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Zion National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the United States. A family vacation to Zion is an opportunity to explore one of the most beautiful areas of the country, hike some of the most famous trails in America, and learn about nature by connecting with it! Luckily, there are a lot of things to do in Zion with kids, including easy scenic hikes and other fun outdoor activities.
Things to know before visiting Zion National Park
Before visiting any national park of destination, it is good to have some general information about it. Zion, in particular, requires a bit more planning than most national parks. For one, it is a highly visited destination, so you want to plan for or around the crowds when visiting Zion with kids. Secondly, unlike most national parks, like Yellowstone, where you can do a self-driving tour, during much of the year, parts of Zion are only accessible by shuttle. Parking throughout the park is extremely limited!
Zion National Park requires entrants to purchase a recreation use pass prior to entering. You can purchase a weekly pass for $35 per week. However, if visiting Zion as part of a Utah or Southwest USA road trip, you may want to buy a national park pass. The national park pass grants you access to all national parks in the United States for one full year. Considering there are 5 national parks in Utah alone, it is well worth buying the park pass instead of paying park admission at every park.
Parking in Zion National Park is extremely limited and parking spots fill up very early in the morning. So, the shuttle is the best way to get around the park if you plan to hike any of Zion’s popular trails. There is a free shuttle that takes you from the town of Springdale to a variety of different stops throughout the national park. You can find more information on the Zion shuttle here.
Best time to visit Zion National Park
Zion is open year round. However, not all seasons are created equal, and when to visit Zion National Park depends on what you hope to do while there.
Summer is the most popular time to visit Zion with kids. Children are out of school, so if visiting Zion in summer, expect crowds. Summer can also be extremely hot. Temperatures over 100 F (38 C) are not uncommon!
Fall would be a great time to visit Zion if you are trying to avoid the crowds and are seeking a slightly calmer experience. However, temperatures can get chilly at night, and the shuttles run less frequently due to fewer people visiting the park.
Winter in Utah is cold. So cold, in fact, that they can build attractions entirely built from ice. You can often experience snow in the park, particularly at higher elevations. Some of the trails will also be cold due to the risk of icy conditions. Hiking the Narrows in winter would also likely be out of the question, unless wading through icy cold water in a dry-suit sounds appealing.
Spring can be a great time to visit Zion with kids. But expect, nights to still be rather cold. Depending on the amount of snow in southern Utah the previous winter, some trails may still be inaccessible, particularly in early spring.
Where to stay near Zion with kids
There are plenty of great options for hotels and Airbnbs near Zion. If you choose to stay inside the national park, Zion Lodge is located directly on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Camping in Zion is also an option but requires a reservation.
Finally, many people on a family vacation to Zion stay in Springdale, the gateway town to the national park. There are a ton of great hotels, motels, and unique lodging options in this town, just a mile or so from the visitors center for Zion National Park.
Best hikes in Zion National Park with kids
Hiking is by far the most popular activity in Zion National Park. Zion is home to two of the most famous and unique hikes in the United States: Angel’s Landing and The Narrows. Here are some of the best hikes to do in Zion with kids.
Pa’rus Trail is an easy, paved, wheelchair accessible trail that starts at the Visitor Center and goes 3.5 miles to Canyon Junction shuttle stop. This relatively flat trail is perhaps the easiest trail in the park. It is the only trail in Zion open to both pets and cyclists. The wide trail is an easy beginner hike, although don’t expect the dramatic canyon views that Zion is known for. Regardless, Pa’rus Trail is very pretty, and makes for the perfect Zion hike with babies or toddlers.
Emerald Pools ( Lower Emerald Pools and Upper Emerald Pools)
Emerald Pools is another great hike in Zion with kids. It was a personal favorite for our (at the time) 5-year-old daughter. The hike leads you to a series of three tiers of natural ponds, known as lower, middle, and upper Emerald Pools. While there is a steep drop off at times along the trail, it is an easy-to-moderate trail that climbs comfortably and evenly in elevation. The trail is roughly 2 miles, and you can turn around at any of the three pools.
If hiking in Zion with kids, the pools offer a relaxing stopping place for some imaginative exploration. While you can’t swim or play in the water, our daughter enjoyed catching and releasing tadpoles in the middle pools.
Canyon Overlook is a short trail in Zion that ends with spectacular views. Located in the Upper East Canyon, on the other side of the Mt. Carmel tunnel, this hike also has some areas with steep drops, similar to the path to Emerald Pools, so be extra careful if doing this Zion hike with kids, particularly young children.
Riverside Walk is another easy, mostly paved hike to do in Zion with kids. If you plan to hike the Narrows, you basically have to do Riverside Walk, as well. This flat trail takes you alongside the Virgin River for approximately one mile, before dropping you off at the entrance to the slot canyon known as the Narrows.
Another personal favorite, the Narrows is one of the most famous trails in the United States, and for good reason. This unique hiking trail involves trekking through one of the best slot canyons in Utah and through a river of running water. Hiking the Narrows with kids is not only possible, it is a lot of fun for the entire family! This in-and-out hike can be as long or as short as you would like. Once you, or your kids, feel like they’ve gone far enough, you can turn around. We would recommend hiking poles if planning to hike the Narrow, with kids or without. Walking through the water, which is constantly running, can be very slippery.
While the water is typically only ankle or knee-deep on an adult, it can get up to waist-deep or higher, depending on how much rain southern Utah has experienced. On that note, be sure to check the weather before hiking the Narrows in Zion. Slot canyons are prone to flash flooding and can turn very dangerous and even deadly in a matter of minutes if it rains.
Can you hike Angel’s Landing with kids?
The short answer: Please don’t… at least don’t attempt the final stretch to the top of Angel’s Landing which requires holding onto chains while ascending a narrow area with gut-wrenching drop offs on each side. To put it bluntly, this is one of the most dangerous and deadly hikes in America. People are falling to their death at an increasingly alarming rate. As a friend of ours who is an experienced hiker and a Utah native put it, ‘the scariest part about Angel’s Landing is watching inexperienced people, like families with kids, attempt to hike it.’
If you are visiting Zion with kids, please don’t risk their lives for a cool hike. Kids just aren’t experienced or coordinated enough for such a challenging and technical hike, where literally one wrong step could be fatal.
Other things to do in Zion with kids
Aside from hiking and enjoying the breathtaking views, there are a few other things to do in Zion with kids.
Zion Mount Carmel Highway
The Mount Carmel Highway in Zion is a fun, scenic drive that passes through long, dark tunnels that occasionally have natural windows that will give you a brief glimpse of the deep canyon below. The ten-mile long highway also takes you down a series of switchbacks from the cliffs to the bottom of the canyon.
Junior Ranger Program
Kids ages 6 to 12 can become an honorary, certified junior ranger during your family trip to Zion National Park. Just pick up the inexpensive ($1.00) activity booklet at the visitor center, and have your kids complete the booklet, which includes some educational information and questions about the park. Once the booklet is complete, they will receive their special Explorer Patch and will officially be a junior ranger.
Play in the Virgin River
After a long sweaty hike during the hot summer months, there is nothing more refreshing than dipping your feet into the cold waters of the Virgin River. You can also book a river tubing tour just outside of Zion for even more water fun!
What to bring in your day pack if visiting Zion with kids
If visiting Zion National Park with kids there are a few things you will definitely want to have with you in your day pack. These necessary items are essential to keep you and your kids safe from the sun, heat, and often unforgiving elements within the national park.
- Lots of water
- Lip balm
- First Aid
- Hiking Poles
Have a question or comment about traveling to Zion with kids? We’d love to hear from you. Leave your thoughts or questions in the comment section below.