Hodoos of Bryce Canyon lit up at sunset, 2 days with kids

Best of Bryce Canyon with Kids: 2 Days of Hiking and Hoodoos

This two-day itinerary covers the highlights of the park that are best for families visiting Bryce Canyon with kids. This is a place where kids’ imaginations can run wild exploring all the rock formations around them.

Bryce Canyon National Park is a wonderland of eroding sandstone creating towering hoodoo columns with names like “Thor’s Hammer” and “Queen Victoria”. We visited Bryce Canyon with kids ages 4, and 6 as part of our family cross-country road trip.

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What is Bryce Canyon Known For?

Bryce Canyon National Park is known for its tower rock formations called hoodoos. These columns are formed largely by frost-wedging- when snow and ice melt and then refreeze in the cracks of the rocks. As the water expands it cracks the rocks.

Because of its altitude, Bryce Canyon experiences below-freezing temperatures about half the nights of the year, so this freezing and thawing happen constantly. Frost-wedging combines with erosion to form the ever-changing rock formations the park is known for.

Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon from the Navajo Loop Trail
Hoodoos from near the top of the Navajo Loop Trail in Bryce Canyon

How much does Bryce Canyon National Park Cost?

The fee to enter Bryce Canyon National Park is $35- that is good for your full car and lasts for seven days. If you will be combining this visit with other National Parks, be sure to get an America the Beautiful Pass– this annual pass costs $80 and gets you unlimited access to National Parks for one year. Please note that this pass covers entrance fees, it does not cover tour fees or lodging fees.

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 4th graders also get a free annual park pass for their families.

Look for Junior Ranger packets in the visitor center. The kids complete the packets, then return them to be sworn in as Junior Rangers complete with a wooden badge! You may also want to get a family National Park Passport Book to stamp at each park you visit.

Bryce Canyon with Kids: 2 Days and 2 Nights

Here are our suggestions for what to do when you have 2 days and 2 nights in Bryce Canyon National Park with your family. When we visited our kids were 4 and 6, they were capable of about a 3-mile hike.

Bryce Canyon is set up along one main road (Rt 63), with one entrance that takes you past the visitors center, to the North Campground, and then to Bryce Canyon Lodge.

All the campgrounds and facilities are on the canyon rim. There is a rim trail that runs from Fairyland Point past Sunrise Point, past Sunset Point, then on to Bryce Point at the south end. This area is called the Bryce Amphitheater.

The main road continues along the canyon rim and takes you out to Rainbow Point. This is an out-and-back road, all the viewpoints will be on your left on the drive out, and on your right on the way back.

Day 1: The Drive to Rainbow Point

For Day 1, we recommend getting acclimated to the park, settling in your lodging, then driving the road to Rainbow Point, followed by dinner in the park, and sunset at the canyon rim.

Entering the Park and Lunch

As you drive into the park, the first thing you will see is the visitors center, with its huge array of solar panels. Pick up your Junior Ranger packets and ask any questions you have of the rangers stationed there. Check on any trail closures or park updates that may affect your plans. When we visited, a large section of the Queen’s Garden trail had just reopened after damage from a storm. There are no picnic tables at the visitors center.

Unlike many of the other National Parks, the drive from the nearest town into Bryce Canyon National Park is not particularly long. There are a few places to eat lunch in Bryce Canyon City just before you enter the park.

We chose to have a picnic lunch at the General Store. The store has a few pre-made sandwiches, chips, etc. This is also where you will find coin-operated laundry (closes at 4:30), and showers if you are camping. There are picnic tables spread out under pine trees so you can comfortably sit at a table in the shade without being on top of other people.

There are also 3 or 4 outside tables on the patio as you enter Bryce Canyon Lodge where you could eat a picnic lunch.

Overlooks and the Drive to Rainbow Point

The drive to Rainbow Point is 18 miles one way. You’ll want to go slow to watch for wildlife and stop at the viewpoints along the way. We recommend stopping at Fairview Point/Piracy Point on the way out, then continuing to the end of the road where you’ll find Rainbow Point and Yovimpa Point.

