DFWChild / Articles / Things to Do / Travel / Planning a Family Vacation to Zion National Park
summer family trip to Zion National Park, Utah

Planning a Family Vacation to Zion National Park

tips for exploring the majestic sandstone landscape

One of our family goals for this year is to get outside and explore nature more. When we saw photos of a neighbor’s trip to Zion National Park, we knew it would be a great destination to make that happen. Here’s what I learned and recommend when it comes to taking a trip to Zion with a kiddo.

When to Visit

My family (including my husband and our 7-year-old son) was far from alone in trekking to the park in southern Utah over the summer; a record 676,000 visitors went to Zion in June. But there was so much park to explore that we felt like we had plenty of room, even on the most popular trails and during the July Fourth weekend.

While the crowds weren’t intense, the heat was. July was pretty brutal in the middle of the day for the trails that didn’t feature a lot of shade. However, we felt great and downright cool during our morning river hike. (More on that later.) I think spring, early summer and fall would all be ideal for a visit. Just keep an eye on the forecast; flash flooding is possible.

Everyone we came across in town recommended a very early start to our days at the park, so we rolled through the park entrance at 6:10am. We probably would have been there earlier but for the fact that my son was like a zombie at that hour of the morning. (And let’s be honest, I’m not exactly a morning person either.)

While our early arrival did secure us a parking spot inside the park that first day, we decided to go later the next day. We parked in town and took a shuttle to the park about 9am. The lines to get on the shuttle for the scenic drive (where you’ll find the most picturesque trails) were shorter by that hour—that was definitely a plus, especially when you have a child who doesn’t like to wait. If you’re doing the river hike, I think a mid-morning arrival is definitely OK; the water kept us cool. For other trails, an earlier arrival will help if you’re going in triple-digit temperatures. (And no matter what the weather, bring water, of course! Sunscreen and a sun hat are also important.)

RELATED: Looking for Destinations Closer to Home? 60 Outdoor Adventures in DFW 

What to Hike with Kids

Our favorite trail, by far, was The Narrows. This is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. You hike through the Virgin River, sometimes just 20–30 feet wide, surrounded by walls 1,000 feet tall. We all loved this experience. You can make it an all-day adventure or just go as far as your child wants. It’s an out-and-back hike, so keep in mind that you will have to cover the same amount of river going out as you did going in.

We were a bit worried about “over-gearing” (didn’t want to buy or rent a ton of stuff we didn’t need), so we didn’t go for the waterproof hiking boots, neoprene socks and walking sticks. We wore tennis shoes designed for the water and supposedly waterproof socks we ordered off Amazon. They were fine, but I do wish we’d each had a walking stick. The riverbed is composed completely of uneven rocks, and a walking stick or hiking pole would have helped with balance. (I slipped only once though!) You can rent walking sticks, boots and neoprene socks at an outfitter outside the park’s entrance.

On our second day, we hiked the Emerald Pools trails. The magnitude of the rocky cliffs around us was stunning; we experienced some of the most beautiful views of the park. In a hot, dry July, the waterfall at the end of the hike was sparser than we would have liked. Still, the water that was there felt great—there’s an area in the lower trail area where you can lean back against the rock wall into a bit of the flow. That refreshed us and gave us energy for the hike back.

We planned to do the Canyon Overlook Trail as well, which you can find after driving through a mile-long tunnel to the other side of the park. We didn’t find a parking spot and ended up skipping that in favor of a nap at our resort. Which brings me to…

Where to Stay

The only in-park lodging is at Zion National Park Lodge. Located about halfway up the scenic drive, it’s a lovely spot with a big lawn and an even bigger tree (we’re talking massive) in the middle. On cooler days, it would be nice to bring a blanket and relax out on the grass. The lodge tends to book up fast, so look into it as soon as possible if you want a room.

We stayed about 15 minutes outside the park at a place called Zion Wildflower Resort. It’s a “glamping” site, with bungalows, large tents (with beds inside!) and even covered wagons. We opted for a bungalow, since it offered both A/C and a private bathroom. There’s an open lawn in the middle with hammocks, a fire pit for s’mores and a swing set. It was so magical under the stars.

We passed tons of other lodging options on the drive into Zion. Check out your choices at zionpark.com/lodging. As far as how long to book—we came in late afternoon, spent an hour or two in the areas of the park you can access by car, then had two full days of hiking. We felt good about that, but you could stay a day longer and drive out to Bryce Canyon National Park if your kids are up for it. (Mine was not—we tired him out at Zion.)

More Zion Favorites and Things to Know

We loved eating at MeMe’s Café, on the main road outside the park. The crepes were amazing; my son loved the Nutella option, while my husband went for Nutella and bananas. I chose the Verry Berry Crepe. Yum!

On our last night in Zion, we had photos taken by Simone Montez with Zion Adventure Photog. She took us to a gorgeous terrace with wildflowers and sandstone-cliff views—somewhere we never would have found on our own. The pics were incredible, with a setting you won’t find anywhere near North Texas, and Simone managed to get tons of smiles and laughs out of our kiddo. Highly recommend!

Zion Adventure Photog also has a downloadable guide to visiting the area with kids. It gave us some great ideas.

Learn more about the park at nps.gov/zion. Happy hiking!

Top image courtesy of Zion Adventure Photog/Simone Montez