Last updated on January 12, 2023 by Wandering our World

Separated by a hundred miles and a state border, Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon are two of the most popular national parks in the United States. Both of these parks offer superb hiking and breathtaking views, and are unsurprisingly two of the most-visited national parks within the US.

Bryce Canyon National Park is one of Utah’s celebrated “Mighty Five” national parks. Despite the name, it’s not a true canyon but rather a collection of natural amphitheaters, interspersed with numerous tall, thin spires of rock known as hoodoos. The park boasts some excellent walking trails (that are often quieter and better for young kids than the ones in Grand Canyon) and is also famed for its superb stargazing opportunities.

Grand Canyon National Park, in northern Arizona, needs little introduction. The mile-deep canyon was carved over millennia by the mighty Colorado River and is one of the most well-known natural attractions in the United States. The park is famed for its iconic views and is popular for hiking, rafting, and helicopter rides over the canyon – in fact it tends to have more activities than Bryce Canyon.

Whether you’re looking for a full-on hardcore hiking adventure or a day trip away from Sin City’s casinos and shows, both Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon national parks will take your breath away with their stupefying natural beauty. But which one should you visit?

Read on as we take a closer look at the similarities and differences between these two striking national parks to help you decide… 

CONTENTS:

  1. Which Is Easier To Get To?
  2. Which Has The Best Hiking?
  3. Which Is Better For Camping?
  4. Which Is Better For Wildlife?
  5. Which Is Best For Families?
  6. Which Is Better In Winter?
  7. Which Is Better For Stargazing?
  8. Which Is The Better Choice?
An infographic pitting Bryce Canyon vs Grand Canyon and showing some of the key differences that will be discovered later in the article.

Which Is Easier To Get To?

Depending on your point of origin, you should find it pretty easy to reach either national park.

For both parks, the nearest international airport is Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas. The drive times to the two parks from Las Vegas’ international airport are quite similar, and it should take around four and a half hours to drive to either.

As a major airport, you should not have too much difficulty finding a flight into Vegas, whether you are flying internationally or domestically.

For Bryce Canyon National Park, you also have the option of flying into Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC), which is a similar driving distance away as Las Vegas Airport.

From Salt Lake City, you can also get a little closer to the park by flying on to the Cedar City Regional Airport (CDC) with Delta Airlines. From Cedar City Airport, the drive to Bryce Canyon should take around ninety minutes.

The sun rising above Thor's Hammer at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.
iStock.com/MJFeit

Grand Canyon Airport is the closest airport to the Grand Canyon, but it is only for chartered flights and sightseeing tours.

The closest commercial airport is Flagstaff Pulliam Airport (FLG), and from here the drive would take around an hour and a half. For flights into Flagstaff, check with United Airlines and American Airlines.

If you are driving to Grand Canyon National Park, the best scenery is found along Highway 67 and Route 89A if you’re heading for the North Rim. For the South Rim, Highway 64 will be your best bet.

Visitors heading to Bryce Canyon by car can take Highway 12 between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Park. If you are traveling from nearby Zion National Park or the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, drive along Highway 89.

Beautiful Landscape of Grand Canyon from Desert View Point with the Colorado River visible during dusk
iStock.com/jose1983

Which Has The Best Hiking?

Both Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon offer some rewarding trails for hikers to enjoy. The views in each park are spectacular, and there are various trails to suit all levels of hikers, from short and easy to more demanding multi-day hikes.

In terms of epic trails, though, perhaps the Grand Canyon’s Rim-To-Rim Trail is the trump card, whereas family trekkers may prefer the larger selection of easy trails on offer in Bryce Canyon.

As the less visited park, Bryce Canyon sometimes has much quieter trails too. That said, with just 10% of the Grand Canyon’s total visitors heading to the North Rim, you can find quieter trails if you make your way to that area of the park.

We’re going to highlight a few of the most popular hikes in each park to help you decide which trails you want to tackle:

Travel in Grand Canyon, man Hiker with backpack enjoying view, USA
iStock.com/Nikolas Jkd

Grand Canyon National Park: Hiking

For the more adventurous and physically fit, the legendary Rim-To-Rim Trail in the Grand Canyon National Park is a challenge that’s hard to ignore.

This epic 24-mile trail takes in both the north and south rims of the Grand Canyon, and incorporates sections of the park’s other notable trails.