You’ll then have a better sense of the time available to you and can stop at the other viewpoints on your way back toward the center of the park. This also means you’ll be pulling off the road to your right, making entering and exiting parking lots easier.

Fairview and Piracy Point give you a great introduction to Bryce Canyon. We had the short walkway out to Piracy Point to ourselves. It was quiet, with the strong smell of the pine trees, a gentle wind, and scampering squirrels. You have views of the canyon, but also of the mountains beyond.

Overlook along the Rainbow Point Road in Bryce Canyon with Kids
View from Agua Canyon overview along the road to Rainbow Point

Rainbow Point is at an elevation of 9,115 feet. It is an impressive vista, with the shifting sunlight hitting the rocks below. Later afternoon is a great time to visit as you’ll have deeper shadows and highlights on the rocks.

If you have more time, hike Bristlecone Loop, a 1-mile trail that leaves from Rainbow Point.

On the drive back you can stop at every overlook, or pick and choose. After a few stops, the kids got tired of getting in and out of the car and started to lose interest. Make sure to stop at Natural Bridge- it was one of our favorite overlooks.

Dinner at the Bryce Canyon Lodge

Dinner in Bryce Canyon is currently only available at Bryce Canyon Lodge. Valhalla Pizza is closed for 2021. When we visited, the lodge was doing takeaway only. You are welcome to sit in the lodge dining room to eat, but there is no table service, and everything is prepared in takeaway containers with plastic flatware.

We find that the lodge dining rooms are often challenging with kids. The food, while often tasty for adults, is on the expensive side, and not designed for picky young eaters. All the kid’s menus seem to have the same not-so-great options.

At the Bryce Canyon Lodge, you can try elk chili if you’re feeling adventurous. The entrees in 2021 ranged from $23-37 each. We tried the Wilson’s Peak 5 Grain Stuffed Poblano Pepper, which was filling, not too spicy, and quite delicious, though it suffered from being served in foil in a takeaway container. We also had the Queen’s Garden Beet Salad, and the kids shared the Grand Staircase Quesadilla.

The menus were available on paper printouts as you enter the dining room to place your order, and we completely missed the separate printout that had the kid’s menu of hamburgers, plain quesadillas, and chicken tenders. Honestly, this was probably a good thing, as the kids realized that they actually liked most of the ingredients in their bean, corn, and red pepper quesadilla.

Sunset at Sunset Point

After dinner, make sure you have warm layers on and head out to Sunset Point, elevation 8,000 feet, to watch the colors change on the rocks below. This point along the rim trail is about a five-minute walk from the Bryce Canyon Lodge.

From Sunset Point, you can also look down and see the switchbacks forming one end of the Navajo Loop Trail that you will hike the next morning.

Sunset in Bryce Canyon from sunset point
Sunset from Sunset Point in Bryce Canyon

We changed into long pants and sweaters even in August as the temperature drops quickly as the sun goes down. Remember to get there early, the best color on the rocks tends to be 20-30 minutes before the sun actually sets.

If your kids are able to stay up another hour past sunset, Bryce Canyon is a Dark Sky Park, so you should be able to get great views of the night sky. Check what moon phase you are in (you won’t see nearly as much if you are close to a full moon).

We knew we had a very early morning coming, so we didn’t stay out. From the balcony at our lodge there were too many pathway lights, it didn’t make for good stargazing.

Day 2: Sunrise and Queen’s Garden Trail

For Day 2, we recommend you start early with sunrise views and then get in your big hike for the day. The afternoon is for recovery, relaxing, and a few more overlooks!

Sunrise and Sunrise Point

Wake up early for sunrise at Sunrise Point! The trail from the Bryce Canyon Lodge is easy to follow. Set out clothes the night before so we could wake up, throw clothes on and eat a banana and granola bar on our way to the rim.

In August it got down into the mid-40s at night, with a breeze that felt pretty chilly as we were sleepily waiting for the sun to rise. Both girls were in puffy warm jackets with their hoods up against the cool breeze, long pants with shorts underneath, and sneakers.

sunrise at Bryce Canyon, 2 days with kids
Sunrise at Bryce Canyon from Sunrise Point along the Rim Trail

From the moment we left our room, we could see pinks and purples washing the skyline in front of us. As the sun slowly rose, it lit up the cream and orange colors around us.

