My first post in our series about our Utah trip covered Arches National Park. Part two will be about one of our other favorite stops – Zion National Park!
Zion is a breathtaking location, located right by the town of Springdale, Utah with hikes galore! We went to Zion in March and the weather was warm during the day and cool at night. It was the beginning of Zion’s busy season but the crowds were manageable as long as you planned ahead. With this guide you’ll be prepared for a kid friendly trip to Zion any time.
This post may contain affiliate links, for more information you may read the full disclosure here.
My biggest over night advice continues to be..
Stay In The Park
To stay in the park you will have to plan ahead. Campsites in the main campground – Watchman Campground – can fill up as early as six months in advance but are easy to reserve online here. I promise, pre-planning for this is worth it. Our campsite was shaded and gave us a great place to park our car right in the heart of the park. This made it easy to stop for lunch or dinner without having to go into town if we didn’t want to because the line to get into the park can get long during the main part of the day! Also, there is walking path that leads straight from the campground into the town of Springdale so we were able to walk in for gift shopping, ice cream, and showers one day when we took a break from hiking.
Things to know: There are bathrooms but no showers in the park. At the visitor center you can get a list of recommended places to snag a shower in town. We ended up showering at a rock climbing outfitter who had showers you could buy tokens for. It was clean and warm and got the job done!
This is the desert – days are warm but evenings are cool and night time can be cold. We were tent camping but had a propane powered tent heater that we turned on for about 15 minutes before crawling into bed for the night and for about 15 minutes before getting out in the morning. We also used sleeping bags designed for temperatures down to zero degrees and all cuddled up together. If you go in summer you may not have as cool of nights, but honestly we stayed plenty warm with some advanced preparation and were rewarded with gorgeous hiking weather all day long.
Things you will want if you go in spring are a smaller tent than normal — smaller tents heat faster and hold heat better, a tent heater, and zero degree sleeping bags. All of these things can be purchased at decent prices. My suggestions (and exactly what we used on our trip) would be:
Enjoy the visitor center and sign up for the Junior Ranger Program on your first day at the park.
Zion has a decent visitor center and I would always recommend stopping at the visitor center first when you go to any National Park. The National Park System has a Junior Ranger program in place that is great for kids from 4-12 years old. You simply stop at the visitor center information desk and ask for details on that park’s program. Most parks have a booklet of various activities children need to complete based on age during their visit. When you finish your activities you can return to the visitor center to be sworn in by a ranger as a Junior Park Ranger and receive a really neat badge to go with. Our daughter loved this at all of our stopping points on this trip. It was a great way to get her to really learn about the park we were in from the ecology to the history of each place.
If you stay at Watchman Campground you can walk right to the visitor center from your camp site whenever it is convenient for you. Staying at the park was extra nice because parking in Zion is VERY limited – they don’t allow cars into the main part of the canyon much of the year – so we never had to worry about waking at the crack of dawn and hauling our kids around in a car just to try and find a parking space for the day.
Drink LOTS of water!
This is the desert and it can be surprisingly dehydrating. My husband and I both carried water in our packs and my daughter has a small Camelbak that she has started carrying her own water in as well. Fill up any time you see a water station because you won’t find many sources out on the trail. These are the packs we carried during our trip. Small and manageable for the day hikes we were doing. They held water bladders, snacks, and our layers we shed as the day heated up. Karrigan loves her small pack, that can be purchased in multiple colors – hers is pink- it is designed to hold a water bladder, snacks, and she loves pinning her Junior Ranger badges to it!
Be Aware Of Drop Offs and Steep Climbs
The National Parks do a great job of ranking trails and being honest about their difficulty. Make sure to pick up a trail map at the visitor center! The number one hazard we found in this park was drop offs on many trails. Yet our seven year old handled them fine as long as one of us walked in front to feel out any tricky spots we came to. It is worth it but you will want to keep your child in eyesight and remind them to stay away from edges as you hike!
Dress In Layers
We were visiting over spring break and definitely ran into spring like weather on this trip. Our mornings were cool and often called for leggings and light jackets but by afternoon we were glad to be able to strip down to something cooler. Layers are the key to comfort on almost any hiking adventure and without the ability to change her clothing items our kiddo would have definitely become whiny and uncomfortable.
You will see from our photos we often started in hats and jackets and by the end of the trip were in sweat shirts or t-shirts!
