We’ve been trapped for winter. It’s a bit like “The Shining” but now it’s time to go and renew our cards in the Vitamin D club.
Since we’ve all learned at Pine Mountain that mom can’t handle 45 degree nights in a 45 degree sleeping bag, we’ve got the car mattress all set to hit the canyon. Or the coast. Or Yosemite. Or…where? Anywhere.But.Here.
Since the Brady Bunch gang went to the canyon, we have been thinking about it. It didn’t help that one starry evening, Aaron said to me, “If you had the Land Rover you could camp at the Grand Canyon.” Since then, visions of Pendletons and French press on propane have been dancing in my head. We must camp at the Grand Canyon. Out of the tailgate. With coffee. And limestone. So we bought the Land Rover, and began looking up places to escape the dreary Oregon winter.
The road my kids have traveled less (ie not I-5) could take us through Vegas, across the damn dam, and up to the North Rim. I thought about Zion and Bryce. But which one for kids? Both? Neither? After all, it is March, and the North Rim websites warn me that the season isn’t ready for me yet.
Here’s my internet-researched pro and con list for each.
PRO/CON Bryce and Zion (and the North Rim) have the same mule outfitter, Canyon Trail Rides. Shorter rides (an hour) are ok for 7+ year-olds. Having a kid who doesn’t know how to ride, I’m a little concerned about this. But the mule trips that go down into the canyon only take two hours. Not a pro or con, since the same service through the same outfitter is at both destinations. And not running until April 1.
PRO Bryce is the smaller, more novel, park. You’re there for the hoodoos, the unique geological formations caused by freezing and thawing water in the rock hundreds of times a year.
It’s called “frost wedging” and it offers us the chance to road-school and also feel we’ve gotten to see something truly special.
CON Our itinerary is for early March, and at 8,000 feet, we can’t imagine feeling balmy at Bryce. Zion is a canyon, and its floor is 3,700 feet, with little snow in the winter. Spring sunshine would undoubtedly be warmer and more comfortable.
PRO The park confirms that 10 times the number of visitors show up in the summer months compared to winter.
PRO There is a monthly stargazing program year-round. I bet this program delivers, too: the closest city to Bryce is Las Vegas, a four hour drive away.
CON The closest city is four hours away.
SUMMARY Bryce seems a little more impressive for the kids. It’s smaller and easier to do, with an instant gratification factor that those of us in the iPad-age appreciate. To our great chagrin.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS Bigger, lower, warmer, more sprawling, and with great hikes, especially for older kids when you don’t fear they’ll drop off the planet.
Gorgeous canyons with crystal rivers through which to hike. Is this possible or desirable in March? No. But the slot Canyon hiking throughout the narrows of the Virgin River provides beautiful scenery and photo opportunities when it’s not closed due to flash flooding. Which brings me to a big drawback:
CON The Narrows can flood quickly and become dangerous, especially in the spring following snowmelt.
PRO Some narrows hikes require coming in from the top of the canyon, but the family-friendly version does not. Conditions (and permits for the adventurous) can be checked at the Backcountry desk.
CON It seems as if this great kid attraction is off-limits until school is out in June and runoff is low, with warm enough temperatures to hike through the water comfortably. Even an easy hike to the entrance of the narrows might disappoint, since playing in the river as a reward for making it down the trail would be too cold. In the summer, this place seems too crowded to really enjoy until you get a few miles into the hike and lose the stragglers.
PRO Spring promises the best waterfalls.
CON (Above) Angel’s Landing, another hike with fabulous views, also seems best suited for teens, with steep drops on all sides. We don’t have teens…yet. There is a stopping point along the route, and adventurous kids might be up for this lower section, which does have a drop-off on one side. Hikers can take off from there (Scout’s Landing) and continue hiking, or wait for folks who decide to top out.
PRO Several hikes are stroller accessible. No longer a concern for us, but good to know.
PRO There are many more attractions, which may mean it is more difficult to see and access, and you may want to set aside more time for a Zion trip, especially in summer when taking a shuttle is the only way to see the park. Shuttles are free (with park entrance fees) and you can hop on and off all day long, making it to every stop if you so desire.
PRO The shuttles don’t run until April, and cars in early spring can access the Zion Canyon scenic drive all by themselves.
It seems that until summer, Zion offers the biggest chance for getting out of the car, and getting to enjoy the sights.