Bryce Canyon

Labor Day Weekend had finally arrived and my trusty camping-companion, Alex, and I made grand plans to take a five-day camping trip to Zion National Park. Attracting over 2.5 million visitors a year, Zion is the 8th most visited National Park in the U.S., and we couldn’t wait to soak in the sights. But how in the world we thought we could score a campsite here, on one of the most popular camping weekends of the summer- sans reservation- is beyond me.

The four-hour drive from Salt Lake City to Zion led us from full campground to full campground, and it was nearly midnight when we finally submitted to our rookie mistake. With tails between our legs, we pitched the tent on the side of the road (something I swore I would never do) and re-evaluated our foolishness. Alex suggested we cut our losses and wake with the sun to drive two-and-a-half hours northeast to Bryce Canyon National Park. Established in 1928, this small park in southwestern Utah was sure to be less crowded and equally spectacular with thousands of rusty red hoodoos, fragile arches and a chaotic, asymmetrical landscape.

Bryce Canyon
Photo by Don Graham

Though Alex and I were itching to tie on the hiking boots and explore some of Bryce’s grand terrain, we first set up camp in the Kings Creek Campground, about 10 miles west of the Park entrance in the Dixie National Forest. Though BCNP contains over 200 campground sites, we were in search of something a bit more private and, with only 37 quiet, intimate sites, Kings Creek was the perfect location for us. As an added bonus, it was close to an array of hiking, ATV and mountain biking trails and bordered by the fish-filled, Tropic Reservoir.

With our tent pitched, fire blazing and hot-coca steaming, we breathed an easy sigh of relief; confident we’d found what we’d been searching for.

Bryce Canyon

The next morning we set out  determined to delve into the devilish landscape of Bryce Canyon. An 18-mile drive led us up a high, winding road to a breathtaking overlook at the end of the park, Rainbow Point. A quick two-mile jaunt east, out the Under-the-Rim Trail, provided a picturesque panorama of The Promontory and beyond towards Grand Staircase National Monument. With the Park’s summit sitting at 9,115 feet above sea level, this section of trail was a good starter-hike for altitude adjustment.

Confident our lungs were fit for the job and hungry for more exotic exploration, Alex and I drove back to the Peek-A-Boo Loop Trailhead at Bryce Point. A quick, steep mile deposits hikers at the depth of the canyon floor, gazing in awe at the massiveness of the surrounding views. With hovering hoodoos, unbelievably fine spires and astonishing arches waiting around every turn in the trail, the hike seemed more like a maze on Mars than an earthly exploration. Because of the steep terrain and drastic change in elevation, the Park considers this five-and-a-half-mile hike “strenuous,” and we were fortunate to have packed enough water and snacks.

Bryce Canyon

With tired legs and aching feet, I suggested retiring to our camp for a “happy hiker” beer and fireside appetizers. As night fell and hobo dinners cooked in the ambers, Alex and I reflected on the joy camping has provided and will undoubtedly continue to provide in our lives. From the time we were children, both of our parents ingrained the importance of “unplugging” from our modern world, loading up the camping gear and heading out to explore parts of this country as a family, as a team. Though I could write for hours about “what makes camping cool,” one of the biggest ways is how it provides a home-away-from-home experience; where sharing the beauty of nature brings people closer simply through thankfulness and recognition. By breaking away from the monotonous day-to-day activities and reveling in the splendor and excitement of a new place, a sense of appreciation for the surroundings inevitably surfaces. Besides, no one likes smelling like a campfire alone.

The next morning, after scarfing down skillet-fried bacon and eggs, we filled the backpack with essential hiking accouterments and set of for an eight-mile hike through Bryce Canyon’s infamous Fairyland. Again, Alex and I found ourselves descending rapidly down the narrow canyon wall only to soon be meandering through towering spires and unreal rock formations. We came to the conclusion that the park deemed the area “Fairyland” because of the way the trail floats hikers over, under and around thousands of bright red, white and purple hoodoos. It definitely felt like we weren’t in Kansas anymore. Because the Fairyland Loop begins before the entrance of the Park, many visitors miss this awesome trail, making it much more secluded and less traveled than the more popular hikes. If the scenery and seclusion aren’t enough of a persuasion, consider that this hike lets visitors explore an exceptionally neat section of the canyon without paying the $25 park entrance fee.

Bryce Canyon

Though our Labor Day trip started off a bit different than expected, Alex and I were grateful for where the road took us. Sure, Zion is still on “The List,” but we couldn’t have been more excited to experience this remarkable little park and the stunning landscape of southwestern Utah. And while it might not be one of the most popular parks in the country, a stop at Bryce Canyon National Park is an absolute must for those hungry for a sense of awe and appreciation.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

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