Zion National Park vs Bryce Canyon National Park
Both Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park are spectacular, memorable experiences – totally worthwhile, but which is better? I get this question a lot and you guessed it – there’s no right or wrong answer. It all depends on your preferences, travel party, time and which season you’re going.
First off, it’s very possible to visit Bryce Canyon and Zion in the same trip, even the same day! The distance from Zion to Bryce Canyon is 72.4 miles (116.5 kilometers), or, a 1 hour and 20 minute drive and it’s a beautiful drive! Both Parks are found in the picturesque landscape of Southern Utah. Now, if you’re limited on time or want to dedicate your trip to one park or whatever your reason be, here’s the quick comparison of Zion National Park vs Bryce Canyon National Park.
Zion & Bryce Comparison
Zion National Park sits at about 4,000 feet in elevation (in the town of Springdale) and climbs up to 6,500 feet whereas Bryce Canyon ranges from 9,000 down to 7,000 feet in elevation. Zion National Park is a long, deep canyon cutting through steep sandstone cliffs. Different layers of sandstone like Navajo sandstone, offer varying pastel colors of rock. Contrary to it’s name, Bryce Canyon National Park is not really a canyon, but distinctly eroded cliffs and hoodoos on the east side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. During the height of national park visitation (May-August), Zion’s temperature reaches a high of 100 degrees and a low of 50 degrees and Bryce Canyon’s temperature rises to 80 degrees and falls to 40 degrees.
So, Zion National Park is more of a desert climate and Bryce Canyon is high-desert. This means that Zion is usually quite a bit warmer than Bryce Canyon. The difference between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park is also found in it’s vegetation. Vegetation in Zion offers enormous, shady Cottonwood trees, Pinyon Pines, Juniper, Cactus of many varieties, Desert Willow and many other desert plants. Bryce Canyon is much more forested than Zion, covered in Ponderosa Pine trees, Sagebrush, Manzanita bushes and occasionally Quaking Aspens and Blue Spruce Pines.
Both of these Parks offer great outdoor activities for all ages. For canyoneering and rappelling, Zion beats Bryce. You’ll find world-class hiking in either Park, but in Zion you can find yourself hiking through streams or on sandstone ledges, like Angels Landing – one of the scariest hikes in the world! Nearby Zion, in St. George, Utah, you’ll find many golf courses, mountain biking trails, climbing and more. If you or a friend has a boat, go wakeboarding or cliff jumping at one of the nearby reservoirs. Outside of Bryce Canyon you can fish in streams or lakes, explore some of the endless ATV trails in central Utah and if you’re visiting Bryce Canyon in the winter, speed through the mountains on a snowmobile, go skiing & snowboarding, or ice fishing! There’s lot’s to do in and around Bryce Canyon.
Springdale vs. Bryce Canyon City
I’d say equally as cool as the Parks themselves are their character-filled towns. Springdale, Utah, adjacent to Zion National Park, is one of the neatest little towns in the country. Bryce Canyon City (also called “Bryce”), Utah, is also a very neat, tourist-trap town. Each of them offering their own unique style, you’ll want to make these towns part of your National Park experience. The population of Springdale is about 530 people and the population of Bryce Canyon City is around 225. Bryce Canyon City was officially incorporated as a city in 2007, however, it’s beginnings date back to 1916, when Reuben “Ruby” Syrett built a lodge and some cabins to accommodate tourism. Springdale was settled and founded in 1862 by Mormon pioneers as a farming community.
Springdale boasts colorful, cultural restaurants, antique shops, lodges & hotels, rock shops and even a little candy shop! Bryce Canyon City claims rustic, western style restaurants, hotels, cabins, even a little small western town! Every night in Bryce Canyon City, the banjos & guitars are tuned up for a hootin-n-hollerin’ show at Ebenezer’s Barn & Grill – what an experience! Springdale is home to one of the worlds most brilliant outdoor amphitheaters, the O.C. Tanner Amphitheater. Plan to see a concert while you’re at Zion! It’s hard to describe it, but both of these towns have a theme or a feeling in the air – unique to themselves and so complimentary to the Parks they sit next to.
Both Parks are incredible and honestly, must-see destinations. I myself can’t choose a favorite between the two. Bryce Canyon offers more of an Old West feeling, with mazes of coral colored hoodoos stretching out from the tall ponderosa pine forests. Zion offers more of a desert rose atmosphere, with massive red & white sandstone cliffs towering up from a cool, sandy desert floor decorated with cactus, cottonwood trees and occasional pines. Bryce Canyon is usually 10 to 20 degrees cooler than Zion. Bryce Canyon is at a higher elevation, although Zion National Park spans a greater distance from top to bottom than Bryce Canyon does. Like I said before, it depends on what you’re looking for, but if you can, visit both Parks while you’re here!