Bryce Canyon is really cool. Super gorgeous scenery, fun hiking, good wildlife. It’s a place you have to visit in your lifetime. But it’s busy, busy, busy, so we were planning to avoid it this time around. Instead, we focused on all the places around Bryce that are overlooked because they aren’t National Parks. NPS says: Did You Know? The difference between a National Monument and a National Park is the way they are created. National Parks require Congressional approval, while National Monuments are established by an Executive Order of the President. We say, ignore the bureaucracy and enjoy ALL the public lands that cover Utah, especially these less crowded alternatives to Bryce Canyon National Park:
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Full disclosure: we didn’t actually stop at Cedar Breaks National Monument, because it was snowing. For all my talk about wanting to see the desert in the snow, when I’m actually in the desert in the snow I just want to get out. Cedar Breaks looks the most like Bryce Canyon: sandstone hoodoos in an alpine amphitheater. But no one goes to Cedar Breaks!
The day we almost froze we spent the night in the Red Canyon campground in the Dixie National Forest just a few miles from Bryce. Most visitors to Red Canyon drive through on their way from Bryce to Zion National Park. Some stop in the visitor’s center parking lot and take a picture of the few hoodoos you can see from that angle. Few people go any deeper into the park, so they have no idea what fantastic formations await just beyond the main canyon. We hiked a few of the trails around the visitor’s center and one of the trails that led up into the hills from the campground and found some spectacularly unexpected views. And we just scratched the surface.
Kodachrome Basin State Park
As you drive east from Bryce Canyon, you’re driving through some amazing landscape. Kodachrome Basin is a few miles east of Bryce — but the 9 mile drive off the main highway makes all the difference in crowd levels. What this basin lacks in hoodoos it makes up for in colorful badland formations. Plus, you can see the Bryce basin in the distance from the drive. If you have a rugged vehicle, you can continue past the State Park as the road turns to dirt and enters Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, leading to a whole lot more adventure.
But wait: there’s more! The entire area is beautiful, so explore it. Got a tip on an awesome stop? Leave it in the comments.