Since my recap of family camping at Capitol Reef National Park seemed useful to a lot of folks, here’s another from a recent trip to Bryce Canyon National Park.
If you want to camp in the park, arrive early. We showed up at around 12:30 on Friday and got the absolute last spot in the North campground. Based on the amount of vehicles we saw the rest of the day driving in circles, looking for spots, we probably got the last spot in the park.
The north campground was less wooded than the sunset campground, which seemed a bit more quiet and remote. But the north was peaceful and quiet, with the exception of the sounds of me moaning out obscenities as I destroyed tent stake after tent stake.
See, when we first arrived there was a looming storm cloud. One of the first lessons of Camp Club is you do not get stuck outside in a thunderstorm. So I figured I had an hour to get the tent and camp set up so we could get back in the car and hide.
When I was shopping for tents, Amazon always said people also purchased extra tent stakes.
I love our Wenzel 8-person tent, but it came with kid stakes. At the soft ground of the RV park near Capitol Reef these did fine.
But Bryce’s North Campground is built upon the hard rocks that also comprise the foundation of hell. And I mangled and gnarled nearly every stake I had, along with most of the English language.
It took me a long time and several blisters but I finally got the damn tent to stay in place just before the rain came.
Protip: That evening we bought some thicker stakes from the Tru Value in Tropic for $5. Okay deal, but the General Store within Bryce had them for $3.50. In fact, we found most things at the General Store were really reasonably priced, including the fresh pizzas.
The Bryce Canyon Lodge within the park looked really nice, especially after my tent ordeal. The place is surrounded by cabins of varying sizes, and features a buffet restaurant and pizza parlor. If you don’t get a tent spot, or you’re just tent-averse, this would be a cool place to stay. You’re literally at the doorstep of the best viewpoints and hikes in the park.
Another option would be to head to Bryce Canyon City just outside the park. The city is basically the Ruby complex, named after one of the earliest settlers of the park and the first family to accommodate visitors there. I’ll cover our interaction with the Ruby Industrial complex below, but they operate a huge hotel, RV park, and even a few teepees you can stay in.
But yeah, try to get into the park.
After we finally got the tent settled and the storm cleared, we had plenty of time to explore the Visitor’s Center and take a short hike.
We started with the Mossy Cave Trail just a few miles down Highway 12 outside the park. It’s a short, easy hike that leads to a neat cave, but the real star is the waterfall halfway into the hike and the little stream it feeds.
We stopped and played around the waterfall, then took our shoes off and waded in the stream.
After dinner, we drove (it’s juuust a bit too far to walk with little kiddos) over to the lodge for a Ranger program on the prehistoric ocean creatures that swam through the region millions of years ago. Really interesting, but the room was dark, warm, and easing into those soft seats your eyes get a bit heavy and…
After breakfast on Saturday we set out to venture into the Canyon on the highly recommended Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop combination trail.
This was a moderate hike and parts of it were a bit steep. Hold on to your kiddo on the descent. And make sure to bring lots of water. We actually saw a lady pass out from (I’m guessing) dehydration. And do the trail counter-clockwise as the brochure suggests.
It’s a diverse trail – part rocky hoodoos, part forest. Lots of people, and more languages than I’ve ever heard in a single place – even more than Disney World. There had to be some sort of discount trip for German and French guests that weekend.
Toward the end of the hike you get the option to either go through Wall Street or Tower Bridge. I’m sure Tower Bridge is near, but Wall Street is a mind blowing narrow canyon that seems to climb forever along narrow, short switchbacks. It was manageable for the kids, but once you get to the top it’s intimidating to look down.
After that another rainstorm descended upon the park, so we hopped in the car and drove to farthest end, Rainbow Point. We didn’t want to risk getting struck by lightning, so it was a “get out, look, and get back in” operation. On the way back to the campsite we checked out the Natural Bridge, which was way cool and underrated.
The one “active” thing we didn’t get to was the bike path. There’s a paved trail that winds all the way through the park, as well as the Red Canyon forest that surrounding it. Next time we come we’ll bring bikes, as it looks like a pleasant, 22-mile ride.
Bryce Canyon (town)
While the rain continued unabated Saturday night, we went to the Ruby’s compound in town for ice cream and time-killing. The ice cream was okay (the servers were more interested in the cute bro in the flat-billed hat than my crew) and the little general store across the street has lots of little interesting things to check out. And many, many meandering German folks.
Protip: Don’t fill up you tank in Ruby, stop in Panguitch or any of the other small towns in between. This particular weekend there was a $.40 difference per gallon outside Bryce Canyon City.
Ranger Programs and Visitor Center
The Bryce Canyon National Park Visitor’s Center is big but packed, with lots of little trinkets and souvenirs, along with some interactive displays and the standard dark, sleepy movie theater. We liked this thing, however:
The best part is the rangers, who as usual are helpful and funny. Sign your kids up for the Junior Ranger program, as well as the “Hike the Hoodoos” game. If you hike 3+ miles and take photos with at least three specially-marked signs, the kiddos get a special gift from the Rangers.
While at the park we took in two ranger programs. The first was the aforementioned prehistoric ocean creatures talk. The second, part of our ongoing rain-avoidance efforts Saturday night, was the astronomy program. While the storm prevented any stargazing, it was still a good talk about big, intimidating topics such as the size of the universe and how humans are like an atom on a piece of sand in a gigantic damn ocean of infinity!
But some bats got into the auditorium and constantly flew in front of the projector, so the kids lost their damn minds and didn’t catch most of the presentation.
Overall, Bryce Canyon National Park is a lot of fun and totally doable with kiddos. It has a lot of easy and moderate hikes, good ranger programs, lots of deer and critters wandering around, and there are enough distractions outside to provide needed decompression breaks when needed.
If you’d like to see more photos from our trip, here’s a link to my Google Photos album.
(This is just behind the North campground, at sunrise on the Sunday we left)