Zion Park Shuttle System
Zion National Park is located in the bottom of Zion Canyon. Most of the year they prohibit driving through the main canyon and instead use a shuttle system to get visitors from the shuttle starting point at the visitor center to various trail head destinations. You will want to get in this line early or be prepared for quite a wait. The system is efficient but crows in Zion can get huge. Patience is key if you don’t want to be up early enough to catch one of the first shuttles. That being said, if you are willing to wait a bit – you can enter Zion at any time of day. You can get on and off the shuttle going either direction as many times as you want.
Insider Tip: If you don’t mind walking (and lets be honest you are going to be doing tons of it anyways) you can get around the long line at the visitor center by simply walking on foot to the next stop or two down the line! We did this one morning when the line was long. We walked the Pa’Rus trail on to the next stop and caught a bus quickly! We got to see some mule deer up close and personal on the Pa’Rus trail and the walk was a quick and easy warm up during the cool morning hours.
Zion’s website has a lot of great information and maps for the shuttles here.
Our Favorite Hikes
Zion is internationally known for its adrenaline pumping hike called Angel’s Landing. This is the extreme hiker’s paradise. However, we wanted trails that would challenge us and keep us safe with our kiddo in tow. When we return at a later date we may have to check this one off the bucket list. Even without Angel’s Landing there were a ton of fun hiking options for us!
Emerald Pools Trail – Including Lower, Middle, and Upper Pools
This was our favorite trail! The hike from the shuttle stop to the lower pool is easy and doable by just about everyone. We saw some great water features on our way to this pool and this would be terrific for families with kids under 5. Looking for a bit of adventure we continued past the lower pool on to the middle and upper pools. The hike to these two locations is a bit more strenuous. We were glad we had water, and while we had to slow down a time or two the hike was doable for all of us as a family. The end result at the upper pool was a fantastic water fall into the upper pool. It should be noted that this waterfall is not an all year/all the time feature as it does get dry. The pool is always present but the water fall is not. Even without the waterfall this would be a great spot to snag a picture and a snack. The views on the trail are fantastic too!
After hiking to the Upper Emerald Pool you can return the way you came or do as we did and take the Kayenta trail down to ground level. I strongly suggest Kayenta trail for the beautiful change of scenery and a bit of extra fun. I would consider this a moderate trail but after making it to the upper pools you will find it an easy trek down. Do be careful of drop offs on this trail and stay to the middle of the path.
Canyon Overlook Trail
This a trail that shouldn’t be missed! I highly suggest waking up one morning and trying to get there at or right after sunrise. To get to this trail you drive on the Zion-Mt.Caramel highway toward the park’s east entrance. The drive alone is tons of fun with breathtaking views and a trip through the long Zion tunnel (our daughter LOVED this). Right when you get through the tunnel there will be a parking lot for you to park your car and access the Canyon Overlook Trail – be ready! If you go mid-day the lot may be full – another reason to go early. Park your car and start your breath taking one mile walk. I love that this trail is shorter but packs a punch for each foot step in the awe and wonder department. Great for us on our third day in Zion when feet were starting to feel a little weary.
Insider Tip: There is an east entrance to Zion National Park on the Mt. Caramel Highway. The main entrance from the city of Springdale can get huge lines while this side of the park stays quiet. We came in this way our first day and had no wait getting into the park while other people were in a very long line to enter!
Note: Another popular trail in Zion is The Narrows. We did not venture through the narrows on this trip but will update this post should we do so in the future. We DID do the River Walk trail which was a GREAT all ages and all ability trail that leads you right to the start of the Narrows hike!
Springdale is the town right outside the park. Staying in the park, there was a footpath that led us right into town. You will find people saying to eat ice cream at Zion Lodge in the park but the real gem for a sweet treat is right in town at Springdale Candy Company. Seriously, from one ice cream lover to another – you NEED to go here once on your trip. You can thank me later!
Springdale is also where you can visit to find showers, hotel accommodations if you aren’t a camper, and great restaurants if you need a break from the camp fire food!
Overall, we did three days at Zion and could have done more and still had plenty to do. I can’t wait to go back as our troop ages and see some more sights. I hope this guide will help you and I can’t encourage you enough to visit Zion no matter your age or the age of your kiddos!
Have you been to Zion? What was your favorite part? If you are planning to go and have any questions don’t hesitate to ask in the comments – I’m here to help!!