I can’t remember the first time I saw pictures of the massive canyon full of red rock hoodoos that is Bryce Canyon National Park, but I know that it has long been on my “must visit” list. We thought about coming here a few years ago during our first tour around Utah, but it was early April and at 8,000 feet it just seemed too cold. Well…here we are again even earlier in the year this time, and despite the cold and snow in the forecast, we decided to go for. Not sure if our additional three years of RVing has made us smarter, or just more daring?
The drive through Zion to Bryce was short and easy (yes we drove through the tunnel in Zion with the Airstream. We’ve done it before and it’s not a big deal. You pay 15 bucks and they make the tunnel one way for you. There were two RVs in front of us and we all went through together. Much quicker than driving around).
Despite our grand visions of steep grades and impressive mountains, the route turned out to be a gradual uphill through mostly flat meadows filled with sage brush and not much else. A few hours later we turned east on Scenic Route 12 and got our first glimpse of those famous red rock formations.
There are a number of boondocking options near Bryce, but in an effort to be as close to the action as possible for after work hiking we decided to stay in the park at the North Campground. It got good reviews on Campendium, and was reported to have workable cell service, so we thought why not. We also assumed there would be plenty of open sites given how early in the year it is, and how cold it was supposed to be. We should know by now to never assume when it comes to national parks.
When we arrived around 1pm there were at least a half-dozen sites suitable for our size rig, but only an hour or two later the campground was completely full of college kids in tents and rental RVs. This trend continued for most of the week, with the one exception being the day that it snowed. Good thing the Sunset Campground is opening this weekend. It seems that the cold does not deter people from visiting this magical place.
The site we snagged was a nice big pull-thru with a good sized front yard. And we had trees! The last time we parked in the trees was way back in mid-December. Fortunately, the trees provided a nice backdrop without shading our solar panels even a little bit. A win, win if you ask me. The full campground didn’t bother us since it was far too cold to sit outside or open the windows and we didn’t hear or see any of the neighbors all week.
After settling in we took a short walk up to the canyon rim to see if real life stood up to all those pictures I’d been drooling over for years. The answer was a resounding yes.
And yeah, that is snow you see in this picture. With temperatures only in the 40s and 50s during the day, any snow that falls at night tends to linger in the cold spots. But wait…it gets better. On Tuesday afternoon the bright blue sky gave way to thick clouds, the temperature plummeted, and it snowed on and off all afternoon and into the night. Sometime in the late afternoon, Tim insisted that we leave our warm cocoon to go see the new snow in the canyon. So we dug out all our winter gear (I knew I’d been carrying those gloves around for the past 3.5 years for a reason) and made our way over to sunset point.
We didn’t stick around long because of the biting wind, but wow was that gorgeous! As someone who grew up around snow it’s not often that I’m impressed by the fluffy white stuff, but then again we don’t have anything that looks like this back east.
In the morning we awoke to some very chilly temperatures and a substantial coating of snow. Guess our plans for a bike ride are out.
It didn’t ever make it out of the 30s that day, but the sun melted most of what had accumulated on the roads and by the next day is was gone except for in the shady spots. I posted a shot of the snow on our Facebook page and few people asked about how the Airstream does in the cold. My short answer is that as long as the temps get above freezing during the day we’ve never had a problem. Our furnace works great and it has a vent that blows down to where the pipes and tanks are so we don’t worry about freezing (too much).
We’ve taken some other steps to combat the cold, and since we’re planning to spend another week or so in this general area (and it’s supposed to be in the 20s every night) I think I’ll wait and write an entire post dedicated to cold weather Airstreaming, provided we survive the next few weeks. Also, who wants to talk about the cold when I have a million and a half photos of hoodoos to share with you?
We got out for two hikes during the week. The first was on Monday before it snowed. It was gray and cloudy, but it was also close to 60 degrees and we knew that was the warmest it was going to get all week.
We started with one of the most popular hikes in the park — The Queen’s Garden and Navajo Trail Loop. This 3-mile loop starts at Sunrise Point, descends down into the canyon, and then climbs back up to Sunset Point on a set of steep switchbacks in a narrow canyon. I’m not gonna lie, these hikes are not for the faint of heart. The rim of Bryce Canyon is around 8,000 feet, and even though you’re only descending 600 feet, the climb back up is not easy. But it’s soooo worth it. Sure it’s pretty to look from the top, but if you don’t get down in the canyon you’re missing out on the real Bryce experience.
The second hike we did was the Peekaboo Loop. This three mile loop takes you past some of best scenery in the canyon including the Wall of Windows. To get there we took the Navajo Trail down and the Queen’s Garden Trail back up for a total of 6.5 miles of heart pounding adventure. Even though the Peekaboo Loop is rated as strenuous, I had it in my head that it would be a fairly tame hike on the bottom of the canyon. I was so wrong! This trail is a roller coaster of ups and downs that really kicked our butts.
We did this trail on Friday when the sun was bright in the sky, but not quite bright enough to get the temps out of the 40s. It was also really windy, but how can you complain with views like this?
We had grand plans to ride the paved bike path around park, but it was just too cold, so we settled for a drive on the park road instead. The main road that goes along the rim is around 20 miles long and has roughly a dozen small parking areas where you can get out and view the canyon. We didn’t stop at all of them (that was the day it never got our the 30s and the wind was whipping), but the ones we did see were amazing.
And that wraps up our week in Bryce Canyon. It was tempting to stay another week, but with more cold temperatures and precipitation in the forecast we decided to move on. We’re already scheming to get back here in a few years for a longer visit though. Hopefully a bit later in the year next time. Because while the snow was pretty, the cold is a bit much.
Up next: We continue on scenic Rt. 12 to Escalante in search of slot canyons.