Zion National Park with Kids: Ultimate Guide (2020)
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With its magnificent soaring red cliffs, rich variety of wildlife and awesome selection of family friendly hikes, we loved exploring Zion National Park with kids. From the beautiful views along the Canyon Overlook trail to the three-tiered Emerald Pools to strolling the Riverwalk along the Virgin River, we loved the variety of the trails that are accessible with kids in Zion.
For those of you planning a trip to Zion National Park with kids, we wanted to share the best hikes and our tips for visiting. We’ve included where to stay, how the shuttle bus works and the best hikes in Zion with kids.
Zion National Park
Located beside the tiny town of Springdale in Utah, Zion is home of the tallest sandstone cliffs in the world. The red and white cliffs soar over the Virgin River and the Zion Canyon valley floor. The finger canyons and red Navajo sandstone cut through the north west section of the park in the more remote Kolob Canyon section of the park.
Where to stay in Zion National Park with Kids
Zion has both in park accommodation and out of park options in Springdale which is adjacent to the main south entrance to the park.
Given the shuttle system, it’s just as easy and likely less expensive to stay adjacent to the park in the small town of Springdale. Springdale has other advantages including easier access to food options and more modern lodgings.
- Cable Mountain Lodge: great selection of family friendly rooms, excellent food and an outdoor pool overlooked by the Zion Watchman! Its location, adjacent to the Zion Visitors Center, means you can hop on the park shuttle bus and reach any of the trails within minutes. Our Zion favorite – check prices now!
- Flanigan’s Inn: just 10 minutes walk from the Zion entrance and located on a Springdale Shuttle stop, Flanigan’s Inn is a reasonably priced option with good sized clean rooms, a pool and a hot tub – check prices now!
There are two reasons we like to stay in the park: the first is if we want to camp and the second is for getting an early start on Angel’s Landing from Zion Lodge.
- Camping: There are two campsites, Watchman Campground and South Campground, within the park. Both campsites are located near the visitors center at the South entrance. At the Watchman sites are released for reservation on a 6 month rolling basis while in the South Campground it is on a 14 day rolling basis.
- Zion Lodge: located deep within the park the historic lodge offers a mix of cabins and hotel rooms. We’ve stayed in the Lodge and it’s a nice traditional option which really allows you to immerse yourself in the park. The lodge fills up well in advance and the rooms are basic and expensive.
Zion National Park with kids tip: for us, the biggest advantage of the Lodge was the proximity to the start of the Angels Landing trail. This means you can get to the trail by foot well in advance of the first shuttle buses and the resulting crowds. On the morning we hiked Scout Lookout and Angels Landing we left before sunrise and the first shuttles only arrived when Dave was at the top of Angels Landing. If an early start on Angels Landing wasn’t a consideration, we’d prefer the more modern hotel options in Springdale.
Zion National Park with kids: the best hikes
Zion’s hikes are an equal mix of easy, moderate and challenging. Older kids may be able to complete the more strenuous hikes assuming they are competent hikers.
There are a number of trails closed in Zion at the moment due to rockfall damage and trail maintenance but there are still some great hiking options. The following trails are closed as of March 2020:
- Lower Emerald Pools
- Observation Point: East Rim from Weeping Rock
- Hidden Canyon
- Weeping Rock Trail and shuttle stop 7
We’ve listed our top 5 family hikes in Zion where the trails are currently open. For a more extensive guide to the Zion hikes with kids, including our take on the infamous Angel’s Landing and the Narrows, then click here to read our guide to the best Zion hikes with kids.
1 | Riverside Walk
- Hike Length: 2.2 miles round trip
- Hike Difficulty: the hike is rated as easy by the National Parks Service.
- Younger kids: lots of opportunities to walk parts of the trail, may need carrier due to distance. The trail is also stroller friendly but we’d only recommend stroller use at quiet times.
- Shuttle stop: Temple of Sinawava
The Riverside Walk is a peaceful hike along a relatively flat paved trail which runs adjacent to the Virgin River. It starts at the Temple of Sinawava, the final stop on the Zion Shuttle and the start of the trail leads up the canyon past the tall weeping walls, lush vegetation and the occasional waterfall! A dirt trail runs path runs alongside the paved trail and we spent some time deer spotting through the trees!
Zion National Park with kids tips: there are a few spots along the trail from which it is easy to access the river. Kids will love dipping their feet in the water on a sunny day.
