DESTINATION: RIDING BRYCE CANYON

Red rock hues & views By Lane Lindstrom

You don’t have to go into Bryce Canyon National Park to take in some of the awesome views. We drove to the edge of the park near Ruby’s Inn. So amazing.

The off-roading in Garfield County around (not in—that’s illegal) Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah will test most any rider’s skills. And, we’re not talking about your technical riding skills, although there are some challenging areas.

No, we’re talking about being able to keep your eyes on the trail while passing some of the most spectacular scenery you’ll find anywhere. Scoff if you will, but it can be a real challenge to drive while still being able to enjoy your surroundings. Just plan on lots of photo stops.

Bryce Canyon National Park is like scenery eye candy on steroids, which is a major reason it’s so popular, drawing 2.1 million visitors in 2021. Exploring the area immediately outside the national park is equally scenic, just not nearly as crowded. One advantage to exploring the area from the seat of an ATV or side-by-side is you can cover a lot of country and climb several amazing vistas that offer fabulous views.

The colors and hues of the Casto Canyon area are just so different than any other area we’ve ridden. The terrain doesn’t support much ground vegetation.

TWO DAYS, TWO DIFFERENT EXPERIENCES

During our 36-hour adventure near Bryce Canyon, we only scratched the surface of the trails available in Garfield County. We packed in as many miles (96 on day one; 64 on day two) as we could and were rewarded with all kinds of terrain. Riding surfaces ranged from dirt and sand to small rocks and medium but traversable boulders to dry creek beds to high mountain trails and near-perfect weather.

Day one had us leaving Ruby’s Inn for the edge of Bryce Canyon National Park where you can see its colorful rock formations (hoodoos) and deep canyons. You overlook the Pink Cliffs with the park stretching out before you.

Then it was off to Casto Canyon at an elevation between 7102 to 7500 feet. Its narrow passages, dry riverbed and scenery are spectacular. The riverbed is fun, wide in spots, narrow in others and sometimes mildly technical. We rode through the canyon to Panguitch for lunch and gas, and then back to Ruby’s Inn.

Our second day was shorter but still had spectacular riding and scenery. We dove off Johns Valley Road and headed up into the mountains, first to Pine Lake (elevation 8,235 feet) and then on a loop that led through a valley, stands of quaking aspens and towering pines. We found a gnarly boulder patch that was fun to crawl. The second was 10,000-plus-foot Powell Point, which offers unparalleled views of southern Utah.

The Casto Canyon trail doesn’t go down the middle of the dry riverbed, but mostly alongside it with a handful of crossings at appropriate locations.
There is quite a variety of riding surfaces in the area—from hard-packed dirt and loose gravel to small rocks to larger rocks in the dry river bed to sandy—all in just a few miles.
This little slot canyon in the Casto Canyon area was a blast to maneuver through. It added to the variety and experiences of riding near Bryce Canyon.

FIVE REASONS WE’D GO BACK

Although we were able to spend a day and a half in the Bryce Canyon area, we could have easily stretched out our trip to ride more areas. Heck, we would even explore the areas we’ve already ridden some more. So, here are five reasons we’d head back to southern Utah to ride Garfield County again.

With trees punctuating the landscape, the colors and hues of the surrounding hills and cliffs seem to be brighter and more dramatic. Some are more subtle than the brilliants reds.

SCENERY

Bryce Canyon and the surrounding area has stunning scenery worth the visit to see. It really is unlike anywhere else you’ll ride. You round a corner, and the views and hues are spectacular. While you’re still soaking that in, you come around another corner and the views just get better. There are red (and pinkish) hoodoos, white and pink sandstone cliffs, forested mountains, high desert and an occasional body of water. We tried not to put our six in order, but whatever order we chose, scenery would be number one.

This was a rare stretch of trail in Casto Canyon where we could open up the throttle a bit and air things out.

REIGN IN THE HORSES

We admit that if you’re looking to squeeze every ounce of horsepower out of your big-bore ATV or turbo UTV, this might not be the place to go. Granted, there were places to stretch the legs of our sport UTV or ATV but not many. Come looking for a leisurely pace with the occasional burst of speed. Seriously, if you’re flying by the scenery here, you’re missing the big reason to ride. Slow down and soak it in. We did and were not disappointed.

The best way to describe our visit to Pine Lake is “serene.” It was so still, there wasn’t a ripple in the lake’s surface. It’s about a 650-foot climb from the highway up to Pine Lake.

VARIETY

Garfield County has a near-perfect mix of high-mountain (above 8000 feet) riding, open stretches of trail, tight, twisty routes, unique experiences like Casto Canyon and the Paunsaugunt Trail, and various vistas where the views stretch on forever. What good is scenery if you can’t see it? There are also short and medium trails to long (50-miles plus) loops. Check out www.brycecanyoncountry.com for all of Garfield County’s riding options.

This large, quaking aspen had toppled across the trail. Since we didn’t have a chainsaw to help clear the trail, we simply went over it and continued down the trail.

SERVICES

Because the area is a popular tourist destination, there are plenty of visitor services—from lodging and camping to restaurants and ATV rentals. A few of our favorite places to eat in the area include the Bryce Canyon Pines Restaurant (www.brycecanyonrestaurant.com), Ebenezer’s Barn & Grill (www.ebenezersbarnandgrill.com), which features a western show and dinner, and, in nearby Panguitch, Cowboy’s Smokehouse Café (www.thecowboysmokehouse.com).

The dry riverbed makes for a fun ride up or down Casto Canyon. It can be dangerous during rainstorms, and the riverbed fills up with water. We had sunny skies all day.

FUN IN THE SUN

Southern Utah gets lots of sun, so there will be a few days where a ride might be spoiled by foul weather. The area—Bryce Canyon sits at 7668 feet—does receive snow in the winter (about a foot in each of November through March), so that’s not a great time to ride the area. But, once the snow melts and the trails dry out, the weather is glorious. Even in the dead of summer the temperatures rarely get over 80 degrees and cool off to the 50s at night. Our mid-October ride was a little crisp in the mornings, but it quickly warmed up. Riding in the fall season we hardly saw other riders out on both our days in the area.

This “white” mountain, which reaches 10,021 feet into the sky, is an impressive backdrop to the north of Pine Lake and can be seen from anywhere near the lake and the surrounding area.

BRYCE CANYON AREA

ELEVATION: 6500–10,000 feet

TRAILS: Hundreds of miles

FULL-SERVICE TOWN: Bryce Canyon, Panguitch

NEAREST AIRPORT: Cedar City (90 miles)

GETTING STARTED: Garfield County Office of Tourism, www.brycecanyoncountry.com

GETTING THERE: Our base camp was Ruby’s Inn near Bryce Canyon. It’s just south of Highways 12 and 63 in southern Utah.

GETTING AROUND: There are a handful of ATV/UTV rental agencies near Bryce Canyon.

BEDDING DOWN: There are numerous options for lodging near Bryce Canyon. The Garfield County Office of Tourism is a good source of information for lodging.

EATING OUT: We listed several of our favorite eating establishments above. There are lots of options in the area.

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