Kristina Bullock from Million Miler Mom shares with us her best tips for visiting Zion National Park with kids. From when to go and what to pack, all your questions will be answered!
Living in California, I have an amazing landscape right outside my door but, over the years, I tended to ignore what was closeby for adventures in far off places. About a year ago, I was putting together a travel plan for 2020 which was going to have my family and I exploring the majestic town of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico and then jetting off to South Korea and The Philippines. Then, the pandemic happened and, suddenly, our passports were useless and we found ourselves going stir crazy in our own home trying to juggle two demanding full-time jobs and three young kids, two of which were distance learning.
In an effort to regain some of our sanity, we decided to do something we hadn’t done since we had kids: a road trip. Knowing I had three small humans to entertain, I searched for places where we would have a variety of options for things to do and Southern Utah jumped to the top of the list being home to the beautiful Zion National Park as well as several other state parks. It ticked off all our boxes: affordable, comfortable accommodations, reasonable driving distance and interesting sights to see.
Thinking about road tripping to Utah and Zion National Park? Here are some things to consider:
You Can Only Drive To Certain Spots In The Park
At the current time, private vehicles can only go as far as the Zion Lodge. To access most of the hiking trails, you will want to utilize the Zion shuttle. For day use, entering from the East (through the Zion Tunnel) or South Entrance will allow you to reach the main parking lot at the Visitors Center. From here, it is a very short walk to Shuttle Stop #1.
You will need a ticket to board the bus (see the Zion National Park page for the latest guidance on getting a ticket). Tickets are $1.00 each (kids under 2 on an adult’s lap do not need a ticket). Also, this is completely separate from park entrance so do be aware you’ll need park admission plus shuttle tickets.
The Narrows Is As Awesome As It Sounds…But It Can Get Busy
If you look at images of Utah, you will likely see the world-famous gorge with the sheer rock walls thousands of feet high and the Virgin River passing through. The trail itself is actually the river which adds to the unique experience. To avoid the crowds, we booked one of the earlier shuttles from the parking lot and were able to get slightly ahead of the masses.
There are a few options for The Narrows and we opted for the “bottoms up” hike from the Temple of Sinawava (no permit required for this). I was with my mom and two daughters, 7 and 5 years old, so we walked up for about 15 minutes and then turned around. That was the perfect distance for everyone to experience this site without getting into the much deeper water where you are sometimes required to swim.
You will see many people outfitted in full gear and special shoes with walking sticks – mainly folks without younger kids in tow. We opted for basic water shoes for support on the sometimes slippery rocks and wore quick dry clothing.
Hikes For Everyone
While there are some strenuous trails at the park, you’ll also find some that are much easier and, even stroller friendly! Both Riverside Walk (to access The Narrows) and the Weeping Rock Trail are great for tiny hikers or pushing a jogging stroller, though I’d recommend a hiking backpack to be more agile on these somewhat busy trails. Pa’rus Trail provides another easier hike, however, it is quite exposed to the sun so not the best choice for the hotter summer months.
We ended up doing the Riverside Walk and a bit of The Narrows as the first excursion followed by a shuttle ride down to The Grotto for a picnic lunch. We then walked the very easy Grotto Trail which ended at the Zion Lodge where we rewarded our crew with soft serve ice cream cones.
It Can Get Pretty Darn Hot
Granted, we went in August, when triple-digit temps are the norm. But, thankfully the park was a bit cooler than the nearby towns and there are an abundance of trees for some shade. While the Virgin River does look tempting, swimming or submerging into the water is discouraged due to a cyanobacteria bloom which can cause issues in children. We took caution with the kids to avoid an accidental fall into the water and didn’t let our toddler play too close to the water either.
In the surrounding vicinity of Zion, you’ll also find a few other options to cool down including the Mars-like red sand beaches at Sand Hollow State Park in Hurricane (about 40 minutes from the park) and at the many splash pads in St. George and Hurricane.
Consider Where To Call “Home Base”
There is quite a bit to do in Southern Utah so consider whether you want to be within a stone’s throw to the park or closer to St. George for more options with dining and things to do. If you want to do multiple entries into the park, the town of Springdale is adjacent to the park entrance and will allow you to leave your car at your hotel or house rental to avoid the busy parking lot.
If you want more square footage, nearby Hurricane offers a lot of houses that are quite affordable and perfect for families. St. George will also offer the same, likely a bit higher price tag, but you have the advantage of easy freeway access to explore and lots of dining options.
What To Pack
Once you enter the park, you will likely need to leverage the shuttle system (be sure to check if you need a reservation) unless you plan to hike or bike up to the trailhead you want to access. Because of this, I definitely recommend packing light as space on the bus is limited and you’ll need to carry everything you bring with. We brought a backpack carrier for our toddler, a larger backpack that the other parent would wear and then our two daughters each wore their backpack (with built-in water). We packed:
- Shoes (wore sturdier walking shoes with socks and packed water shoes)
- A packable absorbent towel to dry off after changing back into dry shoes and socks
- A wet bag for the wet gear on the way home
- Plenty of water
- Snacks and picnic lunch (while there is a restaurant at the lodge, bringing your own food allows more flexibility in where to eat)
- Basic stuff for our toddler (diapers, wipes, change of clothes)
Kristina Bullock is a mom of 3 who blogs about family travel at Million Miler Mom. When she’s not working her day job in HR, she is dreaming of the places she and her family will go post-pandemic. She visited all seven continents by age 21 and her country count is currently 63. Follow her adventures on her blog and Instagram.
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