The trail continues until it reaches the start of the Zion Narrows and it is fun to watch the Narrows hikers set off in the water. The river is flat and wide at this point so it’s possible to hike up the river a little on the Narrows trail before returning back to the Temple of Sinawava via the same trail you hiked out on.
Zion National Park with kids tip: the Riverwalk is one of the most accessible trails in the park and, combined with the crowds making their way to the start of the Narrows, it can get extremely busy. The narrow paths can make it feel like you are being swept along in the crowds rather than enjoying a leisurely hike. Set off early in the morning if you want to avoid the bulk of the crowds. If you are hiking with an infant, it is best to use a carrier rather than a stroller at busy times.
2 | Pa’rus Trail
- Hike Length: 3.5 miles round trip although can be made shorter by starting at the shuttle stops 2 or 3
- Hike Difficulty: the hike is rated as easy by the National Parks Service.
- Younger kids: lots of opportunities to walk parts of the trail, may need carrier due to distance
- Shuttle Stop: the trail starts at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center but you can shorten it by starting at shuttle to Stop 2 or 3.
The Pa’rus trail is a paved trail from the South Campground to Canyon Junction. It runs along the Virgin River, crossing bridges and passing through wide meadows and wildflowers. You can even cool off in the river along the way.
The trail is flat and easy with great views from its vantage point on the floor of the Zion Canyon. It showcases some of Zion’s best landmarks including the Watchman and the Towers of the Virgin.
Zion National Park with kids tip: the Pa’rus trail is the only dog friendly hike in Zion. It’s also great for biking and running.
3 | Canyon Overlook Trail
- Zion National Park with kids tip: we only recommend this trail for younger kids if they are in a hiking backpack or older kids who will follow instructions.
- Hike Length: 1 mile round trip
- Hike Difficulty: the trail is classed as moderate by the National Parks Service. This is due to the huge drop offs (most are fenced) and the uneven trail surface.
- Younger kids: we used a carrier for our toddler and highly recommend using one for younger kids. The path is uneven and the huge drop offs mean care needs to be taken at all times.
- Shuttle Stop: Accessible via car on the Zion Mount Carmel Scenic Highway. Parking can be difficult to come by.
There is some elevation gain at the start of the trail as it is accessed via steps from the highway. Most of the trail follows a sandstone wall overlooking the Pine Creek Narrows and the trail flattens out after the initial climb.
There are some obstacles along the way! You will need to climb over some tree roots and boulders along the trail. Although most of the exposed parts are fenced off there are huge drops offs that are not protected. We noticed this was the case at some points on the trail and after reaching the main viewpoint. Take extreme care with kids and ensure they are in backpacks or hold their hand for safety.
The view at the end of the trail is incredible making this one of our favorite hikes in Zion!
4 | Scout Lookout
- Hike Length: Scout Lookout is around 4 miles round trip and has an elevation gain of approximately 1,000 foot. Angels Landing continues for another 0.5 miles and has a further 500 foot gain.
- Hike Difficulty: Scout Lookout makes up the first ¾ of the Angels Landing trail and there is no separate difficulty rating from the National Parks Service. I most definitely found the Scout Lookout portion a challenging workout due to the elevation gain!
- Younger kids: we used a carrier for our toddler and highly recommend using one for younger kids as they are likely to get tired with the climb and there are some huge exposed drops. Extreme care needs to be taken with kids at all times.
- Shuttle Stop: The Grotto
Zion National Park with kids tip: After making it to Scout Lookout Dave continued on to Angels Landing (and loved it!) while we ventured a little further on the west rim until he returned.
The Scout Lookout trail covers the first portion of the Angels Landing hike and the incredible views of Zion Canyon make it a popular hike in its own right. The trail includes the iconic Walter’s Wiggles, a series of 21 switchbacks which are named after the park superintendent who constructed the switchbacks in 1926.
The first part of the hike is on the West Rim trail and it starts off relatively flat before it begins to wind up the hillside via long switchbacks. It levels out at a shaded canyon known as Refrigerator Canyon and the combination of shade and flat ground provide a good chance to catch your breath. The final stretch of the trail, Walter’s Wiggles, is quite strenuous and it left me out of breath and my thighs on fire! The views of Zion Canyon are amazing from Scout Landing.
I continued along the West Rim with the kids while Dave made the final approach to Angels Landing.
5 | Grotto Trail
- Hike Length: 1 mile round trip
- Hike Difficulty: the hike is rated as easy by the National Parks Service
- Younger kids: lots of opportunities to walk parts of the trail. Our two year old hiked the entire trail and had fun.
