My wife and I zipped off on a family trip to Zion National Park in April 2019. It was us two, our 10 and 7-year-old sons and our 4-year-old daughter. That’s right, the classic family trip to Zion with kids!
Here’s what we found out that you need to know about Zion.
Don’t plan on driving around the park, buses only! You can still drive into the park for limited access- grab a map at the booth! Drive in and park at the visitor center parking lot to pick up the bus which has many stops in the National Park. When we went there was a very popular side road providing access to the park that was closed.
Don’t worry though, the buses run on a timely regular schedule and all the windows open up on the roof so you can look up at the canyon walls as you drive along the road following the river.
What I’ve noticed about the visitor center parking lot is it FILLS UP before noon. Don’t bother with the visitor center unless you want to visit the gift shop because that’s all it is. There IS a sweet 3D map of the valley/canyon and all the surrounding peaks.
The line for the bus can get long in the afternoon so you may consider parking outside the park in one of the paid lots in Springdale and catching the bus along the main street. Or consider just parking right outside the main park entrance and walking in right over the bridge – it’s a snap!
Family Hikes in Zion
Hiking with kids in Zion is easy peasy! Make sure you grab the map handout from the ranger booth or visitor center. It shows all the hiking trails and what’s handy is that they are all rated with descriptions of how steep the edges of the trail are. We stuck to Easy and did one Moderate.
We parked and shuttled to stop 5 Zion Lodge. We hiked to the Lower Emerald Pools. The trail past to the Upper Emerald Pools was gated off maybe because it was April and too early in the season. We then came back and had lunch at the Zion Lodge. Great place for a picnic. They have a restaurant and ice cream shop there.
We then took the shuttle to stop 9 Temple of Sinawava and walked along the river on the Riverside Walk trail. We found a sandy spot to unpack and play along the riverside in the canyon before the Narrows section. We did not hike up the Narrows because we did not have water shoes as recommended and since it was spring time the water runoff made the river too high and so that was closed off too. And it was probably too much for our 4-year-old anyways.
We were all tired and left the park to return the next day. There are plenty of hotels to choose from in Springdale. We camped an hour away and that was not ideal so I will leave that section out of the story here.
So the kids were all ready to go but they wanted to play at our campsite during the morning and make a sagebrush fort. So we got to Zion after lunch and knew the parking lot would be jammed up.
Our 10 year old asked if we could hike Angel’s Landing. I did not know how absolutely crazy that hike was, I only knew it was rated as hard so I said no. Later on I saw a video of the hike up to Angel’s Landing and almost had a heart attack it was so dangerous. But back to our last day at the park.
We parked outside the park right at the entrance. There was a bridge to access the park and we showed our annual park pass and waltzed in. There was a mule deer sitting in the tall grass in the shade right next to the entrance that a ranger pointed out to the kids. They thought it was cool of course but that was pretty much the only wildlife we saw other than my daughter delighting in a visit from a hummingbird.
We walked up to the line for the bus and as I approached it appeared to be 1000 feet long at least – I am not exaggerating. I changed plans and we decided that the only hike we’d do for our final day was the Watchman Trail that started right by where the river connects to the visitor center. We had a hard time finding the trailhead and after speaking to a mom who knew we followed the trail along the river away from the visitor center and it turned into the trail. Beware that there is the opportunity to fall off the trail down the side of the mountain so watch out! It was a great hike but remember to bring water.
That was it for our time at the park! The restaurant I’d recommend is the Bit and Spur Restaurant and Saloon, there is a big side yard where we played hide and go seek near an old 1930’s milk truck that was rusting along the side.
April is the best time to go because it was not too hot at all.
Zion is great for kids, the town of Springdale is awesome for kids too. I recommend staying at a hotel with a swimming pool. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express the last night and loved it.