Zion is one of the most beautiful national parks everyone should experience, especially with children. Because this was our first visit, I really didn’t know exactly what we were in for other than the google image search I had done. My children are 6yrs & 7yrs so I wasn’t even sure if they were going to be able to hike an entire day. Well let me tell you not only can you get a good sense of Zion in just one day, you will probably leave wanting more. Between the unique, red and yellow and white canyon walls to the waterfalls and river, it’s remarkable. This is my family guide to Zion National Park with young children.
I traveled there with my 2 sons and my best friends family. They have 2 boys as well and because we wanted them to spend lots of time together, we decided on an AIRBNB rather than a hotel inside Zion. We were lucky enough to find this charming Airbnb cabin that was just 25 minutes from Zion. It was beautifully decorated, spacious and had both outdoor and indoor activities for the kids!
TIP: be prepared to book your rooms or rentals at least 6 months in advance if not more… everything books up fast.
We began our day at at 8am at the Visitors center to ask heaps of questions about our path with young children. The Shuttle Service makes it incredibly easy to explore the entire park and during your ride they have an interesting history story along the way.
Just the gist ... Originally explored in the 1800’s by the Mormon pioneers and Southern Paiute Indians, the area wasn’t declared the area as federally protected until 1909 by President William Taft who officially named it Mukuntuweap National Monument. But in 1919 the name was changed to Zion National Park marking this year its 100th anniversary.
There are 9 shuttle service stops and it runs all day with wait times no longer than 15 mins for each stop. We decide to start at the very last shuttle stop #9 at the Temple of Sinewava to hike the Riverside Walk to The Narrows which is the most popular hike.
TIP: Pack-> Snacks - kids need refueled. Sunscreen - although many hikes have shade some are in directly sunlight. Chapstick - Zion is in the desert. And LOTS of water, there are refill stations along the way.
The Riverside Walk is a beautiful trail and is actually paved all the way to the start of the Narrows. This hike is just over 2 miles and took us about 2 hours. This is one of the best hikes with kids in Zion for a few reasons. One, it’s an easy walk along the river with waterfalls and beautiful cliff walls and rock formations for the kids to climb. And Two, there are an abundance of chipmunks and squirrels (which you aren’t supposed to feed, but these are the chunkiest rodents I’ve ever seen, lol)
We stopped at the start of The Narrows, mainly because its a wet hike that you walk through the river about knee high and we weren’t prepared with water shoes. But definitely will next time because it’s mesmerizing and my kids were eager to walk in the water.
Next we shuttled to stop #5 to have lunch at the Zion Lodge, which is the only in-park lodging. Pretty simple meal options, but definitely kids friendly. There are outdoor picnic tables and a gorgeous large green lawn space with 360 degree spectacular views.
Directly across the street are the Emerald Pools. This is a fun, relatively easy trail. It’s not too long either. The payoff at the end of the trail is worth it, the waterfalls. They are captivating. For sure a favorite for the kids. Back at the beginning of the trail you can access the river and because it was a very hot July afternoon we all took a little dip in the water. The rocks are slippery and the rapids can take a child down the river… my poor Cruz learned that lesson so keep an eye out, eek! Totally worth it, the kids loved this part probably the most and the adults needed the cool off.
Although us adults wanted to explore a few more trails, the kids little legs were in need of a break so we headed to stop #2 The Zion Human History Museum. There is a 20 min film in a cool theatre that gives information about all the different parts of the park.
On our way out of the park we stopped at the first gift shop - the only non-profit shop in the park that gives 100% of their proceeds to Zion Forever Project. This organization is on a very deliberate mission to address the issues of the Park and help provide it with what it needs to survive and flourish for years to come.
We then took the drive to the other side of the park to go through the historic 1.1 mile long Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel to the east side. The story of its engineering is remarkable. To describe this drive is almost impossible, it’s just something you need to go experience. Here’s my time lapse video...
This brought us to around 5:30 pm and dinner time was on our minds, otherwise we would have explored the east sides big horn sheep and different landscape of sand stone rock formations all the way to Bryce Canyon. Next time for sure! This was a very special trip for us and highly recommended to experience, we will definitely be back.