The long hike is possible in one day, but many opt to spend a night in the Phantom Ranch and enjoy two days in the awe-inspiring Arizona outback.

The Bright Angel Trail is regarded by many as the best hike in the Grand Canyon. It’s wide, well-maintained and features rest houses along the way where you can enjoy some shade and rehydrate.

With two ranger stations along the way, this South Rim trail is one of the safest and more accessible trails in the park too, and a great hike for first-time visitors.

The North Kaibab Trail is the most famous trail along the North Rim and forms the northern section of the Rim-To-Rim Trail.

Near the beginning of the trail, hikers can enjoy stunning vistas over the canyon from Coconino Overlook, while continuing farther allows you to take in the Supai Tunnel and the Redwall Bridge. The trail is largely an easy hike, but there are a few inclines and sections that are a little more demanding.

The Grand Canyon’s hikes are epic, but during peak season the popular ones can get very busy – busier than Bryce Canyon’s – so that’s worth keeping in mind.

scenic view of Toroweap overlook at sunrise in north rim, grand canyon national park,Arizona,usa.
iStock.com/joecho-16

Bryce Canyon National Park: Hiking

Bryce Canyon’s Rim Trail is much vaunted as the best for first-time visitors. The eleven-mile trail follows the rim of Bryce Amphitheater, offering stunning views along the way.

The trail passes Inspiration Point, which boasts some of the best views in the whole park and from which you have a great view over a maze of bizarre-but-beautiful hoodoos. The trail also takes in Sunset Point and the park’s best-known hoodoo, Thor’s Hammer.

The Queens Garden/Navajo Loop Trail is one of the most popular in the park and is a moderate three-mile hike. Due to its popularity, it’s a good idea to hit the trails early to beat the crowds.

The trail’s relatively short length and the fact that it takes in many of the park’s most iconic views make it a firm favorite with visitors. The trail makes its way past the Wall Street tunnel, Sunset Point, and Thor’s Hammer.

Feeling fit and adventurous? Why not tackle the Fairyland Loop, which descends into the canyon and climbs back up again? This is a more strenuous trail, but one of the less-trod routes too.

The beginning of the trail is a steep descent down to the canyon floor, and then there are a series of steep climbs and descents that offer spectacular viewpoints along the way.

A man with his baby boy are hiking in Bryce canyon National Park, Utah, USA
iStock.com/kapulya

Which Is Better For Camping?

Both Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon have a few campgrounds where overnight visitors can make their base.

Bryce Park’s campgrounds are noted for their excellent stargazing, but the Grand Canyon offers the chance to camp at the bottom of its vast canyon.

Grand Canyon: Camping

Bright Angel Campground, which provides drinking water and basic amenities, is located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and offers a unique perspective of the park at night, with towering rock formations all around.

It’s the only established campground at the bottom of the canyon, and it is located close to the Phantom Ranch, which offers basic refreshments and a cantina.

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the most accessible, with the North Rim being a little more rugged and wild. The North Rim is inaccessible during the winter months, and the campgrounds are mainly closed.

For South Rim camping, check out Mather Campground and Desert View Campground. Mather is open year-round but requires booking well in advance for summer stays. It’s also close to the park’s visitor center and the shuttle buses.

Desert View is located to the east of the park and is around 25 miles from the visitor center. It’s a little more off the beaten path than Mather and is only open from mid-April to mid-October.

The North Rim is less visited, and the campgrounds are more remote. The North Rim is only accessible during the summer months, but with an estimated 10% of the park’s total visitors heading to the North Rim, it’s a great summer option to escape the madding crowds of the more popular South Rim.

DeMotte Campground and Jacob Lake Campground are two popular choices from which to explore the North Rim.

A campfire brings warmth to a camper overlooking Grand Canyon National Park from Kaibab National Forest, Arizona
iStock.com/Michael Just

Bryce Canyon: Camping

Bryce National Park North Campground is a great choice for camping at Bryce Canyon. It’s located in one of the most scenic areas of the park and offers good access to both the Rim Trail and Sunrise Point.

Be aware that this campground is set at an elevation of almost 9,000 feet, and temperatures can drop significantly during the night.

Sunset Campground also has a great central location and is convenient for hiking to Sunset Point. The campground is open from April 15th to October 31st, and early booking is advisable.

Bryce Canyon Pines Campground is located to the west of the park and is near the Bryce Canyon Pines Motel. There is a small store and a restaurant nearby that are also open from late May to late October.