Some photographers were set up with tripods at Sunrise Point, others at the beginning of the Queens Garden trail below us, but it was not crowded.

Sunrise Point in Bryce Canyon
Sunrise hitting the rocks at Sunrise Point in Bryce Canyon

Queens Garden and Navajo Loop Trail

After sunrise, start off on your hike of the day. The trailhead for the Queens Garden Trail is right below the lookout for Sunrise Point, so no need to lose momentum. Quite a few people start this trail right away, but we didn’t find it crowded. Different groups move at such different paces, that we were largely alone on the trail.

The total mileage of this loop is 2.9 miles, with an elevation change of 600 feet. The challenge of this trail when hiking with kids is that most of that elevation change is at the end when you are doing switchbacks in full sun.

Tall Shadows on the Queen's Garden Trail in Bryce Canyon with Kids
Playing with long shadows just after sunrise on the Queen’s Garden Trail

This is one of the most popular hikes in the park, since you start and end from very convenient points, and get to experience the bottom of the canyon and see such famous hoodoos as Queen Victoria and Thor’s Hammer.

The Queen’s Garden Trail heads down to the base of the canyon, then connects to the Navajo Loop trail to climb back up to the top of the rim, ending at Sunset Point.

You can also take the Wall Street Loop (currently closed due to storm activity). The Wall Street Loop is less traveled since it is closed off-season. It comes highly recommended and is only .1 mile longer than the Navajo Loop. It also ends back at Sunset Point.

Base of Bryce Canyon hiking the Queen's Garden Trail with kids
At the base of the canyon, Queen’s Garden Trail

This is a wonderful family hike, with lots of magical moments. As you descend the Queen’s Garden, you can play with long shadows against the canyon wall. As you continue along the trail, there are several doorways cut through the rock that you pass through.

We found a long log to sit on under a shelf of rock at the bottom of the canyon and took a break. We shared a snack and let the girls work on their Junior Ranger packets, hoping that a break would make the uphill section of the trail easier.

Hiking up the Navajo Loop Trail

The hike back up to the canyon rim was slow going. The girls were getting tired, so we opted to stick with the Navajo Loop rather than the Wall Street trail. We didn’t think adding extra mileage to the trail was a good idea at the time. By this time the sun was fully blazing down on us, and both girls were down to shorts and t-shirts.

I was happy with the direction that we chose to hike. While you could easily do the reverse- starting with the Navajo Loop, the beginning of the Queen’s Garden trail is more interesting. You loop down in a more leisurely way, with wide-open views of hoodoos around you.

By contrast, the top of the Navajo trail is a series of tall canyon walls and geometric switchbacks. Whichever way you hike the trails, make sure you have proper footwear. We saw several adults start the trail from the Navajo end and turn back after slipping a few times on the loose rock path.

Hiking up the Navajo Loop Trail with Kids
Heading back up to the rim on the Navajo Trail

This hike felt reasonably safe- there was usually room on either side of the path, and rarely a steep drop-off on either side. It did not feel slippery or extremely steep, with the exception of the end of the Navajo trail where there are some steeper sections we were glad to be going up rather than slipping down.

While we were careful, and often held hands (especially with E who is 4) as we descended, this was a very doable trail that we did not find stressful as parents.

Relax and Check Out the Vistors Center

You just had an early morning followed by a hike, take some time to relax at your lodging and maybe get a second breakfast.

We finished the hike just after 9 am and promptly celebrated with a cinnamon bun from the Bryce Canyon Lodge dining room. We had a bit of downtime, and we did some laundry at the General Store while having a picnic lunch. The kids finished their Junior Ranger packets, we then headed to the visitors center to turn in their packets and get the girls sworn in as Junior Rangers.

The visitors center includes a 20-minute video that was mentioned in the Junior Ranger packets, so we all checked it out. It’s well worth your time, it gives you some interesting facts about the animals living in the park, as well as the history of the park.

