Our recent visit to southern Utah’s Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks lasted just a few days, but we managed to cover a lot of ground, including side trips to Las Vegas and Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park. For families that enjoy the outdoors, southern Utah and the surrounding area offer lots of opportunities for exploration at whatever pace works for your family.
So, whether your group involves teens, tweens, grandparents or younger kids, visits to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks will be remembered for a long time. Using the Zion-Springdale area as a base camp here is our list of the Top 10 things for families with kids, teens and tween to do. Visit the links to see our more detailed articles about most of these activities:
- Start your visit to Zion riding the shuttle buses from Springdale or the Zion Lodge to the end of the Zion Canyon Road. The quiet propane-powered buses will take you to all the major landmarks while providing a sense of the peaceful setting discovered by the Canyon’s original settlers.
- Explore the Riverside Walk trail at the end of the bus ride. The lightly paved Riverside Walk begins at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle bus stop. The trail follows the Virgin River until it disappears into the river itself. It is a this point that the sides of Zion Canyon quickly close in and the Narrows Trail begins, allowing adventurous hikers to walk through the water for miles deep into the narrowest parts of the canyon in the summer when water levels are low. The Narrows requires solid preparation and appropriate gear and pay attention to weather reports as flash floods are common.
- Explore the Emerald Pools. The trailhead is located just across the road from the Zion Lodge. It connects to a series of pools and waterfalls. The first .6 mile length of the trail takes you to the Lower Emerald Pool where a waterfall provides a cooling break. Those that want more of an adventure can continue onwards and upwards to the Middle and Upper pools before winding their way back to the Zion Lodge.
- Walk or bike on the Pa’rus Trail. A fairly recent addition to the Zion National Park trail system, the Pa’rus connects the Campgrounds near the Visitor Center, the Human History Museum and the Canyon Junction shuttle bus stop. Bikes can be rented in Springdale. This is the only trail in the park that also allows dogs.
- Enjoy the local ambiance in Springdale. We loved the small restaurants and the walkable village feel. Although we stayed in the Zion Lodge, families that want more amenities might do better in Springdale.
- Don’t miss the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway and Tunnel and the amazing formations such as Checkerboard Mesa that lie on the other side of the Tunnel. The switchbacks require a steady driver and those with RVs need to check out the tunnel height restrictions and escort regulations.
- Budget enough time to see all that Bryce Canyon has to offer. We fell short here since we only had one day to spend at Bryce Canyon. We were able to enjoy the major ampitheaters and overlooks and did travel all the way to Rainbow Point at the end of the road, but wish we had the time to hike some of the under the rim trails.
- Make a side trip to Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park if you are approaching the Parks via Las Vegas. The park’s 42,000 acres include about 10 miles of paved roads that provide access to a number of highly eroded and unusual features formed from shifting sand dunes millions of years ago. We particularly enjoyed the petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock.
- Make another side trip to visit the Capital Reef National Park, also in southern Utah. We missed this one and later heard from friends that we should have made the time. The Park’s defining feature is the Waterpocket Fold, a nearly 100-mile long warp in the Earth’s crust that exposes layers of rock that have been pushed upward along fault lines. It has one very steep side in an area of otherwise nearly horizontal layers of rock. The rock layers on the west side of the Waterpocket Fold have been lifted more than 7000 feet higher than the layers on the east.
- Las Vegas McCarren International airport is a great jumping off point for visiting Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks but, beyond getting the rental car and a quick meal, our advice is to minimize your family time in Las Vegas. Although there are many fancy hotels, shows and shopping, we still are not convinced it is a great place for kids. After seeing all of nature’s wonders in the National Parks, the manmade wonders of Las Vegas look like cheap thrills.
It is no secret that we are fans of the National Parks. Southern Utah offers an amazing collection of great family destinations within a relatively short drive from one another, so, get out the maps, program the GPS, lace up those hiking boots, and go explore Zion and Bryce Canyon National parks and the surrounding areas soon!