Photo: Family on cliff of a canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park's famous hoodoos stick up like spires from the Utah desert. Hoodoos are formed when ice and rainwater wear away limestone.

Photograph by David Epperson, Backroads

By Kim Brown Seely

Backroads’ multisport loop through Bryce, Grand Canyon, and Zion National Parks is the ideal family primer to the American Southwest. The all-hike-and-bike itineraries quickly get you into the high-desert landscape beneath hoodoos and rock spires—and except for a few shuttle points, you’re on your own power the whole way.

Day one takes you directly to the Grand Canyon, where you’ll camp right on the North Rim. Kids ride mules along the edge of the canyon while adults can opt to descend into its depths on a windy nine-mile (14-kilometer) hike down the Kaibab Trail. Next, a Backroads van will leapfrog you on to another park: Bryce Canyon, where you’ll hike out from a maze of arches, walls, and pinnacles to Inspiration and Bryce Points. Then join a 33-mile (53-kilometer) out-and-back biking trip through blue spruce and Douglas fir forests to Rainbow Point, Bryce’s highest lookout, at 9,115 feet (2,778 meters).

“We have terrific van support,” says marketing manager Lee Micheaux. “So older kids can pedal ahead, and younger ones can shuttle out to the Point and ride back.” Then it’s on to Zion, where you’ll wade into the inner gorge of the Virgin River, with canyon walls jutting up 1,000 feet (300 meters). If your clan’s not up for camping, nights are spent traveling from inn to inn—where a massage or a swim in the hotel pool is on the roster.

Where to Play

“There’s always an option kids can do easily,” says Micheaux, and parents choose between mellow and more intense activities. While kids do an eight-mile (13-kilometer) pedal from Bryce toward Red Canyon, adults can make theirs up to 49 miles (79 kilometers). Kids spend their final day scrambling slots at Water Canyon. While youngsters rappel down canyon walls, adults can tackle steep climbs to Angels Landing, a sheer rock wedge looming 1,500 feet (457 meters) above the valley floor.

At Day's End

“For a mother, it’s like heaven,” says Micheaux. “The guides do everything!” While guides set up camp, cook dinner, and organize games, parents sit back with a cold brew. One night is set aside for staff to take kids into town for pizza, while grown-ups hang back for an adults-only fireside dinner.

Details

6 days; $1,998 per person for deluxe camping, $2,398 per person for casual inns; www.backroads.com

Based on articles from National Geographic Adventure and updated by Greer Schott

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