Zion National Park is located in southwest Utah. Known for its steep red cliffs, emerald pools, and waterfalls, it’s one of the most popular National Parks in the U.S. With a variety of hiking trails, it’s ideal for solo travelers, families, and any age group. Use this first time guide when visiting Zion Nationl Park to discover lodging options, must-see hiking trails, and learn how to get around inside the park.
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Visiting Zion National Park: A Beginner’s Guide
Zion National Park had always been on my bucket list. In fact, it was the number one National Park on my list. When I received an invitation to Las Vegas for a wedding, I realized I’d be within a couple of hours driving distance of Zion because it’s located in southern Utah, near the Arizona state line. I knew the timing was right, and so we began planning.
Zion National Park has become a popular destination over the years. As people see the incredible photos taken of the Zion canyons, they too want to experience it firsthand. Zion National Park is even more beautiful than what can be captured in a picture. During our visit, my family would comment that what we were seeing with our own eyes seemed unreal. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited (and that’s saying a lot).
When To Start Planning
The National Parks in the U.S are common destinations for family travelers. Booking in advance is always advised, especially if you want to stay near the park. Some of the lodging options book up months in advance. If you are looking for in-park lodging options, you should start planning as soon as possible. However, if you want to visit soon and you haven’t started planning, don’t worry. Our visit was booked only 3 weeks in advance. We stayed 10-15 minutes outside of the park (during the off-season) and immensely enjoyed our stay.
There are also several campsites options if you want to camp in a tent or RV.
Best Time Of Year To Visit
As I mentioned, the parks can get very crowded during the summer months. We traveled during the beginning of September and found this to be an ideal time of year to visit. We didn’t have to contend with crowded trails or stand in line for a long period of time waiting for transportation inside the park. The Park recommends planning a visit between May and November. We spoke to other travelers on our visit who said the vibrant fall colors are best seen during late October.
I recommend visiting during the off-season. We have kids who are in school, so our best option was to fly into Las Vegas (you can get great deals on airfare to Vegas all year round). From Vegas, we rented a car and drove 3 hours to Zion. We saved a lot of travel time by flying, which allowed us to spend a long weekend at the park.
Where To Stay
The Zion Lodge is a great place to stay if you want to stay inside the park. There are advantages to this, the biggest one being the breathtaking scenic views and the ability to be so close to all of the hiking trails and activities. Springdale, Utah, had a lot of lodging options and it’s located immediately outside the park’s south entrance. Prices for these accommodations vary. This area had a lot of dining and shopping options as well. Be sure to eat at Oscar’s Café; it was wonderful! There is also an East entrance to Zion National Park along Route 9.
Our family stayed at a new La Quinta Inn & Suites in La Verkin, Utah. I highly recommend this hotel. It was only a short drive to the National Park and we loved the city of La Verkin. There is also a beautiful lookout area a short drive from the hotel. Every evening we would drive to the lookout at sunset. This was by far one of our favorite memories from our visit.
You might consider RVing to Zion National Park if you’re traveling with a family. We recently rented an RV from RVshare and it opened our eyes to how incredible this form of travel is. If you avoid road trips because you’re tired of hearing your kids yell “she’s touching me” than RV travel might be game-changer for you. Check out the RV’s available for rent in your area here and then check out “The Top 10 Campgrounds and RV Parks around Zion National Park“. For my next trip to Zion, I’m going to fly to Vegas and rent an RV once I get there. Flights to Vegas are cheap and then I can be in control of my accommodations during my trip.
Read More: Where to stay near Zion National Park
What To Pack When Visiting Zion National Park
If you are hiking with the family inside the National Park, you will want the right hiking gear. Be sure to bring the following:
- Refillable water bottles, as there are filling stations throughout the park.
- Snacks. Some hikes can take a few hours and you will want to fuel your body along the way!
- A good pair of hiking shoes are necessary. Look for ones with ankle support.
- A light-weight backpack
- Rain ponchos
- Sunscreen – check out this post on the best sunscreen for kids and babies.