Last Viewpoints- the Rim Trail

After lunch, drive out to Paria Point and Bryce Point. These are the last two viewpoints along the southern edge of the rim trail. These points let you look back on most of the Bryce Amphitheater. It’s fun to get a bird’s eye view of where you were hiking earlier that day. Drive slowly and keep your eyes peeled, we saw several mule deer and Utah prairie dogs on our way out to these viewpoints.

Views from Bryce Point at Bryce Canyon National Park
View of the Bryce Amphitheater from Bryce Point

Dinner in Tropic, UT

We never like to have dinner at the same place twice in a row if we can help it, so we looked for an alternative to eating at the Lodge at Bryce Canyon for our second night in the park.

We chose the Showdowns Restaurant in Tropic, UT, which is about a 25 minutes drive from the Bryce Canyon Lodge. Showdowns has an outdoor patio and a barn-style building with seating and an open front. They had live music playing just inside the barn. We had no idea what to expect but were pleasantly surprised by the food- it was all quite good.

The menu is largely burgers, sandwiches, and salads. There was a decent selection of canned Utah-brewed beers as well. The upper area includes a set of cabins and a swimming pool so there was a lot of green area for the kids to run around if needed. There was also a fire pit that was not lit while we were there, but I imagine gets fired up later in the evening.

On our way back into the park, we stopped at the Old Bryce Town Shops across from Ruby’s Inn. We the kids got ice cream cones and loved pretending to be in jail while they ate them. It’s hokey, but they don’t seem to mind!

Additional Family-Friendly Hiking Trails

If you have more time in Bryce Canyon or are looking for additional hiking options, here are a few family-friendly hiking suggestions.

Fairyland Loop Trail

This trail is an 8-mile loop that starts at Fairyland Point, near the park’s entrance. With an elevation change of over 1700 feet, this is more than our kids can handle right now, but it looks lovely. This loop takes you into parts of the canyon you can’t see from the main park viewpoints.

Mossy Cave Trail

This trail is accessed from outside the main park entrance. Drive to Bryce Canyon City, and turn East on Rt 12, in approx. 4 miles you will see signs for Mossy Cave. This trail is an easy 0.8 miles walk to a mossy grotto. When the trail forks, turn left for Mossy Cave, and right for a waterfall.

What Can I Do at Bryce National Park Other than Hike?

After you’ve taken in the many viewpoints along the rim trail, and perhaps hiked a trail or two, check out what else you can do at Bryce Canyon!

Attend a Ranger Program

During the peak season, there are at least two ranger talks each day, as well as an evening program (9 pm), and stargazing Thursday through Saturday. Check the schedule at the visitors center for details and additional programs.

Ride Horses

You can take a guided horseback ride into Bryce Canyon, rides are available from April to September. Tours ride along a specific trail designed for horseback riding only, that departs from the horse corral behind Sunset Point and connects with the Peekaboo Loop Trail. The minimum age is 7 years.

Attend a Geology Festival or an Astronomy Festival

Each June there is a 2-day Astronomy Festival; each July there is a 2-day Geology Festival. Both events include day and evening programs, guest speakers, and a lot of family-friendly programming.

Lodging Options near Bryce National Park

There are two options for sleeping within the park- the Lodge at Bryce Canyon, or campgrounds. The town of Bryce Canyon City is not far from the entrance to the park.

The Lodge at Bryce Canyon

The Lodge at Bryce Canyon consists of the main lodge where the dining room is, Sunset Lodge, and Sunrise Lodge, as well as a series of historic western cabins.

Each cabin has two queen beds, a full bathroom, and a gas-log fireplace. The cabins are organized in groups of two or four, some have a connecting door if needed. Cabins also include semi-private porches.

The rooms in the Sunset and Sunrise Lodges have small porches or balconies with a table and chairs for two. The main lodge has a few larger suites on its second floor.

We stayed in Sunset Lodge, in a room on the second floor. It was a bit dark but cozy, and we loved having a balcony looking out toward the canyon rim. It was an easy walk to the main lodge, as well as to the canyon rim for both sunset and sunrise. We did not have a problem with wifi connectivity, though they warn you that the connections may be slow due to old copper phone lines.

