Red spires grow out of the ground, reaching for the sky, but falling short as they crumble back to the canyon floor. These hoodoos have been here for millennia, and will probably outlive us all. As you drive along the canyon rim your kids start to point out the windows, bridges, panda bears and creepy clowns they see in the rocks. You pull over to get a closer look, maybe take a hike and marvel that you almost passed this by on your road trip across Utah. Now that you are here, you can't imagine being anywhere else.
Bryce Canyon can seem like a drive-by attraction for anyone visiting Zion and the Grand Canyon, but it is really worth a closer look. Families can explore together through the many viewpoints, hiking trails and easy walks along the canyon rim. This park offers something that few other places in the world have - hoodoos- and when the sun hits them just right they look as if they are giant candle wicks lit by a flame that will never go out.
What is a Hoodoo?
According to the National Parks Service, hoodoos are "tall skinny spires of rock that protrude from the bottom of arid basins and "broken" lands. Nowhere in the world are they as abundant as in the northern section of Bryce Canyon National Park." The hoodoos of Bryce are famous for their red rock, which is created by the minerals deposited within the rock types - limestone, mudstone and siltstones - over millions of years. It is this color that makes Bryce so recognizable to people who haven't even been to the park.
Best hoodoo viewpoints
One of the easiest ways to see the park and all of the hoodoos is to drive the road along the canyon rim and stop at the lookouts. The most popular viewpoints are Sunset, Sunrise, Inspiration and Bryce. All are worth a stop, but don't forget about Fairland Point, Aqua Canyon and Rainbow point. The one mile Bristlecone Trail brings you through several great overlooks if you want to let the kids stretch, see a chipmunk or two, and get some photos that those only traveling by car won't get to see.
Easy hikes with kids
Bryce Canyon can look intimidating to parents who don't plan ahead. If you know the easy and moderate trails the park offers, you can tackle one or two, even with babies and toddlers strapped into a hiking backpack.
Rim Trail: This level and paved trail makes it easy to walk between Sunrise and Sunset points in the park. If you are feeling more adventurous, you can hike the trail from Fairyland to Bryce Point, a 5.5 mile one way trip.
Queens Canyon: This is the easiest trail that gets you into the canyon. You will descend 320 feet into the canyon at Sunrise Point. That may not seem like much, but just remember, you may have to carry a kid back up that slope.
Mossy Cave Trail: One of the more unusual sights you will see in the park is the presence of water at Mossy Cave from May to October. In the late 1800's, Mormon pioneers built an irrigation ditch into the canyon. The park hoodoos take on a different form and, thanks to the water, this area known as Water Canyon, will one day look more like a traditional water carved canyon.
Since this is a national park, you may cross paths with a few creatures during your hikes and drives. Always use caution when an animal gets within your sights. Don't approach them. This is their home, not a zoo for you to get a Christmas card photo of the kids with a mountain lion. What sorts of animals could you meet in the park?
- Mule deer
- Mountain lions
- Great Basin rattlesnakes
- Prairie dogs
- Short horned lizards
- Migratory hummingbirds always pass through the park, as well as pronghorn and Rocky Mountain elk.
All ranger programs are family-friendly, but there are specific kid-focused ranger programs (and of course the Junior Ranger program) in the park that are designed to engage children in their interests and age levels. You must sign up for the children's programs in person. If you are staying in the park for a few days, this is a great option to keep the kids entertained and give mom and dad a break from the many "why" questions that always seem to pop up. Other programs worth doing with your kids are the Full Moon Hikes and the astronomy program.
What are some of your favorite national parks to explore with kids?
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