Utah: Bryce Canyon National Park with Kids
This post is part of our 8-Day SW National Park Road Trip with a Toddler series. The Introduction, route map, and itinerary can be found here.
If your family is touring the Southwest and its famed national parks, then Bryce Canyon is not to be missed. Although it ranks as one of the smaller national parks in terms of physical size, it more than makes up for it in sheer, spectacular beauty. Red and white hoodoos stand as sentinels against the sky, while expansive vistas are available from the canyon rim drive.
Children will love the Dr. Seuss-like rock formations, especially if given the chance to hike among them on the famed Queen’s Garden Trail.
Keep in mind that Bryce Canyon is much higher than its neighbor Zion. Park altitudes range from 8,000 – 9,000 feet and it’s not uncommon to see a light dusting of snow cloaking the hoodoos during the colder months.
Begin the day at the visitor’s center, directly adjacent to the main park entrance. The small museum is a tidy introduction to the area’s geology and several stuffed specimens of the local fauna are available for viewing. Next, head to Sunrise Point for a nice overview of the valley. A trip down into the canyon to see the hoodoos is a must and we recommend combining the Queen’s Garden Trail (which leaves from Sunrise Point) and the Navajo Loop Trail, which ends at Sunset Point. A short walk along the paved rim trail connects the two. At the beginning, the trail quickly descends 300 feet into the valley from Sunrise Point before leveling off for a nice stroll amongst the hoodoos. There are several steep drop-offs within the first half mile, hold on to those kids until you’ve reached level ground. The trail is in good condition and fairly wide, however there are narrow spots where care should be exercised. We saw one poor dad pushing an umbrella stroller down the dirt path; he was in agony and we definitely recommend having your kids walk or using a pack. Going down also requires going up at the end, and the famed “Wall Street” portion of the Navajo trail will get the heart racing. Do this hike before the afternoon temperatures heat up and bring plenty of water for the final climb.
Take your lunch and drive out to Rainbow Point, at the far south end of the park. This route is 18 miles (one-way) but it worth the drive, especially the Natural Bridge viewpoint.
If you have additional hours, a drive east to the town of Escalante is worth the time and gas. The terrain changes with each mile and mule deer are often spotted along the road. Grab a burger and shake at Nemos Drive-Thru before heading back to your hotel.
Spend the night at the conveniently-located Ruby’s Inn Best Western, ten minutes from the park entrance. Older buildings have been nicely refurbished and each room comes with fridge, microwave, and WiFi. Cribs and rollaways are available upon request. Ruby’s boasts a heated indoor pool, always popular with the kids. Want to rough it a bit? Ruby’s also has an adjacent campground and Native American Teepees for rent. Just remember how cold it can get during the Fall and Winter months!
An early start will yield chilly temperatures but delightful quiet on today’s hike to Willis Creek Slot Canyon in nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This hike will delight all children with its whimsical waterfalls and playful creek. The trail goes 2.2 miles (one-way) until a junction with Sheep Creek trail, but follow as long (or as little) as you’d like before turning around. As with all hiking in the desert, and especially in slot canyons, check the weather forecast or stop by the Canyonville Visitor Center which is conveniently located on the drive out to the canyon.
For lunch, rejoin the Kodachrome Basin dirt road and picnic at Grosevenor’s Arch. Do note that this requires a small river crossing. As of this writing (October 2014), the road was suitable for all vehicle types and the river was a tiny trickle. This is entirely dependent upon the weather, of course. Pleasant hiking can also be found at Kodachrome Basin State Park although there is an additional $8 fee for park entrance.
If you have an additional day (or are approaching Bryce from the Page, Arizona direction): A nice stop between Page, Arizona and Bryce Canyon National Park is the Toadstools Hike located on Highway 89. This short trail meanders up a dry wash for three quarters of a mile before ending at bizarrely-shaped rock formations. Small explorations in the area with yield additional mounds. No significant drop-offs but the hike is entirely exposed to the elements so wear proper sun protection and bring plenty of water.
Highway 89 can also be accessed from Canyonville (past Kodachrome Basin State Park) on a lonely dirt road. The vistas are stunning and you’ll only have cows for company. Contact the Canyonville Visitor Center (435-826-5640) for up-to-date road conditions.
Dress warmly. The high altitude of this park typically ensures that early mornings are quite chilly.
A 7-day pass is available for $25/vehicle at the entrance gate. An $80 unlimited annual pass might be financially feasible if you plan on visiting multiple parks.
Ruby’s Best Western 26 So Main, Bryce Canyon City, Utah. From $169/night.
Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop Trail. Approximately 3 miles roundtrip (loop). 300 feet elevation gain. Trail leaves from Sunrise Point and drops sharply into the canyon. Hike among the hoodoos on the valley floor before meeting up with the Navajo Loop (well-signed) and climbing back out of the canyon to finish at Sunset Point. Take the short, paved rim trail back to Sunrise Point and the parking lot.
Willis Creek Slot Canyon. 2.2 miles one-way. Out and back trail. Minimal elevation change. Directions: From Canyonville, head south on Main Street (the same road that leads to Kodachrome Basin State Park). At 2.8 miles, turn right onto a dirt road and continue for six miles. Parking is in a dirt lot to the right, the trail begins on the left side of the road. Most vehicles should be able to drive the dirt road without any problem, but check in at the Canyonville Visitor Center to get up-to-date road, trail, and weather conditions. Canyonville Visitor Center: 10 Center St, Cannonville, UT 84718
Toadstools Hike Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on Highway 89 near Paria Contact Station. Approximately 1.5 miles roundtrip. Minimal elevation gain. Suitable for all ages. No services (including restrooms) available onsite.
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