Explore the water wonders of Zion, one of the most family-friendly national parks in the country.
A spectacular canyon cut by the Virgin River, Zion National Park is perfection. Our family has visited 30+ national parks to date, and Zion remains our all-time favorite. With its town and park shuttle systems (April to October), it’s also the most RV-friendly national park that we’ve ever visited.
KidTripster Tip: Stop at the visitor center to pick up your child’s Junior Ranger book and return it completed for a Junior Ranger badge. Also, make sure to watch the park movie, so you’re primed for your visit.
What to do?
The best way to see Zion's natural beauty is to follow the water.
Take a bike ride along the 1-3/4-mile Pa’rus Trail, a paved path between the visitors center and Canyon Junction that hugs the Virgin River. If you ride during early morning or dusk, you’ll likely see mule deer and wild turkeys along the path. If you’re traveling with pets, they, too, are allowed on this scenic trail. Don't be surprised if you come across a tarantula. Not to worry, these amazing arachnids are basically harmless.
There’s plenty of easy and moderate hiking trails within Zion to keep you busy for several days. We enjoy the hike to both the Upper and Lower Emerald Pools and waterfalls. The gorgeous, green water here is stunning. Also, don’t miss the hike to Weeping Rock and its hanging garden, where you can catch water droplets that have been making their way down inside the canyon walls for 1,200 years!
KidTripster Tip: Be prepared for the relentless sun with sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. And bring more water than you think you’ll need.
KidTripster Tip: If you’re really fortunate, you’ll experience a sudden rainstorm. Why would you hope for rain? When we were there, a heavy rainstorm caused a small landslide that washed rocks from the canyon walls into the Virgin River, turning it blood red. It was an astounding sight!
The Narrows is an unforgettable gorge with soaring walls, sandstone grottos, natural springs, and hanging gardens in the upper reaches of Zion Canyon. It measures 16 miles long, up to 2,000 feet deep, and at points, only 20 to 30 feet wide. However, it’s a hike not to be taken lightly.
You begin the hike on the paved Riverside Walk that follows the Virgin River. This trail is popular and quite crowded. The herd starts to thin when you reach the river crossing. From this point on, hiking The Narrows means hiking in the river. In fact, at least 60-percent of the hike is spent wading, walking or swimming in the water. We ventured about a mile into the gorge. My youngest son spent much of the time on his father’s shoulders because of the deep water.
KidTripster Tip: Before you attempt to hike The Narrows, make sure to check with park rangers at the visitors center. There is a real and serious threat of flash flooding in the gorge, especially in mid-summer and fall. It’s safest to hike when there’s little chance of rain in the forecast, and the river is low, clear, and relatively warm. If you heed the warnings and prepare well for the conditions, this hike likely will be the most memorable of your trip! However, I would only attempt it with older kids.
Photo courtesy: Robin Mueller
Where to stay?
I’d recommend staying in the national park at either Watchman Campground (reservations available; electrical hookup only) or South Campground (first come, first serve; no hookups). There are a few sites along the Virgin River, but they go quickly, so reserve early. What we enjoyed most about these campgrounds (besides swimming in the river) was the ability to park and then explore the park and town via the free shuttles. Cost: Tent and non-electric campsites $20/night; Electric campsites $30/night.
If you're not camping, consider staying at the Zion Lodge inside the park. The lodge is beautifully rustic with comfortable rooms; there’s also cabins available. Children under 16 stay free when using existing bedding and staying with an adult. Starts at $146/night.
Where to eat?
Even if you’re not staying at Zion Lodge, plan to eat inside at the Red Rock Grill. You'll enjoy tasty food and great views.
In Springdale, grab breakfast at local favorites Oscar’s Cafe (948 Zion-Mount Carmel Hwy.) or The Spotted Dog (428 Zion-Mount Carmel Hwy.)
KidTripster Tip: Take the free town shuttle from the visitors center into Springdale.
When to go & getting there?
In the summer, temperatures often exceed 100°F. Zion can also experience monsoon-like rains from mid-July into September, increasing the risk of flash flooding. If you can hold off until fall, you’ll enjoy cooler, drier conditions, and fewer crowds. You’ll also be able to view the autumn colors that dress the cottonwoods and big tooth maples along the Virgin River.
Zion National Park is a 4-1/2-hour drive southwest from Salt Lake City or a 2-1/2-hour drive northeast of Las Vegas.
Headed to Bryce Canyon National Park? Click here. Or maybe the north rim of the Grand Canyon? Click here.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah travels to national parks with her husband and two sons. She’s logged thousands of miles behind the wheel of the family’s RV.