s fun for the entire family.
Ebenezer’s: 110 Center St, Bryce Canyon City, UT 84764
This might be one of the most beautiful coffee shops in Utah. Kiva Koffeehouse was designed to blend harmoniously with the Southern Utah landscape. There are 180-degree views from inside, along with a patio that has 360-degree views and a view down into the valley below, making it a spectacular destination coffeehouse for more than just caffeine. Note that the shop is only open Wednesday to Sunday, and the kitchen closes daily at 3 PM.
Kiva Koffeehouse: 7144 UT-12, Escalante, UT 84726
Pizza Place has been rated the best pizza in Southern Utah year after year. The recipes have been passed through generations since the early 1990s. Enjoy a specialty pizza or create your own at this Utah staple.
Pizza Place: 21 N Main St, Tropic, UT 84776
Where to stay in Bryce Canyon Country
Under Canvas is a world-renowned luxury, off-grid glamping resort with two locations near Bryce Canyon Country. The Bryce Canyon location is 15 minutes from Bryce Canyon National Park and the Powell-Grand Staircase location is on the south side of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument with access to the public lands in less than 10 minutes.
Under Canvas Bryce Canyon has 50 solar-powered canvas tent sites perfect for solo-travelers, couples, or families thanks to a variety of tent options that can sleep between two and six people. Each tent comes with an outdoor and indoor lounging area and a wood-burning stove inside to keep you warm during the chilly nights. Full bathrooms, battery operated lights, and a battery pack for charging small devices like cell phones are only a few of the other amenities you’ll also enjoy. There are also outlets in the attendant’s tent and bathrooms for plugging in larger items, and blow dryers are available at the front desk.
The on-site restaurant, Embers, serves delicious, locally-sourced breakfast, lunch, and dinner that you can enjoy al fresco around the propane-fueled bonfires. There are also complementary s’mores every evening along with free events and hiking trails that can be enjoyed by all.
Canyon Country Lodge
If glamping isn’t your thing, stay at a more traditional hotel in the town of Escalante. The Canyon Country Lodge has all that you’d expect from a hotel, including a hot tub, swimming pool, fitness area, and laundry services. It also has an on-site restaurant and complimentary breakfast every morning. The rooms come in standard king size suites or double queen beds each with wifi and smart TVs. The bathrooms feature large walk-in showers with organic bath products.
The closest lodging to Bryce Canyon National Park is the historic Ruby’s Inn, which has been operating for over 100 years. It is situated just yards from the entrance to the park and is the pick up location for the park’s shuttle system.
Ruby’s Inn features many different kinds of lodging options, from RV hook-ups and tipi campsites to luxury king suites with in-room jacuzzi spas. The Inn also has three different dining options to satisfy every hunger pain. The Cowboy Buffet & Steak Room offers sit-down breakfast, lunch, and dinner; The Canyon Diner has fast grab-and-go options and pizza; while Ebenezer’s Barn & Grill features a country music show during dinner every summer night. It also has one of the best gift shops outside of the park.