Our Utah Road Trip: Zion National Park

August 6, 2020millionmilermom

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The big draw to any Southern Utah trip is the world famous Zion National Park but many are cautious if they are traveling with kids. Have no fear, it is completely doable and can still be enjoyable! While many people will spend days here hiking, cycling and camping, we opted for a day trip. Even in our short span there, we were able to get a good overview of the park. Read on for more tips for planning a trip to Zion National Park with kids.

The Zion buses have been retrofitted to meet COVID guidelines and are running with reduced capacity.

Beat the Heat (and the Crowds)

Utah summers are hot so starting early is a huge plus to beat the heat but it also helps with the crowds. The parking lot is a decent size near the main entrance but fills up rather quickly which can derail plans (especially if you have shuttle tickets). We stayed in nearby Hurricane (roughly a 45 minute drive) so we left at 7am, arrived about 7:45am and there was plenty of parking. If you stay in adjacent Springdale, there is an in-town shuttle that passes through town so you can leave your vehicle at your hotel or house rental.

Zion uses a shuttle system to get up and down the main road in the park (cars are not allowed past a certain point) and you do need to pre-reserve these tickets during COVID times. The tickets have been available a few weeks prior to the month you want to go in but, they have shifted the rules a bit for fall so check out this site for the latest information. Tickets are $1 each and you need a ticket even if you hold park tickets or an annual pass.

If you can manage an early start, aim for the 8-9am pass or earlier. It is truly worth the early wake up!

What to See

I had jotted down some notes and had some preliminary places in the park I wanted to see. The Narrows, the most popular site at Zion, is a narrow gorge with a river running through it. With kids, I knew my dreams of getting miles in were nil so we decided to come up with a manageable plan that met everyone’s needs and avoided any meltdowns:

The girls loved exploring The Narrows at Zion National Park.
  • Boarded the 8am shuttle to Stop 9, Temple of Sinawava. Expect a 30-40 minute bus ride. The kids loved the views so everyone did quite well on this part.
  • As soon as we got to Stop 9, we had a bathroom break and then began on the very easy Riverside Trail (actually suitable for strollers and wheelchairs, although, it does get quite sandy towards the end so be prepared for that).
  • When we got to The Narrows, we changed into water shoes and I took my daughters (with help from my mom) up the river. We took it very slow and the girls did great! We were probably out and back in about 45 minutes but you could spend much more or much less time depending on how your kids are tolerating it. The water is quite cold but is refreshing when compared to the heat!
  • My husband had our 2 year old son in a backpack carrier and did not feel comfortable walking on the rocks with him so he stayed back. When we returned, we headed back and found a nice spot along the river where we let all the kids run around and also changed everyone back into regular shoes.
  • We then took the shuttle to Stop 6, The Grotto. We found some picnic tables and enjoyed lunch here. We walked a short distance to Stop 5 (on the Grotto Trail) to the Zion Lodge stop where we got ice cream, visited the gift shop and enjoyed some more spectacular views.
  • After, we boarded the bus one last time to go back to Stop 1, Visitor’s Center.
  • Our total adventure was about 5 hours, inclusive of shuttle time. While you could easily spend days exploring, this was the perfect amount of time considering the ages of our kids. We always try to target one (or possibly two things) per day on our trips so we don’t feel rushed or stressed.

What to Wear and What to Pack

We opted for lightweight, quick dry clothing knowing that we may get wet in the river. Thankfully, we stayed pretty dry! I would recommend wearing tennis shoes with socks and then bringing water shoes for the river. A hat is also a must!

We used three CamelBak’s backpacks to avoid having to carry water bottles. The girls each carried their own kid-sized pack filled with water and then we used their pockets to pack their snacks. In our larger CamelBak, we brought the water shoes, a small quick dry towel (to wipe our feet off when we changed back into our shoes), sunscreen and a printout of our shuttle tickets (since there is no connectivity in some places so another option would be storing them in a mobile wallet or taking a screenshot).

For toddler transportation, we used a Deuter Kid Comfort backpack carrier and leveraged the bottom pocket to store diapers, wipes and a change of clothes for him.

We did pack a picnic lunch in order to give us the ability to eat anywhere but there is a small cafe that does take out orders near the Zion Lodge (Stop 5). They also have soft serve ice cream as a sweet reward!

If you’ll be in the area, be sure to also check out Sand Hollow State Park for out of this world red sand beaches and crystal clear water.

If you have been to Zion, what was your favorite part? If you want to go, what are you most looking forward to?

Comments (7)

  • mwantje

    August 8, 2020 at 9:01 pm

    I loved Zion! I didn’t get to do any hiking, so without that I think my favorite part was the short walk my mom and I took by the Grotto – that, or the wildlife. Glad you and your family had fun!

    1. millionmilermom

      August 8, 2020 at 10:31 pm

      We definitely did hiking-light but it was still amazing! The wildlife was pretty incredible, too! I would love to go back again.

  • Emma

    August 9, 2020 at 7:23 am

    I’d love to visit Zion so this gives me some good ideas on what to expect when I finally make it. It looks beautiful but I can also imagine it being popular and busy so leaving early sounds like great advice

    1. millionmilermom

      August 9, 2020 at 10:27 am

      I hope you get to visit soon! It is really beautiful. Going in a shoulder season or early in the day should definitely help with the crowds.

  • Cut & Paste Travel Series: Utah Road Trip – Million Miler Mom

    August 12, 2020 at 8:50 pm

    […] breathtaking! For those with children, the park is still very accessible and worth a visit. Read my Zion post for all the details on the shuttle, parking, what to pack and what hikes to do with […]

  • Martha

    August 14, 2020 at 4:05 pm

    I’m sad to say that I have yet to visit Zion, even though I lived in Utah for several years. Thanks for your helpful post, this makes me want to take a trip back there with my kids!

    1. millionmilermom

      August 14, 2020 at 4:15 pm

      I hope you get to go soon! It was incredible. And you’re so lucky to have so many amazing parks in your state!

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