We visited Bryce Canyon National Park with kids in mid-April (our two kids were aged 3 & 5 at the time). Our family loves being active while enjoying the beauty of nature, so Bryce Canyon was a perfect outdoor destination for us. We spent 5 days hiking with kids and enjoying all the beauty this natural wonder has to offer.
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Things to do in Bryce Canyon National Park
If you follow us on Instagram, you’ll know that our favorite thing to do is to go hiking; in fact it’s the main reason we decided to go on a Utah road trip. Here are the family-friendly Bryce Canyon hikes we enjoyed:
Hiking Queen’s Garden Trail
The relative ease to get incredible views and see hoodoos up-close make Queen’s Garden Trail one of Bryce Canyon National Park’s most popular hikes.
We started out at Sunset Point and walked north on the on the easy & paved Rim Trail. The views of the famous Bryce Canyon hoodoos from this trail are pretty incredible. You don’t even need to do any real hiking to enjoy the vistas as the views begin just minutes away from the parking lot. The Rim Trail is nice and flat and is an easy walk for anyone at any fitness level. There are many benches to sit and enjoy the view along the way.
Before long we arrived at Sunrise Point, which is another lookout point with great views of the rock formations below. The Queen’s Garden trailhead is found here, heading east and descending into the canyon for some up-close encounters with the park’s most famous landmarks.
The hiking becomes super fun at this stage, winding down, around and even through some of the hoodoos. Only when you are up close can you get an appreciation for the sheer size of these incredible rock formations.
The trail was mostly dry, but had some snow and some mud along the way, so we were glad to be wearing proper hiking boots. The trail into the canyon is only wide enough for two-way single person traffic and has lots of pretty steep drop offs, so watch your little ones very closely.
There is approximately 500 feet (150m) of elevation gain on this hike, so you’ll work up a sweat as you walk back up to the Rim Trail, but it is definitely worth the effort! Most people who are reasonably fit should be able to walk this hike. Our 3 year old son was able to walk the whole 2.8 mile / 4.4km all by himself. Our 5 year old could have, but she was not feeling well and we carried her back to the top.
Hiking Mossy Cave Trail
The Mossy Cave hike is not in the main part of Bryce Canyon NP; rather it’s on the east side of the park just off Highway 12. Mossy Cave is an extremely popular family hike as it is really easy and short (1 mile / 1.6km each way), has a waterfall and a cave with either moss or icicles.
Mossy Cave is also a scenic hike, following along a milky white river with hoodoos and arches looming overhead. The kids will enjoy crossing the bridges and balancing on fallen tree trunks. In the grand scheme of things, the waterfall isn’t much, but it’s still a pretty nice sight.
The cave is pretty small, but it’s unique in that it offers something different to look at depending on season. In the warmer months, it will be filled with moss and in the colder months it’ll filled with giant icicles. When we were there mid-April, it was a great time to visit as there were still many large icicles, but we could also see moss starting to grow on the cave walls.
Facilities: There are washrooms at the Mossy Cave trailhead.
Hiking Fairyland Loop Trail
The Fairyland Loop Trail is one of the best hikes in Bryce Canyon National Park. We’ve hiked all over the world, and this one ranks up there with some of my favorites of all time!
The Fairyland Loop access road was still closed for the season so we parked in the “Additional Parking” area shortly after passing the entry gates. From here, we walked through the campground to access the Rim Trail. Once on the Rim Trail we headed south until we found the Tower Bridge Trailhead (which is a portion of the Fairyland Loop).
The Tower Bridge Trail is mostly downhill and winds through some incredible Bryce Canyon scenery, including many up-close encounters with the park’s famous hoodoos. The trail typically follows ridge tops affording views of the surrounding valley in multiple directions. I lost track of how many times my jaw dropped as we turned another corner for yet another insanely beautiful scene.
To see the Tower Bridge, you leave the loop trail and walk along a spur trail for 200m until you come across a clearing affording good views of the formation. It’s just as it sounds – a rock formation which looks like a bridge – nicely named! It’s interesting enough to take the time to do the side trail.
