Utah: Zion National Park in Two Days
This post is part of our 8-Day SW National Park Road Trip with a Toddler series. The Introduction, route map, and itinerary can be found here.
Located a scant 2.5 hours from Las Vegas and in the very far southwestern corner of Utah lies the State’s first National Park: Zion. And what a fascinating place. The Virgin River winds its way out of the famous Zion Canyon and is one of the country’s most interesting river hikes. Angel’s Landing hike is a strenuous climb along a narrow ridge with an unforgettable end point. Families will likely prefer the more relaxed Emerald Pools walk or checking out the Zion Human History Museum.
Begin the day at the visitor’s center, directly adjacent to the main park entrance. Rangers can update you on the day’s weather forecast, including the flash flood potential. Leave your car in the main lot and hop the free shuttle to the Zion Lodge. Here you can cross the river and head for the Lower Emerald Pools Trail. Continuing on up the trail on the Kayenta Trail and then crossing back over the river on the Grotto trail to return to the Lodge makes for an easy 2 mile loop. Add in the Upper Emerald Pool spur (recommended) for an additional mile. Flow into the pools varies by season but the view down the valley is worth the walk.
No visit to Zion is complete without a drive east along Highway 9 on the Zion-Mt. Carmel route which goes through long tunnels and passes amazing scenery. Dall sheep can often be seen on the adjacent rock faces and there are plenty of spots for exploring the many washes and canyons that line the road. Return the way you came and check into the Best Western Zion Park Inn (soon to be a Holiday Express). There are several hotels in Springdale, but only the Best Western has an outdoor heated pool and large hot tub.
Enjoy a tasty dinner at Oscar’s Cafe in Springdale but arrive early as it’s usually hopping by 6pm.
Today is a big day! Get those hiking boots laced up. But first: be sure to tuck into the magnificent breakfast buffet that is included with your hotel stay. Next, choose between the Narrows Canyon River Hike or the equally famous Angel’s Landing Hike. Both should be researched and a consult with rangers is advised to check weather and conditions before beginning. Families with small children are strongly advised not to attempt Angel’s Landing as it is categorized as a highly trafficked, strenuous climb and involves scaling rock walls and navigating narrow outcrops that are flanked by deep chasms. Park rangers do not recommend bringing children, even if they’re riding in backpacks. Save this one for when the kids are in their teens and more confident on the trails.
The Narrows Canyon River Hike is the gem of Zion National Park. Families of all abilities will enjoy the 1.0 mile paved Riverside Walk beginning at the Temple of Sinawava tram stop. The trail winds along the Virgin River, the walls of the canyon steadily closing in above. At the end of the trail, the pavement ends and explorers will have to walk directly in the water if they’d like to proceed up the narrow canyon. If your family is capable of continuing further and the conditions are favorable, then we highly recommend pushing on as both kids and parents will be delighted and amazed by the intricacies of the canyon. No permit is required for the ‘bottom-up’ day hike and you can turn around at any point. River walking is slow so expect to cover approximately 1 mile/hour; don’t expect the return trip downstream to be noticeably faster.
Click here for more details on hiking the Zion Narrows with kids.
Upon your arrival back to the hotel, celebrate with a spicy curry from Thai Sapa and good long soak in the hot tub.
If you have an additional day:
Parents and children as young as six will enjoy a grand adventure playing cowpoke at Jacob’s Ranch outside of Springdale. This is not your average nose-to-tail ride; spend a full day learning the intricacies of horsemanship before exploring the national park for the trail ride of a lifetime. Picture gorgeous scenery, galloping horses, and a steak dinner grilled over an open camp fire. Yeehaw!
Zion National Park: A 7-day pass is available for $25/vehicle at the entrance gate. An $80 unlimited annual pass might be financially feasible if you plan on visiting multiple parks.
Best Western Zion Park Inn (soon to be Holiday Inn Express) 1215 Zion Park Boulevard, Springdale, Utah, 84767. From $149/night. Good WiFi, heated outdoor pool, fridge (but not freezer), free (and excellent) full breakfast.
Emerald Pools/Kayenta Trail Loop with Upper Emerald Pool Spur. 3.1 miles roundtrip. Easy. Families of all ability levels will enjoy this trail that begins at Zion Lodge and crosses over the Virgin River.
Riverside Walk. 2.0 miles roundtrip. Begin from the Temple of Sinawava tram stop. The trail is paved and in good condition with minimal elevational changes.
Narrows Bottom-Up Hike, 2.0+ miles roundtrip. This trail includes the Riverside Walk but then continues up the canyon, using the river as a trial. Wear good footwear and appropriate clothing. Be flash-flood aware.
Jacob’s Ranch Horseback Riding 375 E Hwy 9, Virgin, UT 84779
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