Now that our kids are getting older (3.5 and 9 as of the moment of this post), it’s getting more and more fun to take them on outdoors adventures! Last year we had the best time exploring Sedona and fell in love with the magnificent red cliffs. After moving to Las Vegas, we got to explore some of the Red Rock Canyon just minutes away from our neighborhood. But when my mom came to visit I set my eyes on the next adventure: a weekend in Zion National Park with kids.
Where to stay
September and October are a busy season at Zion because the weather hits that sweet spot of not too hot during the day and not too cold in the mornings. If you plan on visiting during these months, I recommend booking your hotel at least a couple of month in advance. For example, Zion Lodge located in the heart of Zion and walking distance away from some of the hiking trails was booked through November.
Most Zion tourists stay in Springdale, which is a beautiful little town at the entrance to Zion.
I scoured Tripadvisor and ended up booking La Quinta which had good ratings and family friendly amenities. They offer complimentary hot breakfast and some rooms feature bunk beds. A fun pool with and a hot tub were a huge hit with the kids too.
As soon as we unpacked our bags and settled, kids raced to cool off in the water. The mushroom gave it almost a resort feel and a pool had a shallow splash area where my 3 year old could safely play.
I didn’t mind watching them splash from my lounge chair with a view 🙂
Also be prepared to come very close to wildlife. This little guy was confidently walking around and grazing grass clearly letting us know that we were the visitors, not him.
Kids were thrilled to watch animals in their natural habitat up close. If we didn’t do anything else, their day was made right there.
What to eat
If you come from Vegas on I-15N, I highly recommend stopping by at Mad Pita Express in St. George. It’s a family owned Greek restaurant that serves gyros, salads, kebobs, falafels, fries and desserts. We stopped by Mad Pita for lunch and we all agreed it was the best Greek restaurant EVER. Not only the food was lip licking good, the service was fast too! I already know it’s going to be our spot on all future trips through St. George.
In Springdale, you will find a typical mix of locally owned and chain restaurants. Spotted Dog came highly recommended, so we decided to give it a try. It’s a popular spot, so you will need to make reservations ahead of time, especially on the weekends. The restaurant has a casually chick ambience with a gorgeous outside patio that features most relaxing (and romantic?) views of surrounding red cliffs. As soon as you sit down, you’re served with freshly baked pita bread and the most amazing sauce, which resembles humus.
I was happy to see that they offered a kids menu! The kids went with hamburgers and french fries, while I ordered salmon with seasonal vegetables:
It was such a beautiful presentation and I really wanted to love it. Sadly the fish was disappointing, lacking flavor and texture. I saw other people enjoying meatloaf, so maybe I’ll try that next.
The next day we enjoyed breakfast at the hotel, and after the hike we had an amazing lunch at Cafe Soleil. It’s an artsy cafe with a nice selection of health food options, such as salads, sandwiches and egg scrambles. You can’t miss it on your way back from Zion, and it’s a perfect spot to relax and recharge after a hike.
How to get there
Springdale is located at the entrance to Zion, but most hotels are not really a walkable distance especially with kids. There are two ways to get to the Park. You can either catch a town bus from your hotel, or drive to the public parking lot. If you decide to park your car at the Park, plan on getting there before 8 AM during the high season. We made it there by 7:45 AM and the parking was 3/4 full. Also, there is a national park fee you have to pay at the entrance. If you have a military ID, you can get a free pass.
Once you are inside the park, head to the Visitor’s Center and locate a shuttle stop. It will drop you off at any of the hike locations. The ride on the shuttle is an adventure in itself! Make sure to have your camera ready and prepare to be amazed.
What to hike
The beautiful thing about Zion is that there are so many hiking routes for all levels, from pros to amatures. You can spend a weekend in Zion with kids and still have plenty left to do for another time!
Per locals recommendations we got off at the last stop #9 Temple of Sinawava and did the River Walk. It was absolutely amazing!
Tise trail follows the Virgin River along the bottom of a narrow canyon with breath-taking views. River Walk is rated as an easy hike and we saw several families with children on the way. Most of the route is paved and wheelchair accessible, so if you have small children in a stroller this is a great hike.
Make sure to check the weather. The Sun doesn’t hit the bottom of the canyon until 1 PM, and it’s definitely chilly and windy in the mornings.
We saw lots of wildlife on the way from deer to most brave squirrels that kept following us and asking for food. They almost got us in trouble before we remembered that we were not allowed to feed wildlife. Judging by the squirrels’ behavior the rule has been broken before.
The fun part was venturing off the paved trail and playing at the river. It was such a drastic change of scenery for our kids after the dessert landscape of Nevada and Arizona!
During our short breaks by the river, we had a blast collecting rocks, sticks and other souvenirs.
It must have been the crisp air or perhaps all the excitement but both kids walked the entire trail easily. We knew that the famous Narrows were at the end of the River Walk and we all wanted to see it! The Narrows is a 5 mile hike in the water. It requires proper equipment and clothing to stay warm and dry. Fast waters make the hike very challenging and we watched in awe as a few brave visitors started off on their hike in the river.
On the way back, we slowed down to play some more by the water. Despite heavy traffic on the trail, the river hideouts felt secluded and we got to enjoy a little piece of paradise all to ourselves.
If you are new to Utah landscape, these completely unreal views with a fast river and Marcian red rocks will take your breath away. Eventually my neck started to hurt from constantly glancing up to tips of the cliffs above us.
We paused to take it all in (and for a little break). By this time kids were starting to get tire, so I brought out the snacks from the backpack.
And then we found this awesome rock:
I tried not to think of thousand ton rock hanging above our heads haha.
By the time we reached the shuttle stop, everyone was happy and exhausted. Two minutes into a shuttle ride D was out:
We stopped for lunch at Cafe Soleil (see Where to Eat section above) and headed back to Las Vegas.
We all had a decent amount of walking (close to 3 miles) that day but it didn’t feel too strenuous. Counting multiple stops and river play, the the hike took us a little over 3 hours. I was glad we brought our jackets for the chilly morning, but it was definitely warm once the sun pierced through the canyon. We didn’t really need any specialty shoes for the paved trail. With the exception of Maria (I got her a brand new pair at REI the day before), all of us wore tennis shoes. I think that as long as you stick to paved trails, you and your kiddos can get away with regular clothes and shoes. If your kids are older and you prefer to venture out on more adventurous hikes, then hiking shoes are a must.
Hope you all enjoyed reading this post and hopefully it sparked an interest in visiting the beautiful Utah with your kids! Those of you who are outdoors pros – any recommendations on what to visit next? I’d love to hear about your favorite hikes!