The actual Fairyland Loop Trail begins at this point and the ridgetop scenery continues to impress. The beautiful trees, the towering cliffs, the babbling brook, the hoodoos, etc. all come together to create a magical landscape. If you are physically capable, this trail is a must.
The Fairyland Loop ends at Fairyland Point. (During the warmer months you could begin your hike here and the access road will be open). If you started your hike at the Tower Bridge, you’ll hike northwest along the Rim Trail to get back to your car.
Fairyland Loop Trail is ranked Strenuous by the NPS, which I’d mostly agree with; I’d call it “lightly strenuous”. It’s officially a 7.5 mile / 12km hike with 1,542 feet / 470m of elevation gain. Our GPS showed it 25% longer, but the difference is most likely the “parent miles” we put on going back and forth between kids, chasing blown off baseball caps, etc.
The elevation gain may sound scary, but in reality it comes in three major uphill sections, which we didn’t find too difficult. Our kids hiked 5.6 miles / 9km of the of the 9.3 miles / 15km we hiked – their best distance ever! They hiked mostly the downhill and flat sections, while we used our carriers for the uphill sections.
Bryce Canyon Junior Ranger Program
Bryce Canyon has a fun Junior Ranger program for kids ages 3 and up. Kids must attend at least one Bryce Canyon Ranger Program and complete a series of fun (and educational…) age appropriate activities from an activity book you can pick up from the Information Desk. The older the kid, the more activities they need to complete. One of the required activities will be to pick up some trash within the park, so try to bring a little garbage bag with you.
Once a Park Ranger has confirmed your child has completed all the required activities, they will lead your child in saying a Junior Ranger oath and present them with a Bryce Canyon Junior Ranger badge.
Our kids love the Junior Ranger programs. They keep our outings interesting for them and they learn a lot about nature and the park we are visiting. I’m not ashamed to admit I learned a ton too!
We highly recommend your kids become Junior Rangers too!
“I Hiked the Hoodoos”
To encourage kids to be active within the park, they have hidden 9 “I Hiked the Hoodoos” medallions throughout the park. They can be found on Interpretive Signs on some of the park’s most popular hikes. Kids who take pencil rubbings or photos of three medallions will earn a reward at the Visitor Center.
Bryce Canyon Visitor Center
The Bryce Canyon National Park Visitor Center is pretty cool for kids with good interpretive displays about the formation of the canyon, early settlers and wildlife who call the park home. It’s worth a stop for sure, although good luck keeping your kids out of the gift shop!
Things to do Around Bryce National Park
As amazing as Bryce Canyon is, the surrounding areas are also worth a visit for some different, yet equally amazing scenery.
Red Canyon Hiking
We first laid eyes on Red Canyon in the Dixie National Forest as we drove towards Bryce Canyon. We were blown away at the beauty of this area and promised ourselves to come back and enjoy some time here.
The Red Canyon area is incredibly beautiful, but gets a fraction of the hikers that its more famous neighbor Bryce Canyon gets. I enjoyed the ancient, windblown, gnarled trees as much as I did the red rock hoodoos. These hikes can be done by anyone in moderate condition. Our kids were able to walk all three back-to-back with no help. These trails are often narrow and on the side of a hill with loose rocks, so watch your little ones carefully.
We ultimately spent a full day hiking here, combining a series of three shorter hikes into a single, amazing outing. We parked at this small roadside lot just west of the Red Canyon Visitor Center as all three hikes we did leave from this spot.
Hiking Bird’s Eye Trail
We began our day with the easy 0.8 mile / 1.5km (one-way) hike Bird’s Eye Trail, which starts on the north side of the highway. To find the Bird’s Eye trailhead walk north of the highway for less than a minute and the trail will be on the left, heading west.
The trail starts off through thick forest beneath the massive red hoodoos which loom overhead. The trail slowly and gently snakes its way up the hillside, bringing you much closer to the hoodoos.
Once you reach the summit of this trail, you will be rewarded two ways: 1) you can really appreciate the size and beauty of the these massive rock formations and 2) the vistas of the Red Canyon from above are quite spectacular.