- Shuttle Stop: the trail connects the Zion Lodge and the Grotto shuttle stops
The Grotto trail is a short and easy hike between Zion Lodge and the Grotto. It follows a wide and flat path through a wooded meadow along the valley floor and passes by a lake. It’s a fun and easy trail and a great option with younger kids. It can be combined with the Lower Emerald Pools (when they are open) to make for a longer hike.
Other things to do in Zion National Park with kids
Aside from the hikes, there are a few other great things to do in Zion with kids:
6 | Swim in the Virgin River
There are great swimming spots along the Zion trails. Our favorites spots are at the beginning of the Watchman trail and under the shaded bridges along the Pa’Rus Trail. There is also river access along the Riverside Walk.
Zion National Park with kids tip: if you’re feeling more adventurous Zion Adventures rents tubes for river tubing outside the park.
7 | Drive the Zion Mount Carmel Scenic Highway
The Zion Mount Carmel Scenic Highway is a 10 mile scenic drive over bridges and switchbacks and through tunnels which cut through the deep stone mountains. The views are incredible and there are lots of places to park up and take a short hike to explore some more. The view of Checkerboard Mesa, a Navajo sandstone mountain with a checkerboard effect, is one of the most popular stops.
8 | Visit the Zion Nature Center
The Zion Nature Center is a popular stop with kids when it opens during the summer months. It has activities and exhibits for kids. The Nature Center can be accessed via the Pa’rus trail from shuttle stop 1 and 2.
9 | Become a Junior Ranger
Pick up a junior ranger booklet at the visitors center to help engage kids in the visit. A junior ranger badge is provided to kids who complete the junior ranger booklet and it’s a nice treat.
How to use the Zion Shuttle Bus
Most of Zion’s hikes are accessible from the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, a road which runs through the valley floor of Zion Canyon.
A free shuttle bus service operates along the Zion Scenic Drive, stopping at nine locations close to various trails. The route begins at the Zion Visitors Center and terminates at the Temple of Sinawava where the Narrows and Riverside Trails are accessed. Buses are frequent and run every few minutes.
The shuttle bus operates for most of the year although service is generally suspended at off peak times such as weekdays in January. When the shuttle bus is in operation private vehicles are not allowed on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
When the shuttle is in operation, parking options include:
- Zion National Park: parking is very limited within Zion and the spaces fill up very early in the day
- Springdale: most visitors to Zion stay in Springdale, a small town beside Zion National Park. A second free shuttle, the Springdale Shuttle, stops at 9 stops throughout the town. It connects with the Zion Canyon Shuttle at the Visitors Center.
- Zion Lodge: guests of Zion Lodge are provided with a permit which allows them to drive further into the park to where the lodge is located. The Lodge has its own shuttle stop.
Zion National Park with kids tip: the buses are wheelchair accessible. Strollers must be collapsed at all times.
Tips for visiting Zion National Park with kids
- Arrive early: The park gets extremely busy so the exxarlier the better! We started our mornings at sunrise and it was incredible to enjoy the almost empty buses and trails and the uninterrupted views.
Early arrivals might also secure one of the limited parking spaces within the park which means you avoid having to use two shuttles – always a bonus when exploring Zion National Park with kids!
- Bring a carrier for younger kids: a carrier is invaluable on both longer trails and those with dangerous or exposed sections. Our toddler spent lots of time in his carrier during our time in Zion and we were so happy to have it as it allowed us to attempt more of the hikes as a family. Food is available at Zion Lodge but we found more convenient to pick up snacks in Springdale and take them into the park.
- Snacks and Water: there are water filling stations throughout the park. They can be found at the Visitors Center, Zion Lodge, the Museum and at the Grotto and Temple of Sinawava shuttle stops.
- Winter hikes: the trails can be very icy in the winter. It is essential to wear shoes with a strong grip or pick up some Yaktrax for your sneakers. Layer up and keep kids well wrapped up from the cold. Remember to add some extra layers for kids in carriers as they’re not running around and can get very cold.
- Summer hikes: summer temperatures can be extreme so it is essential to hike outside the peak sunshine hours. Bring lots of water, sunscreen and sun hats.
- Multiple Parks: if you are planning on visiting multiple parks make sure to purchase an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass. They cost $80 and cover entry for the pass owner and other passengers in the vehicle. We saved a ton of money by purchasing a pass at the entrance of the first National Park we visited.
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