Weekend Adventure: Bryce Canyon National Park

We got to check off a huge bucket list item with this trip! We’ve officially been to every national park in Utah!

I’ve been in a bit of a slump for the last two weeks and this trip was so, so good for my soul. One thing that’s been difficult for me during these weekend trips is balancing all of the doing with just being. We did not do all of the really long hikes we wanted to do this weekend, and that’s okay, because we can come back!

That’s been a key mindset shift for me as I feel like my travel personality just goes until she collapses and she will force herself to do a 7 mile hike she doesn’t want to do because “we’re only here for 2 days and we must do everything“. That may be true for some trips we take, but for these Utah trips we can always plan another one.

And that’s exactly what we decided to do! We are doing a Zion/Bryce combination trip this weekend that is solely focused on two hikes we haven’t had a chance to do yet!

Anyway, back to our Bryce trip. It started out a little dicey. We left a bit later than usual, after stopping in Provo to see a dear friend who was in town! We visited with her for awhile and then hit the road, driving straight into a torrential downpour.

The thing about Utah is, when it rains it really does pour. We even joke about how the raindrops are actually much larger here than the raindrops in Oregon, and it’s actually true. In Oregon, it rains all the time and you kind of grow accustomed to this steady mist that follows you as you go about your day. Occasionally, it will really dump on you but it’s usually steady, just there to remind you that it’s never really going to be summer. In Utah, rain is rare but every single time it rains I think we’re going to be stuck in the middle of a flash flood.

In this case, we actually had to slow down significantly on the freeway (due to other people freaking out about the lack of visibility) until the rain let up. And then of course, everyone slowed down to check out the six-car pile-up on the other side of the freeway.

But eventually, we were able to really get going and we settled in, continuing our trend of listening to the End of the World podcast. We decided to stop at a drive-in that we found on google maps when searching for restaurants. It was in Beaver, so that was about five minutes of immature laughter about stopping in Beaver and eating in Beaver and snap chatting these jokes to my mom, who then had all her own jokes.

Regardless of the fact that I told Kevin I couldn’t live in a town called Beaver, the drive-in was delicious. Hands down the best fries I’ve ever had and the burger was definitely in the top 5. It’s called Mel’s Drive-Inn and I highly recommend trying it if you’re ever in the area (but they are closed on Sundays, much like the entire state of Utah).

After we ate dinner, we got back on the freeway and Kevin proceeded to miss our exit and we had to drive 12 miles down the freeway before we were able to turn around. The weather had improved but we could still see thunderstorms and dark clouds in the distance, and it seemed like we were headed in their direction.

Which we were, in fact, because we stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere and I had to run through the rain to the bathroom in my t-shirt and sandals. Because of course we never pack rain coats for these trips. It’s Utah, it’s summer, and we’re going to the desert! Not that I could have worn a coat anyway because it was raining but still like 80 degrees out.

We had camping reservations at Kodachrome Basin State Park — per a recommendation from a friend — which was past Bryce Canyon National Park. This was the first time we’d be arriving after dark and we’d never been there, but it felt like we were driving out to the middle of nowhere. How could there be a state park 10 miles down this road to nothing?

But there was, and we finally arrived and located our campsite, and then proceeded with the lovely task of setting up our tent in the dark. It wasn’t terribly difficult and I think we still managed to get everything set up before 11pm. We had no idea what our surroundings looked like but we could see that there were some hills or mountains nearby because lightning would light up the sky in the distance and illuminate them. We watched the sky and the thunderstorms for awhile before going to bed.

Kodachrome Basin State Park

We woke up to an amazing view and decided this is definitely one of the best campgrounds we’ve ever stayed in. Our campsite was right by the bathrooms (but not too close) and there was so much room for the tent, as well as a fire pit and picnic table! It got cool enough at night that we weren’t sweltering, and there weren’t too many pesky bugs. I got a few bug bites but they must have been from normal mosquitos and not those mutant ones that make me swell up like crazy.

Bryce Canyon

We were up at a reasonable hour, and in case anyone is wondering — I am the morning person in this relationship. I set the alarm, I get up and get ready, and then I tell Kevin I’m leaving him at camp if he doesn’t get up in five minutes. On the mornings when we’re packing up to leave, I will just start packing everything up around him until he’s forced to get up because I’ve let all the air out of the air mattress and folded up all the blankets.

