We love living life unplanned, but arriving at Bryce Canyon National Park on a Saturday, during the peak tourist season, without a campground reservation, was pushing the limits even for us. This park receives nearly 1.75 million visitors a year, many of whom plan their visits several months, if not years, ahead of time. And yet here we were, rolling into town with no guarantee that we would find a place to call home that night.
What we lacked in campground reservations, however, we made up for with a set of GPS coordinates—coordinates that we hoped would lead to a secret boondocking site near the park. Boondocking, or dispersed camping, means camping for free out in the “boonies” without water, electricity, or sewer. There are quite a few boondocking sites on BLM land in the southwest, if you can find them. We found these GPS coordinates on an RV blog post from a few years ago and crossed our fingers that the information was still accurate.
Following the coordinates, we turned off of the main road onto a smaller road and then onto a dirt road that disappeared into a grove of trees. We drove through the trees and found ourselves in a small clearing at the edge of what looked like ranching land. When we saw evidence of an old campfire, we knew this was it—this was the site we had read about! It took us a little while to get the RV leveled, but once we were set up we felt right at home. We loved it so much that we ended up staying here for four nights.
We knew we were lucky to find this (free!) secluded spot just a few miles from Bryce Canyon, but we didn’t realize just how lucky until we were heading into the park for the first time and we came across Ruby’s—one of the biggest tourist traps we have ever seen.
Ruby Syrett bought the land in 1916, intending to use it for ranching, but he quickly discovered how lucrative the tourism industry could be. His grandson runs the family business now and the 2300-acre complex has grown to include Ruby’s Inn, Ruby’s Cafe, Ruby’s Restaurant (which is different from Ruby’s Cafe), Ruby’s Grocery Store, Ruby’s RV Park, Ruby’s Gas Station, Ruby’s Rodeo Arena, and more. As the only game in town (because they actually own the town now, too) Ruby’s was crowded and overpriced and ridiculous, and Kevin started humming circus music each time we drove through on our way to and from the park. We were so lucky to have our quiet little spot down the road, all to ourselves.
Bryce Canyon National Park is famous for its hoodoos, tall spires of rock formed by weather and the effects of erosion. Also called goblins, these unique formations give the landscape an otherworldly feel. It is one thing to see them in photos, but another thing to actually see them in person.
On our first afternoon in the park, we brought Noah with us. He wasn’t physically able to hike because of his mobility issues, and we didn’t want to leave him in the car, so we did a driving tour of the park and showed him all of the beautiful viewpoints. Over the next two days, we did a few short day hikes while Noah relaxed back at the RV.
The Queens Garden Trail and Navajo Loop Trail are both very busy, but worth doing. They are easy hikes and let you get up close and personal with the hoodoos. We can see why they are two of the most popular hikes at the park. Our favorite hike was the Swamp Canyon/Sheep Creek Loop. The scenery was beautiful and we only saw one other group of hikers. It was very peaceful.
If you’ve never been to Bryce Canyon, we highly recommend putting it on your list. We have been impressed with all of the National Parks we have seen so far, but this is one of our favorites. It’s just so unique. You can read more about Bryce Canyon and hoodoos here.
It was finally time to pack up and say good-bye to our secret campsite. From there we headed south to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, which is where we will pick up with our next blog post. See you on down the road!