Bryce Canyon – Being spontaneous is not as great as it sounds

By Jeff Stein / September 21, 2015

Planning can make or break your time in Bryce Canyon. I did not plan because I’m adventurous, I’m spontaneous, I’m so much more exciting than people who organize and draw up schedules. Long story short, all of THOSE people were enjoying the canyon while I begged, borrowed and stole to secure a campsite.

I arrived by car, by myself, in early August while the entire United States was on vacation, in Bryce Canyon, and I still somehow believed I would take my pick of campsites. Because of my charm (someone cancelled), I eventually secured a spot in the Sunset Campground.

While I was in an area that did not allow generators or large vehicles, my site was near enough to the Winnebago-friendly loop that I could sense the humming of 50 plus generators working to cool their occupants and power their flat screen televisions. I could have taken a few minutes of planning before my trip to nail down a campsite in the North Campground, which forbids generators and vehicles more than 20 feet long throughout the entire campground. But remember, I was being spontaneous and fun! I was also friendless, so the Sunset Group Area, where the minimum number of people per site is seven, was never an option.

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Why I was glad for company at the campground and skipped backcountry camping.

There is backcountry camping just off the trails in the Bryce Amphitheater. Those that I passed while hiking made me seethe with jealousy as they are among the most serene and charming spots in the park. There were also mountain lion sightings in those areas. Being alone, I was happy for the safety of my campground neighbors.

All the campgrounds and their facilities are first class but really, they are simply lovely places to regenerate between hikes and vista spotting, the reason you are coming to one of the crowned jewels of the parks system.

If I had to pick one hike that summarized the Bryce experience, it would be the Hat Shop. The “hats” are the hoodoos, the perilously balanced boulders atop narrow rock columns. Do not try to tip one of the rocks off of its mount. Two Boy Scout leaders pulled a similar stunt a few years back and now they are among the most hated people in America.

To reach the Hat Shop, you start from Bryce Point at the edge of the rim. It’s a there-then-back four mile (6.46 k) hike. While there is nothing complicated like wall-scaling, it is a nearly 1500 (438 m) foot descent within two miles (6.46 km), then you walk that same amount back, uphill. I did this during high heat of day in August because I’m not too smart.

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You know someone will be upset when they find out the Hat Shop does not sell hats.

The hike to Hat Shop gives you all the feelings and views you could want. From the wide-expanse of the green and orange canyon below, to being in the middle of what looks and feels like Mars. The trails are also closely intertwined so no need to return to Bryce Point right away. There’s always a fork in the road, a new adventure.

You can arrive at Bryce Point by car or by shuttle. I drove but regretted my choice after doing several hikes the first day. I was spent and it would have been a luxury to sit in the A/C, sip water and stare out the window while someone else navigated the crowded parking lot.

Back at Sunset Campground that first night, there was no more humming (generators are not allowed, anywhere, after 8pm) and I was too tired to fire up the grill and cook. I did manage to pop the top off a frosty bottle of beer and finish a bag of home-made beef (?) jerky bought somewhere a week earlier in Arizona. There were a million stars to wish on, I had never seen such a night sky. My only wish was that I had done more planning so I could have started my fun hours earlier.

About the author

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein writes about travel, cars and life in Queens, New York, with his puggle, Harry. In 2013, he drove through all 48-contiguous United States in a two-seat Nissan 370Z while visiting many of the greatest state and national parks. Jeff can’t wait to do it again but next time he wants a vehicle big enough for fully-reclined sleeping, cooking and a TV.

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