Just a short distance apart in Southern Utah we visited Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion NationalPark. Both canyons are located on the Colorado Plateau and were formed over millions of years. They both offer stunning views of amazing rock formations, but look completely different from one another.
Bryce Canyon was our first stop, and we started at the visitors center where we picked up a junior ranger book, watched a short film then caught a shuttle bus down to Bryce Point. Expecting to see something very similar to the Grand Canyon, but much smaller, we were surprised by our first view. Where the Grand Canyon's walls have been carved in very linear patterns by the Colorado River, Bryce Canyon's Paria River and its tributaries has eroded and carved the Canyon walls in a much different way. Here the canyon has been carved into tall pillars of rock, called Hoodoo's, each with a slightly different shape and many variations in color. The first look was amazing.
Wanting to see more of the canyon, we headed off along the rim trail toward the center of the canyon. A much more uneven and hilly trail than the rim of the Grand Canyon, it was a beautiful hike. We saw lots of birds and wildlife and enjoyed the many stops and lookouts along the 3 mile section to the Bryce Lodge.
After lunch, the boys wanted to do some hiking down into the canyon, so we headed for the Queens Garden Trail. Not too steep, it was a nice walk into the canyon and as we walked along we looked for benchmarks along the trail. This canyon has a program this summer called “Hike the Hoodoos,” set up like a bit of a treasure hunt with clues to find along the way. We made it into the first benchmark, when the little dude announced he had had enough hiking and wanted to go back up, so I headed up with him and the middle guy while the husband and teen hiked the rest of the trail looking for more clues. While we attended a ranger program about the hoodoos and how they were formed, the big boys hiked up the Navajo Loop trail, finding and photographing more benchmarks with their phones. Back at the visitors center, the little dude was sworn in as a junior ranger and the husband and teen were awarded these neat pins for “Hiking the Hoodoos” and taking pictures along the way!
The next day we headed to our third and final canyon, Zion. An interesting drive, as when you approach this canyon from the east, there is a tunnel, 1 mile long, that you must drive through in order to get into the park. The only problem is this tunnel was built in the 1920's, when cars were smaller and also before big, giant motor homes. It's small, and dark, and curves a few times inside the mountain just for fun. And if you have an oversized vehicle like the King, they have to stop oncoming traffic so you can drive through the middle of it. It also costs an extra 15 bucks. I didn't think we were going to fit...
But, we did! Whew! This canyon was another complete surprise. The road into both the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon take you up, to the top of the plateau and along the rim. The road into Zion Canyon takes you down, into the bottom of the canyon, leaving you looking up at smooth rocks and steep cliffs.
We again wanted to do some hiking, but choosing a hike was more difficult in this canyon. We had originally planned to hike into the Narrows, a trail that leads to the end of the canyon where the walls get closer and closer together, but the area had a very heavy rainstorm the night before we were there, and that trail was closed due to a flash flood warning. Many other trails were closed, or didn't connect to each other as the Park Rangers are doing a lot of work to improve the trails this summer. Finally, we decided to hike up a ways to the Emerald Pools. A beautiful and easy walk. These trails take you to a series of small waterfalls over the side of the canyon that fall down into small pools, surrounded by greenery and filled with a greenish algae, giving the pools their emerald green color, and their names. It was very relaxing a peaceful to listen to the falling water and watch the birds and squirrels play in the mist.
Both canyons were beautiful and we really enjoyed our hikes, but by the end of the day the boys were pretty much canyoned out!! They had a great time and kept up with all the hiking and would love to come back someday...and so would I!