A Visit to Bryce Canyon

Boulder City, NV

When we finished a motorhome visit to Tucson and Borrego Springs in the middle of February, our plan was to hit the road again in May for a trip to Oregon and Washington.  Of course, things changed a bit after that.  So we settled in to an extended stay here in southern Nevada as winter turned to spring and turned to summer.  But the heat and the isolation began to take its toll on us.  Motorhomes don’t like to sit in one place for long periods of time and neither do we, so we began to look for a safe spot for a short escape.  Pam came up with the perfect spot for a brief adventure, Bryce Canyon City, UT just three miles from Bryce Canyon National Park.

The drive to Bryce Canyon City is a bit under 300 miles, so the motorhome would get a good workout.  We’ve been to the national park and hiked the main trails on previous visits so we didn’t need to repeat those adventures.   But we knew there were many roads and trails to explore outside the park and away from crowds of people.  We also knew that the main private RV park, Ruby’s Inn and RV Park, has huge sites in the newer section in the back, giving us good spacing from our neighbors.  And with an elevation of over 7,600 ‘ we knew we would enjoy cooler temperature.   We called and found we were able to reserve ten days in late July, so on a sunny Sunday in late July we fired up the motorhome and headed north on I-15.

After the fairly plain scenery between Las Vegas and the Arizona line we entered the beautiful Virgin River Gorge, which connects the northeastern part of the Mojave Desert and the southwestern rim of the Colorado Plateau, gaining 800’ of elevation in the 18 mile stretch of highway.

Entering the Virgin River Gorge

As you approached Bryce on UT 12 from the west you know you are in colorful southern Utah, as the road goes through two short tunnels in Red Canyon.

After an uneventful drive of 288 miles we arrived at our site and quickly set up the motorhome for a ten day stay.

Great site for social distancing

What?? Low 70s in the middle of the day???

After setting up and seeing the RV park was rather empty since it was Sunday,  we decided to take one drove into the National Park.  The main park road is 18 miles to where it ends in a large parking area.  The road terminates at Rainbow Point (elevation 9115′), where there is a nice viewing area and a short trail through the pines.

On the return drive from Rainbow Point we stopped at a couple of the many viewpoints along the way.

Natural Bridge

While the number of visitors in the park was nowhere near what we had experienced in previous visits, there were still too many people for us to be comfortable taking one of the many trails down into the canyon.  Since we had done those hikes before, we opted to explore some forest roads and trails more remote with few visitors.

Pine Lake

Our first trip was to Pine Lake.  To get there we drove north from the park, crossed UT 12, and drove about 14 miles on Johns Valley Road.  At a well-marked cross road we turned east on a maintained dirt road and drove another 8 miles where a sign marked the turn leading to the lake.

Pine Lake

The road went around the west side of the lake, then narrowed and continued up into the woods beyond it.  After about 5 miles we came to a parking area at the end of the line.

After a short climb from the parking area we were rewarded for our efforts with a great view of the surrounding cliffs.

Hell’s Backbone Grill

One of our favorite restaurants is in the tiny town of Boulder, UT (pop. 250), located about 80 miles east of Bryce Canyon.  The drive across UT 12 is through mostly empty but very scenic landscape.

The road winds down below us

At one point the road goes across a narrow strip of land with steep drop-offs on either side.

It is difficult to capture in a photo how steep the drops on either side of the road are

We parked outside the restaurant, Hell’s Backbone Grill, and headed to the newly constructed outdoor patio.


The inside dining area is closed, but the new patio is designed to accommodate social distancing.  Guests are instructed to wash hands at an outdoor sink before being escorted to a table.  Each table had a small placard that you use to indicate if you need attention from the server, helping to cut down on unnecessary interaction.  And everyone must where a face mask unless they are eating.

We haven’t eaten at a restaurant for months, but the design of the deck and the procedures followed made us feel very comfortable.  It is so cool to find a gourmet, farm to table restaurant in such a small, isolated community.  This is the fourth time we have eaten here, and we have never been disappointed!

Powell Point

The next day we made another trip up the road to Pine Lake.  But instead of turning on the road leading to the lake, we continued up Pine Lake Road, also called Forest Road 132, for another six miles.

One of the nice sections of the road

We turned right (south) on to an unnamed but well marked narrow forest service road and drove another 3.7 miles. There the road ended in a parking area and the trailhead for what’s known as Powell Point.  With the road condition the drive takes well over an hour.

Parking near a high cliff with a great view

Heading to Powell Point

That’s the point way out in front of us

We made it!

Members of John Wesley Powell’s second exploration of the Grand Canyon made a treck up to this spot in 1871, led by Powell’s second in command, A.H. Thompson.  At an elevation of 10,115′, the view from the point is breathtaking.

Another morning we drove a few miles west on UT 12 almost to the red rock tunnels we drove through arriving at Bryce.  We parked in a paved parking lot on the north side of the road headed up a path called the Cassidy Trail in Red Canyon.  According to western lore, the famous outlaw Butch Cassidy used sections of this trail to escape the law after getting in a fight in nearby Panguitch, Utah.

