It’s not often that I make these kinds of statements, but I feel strongly that the very best hiking trail for kids in Bryce Canyon National Park is Mossy Cave Trail. This discovery came after way too many hours road-tripping with kids who alternated between covering me in stickers, begging for Ipads, and asking, “No, but really, are we there yet?”
The relief of having happy kids run off exploring cannot be overstated.
Would Mossy Cave be my personal favorite hike in Bryce Canyon National Park if I were footloose and fancy-free? No…but as long as I have my kids along, it shall reign supreme.
When the Kids Don’t Love Hiking
To understand where I’m coming from, you need to know that despite our best intentions when our children were born, we have apparently not been raising mountaineers. I don’t know what we did to traumatize them, but the mere mention of the word “hike” will bring them to literal tears.
“I don’t get it. You’re just walking and walking for nothing.” This is an actual quote from my eldest child. (I am gratefully accepting thoughts, prayers, and sympathy cards, because it is quite painful to hear your flesh and blood say these words.)
Footwear is another problem. My three-year-old has been wearing the same pair of Lightning McQueen Crocs for about eighteen months, and that includes through winter. My middle child is my best adventurer in general, but will only wear a pair of hand-me-down tennis shoes that are two sizes too big. And yes, I buy them other shoes. They sit, unworn, in a big pile, a monument to terrible mothering in my front hallway.
I did manage to get two out of three into decent hiking shoes for this trip after the grandparents intervened…that’s a win, right?
Which brings me to the actual hiking. Our first day in Bryce Canyon National Park, we viewed heart-stopping vistas in the main park from the Rim Trail. I kept gasping in awe, but the kids were sort of “eh” about the whole thing. “Yeah, it’s pretty. Can we go now?” (Where’s my eye roll emoji when I need it?)
That first day in Bryce was also spent in high-alert mode, as I tried to keep my three-year-old from falling off the canyon rim to certain death — and all my kids from pushing each other off the edge.
Because I was committed to hiking on this trip, we did attempt the Queen’s Garden trail, the easiest trail down to the floor of the canyon. Two of the kids turned back with grandma after about ten feet. Although my sturdiest hiker did go farther down the trail with me, let’s just say I didn’t bring enough candy along to make it clear to the valley floor. Willy Wonka wouldn’t have had enough candy, actually, on that day.
Arrival at Mossy Cave Trail
Which means I was feeling rather discouraged about the whole hiking thing by the time we made it to Mossy Cave Trail. However, at 0.4 miles to the promised “mossy cave,” less than one mile round trip, I was determined to complete this one short trail. (Also, we stopped at the General Store at Ruby’s Inn for provisions before we set off. Just in case.)
I needn’t have worried. Almost immediately after starting off, the kids spied the stream, and if there’s one thing my kids do love, it’s a river. After that, they were good to go, racing over bridges and inspecting rocks as I kept staring up, instead, at the hoodoos that popped splendidly against the bright blue sky.
The trail ends at Mossy Cave, a grotto formed by an underground spring. Here you’ll find a cool rock overhang where the temperature drops precipitously. In April, we could see both lichen growing as well as some larger icicles left over from winter.
Why Mossy Cave Trail is the PERFECT Hike for Kids and Families
First of all, this is a pretty part of the park. While the hoodoos aren’t as dense here as other places, you will be down among them, for a different perspective on the rock formations that are the main attraction of Bryce Canyon.
Mossy Cave Trail is mostly level, rising to a minimal incline at the end, just enough that the three-year-old can feel like he really hiked. And it is only 0.8 miles — round-trip.
In this short distance you will find all the simple joys of the perfect kid-friendly hike: bridges, a waterfall, a rushing stream, trees, and rocks.
After crossing the second bridge, the trail forks, and you can go left to Mossy Cave, or right for a closer look at the waterfall.
Fun fact: the water here is not from a true river but Tropic Ditch, a man-made stream created by the pioneers who needed a water sources for irrigation.
How to Get to Mossy Cave Trail
The Mossy Cave trailhead is located on the north side of Bryce Canyon National Park, outside the fee station part of the park, on Highway 12. This makes it a good choice on a day that you don’t want to face the crowds inside the park. There are trailhead toilets there, but pack plenty of water — even in April with snow on the hills it was still quite hot in the sun.