The beginning of our sticker collection!

We got to the visitor’s center at around 8:30am I believe, and Kevin decided we should just watch the video now since we were already there. I found a card and some stickers for my mom (and stickers for us as well — since we are now collecting stickers from each place we visit and putting them on our cooler!) and we sat down to watch the 22-minute film.

After we watched the movie, we decided we would drive all the way to the far end of the park and work our way back from there. We like to stop at every view point or anywhere that has a sign with information you can read, so this takes awhile. There was a short hike — I think maybe a mile — at the far end of the park that we decided to do to get our legs moving and see the views. It was a great little hike with spectacular views and I cannot remember what it was called so I’ll have to edit this later, but it’s literally at the very end of the park.

We saw a beautiful deer and two rattlesnakes (which give Kevin the creeps but I think they’re cute) on our short hike, and we walked out to each of the viewpoints and decided to practice perfecting our kissing photos. Kevin complains because I am so short and he has to bend over so far, so he always thinks his neck looks wonky. The struggles of being married to someone who is a foot shorter than you!

We meandered back down the road, stopping at every single viewpoint to take pictures and play Pokemon Go (because, we are adults). There weren’t too many people until we ended up right in front of one of the shuttles and we had to make sure we got our pictures before they got there and let everyone off. The photos below were taken just a few minutes apart!

We saw absolutely stunning views everywhere we stopped. I would highly recommend taking the full scenic drive and stopping at each viewpoint. The stops closer to the entrance of the park were more crowded, since that is where many of the hiking trails start and also within the main shuttle route. Although it is sometimes frustrating to try and take a photo without people in the background, I really am happy that the shuttles make it accessible for so many people to visit the park. I think it’s much better to have a shuttle than to have everyone driving and have the need for large parking lots.

People do leave an impact, of course, and we make sure to clean up all of our trash (and occasionally other people’s trash) when we are visiting the parks. Overall, despite the large number of people at Bryce, the park was incredibly clean and people were very kind and respectful of one another.

We wanted to do one of the longer hikes that would take us down into the canyon, but by this time it was around 1:00 or 2:00 and we were really tired and burnt out. We decided we’d hike the next morning and we didn’t need to force ourselves to do a hike if we didn’t want to. We drove into Panguitch to try a different drive in — Henrie’s Drive-In — and this turned out to be a good idea because it started raining the minute we decided to leave the park.

Henrie’s Drive-In — although not as good as Mel’s — did have a bacon burger and it was delicious. We had to wait quite awhile for our food because it was lunchtime in a tourist town, but we didn’t mind. The place was packed but we waited long enough that we snagged a table, and proceeded to listen to an older gentleman telling everyone his entire life story.

I try and be respectful and chat with people who strike up conversations with me (and luckily this gentleman didn’t) but when you’re telling everyone who happens to sit at the table next to yours about your divorce and how you still love your ex-wife and you got 50% of her pension, it’s a bit much. By the time we left, we knew pretty much everything about the last couple of years of this man’s life and he wasn’t even talking to us!

On our way back toward Bryce, we stopped at a local coffee shop (this is turning into a thing of mine, supporting the local coffee shops — especially in Utah) because we needed a little pick-me-up. Hilariously, I ordered a vanilla latte and when she handed me my drink I told Kevin that it definitely looked a lot like a macchiato. But I said nothing and we drove away. Minutes later, when I took a drink it was definitely a caramel macchiato.

I don’t know why, but this was so funny to us. Sure, we’ve had our drinks messed up before. Like you ask for it iced and they make a hot one, or you order a really specific drink (I’m talking to you, mom) and they don’t make it quite to your liking. But I’ve never ordered one drink and received a completely different drink! And no, there was no one else there so I didn’t get someone else’s drink. But, it was a great caramel macchiato so I did not complain!

