Travel Tips

Tips for A Safe Pandemic Road Trip

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned daily life upside down. It’s been extra frustrating for a travel-lover like myself.  We cancelled a trip to Portugal last month, and it’s hard to foresee any international travel in the near future.   But, we just really needed to get away last weekend.  A local but safe pandemic road trip seemed our best and only realistic option.

I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I have yet to visit all of Utah’s famous Mighty 5 National Parks, despite the fact that I have lived in Utah for most of my life.   Since COVID-19 is forcing us to explore locally, it was the perfect time to check off one of those remaining Mighty 5. First up – Bryce Canyon. It only takes 3.5 hours to drive to Bryce from my house.  I’ve noticed a plethora of Bryce Canyon photos posted by my travel blogging friends on social media. It seems like almost everybody else has been to Bryce.  It was time for me to drive down there and see it for myself! 

Bryce Canyon Amphitheater near Inspiration Point

One reason that I’ve never been to Bryce is the crowds. Utah’s most popular National Parks can be very busy during the best-weather times of year. So I saw a clear potential advantage in taking a road trip to visit this popular local destination in the middle of the pandemic.

But I only decided to take us on this road trip after careful consideration of how to minimize our risks of exposure to COVID-19 while traveling, especially since I firmly believe in aggressive social distancing and mask-wearing.   This post is about how we ended up making our pandemic road trip safer.

You can click here to read my general travel guide to Bryce Canyon National Park and the surrounding area.

Safe Road Trip Lodging

I knew that we would feel safer if we stayed in a vacation rental rather than a hotel. I prefer vacation rentals if possible anyway, but during a pandemic, I wanted to minimize interaction with other people as much as possible.  Plus, I wanted to cut out the check-in process and the potential hallway/lobby interaction with other guests. 

I found the perfect place for us to stay through AirBNB. We stayed at an isolated ranch situated on 280 acres, located 30 minutes from the entrance to Bryce. The Sevier River Ranch had a total of only 6 rental units spread between several buildings.  No staff or host lived onsite and we entered through a coded door lock. Others were staying at the facility, but all had different daily itineraries, so we only saw two other renters during our 3 nights there….and from a distance.  

The entrance to isolated Sevier River Ranch and Cattle Company where we stayed during our pandemic road trip
Entrance to the 280 acre Sevier River Ranch
One of the buildings housing vacation rentals on the Sevier Valley Ranch
Our rental was one of 3 in this building. There were two smaller cabins and a house on the site as well – 6 rental units in total

I was pleasantly surprised by the selection of rentals I had to choose from for the area surrounding Bryce Canyon in general, given that I searched less than 1 week prior to our trip.  Bryce is a popular destination and there aren’t any large towns nearby.  Finding last-minute accommodations would certainly have been a challenge in other years.  I communicated with our AirBNB owner towards the end of our stay by text. He indicated that he is usually booked out well in advance, but not this year unsurprisingly. 

We noticed that most motels in the area had Vacancy.  The hotels in Bryce City near the Park entrance did appear mostly full however, based on the number of cars in the parking lots.  Those are clearly the first choice for many given their proximity to the Park’s entrance. Ruby’s Inn – the most well-known hotel in that area showed a No Vacancy sign.

Extra Cleaning for a Safe Road Trip

During the pandemic, we are all certainly more obsessed with cleaning. We do our grocery shopping as soon as the store opens, primarily hoping to score Clorox Wipes.  Because we have a 5% success rate, I know everyone else is cleaning-obsessed too.  For a safe road trip, we took our cleaning supplies and cleaned our rental as soon as we walked in. We also took our own pillows and blankets.  And of course, we packed plenty of masks.

My mask selection for our Bryce Canyon pandemic road trip
Cleaning supplies are now part of our packing list when taking a road trip

The room at the ranch was newly remodeled with travertine floors and shower, granite counter tops, and handmade wooden furniture.  Yes, rustic luxury!  But the online pictures also showed us how easy it would be to disinfect it ourselves upon arrival. Now, I’m not saying that it wasn’t clean when we arrived. The place was spotless.  We just felt better adding an additional layer of disinfectant when we entered. Mrs. Thorough Tripper, who is OCD with cleaning anyway, wiped down all the hard surfaces and sprayed all the bedding. For a safe road trip, Clorox wipes, disinfectant spray, and hand sanitizer are now wise additions to a packing list.

