Zion National Park
Enjoy Beautiful Zion National Park
Zion National Park in Utah, is a wonderful place for a family vacation. The stunning scenery will be enjoyed by every member of the family, and there are hikes for all ages and abilities. From easy paved trails do-able with strollers to more interesting moderate uphill hikes to steep hikes with sheer cliff drop-offs for the fearless older kids. And who can't resist a mule ride in such a gorgeous canyon. Whether you are walking riverside along the Virgin River, or fearlessly hiking Angel's Landing, I daresay you might just enjoy it more than the Grand Canyon. Zion National Park is so majestic, and you can explore it at every level. You can certainly make and enjoy a trip to Zion National Park with kids. Keep reading to find more information about which trails to enjoy with your kids.
Zion National Park, located in southwest Utah, is Utah's oldest and most visited national park. With towering cliffs on each side of the canyon, it's easy to see why nearly three million visitors head here each year. The Virgin River carved out the sandstone over millions of years to reveal the beautiful canyon that is now Zion National Park. Activities at Zion include hiking, biking, canyoneering, camping, horseback riding and off roading to name a few.
Zion and Utah Books
Springdale is the closest town to Zion National Park, and has plenty of options for lodging and dining, as well as a market where you can buy your snacks or have a sandwich made at the deli for your trip into the park. Springdale offers a small town feel, while catering to the visitors and residents of Zion National Park. Springdale also offers some outfitters and stores for your hiking needs. Staying in Springdale will allow you to watch the sun set on the gorgeous red and white cliffs in the evening, and you will wake up to sun rising on the opposite yet equally beautiful cliffs. The virgin river continues down along town, and some people were even tubing down the river, yet another fun activity.
Leave your car and hop the shuttle
Zion National Park offers a bus shuttle service, from April to October, to get you from town to the park entrance, and then throughout the park. Leave your car at your hotel or on the side of the road and grab the shuttle. In the summer they start running at about 5:40am, but check the schedule. During these months no private vehicles are allowed on the scenic drive, only shuttle buses. Nowhere in Springdale is too far from the park, and actually if you are a bit further from the park the shuttle is less full when you get on so less chance of having to wait for another bus if the shuttle is full, which can happen at stops closer to the park. There are six shuttle stops in Springdale in each direction, and eight stops within the park. You will transfer from the Springdale buses to the Zion buses at the turn around loop at the Visitor's Center. After disembarking the Springale bus you will take a short walk and pass through the park entrance and pay booth then continue on towards the Visitor's Center and Zion shuttles. At the Visitor Center area there is plenty of information about the park and the different trails, as well as restrooms, benches and water bottle refill stations.
Lunch Options - Buy Ahead
Pack your lunch to go at Zion
We personally preferred to pack a lunch rather than have to plan hikes around lunch time hours. Springdale has a small supermarket called Cafe Soleil, where you can buy all sorts of necessities, snacks, lunchables, or back at the deli they will make you a personalized sandwich to go. Beware though when we visited, the deli only opened at 8am, so if you want a sandwich earlier than that you will have to buy a pre-made one, or get it a day ahead if you have a mini-fridge in your hotel.
Zion Lodge also serves ice cream, and serves food as well.
Water in the Park
As with most national parks now, Zion National Park does not sell plastic water bottles in the park. Bring a camelbak water carrier or some sort of refillable water bottle. They do provide water refilling stations at various points throughout the park. Remember, you will need plenty of water and some snacks to keep you hydrated. Hike smart, hike safe!
Portable Water Carriers - Hydrate yourself
It is imperative that everyone have adequate amounts of water or other liquids to keep you well hydrated while hiking. A popular choice for easy portability and access is a water pouch that you simply carry on your back and access via a tube over your shoulder. It leaves your hands free for balance and climbing, and you won't need to constantly have to take off a backpack for a sip. Kids love this fun way of bringing their own water.
Buy them here on Amazon, they are more expensive in Springdale!
Watchman Trail at Zion Canyon
Right from Zion's visitor center you can cross the road and begin the Watchman Trail. At first it is quite level as it meanders along a little stream, then it heads towards the hills and gets gradually more steep, but it is a nice hike with a moderate slope but nothing too strenuous. When you need to stop to catch your breath you will enjoy the view of the surrounding cliffs. There are minor drop-offs on the trail, but I was very comfortable with my 8,10,13 year olds on his trail. There were maybe three spots where the path was very narrow and we just told the kids to stay single file, go slow and keep hillside. The trail ends at a nice overlook of the canyon. We started this trial by about 9:30am in summer heat. There were some bits of shade under rock outcroppings or small trees. We stopped to take photos, look for lizards, water and snack breaks, and it took us about 1.5 hours for ascent and about 30 min. for descent. A beautiful start to our trip. This is apparently not one of the more popular trails but we enjoyed it for our family.
Zion's Watchman Trail PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
Kayenta Trail and Upper Emerald Pool at Zion Canyon
My 8 and 10 year olds joined me on this trail while my 13 yr old and my husband chose a more difficult trail. We chose the Kayenta trail since at the time of our visit the trail linking the emerald pools was closed, so this was the way to get to the middle and upper pools. Once again it was another beautiful hike. About the first two thirds of the hike are quite easy, not too strenuous, some uphill portions then some relatively flat sections. Mostly moderately wide trails, a few long drop-offs, but we stuck to the hillside and were fine. The middle pools were small, or at least during our visit in the summer; not too much water.