We followed the Cassidy Trail for about 2 miles, where it joins the upper end of the Rich Trail and loops around colorful hills to return to the Cassidy Trail for a five mile hike.  We stopped for a snack at a high overlook called Brayton Point at just under 8,000′.

Lunch with a view

The view from the overlook

Back down through rocks and pines with no one around


Brian Head is a ski resort located between Cedar City and Panguitch, about 60 miles from Bryce Canyon.  We had driven by Brian Head before but never stopped to look around, so we decided to drive over for a look.  The ski area is named for a high, rocky peak that looms over the slopes.  A maintained dirt road leads up to the top of the peak where there is an observation point constructed by the CCC during the Great Depression.

Approaching Brian Head Observation Peak from the east

Looking west over the ski area with smoke from a wildfire in the distance

Looking east toward Cedar Breaks National Monument with smoke obscuring the view

Approaching the ski area

Cassidy Wash

For our last adventure we drove back to the west on UT 12 to a small parking area just east of the one for the Cassidy Trailhead, for a hike up Butch Cassidy Draw.  Next to the parking area is a placard about Cassidy and his gang that probably should have been located at the nearby trailhead, since that trail is one he used, as opposed to the wash.

You can hike up the wash for over five miles, but we turned around after going a bit over two miles.  The numerous red rock formations made for an interesting journey.

Must be quite a waterfall during heavy rains!

After a great 10 day respite from the heat of the desert, we returned to our home in Boulder City where we will continue our self imposed quarantine.  We intended to take a month long trip in September but with the virus still around, despite the rosy picture presented by a certain delusional national office holder, we will probably remain at home for the near future.

That’s all for now.  Be smart about keeping your distance, wash your hands, and wear a mask!

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40 Responses to A Visit to Bryce Canyon

  1. We will have to try your favorite restaurant next month when we are in the area. 70 degrees had to feel great after the desert heat.

    • placestheygo says:

      It was so nice to have cooler temps. I especially appreciated the 40’s in the morning. Most definitely stop at Hell’s Background Grill if you are within an hour. Their website explains the history of the restaurant.

  2. LOL… Delusional, indeed!

    You guys picked the most perfect place for a Summer social distancing getaway.The scenery in that region is just out of this world, the Summer temperatures are perfect, and even the RV park is ideal for the situation. It’s also great to learn about all these lightly traveled trails outside the national park. Even absent a pandemic, it’s nice to know one can get away from the crowds but still enjoy all the fabulous views. So glad it all worked out and you had a great time! Stay well!

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Laura! It was a wonderful get away. Even before the pandemic Red Canyon was the place to see mini Bryce Canyon features and no people. I assume most people don’t have the time we usually do to visit other areas outside the NP.

  3. geogypsy2u says:

    That is a monster sized site at Ruby’s. Haven’t made it to Pine Lake yet but see that I should and now know why I haven’t driven to the Powell Pt trailhead. Not doing much exploring outside the park this year. Glad you were able to escape the Boulder City heat. Sorry we couldn’t get together.

    • placestheygo says:

      If you should get to Pine Lake make sure you drive a couple miles beyond to the overlook. Powell Point is spectacular but the road is very slow going. Worth the effort if you can get someone to go along. Hopefully we will meet up one day after the virus is under better control. We haven’t meet with anyone since March.

  4. Those are great sites at Ruby’s–wow, they are huge! Gorgeous photos guys and glad you got out of the heat for a bit. We agree with the delusional part.

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Janna! It’s tough to take a bad photo in that area. It is amazing how huge the sites are at Ruby’s. The space in between is plenty big enough for another site. Glad they kept it this way. Worked for us at this time.

  5. Sue says:

    Yay! Great to see the “lunch with a view” folks out and about again. You picked a perfect spot for a beat the heat getaway, those roads and views beckon me. This is an area we’ve never explored. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to sit in one place, itching to get on the road again. Thanks for taking us along with you, at least we can travel vicariously….sigh

    • placestheygo says:

      Sue, we talked about how much you two would enjoy these roads. Now you have a record for your future visit to this beautiful area. Glad we could take you out on the road.

  6. Ingrid says:

    Sounds like the perfect getaway to escape the southern NV heat. Utah never disappoints with her stunning beauty. Great pics and place to social distance.

  7. Looks like it was a fabulous break from the heat!

  8. Chasing Dirt says:

    That’s one of the wonderful things about Utah — the ability to escape the heat by simply moving up in elevation, which is done pretty easily here. Another wonderful thing being no shortage of trails and places to explore. Looks like you had a great cooling-off trip and hit some wonderfully uncrowded trails 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      The west is so perfect for being able to cool off within a resemble distance. We could head to Mt Charleston here in Vegas at 10,000′ but with the virus everyone is doing that. So we hit the road. It was a fun ten days.

