Zion vs Bryce: Pros and Cons of Each Park
Posted in: Outdoor adventures, Travel on November 13, 2023.
How To Choose…
A little while ago, we wrote a blog post about how to choose between Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, if you could only see one. And since we got a lot of positive feedback from readers on that one, we thought we’d do the same for Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.
These parks are the big boys, drawing in a combined total of 7.5 million visitors each year. Many of the travelers who visit Southern Utah can only visit one national park, due to all sorts of time constraints, which means they are most likely to end up in Bryce or Zion. So let’s look at Southern Utah’s two most popular parks, and give them the ol’ comparison treatment. Hopefully this will make it a little easier to plan your vacation.
Don’t get us wrong; if you have time to explore both parks, you really should. Each are fantastic. This is just to help you get a better idea of which park offers what.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Scenery Description – Bryce Canyon is most famous for it’s hoodoos. In case you didn’t know, hoodoos are tall sandstone spires that have been shaped by erosion into otherworldly, weird, and wild shapes. And Bryce Canyon has a whole amphitheater full of hoodoos – known, appropriately enough, as the Amphitheater. There are some other amazing geological features in the park, but they’re not quite as famous, or as accessible as the Amphitheater.
The Pros – Bryce Canyon is a park for all seasons. It’s truly beautiful during the warmth of summer, or covered in the fresh snow of winter. The park actually actively encourages winter activities, and will even rent some basic equipment to you. (Handy for the winter season that we are currently heading into.)
Bryce Canyon has some of the best ranger programs of any national park in the state. Their Full Moon Hikes, for example, allow visitors to explore the Amphitheater under the light of the moon – something that you won’t find elsewhere. Maybe it’s just because it’s a smaller park, but we find that Bryce Canyon has more of a personal touch.
The Cons – Bryce Canyon is amazing. The hoodoos are lots of fun. We must acknowledge, however, that the Amphitheater is the main attraction, to the exclusion of the other scenery that the park does offer. The infrastructure is primarily built around the hoodoos, which means that if you wanted to see an arch or two, you’ll have to trek aways to see it. Which can be hard for people with disabilities. Basically, think of Bryce Canyon as a one-trick-pony – granted, it’s a very, very cool trick – but besides the hoodoos, there isn’t too much to see in the park that’s easy to get to.
Bryce Canyon is also a little bit isolated. It’s got a small town – Tropic, UT – that services most of the tourists. But it doesn’t have lots of services and support nearby.
Zion National Park
Scenery Description – Zion is a park of towering cliff walls, and immense stone canyons. It’s got sweeping vistas, and clear waterfalls, and arches and bridges, and broad sandstone mesas. Honestly, it’s hard to encapsulate all that this national park contains in just a few sentences. It’s a big place, and it’s got a lot of geological diversity.
The Pros – Zion is substantially bigger than Bryce Canyon. And as mentioned above, it has a lot more variety, so there is a lot to see in the park. There are also more trails. This is especially important if you are planning a multi-day vacation. You’ll get to experience plenty of different things in Zion National Park. We wouldn’t really recommend spending more than two days in Bryce Canyon, but you could easily be in Zion for a week.
Zion is also more developed than any of the other parks in Utah. It gets the most funding, and has the most infrastructure, and is the most accessible. Plus there are lots and lots of nearby services and amenities. The entire city of Saint George is only a half-hour away. So you will be able to find anything that you’re looking for.
The Cons – With all that scenery and adventure comes lots of crowds. It can turn into a real zoo in the summer months. The lion’s share of tourists in Southern Utah are heading to Zion National Park after all. Also during the summer it gets hot, much hotter than Bryce Canyon. Zion is further south and at a lower elevation, so it gets pretty toasty. If you’re visiting in the summer, you will be limited to hikes that are shaded or in a river system during the heat of the day.
What to Do in Each Park
We hope these couple of points help put these parks in perspective. If you want some suggestions on what you can (and should) do in each of these great national parks, then check out our in-depth guides to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.
And trust us, you’ll have a great time, no matter which park you visit. You honestly can’t go wrong in Southern Utah!