I don’t know if you know this, but after we went to Yellowstone I was like, “We should go to every national park in the United States!” All 58 of them. And Nathanael was like, “yeah, that would be cool”. SO. That’s a thing we’re doing. So far we’ve hit Yellowstone and The Smokies (back before this blog was a thing), and now Zion and Bryce. We’re on a roll, lol.
Right now I’m sitting in a sketchy motel room in Utah typing this out…to be fair, it’s not the sketchiest motel room I’ve been in—that was in Valdosta, Georgia. Not a fan. But anyway, I’ll get to this town I’m sitting in when I talk about Bryce National Park. For now, let’s talk about Zion National Park, or formerly known as Mukuntaweap National Monument (you can read posts about that here and here) .
Mukuntaweap has been thought to mean “Straight canyon” or even “the place where the Great Spirit dwells”, and I feel that last one. The area is just breathtaking…but we discovered that there isn’t a lot for young kiddos to do.
Basically, the most popular hikes that people go to Zion are not kid-friendly.
Angel’s Landing: a really cool, death-defying hike that I did the last time I was there (and before Instagram was a thing…I don’t even think I had a camera back then, so there are no photos, just blurry memories).
The Narrows: a hike up a river into a slot canyon—also cool, but also not kid-friendly, plus a bunch of others.
So what hikes are good for kids?
Honestly, we only did a couple of hikes the two days we were there—that’s all they wanted to do, and I didn’t feel super well on the second day…and I feel that a lot of times people feel rushed to do every single thing they can while on vacation, but…we try to meet in the middle. So here’s what we did do:
The Pa’rus Trail
Named after the Paiute word for “bubbling water (source), this paved trail follows the river (I believe the Watchman’s trail is on the opposite side of the river and follows it as well.) It’s a 3.3 mile out and back hike, but we just hiked one way, then took the shuttle back to town! The boys were DONE by the time we got to the end so we were grateful that the trail ends at the number 3 shuttle stop.
The boys loved that the trail followed the river—and there are a lot of river access points along the trail, so don’t make your own! There are a lot of bikers on this trail as well, so make room for them. Lots of sage, yellow shrubs (which I learned is Rubber Rabbitbrush and was once used by Native Americans for yellow dye, medicinal tea, and for chewing gum – source). Lots of deer too, who don’t seem to be too afraid of people. But you’re not a Disney princess, so don’t feed them.
There isn’t a ton of shade on this trail, so it’s best to do it early in the morning or in the early evening (and remember, sunset in the mountains/canyons is always earlier than places where there are not gigantic rocks blocking the sun 🙂 ) While it doesn’t give you some of the higher views that the more intense hikes do, you still see a lot of the beauty of the canyon.
The Emerald Pools
This hike was a bit more crowded than the Pa’rus trail, so get there early as you can (which can be hard with kids—for some reason our kids sleep in only on vacation so we got a later start). You’ll need to take the Canyon shuttle to get here as well! We only hiked the lower pools because the upper pool trail was closed due to a rockslide. A bit of magic: a butterfly followed us nearly the entire trail, so that was cool. We also saw a deer, squirrel, and woodpecker. There are a couple of sloped drop-offs…not like cliffs, but still enough to make you paranoid if you have a fearless child like our five-year-old. It’s three miles round-trip and since Micah stopped to climb every single rock it took us probably two to two and a half hours to hike.
When you get to the lower pools the trail gets really wet, so if you don’t have grippy shoes, be careful! If there aren’t too many people you can find a spot to sit and just soak in the fairy world that is the emerald pools…if there are a lot of people, just know it’s going to be loud and echo-y.
How to get around Zion National Park
Getting around Springdale and Zion is SO EASY. They really have it down to an art. In the city of Springdale, there are buses that run every 10-15 minutes and they have six different stops in town. The last stop takes you up to the Canyon where you cross the footbridge into Zion National Park (if you don’t have a year-long national park pass, get one, because otherwise, you pay $35 every time you visit the park for three days OR pay $80 for a year-long pass.) Anyway, from there you’ll find a visitor center, restrooms, and signs for the Pa’rus trail OR you can get in line for the Canyon shuttles, which also run every 10-15 minutes. Taking public transit kind of makes me anxious, but they make this so easy for you to navigate, that it’s not a problem!
The City of Springdale
I love Springdale! It’s at the base of Zion Canyon and is basically a little hippie town; tons of jewelry shops, a few outdoor stores (praise, because we ended up getting sandals for all of us), a couple of galleries, at least one market, a laundromat, and a bunch of little restaurants and urgent care if you need it. And TONS of prickly pear! I just wanted to take all the fruit and make lemonade. It seemed that most of the locals liked having tourists, but there were a couple of places that did not…so. Yeah. Aside from that, it’s a pretty walkable town on your own, but with kids, it’s just as easy to take the FREE town shuttles. They run about every 10-15 minutes.
When to go
We went the second week in September and while there weren’t many families with kids, there were a lot of snowbirds, young couples/humans. I’d definitely go again in September! Still warm during the day (freezing at night, because, deserts), and not crowded! We only had to wait in line for a canyon shuttle once and even then, it only took about 15 minutes.
Soooo that’s our Zion trip! Oh, and though you are out in nature, there are still a lot of people so it was kind of hard to find a quiet space. We did find space by the river, so that’s a good place to go if you’re looking for solitude!