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Trip Report Bryce Canyon-N. Rim Grand Canyon-Zion with Preschooler

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Just back from a fantastic trip to this beautiful part of the world and wanted to share some thoughts on what I think made the trip a success for traveling with young kids. I had really went back and forth whether to book at hotels outside the parks so our son could have a swimming pool but what we found is that it was invaluable saving time staying in the park and also allowed my husband and I to take turns going out to explore the park whenever our son needed some quiet time in the room or was in bed. We felt this would have been impractical if not impossible if we had stayed outside the park.

Mom, dad, and 3-1/2-year-old. Flew into Las Vegas. Since we live on the west coast the flight was only 2 hours. Picked up rental car and immediately drove to St. George for the night, arriving in the early evening so my son could enjoy the swimming pool. Did stop at the Trader Joes in LV to pick up snacks, cereal, bread, PB & J and most importantly UHT milk boxes and water. If the flight had been longer I would have spend the night in LV.

Day 2: Picked up a cooler at the nearby Kmart before driving St. George to Bryce Canyon via a stop at Zion Kolob Canyons (bought our annual parks pass and drove up scenic road) and then Cedar Breaks NM. We picnicked almost every day. The drive time was faster than we thought it would be so we continued past Bryce to to ask about the Willis Creek Slot Canyon access at the Grand Staircase-Escalante visitor's center in Cannonville. The ranger recommended 4WD but since we did have a high clearance mid-size SUV we decided to go for it anyway. Glad we did. We were the only ones there. Yes, some of the hills were very sandy and iffy but we managed. Lovely hike to the end of first canyon. Checked into Western Cabin at BC Lodge by 4pm. Dinner at Lodge. Husband and I took turns enjoying the short Walk to Sunrise and Sunset Points for sunset as son went to bed.

Day 3: Started Queens Garden-Navajo Loop hike around 8am. Awesome time and my son managed it just fine with lots of breaks, snacks, and hide and seek type games. Very hot-take lots of water and wear a hat. Son really perked up when we hiked up Wall Street and nearly ran up the switch backs-LOL. The trail was very crowded at the end so glad we started at QG end and started early. Son was able to get his "I hiked the hoodoos" pin at the Visitors Center which he was very proud of. We just had to take pictures of him next to some of the marker along the trail. Back at cabin by lunch time for sandwiches and down time for son. After lunch took the bus to Visitor's Center and other view points. My son really likes taking buses so for him this was great. The bus frequency is good since you're not waiting around too long. Ended at the General Store to buy ice cream for my son and walked back to lodge. Later in the afternoon drove to Rainbow Point and back (best stops Rainbow, Agua Canyon, and Natural Bridge. Pizza at Lodge for dinner was fairly good. Again took turns viewing sunset and moon watching over canyon while son was in bed.

Day 4: Woke to a lot of smoke from wildfire near hwy 89 and hwy 14-it was quite alarming how strong it was and how much my eyes were burning. The canyon was filled with smoke. Decided to head out a little earlier than planned for drive to North Rim Grand Canyon. Stopped at Moqui Cave just north of Kanab. Nice diversion for little ones to see dinosaur tracks and a cool cave. Arrived N. Grand Canyon around 1pm and was able to check into Western Cabin early. After some quiet time for son did scenic drives to Cape Royal and Point Imperial. I will note here that we did not make our son get out of the car at each viewpoint but took turns staying with him playing games. I think this really helped keep him from getting too cranky. On way back did some laundry at Campground. Nice dinner at lodge. Watched Sunset before walking back to cabin. Full moon so I was able to walk down quite a way down Bright Angel Point and enjoy the solitude at night.

Day 5: Husband and I again enjoyed being able to take turns going to out to explore sunrise and the trails around the lodge before son woke up. Out early to North Kaibab trail for hike down .75 miles and 500 feet to Coonino Overlook. Really enjoyed being to able to hike down into the canyon even a little. Again son was able to manage the trail without problem. We live near mountains though and our son is used to hiking up to 4 miles. Not many others on the trail early. Back to lodge to check out and last looks at the Canyon. On way out stopped at picnic area on rim for lunch. Drive to Zion East Entrance. Stopped in Kanab grocery store for some more fruit/snacks, prices were very reasonable there. Took small loop scenic drive around Angel Canyon that was well worth it. Arrival into East Zion is amazing and I'm so glad we did it this way around. Arrived Zion Lodge around 4pm for check-in. Very nice, large 1-bedroom suite. Dinner at lodge. Relaxing evening in room and balcony watching doe with triplet fawns.

Day 6: Out by 8 to do lower emerald pools trail, back to lodge to get shuttle to Weeping Rock. Back to Lodge for lunch at the restaurant. The taco bar is a very good value and reasonably healthy. After lunch took shuttle to visitors center and human history museum. Zion has a lil' Junior Ranger program which is nice for preschoolers. Back to lodge for ice cream on the lawn. Son was "done" by this time so we retreated to room for a break. We had brought a frisbee and my son liked playing on the lawn and just watching tv (a treat since we rarely watch tv at home). Husband and I took turns going up Angel's Landing in the late afternoon/evening. We are experienced hikers and easily managed it roundtrip within 2-1/2 hours including the shuttle from the lodge to the Grotto stop. Going up to Scout's Lookout is well worth it. Dinner was sandwiches and leftovers (refrigerator in room).

Day 7: Up early for 7:30 shuttle to Temple of Sinewava (took energy bars and nuts with us for breakfast). We did some of the Narrows hike up the Virgin River from the end of the River walk. So much fun. Our son loved walking in the river. We were there early enough to use some of the walking sticks that are left at the trail and just walked in with our hiking shoes. Husband was fine in his Tevas. Our son wore his swimsuit and rash guard. We hiked 4 crossings until the river got to waist deep and decided to turn back. Next time hope to go further when our son is older. Our son didn't get too cold even though he was up to his knees, but we weren't in the river too long either. We did bring our sandels to change into. Shuttle back to Lodge in time for check out. Drove back up through tunnel to east side to do the Overlook trail. Son really enjoyed this hike too since it had many interesting features. Several Big Horn Sheep were by the parking lot when we got back. Stopped at Visitor's Center for son to get his lil' Junior Ranger pin. Ice Cream at (very expensive). Decided to stop by Grafton Ghost Town on drive out-not really worth it. Drove to St. George in time for swim in pool before dinner. Ordered pizza delivery again to eat by the pool which hit the spot.

Day 8: Breakfast at hotel and a lot fo swimming in pool for son before check-out time. Decided to drive through Valley of Fire State Park on drive back to LV for late afternoon flight Hot but interesting and a great easy place to see some petroglyphs. WIth little ones probably could skip this, Drove next to Lake Mead to airport in time for flight.

Other impressions: On retrospect I'm so glad we immersed ourselves in the parks and stayed in the less developed areas as much as possible. It was quite jarring coming out at Springdale and I think going out to stay outside the park each day would have taken away some of the magic we experienced. Yes, it was more expensive usually. Yes, it was not luxury lodging, but that is not why we go to national parks. Facilities were clean and more than adequate. The location was prime for us. Dining in the parks was not that outrageously priced as long as you chose something from the reasonable side of the menu-plenty of options. Food was mostly tasty. Kids choices were decent-option for whole wheat and fruit side. I felt the pace of our trip was good for us with enough time for my husband and I to explore things and giving our son enough down time too.

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