While growing up, my well-traveled Gma often raved about Bryce Canyon and how she preferred its beautiful colors to the Grand Canyon. On day 15 of the Wild West Road Trip, I’d finally see the second of the two canyons and make the comparison for myself!
Before heading to the canyon, though, we had one special activity to begin the day. A trip out west wouldn’t be complete without horseback riding. The problem I quickly discovered is that most horseback tours don’t allow riders as young as Jasper – five going on six. I finally found Red Canyon Trail Rides outside of Bryce which permits riders six and up. This was one reason we saved southern Utah for the trip back east, since he was only five years old when we first drove through the southwest earlier in the trip, but conveniently had a birthday before the return trip!
We arrived at Red Canyon Trail Rides early at 9:00 AM on a chilly 39-degree morning for a one-hour trail ride. We were promptly matched with our guide, cowboy Jeff, and assigned horses. Jasper was given the calmest of horses, Poncho, and would be rope-led by cowboy Jeff during the entire tour. Gavin mounted Zeke, I rode Diamond, and my Jeff’s horse was Apache, the most challenging horse of the group which suited him just fine!
We were given some basic riding instructions: pulling back on the reins to stop, gently kicking the sides to speed up, and to keep the horse’s head up as much as possible. It was still early and several of our horses would prove to still be hungry for more breakfast!
Cowboy Jeff led us along a beautiful loop trail, identified wildlife, and answered our questions about the history of the area. I followed right behind Gavin and was a little worried about how he would handle such a large animal. His Zeke was a snacker but Gavin did a great job pulling on the reins to keep Zeke’s head up and urge him along. I was so proud of him!
Towards the end of the trail, cowboy Jeff took our photo together and individually with my camera. It was such a peaceful way to begin a day in the old west!
Following our delightful trail ride, we drove several miles to Bryce Canyon National Park, stopping first at the visitor center for Junior Ranger booklets and to watch the film. We love these park films and this one was particularly education as it explained how this unique canyon was formed. Rather than water erosion from a powerful river like the Grand Canyon, Bryce was formed by wind erosion, leaving behind pillars of rock called hoodoos. The landscape is also changing on a much shorter geological timescale as older hoodoos erode away and new ones are being formed.
The main trail I selected for the day was the Navajo Loop. From Sunset Point, the trail leads down into the main amphitheater and loops back up through the Wall Street slot canyon. Unfortunately, Wall Street was closed due to fallen rocks, so we returned the same path on which we descended.
Descending 550 feet into the base of the canyon was the easy part of this trail! There were many switchbacks and the numerous bridge arches and hoodoos to view along the way. At the bottom, we continued on the Queen’s Garden Loop while working on Junior Ranger booklet pages but soon realized that completing the entire loop would be too tiring for the boys so we turned back and ascended the switchbacks back to Sunset Point. I later realized that we should’ve taken the trail up to Sunrise Point which is a more gradual elevation climb. From there we could’ve taken one of the park’s shuttle buses back to our car at Sunset Point. But the boys were troopers and managed the trail fine. The entire hike was only 1.5 miles, far below their usual three-mile daily limit, but the 550-foot climb over less than a mile wore them out!
Hiking along the base of the canyon. It’s all up from here!
The switchbacks, slower going up than down!
We drove to the southern viewpoint, Inspiration Point, where we ate our packed lunch and viewed the main amphitheater from an elevation of over 8,000 feet. The boys continued working on their booklets, giving Mom a chance to quietly take in the view. I can’t speak highly enough about the Junior Ranger program and how it provides the kids fun activities so that the parents can enjoy “boring” scenic viewpoints!
On the way back to the visitor center, we stopped to catch our final view of Bryce Canyon from Sunrise Point and marvel at the unique, delicate hoodoos one last time. The boys were sworn in as Junior Rangers at the visitor center and made a few selections at the gift shop (a plush rattlesnake for Jasper and a skunk for Gavin).
Sunrise Point, still beautiful at mid-afternoon
Dining options around Bryce are few so we chose the Cowboy’s Buffet and Steak Room buffet at Ruby’s for dinner. We were back in our room early, before 6:00, slowly adjusting back to Eastern time as we continued traveling east.
So, is Bryce Canyon more beautiful than the Grand Canyon? I feel like it’s comparing apples to oranges. While hearing my grandma’s comparison for so many years, I always imagined them to be similar in scale. Of course, the Grand Canyon is incredibly vast, but Bryce Canyon is far smaller that I imagined and was formed by completely different natural forces which gives it a more delicate look. Bryce Canyon has more orange hues while the Grand Canyon has deeper reds and browns. I can see why my grandma prefers Bryce for its brighter shades and delicate hoodoos. Myself, I can’t decide. They are equally breathtaking for different reasons and I feel very fortunate to have experienced both!