View from Kayenta Trail
If you ask each member of our family what their favorite National Park is, each will adamantly state “Zion.”
If you ask what park we would like to visit again, we will unanimously state “Zion.”
In our trip to Southwest Utah and Northern Arizona, we loved Zion. We loved the scenic stops, the gorgeous Virgin River running through the park, and the trails. We loved the shuttle rides, the atmosphere, and the town of Springdale.
The only downfall is that we visited during the busiest time of the year (Memorial Weekend) and the park had record breaking attendance that weekend. But that is because Zion National Park is amazing and the secret is getting out!
We spent 3 nights in Springdale which gave us almost three full days to explore the park. Because of the vast beauty and amazing trails, we would have easily spent more time.
Be sure to read my thoughts on visiting this park with young children.
Zion Lodge Shuttle Stop #5
What is Zion National Park
I love how the National Park Service explains the park.
Zion National Park is a southwest Utah nature preserve distinguished by Zion Canyon’s steep red cliffs. Zion Canyon Scenic Drive cuts through its main section, leading to forest trails along the Virgin River. The river flows to the Emerald Pools, which have waterfalls and a hanging garden. Also along the river, partly through deep chasms, is Zion Narrows wading hike.
Now let’s break down each of these pieces.
Located in the Southwest corner of Utah, the south edge of the park butts up to the tourist town of Springdale. It’s a quaint little town that consists of hotels, local restaurants (Subway is the only chain restaurant available), shops, and 9 shuttle stops.
We stayed in a wonderful condo above the Springdale Visitors Center. Very clean, beautiful view of the Zion Canyon, and a great location. The full kitchen in the condo allowed us to make all of our meals saving $100’s a day as the prices are very high in Springdale. Because we traveled to Zion from Las Vegas, Hurricane, Utah was the closest town to get groceries without paying tourist prices. Read the first blog in this series to learn how we saved money on this trip.
To enjoy the park day and night, Zion Lodge is an option for overnight accommodations. Only those staying in the lodge can drive into the park. I hear that it books months in advance so don’t wait to reserve.
Be sure to check out the Junior Ranger Program for kids ages 4 and up. Each child will be given a self-guided activity booklet to complete at the park.
Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
Because parking is limited and not allowed in the majority of the park during the summer months, the shuttles quickly become your best friend. The shuttles runs every 10-15 minutes during the peak hours.
Tip #1: If the line is extremely long at the Visitor’s Center, walk the Watchman Trail to stop #2 (Museum) and get on the the shuttle there.
Tip #2: If you plan to visit several stops and do a few trails, I encourage you to get on the shuttle and ride to the last stop. Then work yourself back toward the Visitor Center. This saved us time waiting in lines for the shuttle.
Tip #3: Watch carefully the direction of the shuttle. At each stop there are two shuttle pick-ups/drop offs. One heading north and the other heading south. The signs will tell you where the shuttle is headed next. If in doubt, ask the driver.
Enjoy the shuttle ride because the scenic drive is breathtaking. There is also a free, guided shuttle tour that you can sign up for but we ran out of time.
View from Weeping Rock
To truly see the beauty of Zion National Park, you have to get off the shuttle and hit the trail. There are a plethora of trail options. From short, easy 1 mile strolls to ones that require camping overnight.
You can learn specifics about each hike on the Zion National Park website. So instead of reinventing the wheel, below are my simply thoughts on doing these trails with children.
- Watchman Trail (#1)
From the Visitor Center to Museum, this trail is good for seeing the sunset and makes for a nice hike to avoid the long lines at the Visitor’s Center (as stated above). This wouldn’t be top on my list but a nice, easy hike if you have time.
- Emerald Pools Trails (#5 or 6)
Across the street from the Zion Lodge is a beautiful bridge that will begin the Lower Emerald Pool Trail. This is a very simple trail that leads to beautiful waterfalls and hanging gardens.
Once you arrive, you have the option to turn around or continue to the Upper Emerald Pools. While I loved the Upper Emerald Pool, this section in the heat of day isn’t for the faint of heart. There is very little shade and you climb up for what seems like a very long time. But the Upper Pool is gorgeous and well worth the hike.