The last portion of the trail to the upper emerald pool is virtually full sun exposure (so start early) and quite steep. In fact my daughter really wanted to quit and turn around. Your destination is the cliff face so you can sort of judge it from there. Pace yourself and persevere. The destination is a pretty upper emerald pool, with large climbing/sitting rocks, and more importantly plenty of shade. Sit down, enjoy the shade, drink up and have a snack.
We started before 9am, and were back down by 11am. Leaving much later in the summer will be a hot hike, get this one done early.
Kayenta Trail at Zion CanyonClick thumbnail to view full-size
Take a Mule Ride
When your legs have had enough, why not hop on a mule and go for one of the most scenic mule rides in the U.S.? The corral is right across the road from Zion Lodge, and they start the ride by crossing through the river, then head out towards the three patriarchs, by meandering along the Virgin River. It was an easy, one hour (half day also available) enjoyable ride for beginners to advanced riders. Our guide was very nice and informative. Riders must be at least 7 yrs old, and not weigh more than 220 lbs. Check directly with the corral for current details and restrictions. Canyon Rides
Weeping Rock Trail
Easy and short but steep
For us this was just a short afternoon diversion. We did longer hikes in the morning and short ones in the afternoon. This is a paved trail almost to the end, but honestly would be tough to push a stroller up. Have the kids walk or put them on your shoulder, it is quite steep. Luckily it's short. Your destination is a big rock outcropping that provides a shady, mossy, dripping hideout and overlook to the surrounding mountains.
If you plan on hiking on any of the unpaved trails at Zion National Park, you should invest in a good pair of hiking boots, for yourself and your children. Hiking boots will give your feet and ankles the support they need on these rough, uneven, rocky paths.
Beautiful Zion National Park
Get a Great Tilley Hat
A good hat is almost as important as a good pair of hiking boots. It will keep the sun and heat off your face and head. A wide brimmed hat will add that much more protection. Tilley Endurable hats are worth the extra expense. They are extremely durable, washable and great for travelers.
Hidden Canyon Trail at Zion
Only my husband and thirteen year old did this trail. We thought it would be a bit too much for our younger ones, both in feat and fear. Hidden Canyon trail begins at the same shuttle stop as Weeping Rock, and has a fair ascent to begin the trek. The two of them enjoyed the hike, although there were some parts of the trail that had narrow ledges, sheer drop-offs and no chains to hold onto. Other parts of the trail did provide chains. They had a great view of the canyon as well as another hidden canyon, hence the name. Although it is listed as a three hour hike they were done in about two and a half hours, but always allow yourself extra time. At the end of the trail is the start of the hidden canyon, and you can continue to walk through this canyon to a beautiful arch.
Canyon Overlook Trail at Zion
This is a fun, scenic one hour hike that is well worth the visit, especially if you are entering or leaving Zion National Park via the Mt. Carmel Hwy. it does have some drop-offs and an uneven trail, so use your judgement regarding the ability of your kids, but our 8, 10, and 13 yr old were fine and enjoyed it. The trail ends at the overlook of the canyon and the road, it is a stunning view! Several great photo-ops and climbing rocks along the way.
If you are leaving Zion, this trail/parking starts RIGHT outside the tunnel, so be prepared or you will pass it, as we did.
Angel's Landing is perhaps one of the most popular trails, after The Narrows, at Zion National Park. With an elevation gain of 1488 feet, it is a steady uphill hike. While the first part of the trail is paved, the last part of the trail is not for these with a fear of heights, nor for younger children. There are exposed cliffs and narrow ledges, with chains to hold onto. Due to its popularity, it can also be a busy and congested trail, so also factor that into safety considerations if you are thinking of taking children on the hike. Our family did not do this hike, we chose to keep it for when they are older. It is a hike we would love to do, but in the future.
The Narrows is probably the most popular hike at Zion National Park. Instead of hiking along a dry path up a mountain, you allow the river to be your trail and take you between the soaring walls, sandstone grottos and natural springs. The gorge is 16 miles long, 2000 feet deep and in some spots just 25 feet wide. It is such a different experience it is hard to resist.
There are three main ways to hike the Narrows: from the bottom up and back as ar as you want, from top to bottom in one day or from top to bottom overnight. Many people choose the first option, which is to ake the shuttle to the ad stop the Temple of Sinawava, then walk down the one mile Riverside Walk to the river and begin, going as far as you want, then turning around and coming back the way you came. The full 16 mile hike from top to bottom takes a good 12 or more hours, so research and plan accordingly.
The fun of The Narrows is that you hike in the river, but that is what also contributes to the more strenuous and sometimes more dangerous conditions. You will be walking, and sometimes swimming, in a cold, swiftly moving river with slippery rock bottom. If you plan to hike The Narrows with children, please consider their height and strength in relation to the river at the time you will be traveling.
Due to the chilly water temperatures, and uneven rocky bottom, many people chose to rent or buy special socks, boots, hiking sticks and other equipment for the hike. Rental equipment for The Narrows whether you rent or not, most hikers recommend some sort of hiking stick, or two. A hiking stick, or suitable branch, will not only provide you with stability against he current and uneven bottom but will also allow you to "feel" the bottom for potholes, or provide an assist to someone else. The kiddies will want a stick for all of those reasons and because it's just more fun!
Remember, use the restrooms before heading to the river.