Inside the Farrier's Quarters at Sevier Valley Ranch.  We felt perfectly isolated here during our road trip
A rustic space with granite, travertine, and stainless steel – easy to wipe down upon arrival

Maximizing Dining Safety

We brought all our breakfast food, drinks, and snacks with us.  I didn’t see a reason to add a trip to an unfamiliar local grocery store. We simply purchased additional food items for our pandemic road trip during our usual weekly outing to our regular store.  

We did dine out for our lunches and dinners, but always ate outside. And we made it a point to eat lunch around 11:30 am and dinner around 5 pm to avoid other patrons. And it worked. We never shared even an outdoor dining space. It was also a relief to find that all restaurant employees were wearing masks (as per State of Utah requirements).

Outdoor dining like these tables IDK BBQ in Tropic Utah helps define a safe road trip
Outdoor Socially Distant Dining at IDK BBQ in Tropic Utah

Timing our Park Visits

It’s always a good idea to enter a popular National Park like Bryce Canyon early in the morning to avoid crowds.  This is an even better idea during a pandemic. We hoped the Park would be less crowded, but we weren’t sure what to expect. Crowd avoidance was one of our top priorities.

We are early risers, so an early entry wasn’t problem for us.  Even with the 30 minute drive, we were able to enter the park each day between 8 and 8:30 am.  At that time, the popular parking lot at Sunset Point was only around 30% full, and we gratefully found few people there. We hiked in and around the spectacular Bryce Amphitheater area each morning for a few hours, leaving the Park in the late morning when the crowds were starting to increase.

An empty trail in Bryce Canyon
Few people on this Bryce amphitheater trail at around 9:30am on Saturday

On our first day, a Saturday, after leaving the Park in the late morning, we did not return, knowing that the bigger crowds would persist. Instead, after lunch, we drove 30 minutes southeast to a nearby State Park called Kodachrome Basin.  It offered a completely different red rock hiking experience than Bryce, and there were only a few people in the whole park.  I counted seven cars, including ours, in the parking lot for the most popular hike.  You can click here to read more about our afternoon in Kodachrome Basin State Park.

The mostly empty parking lot at Kodachrome Basin State Park
This is the parking lot for the two most popular trails in Kodachrome Basin State Park at 1:30 pm on Saturday

On our second day, a Sunday, we also left the Park in the late morning after an early start, and went back to the Ranch to relax for a few hours.  We returned to the park after an early dinner and spent the evening driving the length of the park, stopping at the various viewpoints and hiking a trail at the end of the Park. During these early evening hours, there were only a few cars in each parking lot along this route, and we saw only a handful of people.   

We did stop back at the Bryce Amphitheater for another look at the Hoodoos in the evening light.  Again, this is the most popular spot in the Park, yet the large parking lot was about 70% full and the Rim was much less crowded than midday.

So How Crowded was the Park Compared to Usual?

I mentioned at the beginning of this post how I hoped for a less-crowded park overall, surmising that the pandemic would effect the number of visitors. So was I right?

I spoke with the ranger as we entered the Park for the final time on Sunday evening. I asked about the weekend visitor count compared to usual for this time of year.  She estimated about half the usual visitors for the weekend – Father’s Day weekend in June.

We spoke to various restaurant staff, too. They indicated that the lack of the usual European tourists was a definite blow to their businesses, but there did seem to be an increase in local tourists to help compensate somewhat.   

Bryce has a shuttle and encourages visitors to use it to go from spot to spot in the Park, since parking is usually very difficult to find on summer weekends especially.  I watched the shuttle at various times through our stay, and never saw anyone get on or off.  The Park just wasn’t busy enough on this mid-June summer weekend during a pandemic for parking to be at a premium. 

A View across the length of Bryce Canyon National Park near Rainbow Point
A view from the Southern edge of Bryce Canyon at Rainbow Point back along the length of the Park

Socially Distant Hiking in Bryce Canyon

Because we timed our Park entry for off peak hours, and because the Park was significantly less busy anyway,  socially distant hiking wasn’t difficult.  On our first morning, we hiked the most popular trails in the Park – Navajo Loop and Queens Garden.  With our early start we were able to easily avoid close contact with anyone else on the trail. The trail was wide enough and there were few hikers.  Towards the later half of this two-hour hike, the trail did become more crowded with hikers coming down into the hoodoos from the other direction.  At times, we had to wait and let larger groups pass, but we could always find a spot to stand and maintain a comfortable distance.  We wore masks around our necks and placed them over our lower face in those situations where a preferred distance couldn’t be maintained.  

The Navajo Loop Trail in Bryce Canyon
Not many people on the popular Navajo Loop Trail at 8:30 am on Saturday

When soaking in the spectacular amphitheater views from the various platforms along the Rim,  I noticed that markers had been placed to encourage socially distant viewing.  I’m sure these were useful during peak visitor hours.