The trail eventually starts to descend and when you reach the other trailhead, you can either turn around and go back or you can cross the highway and walk the 0.3 miles / 0.5km to your car via the paved Red Canyon Bicycle Trail.
Hiking Pink Ledges Trail
Once back at our car, we crossed the highway again and walked east along a portion of the Hoodoo Trail (it’s not on Google Maps, but cross the highway, turn right and watch for the sign) to the Red Canyon Visitor Center. The Pink Ledges trailhead begins at the far side of the parking lot.
This trail is similar to the Bird’s Eye Trail, but it’s shorter (0.4 miles / 0.8km one-way) and gets you up close to a dense cluster of pink hoodoos, which have interesting ledge formations within them. This collection of hoodoos are really quite stunning and are definitely worth the easy effort to hike up and see them.
The one-way Pink Ledges trail ends across the highway from your parking lot.
Hiking Golden Wall Trail / Castle Bridge Trail Loop
After a well deserved lunch on a fallen log in the forest, we crossed to the south side of the highway to do our third and final hike of the day, the Golden Wall Trail to the Castle Bridge Trail Loop.
After the Golden Wall trailhead, the trail begins with a slight uphill walk through a beautiful, old growth forest. There are not many views of hoodoos at this stage, but the ancient, windblown trees are incredibly beautiful.
Scattered through the forest are Ponderosa Pines, which are great fun for kids. No, really! Have them go up and smell the bark – it smells sweet. People disagree on the smell, but many think it smells like butterscotch, vanilla or even baked cookies! (I’m in the butterscotch camp)
After a short walk through the forest, you will come to a junction; the Castle Bridge trailhead is to the left. The Castle Bridge Trail becomes slightly more challenging, but the views are incredible.
The Castle Bridge Trail begins at the bottom of a valley, with a massive wall of red rock hoodoos looming overhead on the left canyon wall. The trail winds up the right wall of the canyon, offering many different views of the spectacular hoodoos.
The trail can get a little steep in spots, but it’s not too bad. Eventually, the trail crests at the top of the ridge and you follow it along the top for a while, again enjoying amazing views of the area.
Eventually the Castle Bridge Trail ends and meets up with the Golden Wall Trail again. You can turn left for a much longer hike back to Highway 12, or you can turn right and head back towards the parking lot (as we did).
Facilities: The Visitor Center had washrooms, but they are seasonal and were still closed for our visit (in April).
Kodachrome Basin State Park
Kodachrome Basin State Park is approximately 30 minutes south-east of Bryce Canyon. It is not part of Bryce Canyon National Park, so you’ll need to pay an $8 admission charge.
Kodachrome is close enough to Bryce Canyon NP that is seems similar in topography, but it’s different enough to make the trip down here worthwhile. The hoodoos and cliffs have a massive layer of white sediment sitting on top of the red, which makes for a really interesting effect.
Hiking Angel’s Palace Trail
The Angel’s Palace Trail is an incredibly fun hike for the kids (and adults too!). This 1.5 mile (2.5km) loop begins with a short walk through the bottom of a canyon. The cliff walls here are different than they are at Bryce Canyon; they are much smoother and quite interesting to look at.
Once the canyon ends, the trail climbs the back canyon wall until you are up top, looking down on the canyon. The trail stays elevated and twists and turns through many interesting rock formations, all the while offering excellent views of Kodachrome and beyond.
Your kids will have a great time racing through this interesting trail and/or climbing on the many fun shaped rocks along the trail. As is typical in this area, there are many sharp drop-offs, so watch your kids closely.
Hiking Panorama Trail
Panorama Trail is an easy 3.1 mile / 5km loop which winds through the beautiful red rock monoliths found in the west side of the park (there are add-on trails which can add up to 3 additional miles to this hike).
The Panorama Trail is nice and flat with no extended elevations gains or losses. The views of the red rocks with the towering white cliffs beyond are stunning. The kids had a lot of fun finding crystals in rocks found in-and-around the trail – there are lots to be found!
We added the short but fun Secret Passage loop to our hike, which took us through a tight little canyon and up close to the edge of one of the red mountains.