Read More: What to Pack for a Day Hike
Tips For Your Visit
Don’t forget to get a map at the visitor center when visiting Zion National Park. We used ours constantly during our trip.
You can pack a picnic lunch and enjoy it inside the park. There also are dining options if you prefer. Outside of the Red Rock Grill is a beautiful tall tree and under it is the perfect picnic spot. Many families gathered around to relax, eat and take in the scenery.
Transportation to and from the park is easy. If you decide not to park inside the National Park (parking fills up by mid-morning) you can park alongside the road in Springdale and walk to one of the 8 bus stops. The free Zion shuttle buses run to and from the National Park during the day. We loved having this option and did it every day to visit the park.
Tune in to the radio station 1610 AM when you get into the town of Springdale. This station provides lots of information about your visit to Zion.
Once inside the park, there is a free shuttle system that runs from early spring to late fall. It’s great for going from one trail to the next. We rode the shuttle bus around to all the stops when we first got there, just taking in the beautiful park (it’s an 80-minute ride round trip). I highly recommend doing this first.
Kid-Friendly Day Hikes
Always check out the National Park Service website to see which trails are open during your visit. Several things can close certain trails like flash flooding, rock-fall damage and more. It’s a good idea to ask at the park entrance on the day of your visit to see if there are any trails that you should avoid.
Family Trail Hiking
The Riverside Walk is a great trail for families.
Weeping Rock is a MUST-SEE. There is a short steep trail but the view is well worth it. We took our three girls, ages 8, 6, and 4, and everyone loved it!
The first part of the Emerald Pools trail (Lower Emerald Pool) is good for young children. Exercise caution when visiting the Middle and Upper Emerald Pools. Our family hiked to all three Emerald Pools and we loved it; however, the hike to the final Upper Emerald Pool was definitely more intense with a few steep drop-offs and not recommended for small children unless they were experienced hikers.
The Narrows is one of the most popular hikes in the park. We did not hike through the Narrows, but you can see them from the Riverside Walk. To hike the Narrows you’ll be wading through the Virgin River. Your feet will get wet but the kids might like to play in the water especially during the hot summer months. The best way to reach the Narrows is to start your hike from the Temple of Sinawava on the Riverside Walk.
The Canyon Overlook trail produces some of the most beautiful photos ever taken at Zion. It’s a 1-mile round trip hike and one that the kids could enjoy.
Consider taking the Zion Canyon scenic drive if you’re looking for a way to enjoy Zion without having to hike through it. The entire scenic drive is 1.5 hrs long. From the west, you get on the scenic drive at the intersection of Hwy 9 and Interstate 15, it’s about 9 miles east of St. George. From the east, the scenic drive ends at Hwy 89, at Mt. Carmel Junction. We always try to take the kids on these scenic drives through any National Park because it’s a great way for the entire family to soak in the views together.
TravelingMom Tip: Here is a great resource for desert hiking tips.
Trails to Avoid with Kids
Knowing which trails to avoid is also helpful when visiting Zion National Park with kids. One of those trails is Angels Landing. Of course, this is the trail that Zion National Park is known for so if you can plan a visit without kids, this is the trails you’ll want to hike. The Observation Point is 8 miles long with 2,300 feet of climbing and has some of the best views in the park.
Other things you might enjoy seeing when you’re not with kids:
- Visit the Checkerboard Mesa
- Slot Canyons – if you want to really explore and are ready to dive into the world of canyoneering then check this guide.
- The West and East Rim Trails
- The Subway – a permit is required to hike the Subway.
- Biking in Zion – Bicycling is permitted on all park roadways and on the Pa’rus Trail
Other Nearby Canyons
Zion National Park is not the only place in the area to see canyons. In fact, both the Kolob canyons and Bryce canyons are within an hour’s drive of Zion. Did you know that the Grand Canyon is only a 4-hour drive from Zion National Park? It might be worth making an entire vacation out of canyon visits!
TravelingMom Tip: We love US National Parks and we have guides for many of them. Our goal is to help make travel with kids fun!