Visiting Zion National Park with Kids

A canyoneering adventure through the Subway, Zion National Park

 Zeb Andrews / Getty Images 

Are you bringing your kids to Zion National Park? The most visited of the mighty five national parks in southern Utah, Zion is a place for adventurers, as only a fraction of the park can be seen from the road. From different trailheads on the canyon floor, there are hundreds of miles of trails leading into the narrow slot canyons and alongside the towering cliffs of Navajo sandstone. It's a geology geek's paradise, with rock formations that span more than 150 million years of history.

Getting Oriented

This is not a drive-through park. You leave your car at one of the parking lots and take a shuttle to the part of the park where you want to go. There is an excellent, free shuttle system that serves Zion Canyon in a loop and can bring you to the most popular areas. Grab maps at the park visitor center, then continue on foot or by car to a parking lot.

Free ranger-led programs are offered at Zion Canyon and Kolob Canyons from April to November. Topics include geology, plants, animals, human history, and more. There are also family programs that are designed specifically for children. These are offered intermittently through March and April, and in the summer from Memorial Day through Labor Day Weekend.

Also, there are short (30 to 45 minute) kid-friendly nature programs offered daily from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day at the Zion Nature Center, which is located next to the South Campground. To get to the nature center, take the Pa'rus Trail.

Don't Miss the Narrows

The Narrows is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. This gorge has thousand-foot walls with the Virgin River just 20 to 30 feet wide. You can see The Narrows from the paved, stroller-friendly Riverside Walk. If you want to hike through The Narrows, you will need to hike right in the Virgin River, which means wading. Wear appropriate footwear.

Many hikers start at the Temple of Sinawava via the Riverside Walk and then walk upstream before turning around and hiking back down to the Temple of Sinawava. Other popular trails range in difficulty and length, from 6.5 miles to more than 15 miles.

Where to Stay

Zion Lodge is located right inside the park and offers hotel rooms (most with two queen-size beds and flatscreen TVs), suites (feature a bedroom plus a sitting room with a flatscreen TV), and 28 basic yet comfortable cabins with gas log fireplaces, private porches, and full baths. The lodge is also a great place to grab lunch.

Within a few minutes' walk to the park's entrance, Cable Mountain Lodge, in Springdale, is an upscale yet affordable option with spacious guest rooms featuring comfortable beds with pillowtop mattresses, separate dining areas, balconies or patios, flatscreen TVs, and free Wi-Fi.

When to Visit

Zion gets very hot and crowded in the summer. But if you come in the autumn, winter, or spring, you'll find wonderful pockets of deserted solitude among the snow-dusted red rocks and colorful wildflowers.

Know Before You Go

  • Bring a day bag with bottled water, snacks, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, and other essentials.
  • Wear sturdy walking shoes or hiking boots. 
  • If you've got a very young child, put them in a child carrier. There are not many places you can navigate with a stroller.
  • Be sure to check the weather forecast before starting a hike. Storms can cause flash floods through canyons.
  • There is no Wi-Fi signal in the park, so don't venture off the beaten path. Stick to the trails.
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