August 16, 2017

Exploring with Kids: Zion National Park

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Hiking the Emerald Pools Trail

My family recently had the opportunity to go to Zion National Park in Utah. With family living in Las Vegas, my husband and I have often considered a trip, but the timing and seasons never seemed right until our recent trip. We embarked on a 3,400-mile road trip with our two kids who were just shy of their third and first birthdays. Since we weren’t sure how the road trip was going to go with two young kids, we didn’t plan anything ahead of time. Although our daughter kept asking when we were going to get to the airport, the road trip went very well. Zion National Park was the last leg of our road trip.

At nearly 100 years old, Zion National Park is Utah’s oldest national park. In 1925, the Zion Lodge complex was built, but it wasn’t until the 1930s, when the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway opened, that visitation to the park began to increase. Today, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway open up the park’s beauty to the nearly three million people who visit each year.

We made our way from Las Vegas to Springdale, Utah in an easy half day’s drive (Las Vegas is the closest big city). We found a quick bite to eat right outside the park’s entrance and immediately saw why Zion is a must-see for any outdoor or national park enthusiast. With its rugged red rocks, the beauty is amazing and unlike other areas we had visited before.

Due to increasing smog and congestion in the canyon, private vehicles are banned from the park from April to October. I was concerned about how this would work with our two young kiddos, but it was great. We parked, loaded up our kid carrier with water, snacks, diaper supplies and spare clothes, and off we went to ride the free shuttle system. Our 11-month-old sat in our laps while our 3-year-old was thrilled to ride a bus.

We stopped at the Zion Lodge shuttle stop and opted to hike the Emerald Pools Trail. As one of the park’s main hikes, this trail was very family-friendly and easily walked by our nearly 3-year-old. When we got to the top, we decided the kids were doing so well, we hiked up to another set of pools and then took another trail back to the main road and shuttle stop. The scenery was spectacular and the weather was comfortable and sunny. Since most of the hikes are in a canyon, there is not the altitude gain that there might be in other parks, so no additional layers of clothing were needed.

We finished the day by riding the shuttle bus to the end of the line and back again so we could get an overall view of everything the park had to offer. Taking the shuttle on a full round trip without getting off takes about 80 minutes. We arrived back at our car all thoroughly having enjoyed our day.

We returned back to Springdale, just outside the entrance, and easily found a hotel to stay for the night. Since it was near the end of peak season and mid-week, I did not make reservations ahead of time, but strongly suggest doing so in busier times. The Zion Lodge and a few of the hotels were full even on our off-peak visit.

The next morning we drove east on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. We read that driving through the park’s 1.1 mile tunnel, with its six large windows, was an experience. Built in the late 1920s, the tunnel would still be considered quite an engineering feat. Once on the other side, the landscape and scenery started to change and became more like a high prairie. Unfortunately for us, that was all of the time we could spend in Zion National Park on this trip, but given the chance, we would like to go back again.

Although our only main activity was a family hike, Zion has a lot to offer. Rock climbing, canyoneering, biking, tubing and 4×4 riding are just a few of the adventures you can go on if you have older kids. There are also three campgrounds in the park. If you do plan to go out on a hike or another adventure, remember that you’ll have to take the shuttle system, so plan on being away from your car for much of the day. It’s especially important if you have young ones to pack supplies and extra clothes, diapers, etc.

When planning your visit, consider connecting your visit with a trip to Bryce Canyon National Park. Just a couple of hours away by car, these parks have so much beauty and history to offer. Have even more time? The north rim of Grand Canyon National Park is also easily reachable from the east side of Zion.

Christin Couvreux is mom to a take-charge toddler girl and her easy-going little brother. She met her husband while sailing competitively around the world and though she is now mom more than sailor, her husband still travels worldwide to race. She writes about bringing their kids along at Kiddos on Board.

Photo Credit: Christin Couvreux

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