An added bonus to camping at Bryce compared to the Grand Canyon is the fact Bryce Canyon tends to be better for stargazing – which we’ll explain more on later.

Hiker girl on the mountain top, сoncept of freedom, victory, active lifestyle. Woman relaxing on top of the mountain looking at beautiful mountain  view. Woman with outstretched arms enjoying beautiful  scenery on hiking trip. Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, USA
iStock.com/MargaretW

Which Is Better For Wildlife?

Both Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon boast a veritable cornucopia of creatures and critters to spot along the trails.

Grand Canyon National Park is home to an impressive 373 bird species, 89 mammals, 47 reptiles, 9 amphibians, and 17 fish species. While the smaller Bryce Canyon National Park has 59 species of mammals, 175 species of birds, 11 types of reptiles, and 4 kinds of amphibians calling the park home.

Both parks offer the chance to see some impressive species, with large mammals, birds of prey, and venomous rattlesnakes present in each location.

In Bryce Canyon National Park, one of the most impressive mammal species to keep an eye open for is the mountain lion. These are the second-largest cat species in the Americas and known by a few other common names, including cougar, puma, and panther.

Mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes are also seen in Grand Canyon National Park, but perhaps the most impressive mammal species here is the huge Rocky Mountain elk.

Portrait of Beautiful Puma in autumn forest. American cougar - mountain lion, striking pose, scene in the woods, wildlife America
iStock.com/Evgeny555

If you want to see impressive birds of prey, the Grand Canyon is home to the California condor, North America’s largest bird of prey. These magnificent creatures can often be seen soaring high above the park, scouring the ground below for carrion to devour.

Equally impressive, peregrine falcons can be spotted in Bryce Canyon. Peregrine falcons are regarded as the fastest animal on the planet, reaching speeds over 200 miles per hour when they dive for prey. While less common, there is also the chance of spotting a golden eagle too.

Herpetologists will be keen to enjoy the array of reptiles on display in the two parks too. Both parks boast a number of lizard, snake, and salamander species.

In Grand Canyon National Park, keep your eyes and ears open for the Western diamondback rattlesnake and the endemic Grand Canyon pink rattlesnake. The Grand Canyon pink rattlesnake is only found around the Grand Canyon and has developed a pinkish hue to help it blend in with the park’s natural color scheme.

The Great Basin rattlesnake is the only venomous snake in Bryce Canyon National Park, but you can also encounter the long and skinny striped whipsnake alongside a variety of lizards, skinks, and the tiger salamander.

It’s hard to pinpoint which is better for wildlife. Though the Grand Canyon has far more species, it also attracts more visitors which can ultimately scare wildlife away.

California Condor at Grand Canyon National Park in a sunny day, Arizona, USA
iStock.com/bloodua

Which Is Best For Families?

While both parks can be enjoyed as a family, perhaps the more famous Grand Canyon National Park will give your children more bragging rights when they head back to school.

However, Bryce Park’s famous “Thor’s Hammer” hoodoo, thanks to the recent slew of Marvel Comics movies, is also popular with the kids.

The two parks both have a few pros and cons to consider when planning a family vacation.

Grand Canyon National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known the world over. While the famous views are stunning and very accessible, especially during the summer, there can be large crowds at certain times.

Bryce Canyon is a little quieter and has a wider choice of child-friendly trails to choose from. Yet the Grand Canyon, as the larger and busier tourist attraction, has a few more family-friendly activities in and around it like rafting and mules rides.

People with hands up jumping  and having fun on the top of the mountain. Family vacation in  beautiful  mountains looking at coastal landscape..Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA
iStock.com/MargaretW

While a hike down to the bottom of the canyon at Grand Canyon and back up may be a little too strenuous for many children, there are other options for maximizing your view. Helicopter rides are very popular, and along with the thrill of the ride, the views are spectacular.

There is also the option to ride mules through the Grand Canyon National Park, but children must be older than nine years old to join in. South Rim mule tours last 3 hours, and you are accompanied by a knowledgeable guide that can educate you along the way too.

Alternative ways to explore the park include white-water rafting, while the Grand Canyon Skywalk is a must-do if your kids are brave enough. The Skywalk is a horseshoe-shaped glass-bottom bridge that is suspended 4,000 feet above the Colorado River!