Despite really wanting to make the most of our day, the coffee did not help as much as we thought it would and we still felt super tired. So we decided to head back to camp and spend the afternoon reading! I read an entire book cover-to-cover (Bird Box – 10/10) and Kevin got halfway through a new book. We had a late dinner and drove around the state park for a bit before it got dark, and then finally we decided to try out these supposedly awesome showers.

I am not exaggerating when I say that the showers at this campground are better than any shower I’ve ever been in. No house, hotel, or spa has had better showers. They are definitely very new, very clean, and have a detachable shower head and a shower that comes out of the ceiling. I shit you not. At a campground. These are the times we live in, and I am here for it. I am here for the glamping experience. Of course, being that they are so nice, there are only two showers in each bathroom — but we didn’t have to wait!

I was already planning to recommend this campground to everyone I knew but now I really will, because damn if that wasn’t the best shower I’ve ever had in my life. We stayed at the Basin Campground. There are 3 campgrounds but I believe this one has the nice facilities. If you did stay at one of the other campgrounds, I’m pretty sure you could still drive over and use the showers if you wanted to do that.

Day Two

We got everything packed up by 9:00. I did have to pack up everything around a sleeping Kevin and he finally got up after all the air had gone out of the air mattress. On our way out, we stopped at a map of the area just outside the park. We saw that there was an arch nearby, just down the gravel road, and it seemed like a cool mini-adventure!

But, some things are just not meant to be and after a whole bunch of driving and turning down dead-end roads we never found it! The elusive arch! I can’t even remember what it was called but one day we will return and we will find it. The only thing we can think of is that we didn’t drive far enough down the road, but we’ll never know.

We decided that since we were already in this “hey where does this road go?” mood, we would take another detour down a road with signs for something like Sheep Creek and Jim Hollow. We ended up on a dirt road and passed a sign saying “dead end” but kept going for several miles, and ended up at some remote, long-forgotten trailhead. We could see Bryce Canyon from there and it looked to be an old trailhead for horseback riding since it was far from anywhere. It had an old bathroom that was in a terrible state, and there were bees nests everywhere (not my jam) so we left fairly quickly but it was sad to see such a neglected and forgotten trailhead. I hope someone comes and fixes it up!

Kevin really wanted to hike Mossy Cave so we stopped there. It’s not really a hike, it’s like a half a mile round trip, so lots of people were there milling about. The cave itself wasn’t that cool but apparently it is covered in icicles in the winter so Kevin definitely wants to come back and see that. He’d already decided that he wanted to come and stay at the lodge at Bryce Canyon this winter. We walked over to the waterfall as well and I walked in the water since I had my sandals. We tried to take a few pictures of the cool colored rocks in the water but they didn’t come out too great. This was actually one of my favorite places and I definitely recommend going. It’s such a quick hike and so worth it to see the waterfall and the surrounding area.

By the time we finished our little walk to Mossy Cave and the waterfall, it was already noon and it was very hot out. Neither of us really wanted to do a long hike and even though a part of me wanted to force myself to do it because we’re here, I resisted and we decided to end our weekend trip and head back home.

It’s so easy to form this mentality that you have to do and see absolutely everything when you travel, and I’m sure there will be times where we visit a place that we might not get a chance to come back to — and those times we’ll force ourselves to keep going even when we’re burnt out — but for now, it’s so nice to be able to say “we can come back” and enjoy an afternoon reading a book with no agenda whatsoever.

It’s also hard on these summer trips because it can get so hot and we are tent camping, so we have no way to just turn on the a/c for a minute. We have mixed it up with some hoteling here and there, but we don’t always get a great night of sleep. I think that if we continue to tent camp in the fall and winter, we’ll sleep better in the cooler temperatures. We also started these weekend adventures in the summer, so next year we’ll probably get an earlier start and visit some places in the springtime when it’s not as hot and not travel during peak summer tourist season.

But I would rather get a crappy night’s sleep and wake up in Kodachrome Basin State Park with that incredible view, than to get a great night’s sleep and wake up in my apartment with nothing to do. We are so privileged and fortunate to be able to do all of this travel, and at some point things will plateau and we won’t be going somewhere every single weekend but for now, I’m enjoying every minute of it.

Published by Sami Hertel

Oregon native, current Utah resident, blogging about my adventures on lifeafteroregon.com!

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