- Kayenta Trail (#6)
Instead of returning how we came, we took the Kayenta Trail after seeing the Upper Emerald Pool and enjoyed the amazing views of the Zion Canyon. It is not difficult but has long drop-offs.
- Angel’s Landing (#6)
This trail is one of the most popular trails in the United States. Known for its dramatic drop offs and chain railings, this trail is not for children or those with acrophobia (fears of height). Because I don’t have a death wish we only did the a third of this trail (about 2 miles). Even that had extreme drop offs and should not be done with small children. But even if you do the flat part at the beginning, take this trail just to say you did! And be sure to look for the people walking on Angel’s Landing. Seeing them puts the size of the Canyon in perspective.
- Weeping Rock (#7)
Very short, simple trail that is great for families. Minor drop-offs on a paved trail leads you to a beautiful hanging garden and amazing view.
- Riverside Walk (#9)
This beautiful, 2.2 mile round-trip trail is oftentimes dismissed as people are eager to enter the Narrows at the end. But this trail follows the Virgin River which is an amazing view in itself. Even if you don’t hike the Narrows, definitely do this hike and see everyone entering the Virgin River for the epic Narrows Hike.
- Big Bend (#8)
While not a hike, don’t miss this shuttle stop. Weave yourself down the short path to the Virgin River to play in the water or throw rocks in. The view is amazing. Also, be sure to look toward the west for the people on top of Angel’s Landing and enjoy the peaceful river.
While there are more hikes available in Zion National Park, these are the trails that I would suggest and are very thankful that we did. Maybe someday we can go back as a family and do the longer, more strenuous hikes.
Be sure to read the first post in this series to hear what we packed for our trail hikes.
Hiking the Narrow
Sweet Pea and I really wanted to purchase t-shirts that said, “We Hiked the Narrows.” Those who noticed our shirts would either be clueless or be really impressed and a conversation would immediately begin.
Once again, let’s use the National Park’s description of the Narrows.
The Narrows is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. This gorge, with walls a thousand feet tall and the river sometimes just twenty to thirty feet wide, is one of the most popular areas in Zion National Park.
Hiking the Narrows requires wading approximately 60% of your time in the Virgin River. There is not a laid-out trail and the ground you are walking on is strenuous to say the least. We hiked the Narrows just two days after it opened (May 27th) and the rushing water was a frigid 52 degrees.
At this point in the season, the water was high and NOT conducive to children. I am very thankful that the outfitter discouraged us from taking Bubs and Little Man as it was quite the challenge for even our oldest two children. (The littles stayed with Grams and Papa.) The water rushes down the canyon and it took all your might to stay upright.
Tip #1: It is very expensive to rent gear (waders, hiking boots, neoprene socks, wooden hiking stick) but it is worth every penny. We were able to go much further into the Narrows because we were warm and with the boots protection we didn’t twisted our ankles while walking the rocks lining the river’s bottom.
Tip #2: Start early and take lots of water and snacks with you.
Tip #3: Walk gently and test every step. When wading in the water, you can’t see the rocks in front of you so you could be throwing your knee into a large boulder thinking it is a clear path. I have a painful bruise on my knee to prove it.
The Narrows were my favorite part of the trip. Loved, loved the time we had walking in this gorgeous place.
Orderville Canyon in the Narrows
Mt. Carmel Highway
Be sure to drive on Mt. Carmel Highway which begins in Zion National Park. You will be amazed by the 1.1 mile hand dug tunnel. Also check out Checkerboard Mesa. There are several pull offs that appear suddenly so drive slow and enjoy the sites.
It was suggested that we try the Canyon Overlook Trail which is immediately at the east end of the tunnel. Just a short distance in, we were so overwhelmed by the extreme drop offs and narrow trail that we turned around. Not willing to chance any view with the kiddos in tow.
Big Bend Shuttle Stop #8
And there you have it. My tips for visiting Zion National Park. I really hope that you will have the opportunity to explore this canyon and be overwhelmed by its beauty.
Be sure to share your perspective and tips with me!
Next in this series: Bryce Canyon and Horseshoe Bend
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