Bryce Canyon National Park offers a few more options for family-friendly hikes than the Grand Canyon, with the Queens Garden Trail and the Mossy Cave Trail being two excellent examples. Both are easy walks and offer great views.

Summer visitors can also take the family to the Bryce Canyon Country Rodeo for a fun day out with the cowboys.

There is also some excellent horseback riding in the Bryce Canyon area too, which is perfect after a day at the rodeo, and you can opt for two- or three-hour tours of the park. But ultimately, the Grand Canyon has more kid-friendly activities to enjoy away from hiking and camping.

Close to the edge. View at Horseshoe Bend, a meander of Colorado river in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, United States.
iStock.com

Which Is Better In Winter?

While both parks remain open during the winter, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park tends to shut down during the winter months. Many of the campgrounds close for the winter, but there are still trails open on the South Rim for the more intrepid hiker to explore.

One of the big advantages of visiting these parks during the winter is that there are fewer people on the trails.

But if you are planning a winter visit to either of these parks with a view to hitting the trails, be sure to properly equip yourself first. Suitable winter trekking clothing is a must, and over-the-shoe foot traction and trekking poles are highly recommended.

Both parks are stunning throughout the year, and the winter is no exception. When the snow has fallen, its brilliant white gleams in the sun and offers a stark contrast to the red tones of the landscapes.

Of the two parks, Bryce Park is perhaps more geared up to welcome winter visitors. In addition to daily activities like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and winter hiking, the Bryce Canyon Winter Festival and the Christmas Bird Count are two popular annual events.

In contrast, skiing, snowboarding, and sledding are all prohibited within Grand Canyon National Park, however, as the steep sides are even more perilous when covered in ice and snow.

Mossy Cave Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, USA
iStock.com/Larry N Young

Which Is Better For Stargazing?

Both parks have been designated as International Dark Sky Parks in recent years, and both are excellent spots to gaze at the night sky.

However the Grand Canyon National Park receives more visitors each year, and as a busy tourist location, it is well-lit at night, especially on the South Rim.

Since its designation as an International Dark Sky Park, the rangers have been hard at work ensuring that the existing lighting meets the International Dark Sky Committee’s recommendations.

Bryce Canyon is perhaps a little better for serious stargazers, as it’s a little darker at night. However, both parks have plenty of activities for amateur astronomers to enjoy.

The Grand Canyon hosts an annual Grand Canyon Star Party, with educational talks and telescopes set up to gaze at the constellations. These events are planned for June each year.

Bryce Canyon offers around 100 astronomy programs per year, and its team of Astronomy Rangers is on hand to help educate about the night sky.

The dark, dark nights above Bryce Canyon offer superb views of the Milky Way, free from light pollution, and talks are often given by the Salt Lake Astronomical Society. Bryce Park also hosts an annual 4-day Astronomy Festival during the summer.

While the best time to visit the parks for stargazing is during a new moon, Bryce Canyon does also offer Full Moon Hikes with their Astronomy Rangers.

Milky Way Galaxy over Bryce Canyon National Park
iStock.com/George Cotayo

Bryce Canyon vs Grand Canyon: Which Is Better?

Bryce Canyon National Park and Grand Canyon National Park are both undeniably stunning locations with breath-taking scenery.

While you will not be disappointed with a visit to either, many people would probably opt for the Grand Canyon if they have never visited either before. This is largely due to it being the best-known of the two parks and one of the world’s most famous natural attractions.

But that doesn’t mean it’s “better.” Serious and less-experienced hikers alike will find the trails in both parks rewarding, and both parks have easy and more challenging trails to choose from.

In terms of epic trails, though, perhaps the Grand Canyon’s Rim-To-Rim Trail is the trump card, whereas family trekkers may prefer the larger selection of easy trails on offer in Bryce Canyon.

Both parks have excellent stargazing, but if you are keen on astronomy, you may find it easier to join an educational program in Bryce Canyon. Bryce Canyon edges it out as the choice for a winter hiking vacation too, as there are also a few educational programs to join at that time of year too.

All in all, Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park holds its own when compared with Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park.

If you don’t have the time to squeeze a visit to both parks into one trip—they’re not so far apart—then only you can decide which will be best suited to your vacation plans.

But you can rest assured that neither will leave you with a sense of disappointment, and you will be pleased to have visited one of the United States’ best-loved and most-visited national parks.