Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon is famous for its hoodoos, rock pillars formed by erosion of limestone layers in the canyon. Sixty million years ago, this area was covered by a huge inland lake; sediments on lake bottom eventually turned into limestone. The layers were pushed up sixteen million years ago; freezing water eroded the limestone into fantastically shaped rock formations. Kids can easily imagine the Paiute legend that hoodoos are people turned to stone
Tip: In the summer months, it's a short shuttle ride to Sunset and Sunrise Points from hotels just outside the park. Take the shuttle (May to Sept.) and avoid crowded parking lots.
Visitor Center - Watch a 20 min. movie on how hoodoos form, geological history, animals and plants of Bryce Canyon. Check out dioramas of animals in the park - owls, rare Utah prairie dogs, coyotes, jackrabbits, white weasels, plus a model of the canyon, and touch table with dinosaur bone, ammonite shells, and fossils. Ask about the schedule of campfire programs, and pick up the Junior Ranger booklet.
- When the moon is fully or nearly full, rangers lead 2 mile, 2 hour hikes through the park. Bryce Canyon is spectacular for night sky viewing, there's no big city lights nearby. Stop into the visitor center to ask about the hikes and request free tickets (tickets are available starting at 8am), for kids 5 and up.
View points - The road into the park extends 18 miles from the Visitor Center to Yovimpa Point, with numerous view points along the way. If you drive all the way to the end, don't overdo it; kids will be happier stopping at fewer view points, rather than leaping in and out of the car all the time.
Our favorite view points are Sunrise Point, Sunset Point (also has a picnic area) and Natural Bridge, a huge stone arch perched on a cliff.
Hikes - These trails are accessible from Sunset Point and Sunrise Point.
- The .5 mile Rim Trail between Sunrise and Sunset Point has stunning views of Bryce Amphitheater - hoodoos in shades of strawberry pink, orange red, mustard yellow and creamy white. It's a wide paved trail, okay for strollers.
- From Sunrise Point, take the Queen's Garden Trail down into the canyon. Every turn of the trail there's a new view of the weird and wonderful hoodoos next to the trail, and in the distance. The trail ends at a formation that looks sort of like a very crumbly Queen Victoria, almost 1 mile. You can come back up the trail to Sunrise Point, or take the connecting Navajo Loop Trail. Tip: Queen's Garden is a wide trail, but there are no guard rails; if you have younger kids who are apt to stray, keep hold on them and be sure to stay on the trail.
Navajo Loop Trail
- On this trail, look for two natural bridges formed by erosion from a river. Along the trail are benches in the shade to rest or have a picnic, and little rock niches are perfect for kids to play in. On the Navajo Loop trail you'll climb up switchbacks to the canyon Rim Trail at Sunset Point, then walk back along the Rim Trail to Sunset Point, where you started. The Queen's Garden and Navajo Loop Trail from Sunrise Point is 2.9 miles roundtrip.
Horseback rides -
Rides into the canyon
- Go for a 2 hour horseback ride down into the canyon, for kids 7 and up. Also available are half day (9 and up) and full day rides (10 and up). Canyon Trails stable is located next to Bryce Canyon Lodge inside the park.
- Ruby's Rides offers 1 1/2 hour rides through the Ponderosa pines to the canyon rim and back, for kids 7 and. Half day rides (9 and up), and full day rides (10 and up). Reserve your ride at Ruby's Inn, outside the park.
Wildlife - In the meadows along the road (next to the Sunrise Point exit), look for Utah prairie dogs. In the warm summer months, the prairie dogs can be seen during the day, poking their heads up from the burrows.
Also, look for lovely pronghorn (like an antelope), mule deer and jackrabbits. We saw three pronghorn, just outside the park entrance, grazing by the side of the road.
Go to a rodeo - In summer (June - August), head over to the Bryce Canyon Country Rodeo. Kids can watch bare back riding, barrel racing, team roping, bull riding and mutton busting. Rodeos are Wed. - Sat., pick up tickets at Ruby's Inn.
Tips for enjoying Bryce Canyon
Water, water, water - It's very dry on the Upper Plateau, and easy to get dehydrated, especially in summer. Even on a short stroll, bring a small day pack with drinking water - you will drink more than you can possibly imagine.
Footwear - Hiking down into the canyon, don't wear flip flops; wear closed toed shoes or boots.
Binoculars - Bring binoculars to look at rock formations at a distance and to spot California condors flying high in the sky.
Stay on the trails - It's fun to hike down into the canyon, the trails are wide, but there are cliff drop offs. Don't let kids wander off, and keep a hold on little kids so they don't get too close to the canyon edge.
Thunderstorms - Thunderstorms occur in late summer and early fall in this area. Don't go out hiking if a thunderstorm is brewing. If you are caught in a thunderstorm, park rangers recommend that you get to your car and stay there with the windows closed up until the storm passes.