Reminders to stand socially distant at a Bryce Canyon Rim viewpoint contribute to a safe road trip
Markers for Socially Distant Viewing at a popular Viewpoint in the Park

On our second day, we hiked less-frequented trails in the park.  We found that these were less crowded than our regular weekly hiking trails along the Wasatch foothills near our home. 

The Rim Trail near Bryce Point in Bryce Canyon National Park
We encountered only a few other hikers along the Rim Trail between Inspiration Point and Bryce Point on Sunday morning.

My Pandemic Road Trip Tips

So in summary, here are my tips for a safe pandemic road trip:

  1. Opt for a vacation rental if possible.  Try to stay close to your ultimate destination or site, but try to avoid potentially crowded hotels.  Self check-in is a plus.
  2. For a safe road trip, your packing list should now include Masks, Clorox Wipes, Disinfectant Spray, and Hand Sanitizer. Consider taking your own pillows and blankets.
  3. Clean hard surfaces upon arrival to your lodging. Most hotels and rentals are certainly taking extra cleaning precautions, but you can never be too careful during a pandemic.
  4. Reduce trips to an unfamiliar grocery store by taking some of your own non-perishable food, drinks, and snacks from home.
  5. When you do eat at a restaurant, limit yourself to take-out or eating outside.  And visit these establishments at off-peak hours to avoid other diners.
  6. Visit your intended destination or site during off peak hours – usually early or later in the day.
  7. Try to find a less commonly visited area during peak hours.
  8. Consider purchasing travel insurance. Several companies offer coverage if your trip is interrupted due to COVID. Here’s an excellent summary of several travel insurance companies from Money.com. I personally have used Allianz for some of my subsequent pandemic road trips.

This isn’t my only post on Bryce Canyon National Park 🙂 I also have written a general travel guide for Bryce Canyon, and a post focusing on Kodachrome Basin State Park. Plus, I have since applied these principles during another road trip to Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park

The information contained in this Post is not a substitute for medical or health advice from a professional who is an expert on epidemiology, public health, virology, or COVID-19 specifically. Following this advice does not guarantee that you will not contract COVID-19 or any other illness while traveling. Please click here to see my full disclaimer

20 Comments

  • Lannie Travels

    Great tips on how to travel during covid! It’s so smart to wipe down everything, even if the rental was spotless. I also can’t believe you managed to avoid crowds. Well planned and nice work!

    Hope it was a great trip! Looked like it.

    • thethoroughtripper

      We are going to have to change how we travel for a little while, but I think local travel at least can be done safely with some forethought. It was sooo nice to get away even for just a few days!

  • Yara

    Such great tips Steven! You got me at isolated ranch – seems like the best way to be enjoying these crazy times. We’ve been traveling with our “COVID BAG” – filled with cleaning essentials, sanitizer, masks, gloves and the whole shebang. Nothing compared to socially distant hiking in Bryce Canyon though…

  • Emma

    Such good tips. I had my first weekend away this weekend since all of this began and did a lot of these things too. Eating outside when possible, keeping distant, masks at the ready. I also found it quieter than usual. I would love to visit Bryce but I think I have to wait a while longer. This is a great taste for when I do though

    • thethoroughtripper

      We really are lucky! Several different other national parks relatively close that we can visit later this summer too!

  • Riana Ang-Canning

    Great tips! I especially like what you were saying about packing snacks and breakfast items to avoid going to a grocery store – not just to keep yourself safe but also for the local community. And that park looks gorgeous! Glad it wasn’t as crowded as usual.

  • Linda Kouwenhoven

    What a great blog about what to think about with travelling as we move forward. Road trips might be more popular for awhile so this is perfect. Loved that you are getting to explore close to home and get those parks checked off your list 🙂 stay safe!

  • Becky Exploring

    I really enjoyed reading about your local trip, not only because I’ve always wanted to visit Bryce Canyon, but also to see how national parks are handling the re-opening and social distancing. Did you find that most other visitors were observing the social distancing guidelines and wearing masks? These tips you provided for a safe roadtrip are great!

    • thethoroughtripper

      I would say that it was about 50/50 in the Park. Just like it was in most of Utah at the time. Now, two weeks later, with masks required in Salt Lake City, everyone is taking it much more seriously….

  • Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad

    Fantastic tips on travelling safely right now! Glad you are managing to explore more of what’s on your doorstep, I think that’s a great thing to be able to do right now. Sure won’t be taking things for granted after this. 🙂

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