Driving Scenic Byway 12
Bryce Canyon NP is located just off of Utah Highway 12. This highway, otherwise known as “A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway” has been designated a “Scenic Byway” by the USDOT. In fact, it is one of only 31 roads in the entire United States which has been deemed special enough to be labeled an “All-American Road”.
Scenic Byway 12 is 122 miles long and runs through some amazing places ranging from Red Canyon to the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument, ending on the doorstep of Capitol Reef National Park. Even if you drive a small portion of this beautiful road, you’ll be glad you did.
Bryce Canyon City Playground
Luckily for parents there is a playground near Bryce Canyon City; it’s located on the west side of the highway as you enter town. We stopped and let our kids play here for a while as a reward for some good morning hiking.
We were impressed at the quality of this playground with a good variety of equipment. It had lots of swings, climbing rocks and slides and will be a nice change of pace for kids who are tired of hiking. Our kids had a great time!
Where to Eat in Bryce Canyon National Park
This excellent BBQ restaurant is located in Tropic, just 15 minutes from Bryce Canyon. This simple, homey restaurant serves up some amazing ribs! I love ribs and have enjoyed many, many racks throughout the southern USA and this place competes with the best of them. The potato salad side dish was also delicious. This was our favorite restaurant in the area and we loved it so much we ate here a second time on our last night.
The Bryce Canyon Pines Restaurant is a short drive west on Highway 12. This popular, cosy restaurant specializes in sandwiches and pies. It has a similar price point to the Canyon Diner, but the quality was way better, so if you are able, come here instead.
Celine enjoyed her French Dip, while I devoured my Club House with snowshoe sweet potato fries. The kids split orders of chicken fingers and mac and cheese. For dessert, we demolished a chocolate cream pie. It was so good, I bet it lasted less than 2 minutes with 4 hungry forks digging into it!
We got a table easy enough at 5PM, but there was a big lineup to get in as we left at 6.
This family friendly pizza joint is also located in Tropic. The kids had just finished breaking their hiking distance record, so we wanted to reward them with a big pizza and ice cream feast.
The kids devoured a 50/25/25 Hawaiian/Pepperoni/Cheese pizza while we split a large Navajo Taco pizza (with ground beef, beans, lettuce, tomato and sour cream). We had read about Navajo Tacos being a unique Utah food, so when we saw the pizza variation on the menu, we had to give it a try, and we’re glad we did!
Things can get quite expensive near the national park, so the Canyon Diner is a good alternative for families looking for inexpensive family friendly food. Our kids loved their cheese pizza and I thought my chicken finger combo was decent, but Celine said her cheeseburger was pretty awful.
Where to Stay in Bryce Canyon National Park
We stayed just minutes outside the park’s gate at the Best Western Plus Ruby Inn. This rustic, massive hotel complex is good value for the money, considering its amazing location. The Ruby Inn offers great amenities for the kids, with an indoor swimming pool, hot tub and a very well stocked gift shop with groceries and all kinds of stuff your kids will beg you for. Most guests will enjoy a complimentary buffet breakfast in the onsite restaurant. The buffet is large with a decent selection of hot and cold dishes to choose from.
There is a newer (and less rustic…) Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel across the highway. It tends to be more expensive than the Ruby Inn though…
Although we chose to stay at a hotel this time, when we travel we typically stay at a vacation rental. As a family with small kids, we really like our own bedrooms, a full kitchen and laundry facilities.
If you are interested in Bryce Canyon National Park camping, you can choose between two campsites within the park; the North campground and the Sunset campground. We did a lot of camping during our Utah road trip, but we passed on camping at Bryce Canyon as both locations were first-come-first-serve. Coming all the way down from Canada, we couldn’t take the risk of not getting a spot.
What to Bring to Bryce Canyon National Park
The main attraction within Bryce Canyon is hiking. We’re minimalists when it comes to hiking gear, but here is what we would recommend you bring with you each day:
- Sun hats
- Hydration Packs for the adults and kids
- Plenty of snacks
- Garbage bag to carry out your trash
- Backpack carrier for smaller kids
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