  9. Joe Taylor says:

    I totally agree…a perfect get away. Loved, loved all the pictures and reading about your adventures. Joe and I missed Hell’s Backbone Grill when we visited Torrey last summer…definitely need to get back there! Thanks John for all the great directions. Gay

  10. I think Hell’s Backbone Grill is kicking it up a notch on their distancing procedures, especially the wash hands before entering (which reminded me of our Viking Cruise). Anyhow, we too enjoyed the food there per your recommendation.
    A perfect getaway indeed. We only saw from below that structure on top of Brians Head, and what a view!
    Bryce never disappoint…ahh to hike again, thanks for taking us back on the trail 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      Hell’s Background Grill was very serious about the present situation. I read about the precautions they were requiring on their website so we felt comfortable stopping. So glad we did. You’re right, the entire Bryce Canyon area never disappoints. It was very exciting to put the boots on again even if only for a few days.

  11. Jeff Pierce says:

    An awesome escape to the cooler elevations with their spectacular views. Our first RV trip was to Bryce for a solar eclipse, and we do need to go back! We were taken to a bristlecone grove beyond Pine Lake – did not expect them there!

    • placestheygo says:

      Jeff, there were a few beautiful, healthy bristlecone trees up on the overlook beyond Pine Lake. The huge forest is the one you walk through at Powell Point. That area is covered in bristlecones of all sizes. We saw them everytime we were over 9,000′ this trip.

  12. Laurel says:

    It’s so wonderful to see you guys on the trails with your beautiful postcard-worthy photos. I still think Bryce has the most magical landscape of all of the national parks. How cool that it’s less than 300 miles away from you! And it’s great that you can relatively easily escape the heat. I think we have to travel about 100,000 miles to escape the heat here in Florida, lol.

    I suspect we’re going to be here for a while, though…because you are absolutely right about the delusional proclamations from the ‘famous ignoramus.’ At least it will cool off here in September, and we can enjoy the fall and winter. But I can’t wait to get back west…we want to see you two, and we want to go to Bryce, and we want to go to Hell’s Backbone Grill!

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Laurel! It is nice to be able to escape the heat so easily. We have gone up to Mt Charleston north of Vegas in the summer to hike before. It is usually 25 – 30 degrees cooler. But it seems everyone is doing that this summer with so few places to visit. It was much nicer to get away in our other home. I do love traveling in the MH. Yes, the east has nowhere to go to escape the heat but in the water. Luckily, you are right along the Gulf.

  13. So glad you were able to make this trip. I loved all of your photos. That site at Ruby’s Inn is huge! When we were there about 14 years ago the campground was full. It rained the whole time we were there so we couldn’t really look around the campground. I remember the drive on Hwy 12 very well even after all these years. We were towing our 35 foot fifth wheel and I was too nervous to take any pictures!

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks for stopping by! The area in Ruby’s where we parked is “fairly” new. For our visit there in 2013 they were just getting things together. We didn’t have any nice grass area and they only had a few of the squares marked with curbs. It has been fun to stop back several times and watch it all come together. Sure is a sweet place now. I’ve commented how I wouldn’t want to drive our MH on Hwy 12. Glad you trip was uneventful.

  14. Jim and Barb says:

    Absolutely stunning! That is the one National Park that is the top of our list that we have not been to. Gotta love those cooler temperatures.

  15. Looks like you guys had a great trip with great weather and great hikes! And to find a restaurant to eat in (outdoors) that you felt comfortable in was just the icing on the cake! Great photos. We love Ruby’s too!

  16. Sherry says:

    What a great trip! Love the pictures of your hikes and the ones of Bryce are spectacular. Looks like a terrific campground too. Envying you getting out and away from boredom. I don’t remember all the ads on your blog. Do you make money on them?

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Sherry! It was a nice break from the heat and great to have the boots on again. I’ve never seen the ads on the blog. Word Press must put them on. We don’t make any money from ads.

      • Sherry says:

        they aren’t there if I read your blog on my phone but they’re all over the place if I read it on my laptop. I was really surprised. I’ll just read it on my phone from now on. Problem solved except for not having large-screen use of your photos which are fantastic.

      • placestheygo says:

        Sorry, Sherry! I guess that’s how Word Press gets its money since we are using the free version. The ads are out of our control.

  17. So nice to see that you managed a safe escape from the heat. The beauty of all the southern Utah national parks is that there is so much to see and hike nearby without the crowds that go into the parks. Great photos. Thanks for posting, John!

  18. Jodee Gravel says:

    Thanks for all the great pics!!! I loved every one. How wonderful that the grill is open and doing it right! Hwy 12 is so gorgeous but that narrow section with the drop offs wasn’t fun for me 🙂 You both look great!! I’m hoping we can get up to the Santa Fe area for 10 days the end of next month to get the wheels rolling and keep our sanity. Your trip is further motivation to make it happen!

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Jodee! Choosing the right RV Park and a place without crowds makes a get- away possible. The ten days was just what needed. It was so sad to walk by the MH or going to get something from it and not know when we might hit the road again. We are looking at Bluff for a possible Sept trip. Definitely no one around there.

  19. Susanne says:

    This looks like such a lovely trip! I love all those rock formations. Such different landscapes from what I’m used to, the closest we’ve been to must be some of the mountain areas in Abruzzo. Makes me miss our road trips in Italy 😔

  20. Bryce Canyon is one of our favorite places! And Boulder is such a fun area to explore! Last time we were there we got breakfast at Hell’s Backbone Grill 🙂 Such a great trip!

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