Standing at just 55 square miles, Bryce Canyon may be considered small by national park standards, but don’t let its size fool you: this park is huge on adventure. In 2014, we spent two and a half adventure-filled days at Bryce Canyon, en route from Capitol Reef National Park to Zion. We caught our first glimpse of Bryce Canyon at twilight; the sun’s last rays bathed the hoodoos in soft pink light.
We stood transfixed at Sunset Point, watching the mysterious rock formations fade into darkness.
Bryce Canyon is not an official Certified International Dark Sky Park, but it remains home to some of the nation’s darkest skies. We were thrilled to sit in on a ranger-led Night Sky Program at Bryce Canyon Lodge. Unfortunately, our evening there was marred by cloudy, overcast conditions. The rangers waited to see if the sky would clear after their lecture, but they were eventually forced to cancel the scheduled outdoor telescope viewing. They apologized to the disappointed crowd, saying that weather cancellations were so rare, they only occurred a few times a year. Determined to turn lemons into lemonade, we walked back to Sunset Point and stargazed on our own. Sure, it took an hour to coax feeling back into our frozen hands and cheeks, but the experience was well worth it!
We started the next morning with a hearty breakfast at Clarke’s Restaurant. I can’t recommend this place enough–family friendly, warm service, and generous portions.
We spent the morning hiking the 3 mile Navajo/Queen’s Garden Combination Loop. Detailed information about the hike can be found here. Superlatives like ‘amazing’ or ‘incredible’ just don’t do justice in capturing the wonder of descending into the amphitheater for the first time.
Each turn captured the hoodoos at a different angle, each step more spectacular than the last. Standing at the base of the towering hoodoos was particularly humbling; it seemed impossible that these gravity-defying formations could have been carved by water, wind, and time alone.
Our oldest son enjoys sketching and spent time sketching the Queen Victoria hoodoo. We bumped into a woman from Germany who was also sketching Queen Victoria. To our surprise, it was the same woman we had sketched with and spoken to a week earlier, 270 miles away at Arches National Park! She and her husband were touring all five UT national parks like we were. Lucy was particularly kind to our son, taking interest in his art and sharing her own work with him. During our stay, we had the good fortune of running into several couples and families doing the same loop as us at several different parks.
We stopped at Thor’s Hammer and attempted to recreate my trust Fodor’s Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West cover.
The park offers incentives to those who complete 3 miles or more on sanctioned hoodoo hikes. Visitors are encouraged to take rubbings of benchmarks at the end of each hike or photos of themselves next to these benchmarks. We were happy to receive a keepsake magnet to add to our growing collection of National Parks refrigerator magnets.
We spent the afternoon driving the Main Park Road. A great tip I read in Fodor’s guidebook was to drive to the southern end of the park and stop at the overlooks on the way back since they’re all located on the east side of the road. We picnicked at Yovimpa Point and slowly worked our way back to Fairyland, stopping to enjoy the sights at each overlook.
We ended our day with a cowboy dinner show at Ebenezer Lodge. The kids were fond of the roasted peanuts, and everyone enjoyed the delicious barbecue. I booked the reservation expecting a kitschy, cheesy show, but the singing and entertainment were surprisingly first-rate. If you’re planning a visit with kids, I’d highly recommend a stop here.
We divided and conquered on Day 2. The kids and husband were not keen on the prospect of horseback riding into the canyon, so they decided to complete their Junior Ranger packets and explore the Visitor Center while I braved the Canyon Trail Rides horses alone. It was my first time riding a horse that wasn’t hand-led by a trainer. It was also my first time descending 800 feet on horseback. Turns out, this Hawaii girl is terrified of heights. And death, apparently, as my horse seemed hell-bent on hugging the cliff edge of the trail. Our guide assured us this was normal, but this means little when contemplating an 800 foot tumble to certain death. Eventually, I eased into the ride and found myself enjoying beautiful Peek-a-boo Loop.
Going up was much easier than coming down, and I was able to truly appreciate the unique beauty and solitude of Bryce Canyon on horseback. Our guide pointed out bristlecone pines and various hoodoo formations and was vigilant about keeping our group together. If you ever have the chance to spend some time at Bryce, I’d highly recommend a horse ride with Canyon Trail Rides.
After lunch, we hiked an easy 1 mile trail to Mossy Cave at the north end of the park. The color contrast between the hoodoos, sky, and water was striking. The cave itself wasn’t particularly memorable, but the journey there certainly was.
Our time at Bryce Canyon came to an end all too quickly and remains one of my all-time favorite national parks. Tell me: what’s your favorite Bryce Canyon memory?
Tips for Families:
- Hiking: to the extent that you’re able to hike, be sure to get out there and do it! Even dropping a few feet down into the amphitheater gives you a far different perspective than standing at the rim. The hoodoos are beautiful from the scenic view points, but there’s so much more to see and appreciate than meets the eye.
- Dress in Layers: Bryce Canyon is situated at a high elevation, so even in the summer, night time temps often dip into the 40’s and below. Daytime temps can warm into the 80’s. Easily removed layers are your best defense against both extremes.
- Participate in Evening Ranger Talks and the Junior Ranger program: Kids (and adults) will reap so much more from the experience through these programs. Guided telescope viewing is available during the summer, and there are even guided full-moon hikes that look amazing. See the NPS site for more details.
- Pack a lunch: Bryce Canyon has lots of great picnic spots. There’s nothing better than enjoying a meal with magnificent Bryce Canyon as your backdrop. You may also want to pack saltier snacks such as crackers and salted nuts; we found that the higher altitude made us crave salt.