Camping in Bryce Canyon National Park

There are two campgrounds in Bryce Canyon- North Campground and Sunset Campground. Each has about 100 sites. Neither campground has sewer or water hookups.

Lodging in Nearby Towns

The nearest lodging outside of the park is Ruby’s Inn in Bryce Canyon City. This is a bit of a complex that includes the Old Bryce Town Shops. You can take a shuttle bus from this complex into the park rather than driving in. You can find a list of hotels close to Bryce Canyon on the county lodging page.

When is the Best Time to Visit Bryce Canyon National Park?

Bryce Canyon’s peak season is May through October. During the summer months, you will find peak crowds. Bryce Canyon is also beautiful in the winter when covered with snow, but a very different experience with more limited services.

The rim of the canyon is at an elevation of 8-9,000 feet, so it can be quite cool, even in mid-summer. We visited in early August and found it chilly in the early morning- we bundled up with puffy jackets and long pants for sunrise, and then pleasant and warm in the afternoons.

Getting to Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon is in southern Utah, approximately halfway between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Considered one of the Utah “Mighty Five” National Parks, it is very common to include this park in an itinerary that includes visiting other national parks such as Zion, and the Grand Canyon.

In case you are curious, the Utah Mighty Five are Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park.

Fly to Bryce Canyon

The two closest airports to Bryce Canyon are Las Vegas (LAS), a four and half hour drive, and Salt Lake City (SLC ) at just over a four-hour drive. If you fly in you will need to rent a car to make the rest of the journey to the park.

Drive in to Bryce Canyon

We drove into Bryce Canyon after leaving Moab, Utah where we explored Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. It’s just over a four-hour drive between the two.

If you are planning a family road trip, don’t miss our post on essential road trip gear.

Be forewarned, there are limited services on the drive from Moab. We hit a point where the nearest gas station was 11 miles in one direction (the wrong direction of course), and 26 miles in the other, with limited cell service. Make sure you fill up your tank before leaving Moab so you aren’t holding your breath and coasting down hills like we were!

If you are unsure where the nearest gas station is, check the app Gas Buddy. It not only helps you find the cheapest gas around but will tell you where to find the nearest station.

How Much Do I Need to Plan Ahead to Visit Bryce Canyon with Kids?

We advise booking lodging well in advance. Some popular lodging options in Bryce Canyon National Park book up a year or more in advance, so the sooner you can reserve rooms in these parks, the better. If you would like to have dinner at one of the nicer lodges in the park, you should make reservations as soon as possible as well.

Download maps and apps ahead of time. Download the National Park Service App for maps, info, road closures, and more. The National Parks App is designed so each park can be downloaded ahead of time to be used in the park without cell service. Be sure to download Google Maps of the area to your phone before entering the park, cell service can be limited.

Planning ahead is one of our top family travel tips!

What to Bring to Bryce Canyon National Park with Kids

Plan for changeable weather. Because of the high altitude, the weather can be chilly, and the wind can be fierce, especially at some of the viewpoints over the canyon rim.

The canyon warms up during the day, so plan to wear layers. We found it best to start our hikes in the morning when the air was cool and finish them in full sun. In early August, the kids started the day with sweaters, pants, and jackets, and stripped down as the day warmed up. Most afternoons they needed lightweight long-sleeve tops to counter the cool breeze.

If you’re on a longer road trip, check out our best ideas for snacks on the road! We cover the best snacks, breakfasts, and picnic lunches for road trips, as well as the best car activities for kids.

There You Have It: Bryce Canyon with Kids

We loved our time exploring Bryce Canyon. After the hot desert of Moab, Utah, the cool breezes through the ponderosa pines were a welcome change. This park is great for families as it’s small enough to explore in a few days.

From Bryce Canyon, we drove to Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona. There we asked ourselves Is Horseshoe Bend worth a visit?

From there we headed to the Grand Canyon. I didn’t love it- check out why I’d skip the Grand Canyon on our next family road trip.

We love National Parks! Check out our itinerary for Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, Mesa Verde, Arches hiking trails, and more!

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