The Watchman Trail is one of those great family-friendly Zion National Park hikes providing some amazing views of Zion Canyon without a tremendous amount of work. The trail follows along the side of a small canyon on the east side of the park. The trail is mostly in the open which results in increasingly impressive views the higher you get.
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The Watchman Trail ends at a large plateau where hikers are rewarded with sweeping views of the valley from north to south. The scenery is truly breathtaking and showcases why Zion National Park is so popular.
The plateau has tons of flat rocks for families to plop down and have a snack or a picnic lunch (as we did). There is a very short loop trail through the plateau, but we opted to sit and enjoy the views instead.
Another nice thing about this hike is that it conveniently begins at the Zion National Park Visitor Center, allowing you to hike without a shuttle ride within the park. A great option for days when the wait for the shuttle is long!
Watchman Trail Hike Stats
Distance: The round trip distance of this hike is 3.3 miles / 4.3 km.
Elevation Gain: This hike has a steady, but moderate incline the entire way. There are no really hard parts to this hike, just a steady effort the entire way up. The official elevation gain for this hike is 368 feet / 112m, but our GPS clocked in at 560 feet / 170m.
Difficulty: This is no easy stroll along the riverside, nor is it a grueling trudge to the top of a mountain, so this trail is firmly in the moderate range. Anyone in reasonable shape ought to be able to do it no problem. Our 3 & 5 year old kids easily did the entire hike themselves, with the small exception of us trying out our new Piggyback Rider for a little while on the way down.
Duration: This hike took us 2.5 hours to complete, which is bang-on to our usual pace with the little ones. They were busy doing the scavenger hunt in their Junior Ranger Handbooks, which slowed them down a lot at the beginning.
The Watchman Zion Location
How to Get There: To find a Zion National Park parking spot, you’ll need to arrive quite early in the day, especially during peak times. We got there at 8am on a Sunday in April and the lot was nearly full.
If you aren’t an early riser, you can take a free shuttle bus from many spots in the town of Springdale to the park gates. There are plenty of paid parking spaces in Springdale, but these also fill up early during peak times.
Most Zion hikes require you to take a mandatory shuttle to the trailhead, but Watchman Trail leaves from the Zion National Park Visitor Center and does not require a shuttle ride.
Watchman Trail Highlights
- The steadily increasing elevation gain, coupled with minimal tree cover result in non-stop epic views of the Zion Canyon.
- The hike ends in dramatic fashion at a large, flat plateau, offering amazing north-south views of the valley.
- In April (when we did the hike), the trail was full of beautiful wildflowers, including many vibrant red Indian Paintbrushes.
- The trail begins along the north fork of the Virgin River. There are several spots along the river bank with real sand beaches. Small kids won’t be able to resist going down to play in the sand for a bit.
- Keep one eye on the skies and you might be rewarded with a glimpse of the largest flying land bird in North America, the majestic California Condor. These beautiful birds have an incredible 9.5′ wingspan and love to soar high above the canyon riding high on thermal winds.
We were lucky enough to see a group of them circling high above the plateau during our lunch break. They fly very high up, so bring binoculars if you wish to see them up-close.
Hiking Watchman Trail with Kids
- There are bathrooms and a water filling station for your hydration packs near the Zion Visitor Center.
- On a related note, we advise parents to moderate their caffeine intake before this hike. There are no bathrooms on the trail and the trail is very popular with very few places to duck behind a tree.
- This is a true mountain hiking trail made of dirt and rocks. You can get by with hiking shoes, but we wouldn’t recommend wearing flip-flops on this hike.
- There isn’t much tree cover on this hike, so you need to be prepared for full sun exposure for the duration of the hike. The exception is in the morning where the eastern-most parts of the trail will be in full shade until the sun gets high enough in the sky. Wear hats, bring lots of water and apply sunscreen continually.
- This trail is not stroller accessible, but tons of parents took their small kids to the top in a backpack carrier.
- No dogs are allowed on Watchman Trail.
- Keep your eyes open for wildlife. Although this was the first hike we’ve done in Zion where we didn’t see any wildlife, the stream at the bottom of the valley will be a magnet for animals needing a drink on a hot Utah day.
- If your kids are old enough to stay awake late, this is a fun sunset hike.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
There are virtually no places to stop for an extended break along the hiking trail, but once you get to the plateau at the top, there are plenty of places to sit and have a snack or lunch. If you are lucky enough to get a spot under one, there are a few trees big enough to cast a shadow, offering some relief from the hot Zion National Park weather.
- The sun can get intense in southern Utah, so bring more water than you think you will need.
- There are some potentially dangerous drop-offs on this trail without handrails, so watch your children closely.
What to Bring on Zion Hikes with Kids
- Sun hats
- Hydration packs for the adults and kids
- A garbage bag to carry out your trash
Other Zion National Park Hikes
If you are looking for easy, family-friendly Zion National Park hikes, we suggest taking a look these hikes that are easy with kids:
- Hiking Weeping Rock Trail with kids
- Hiking Grotto Trail with kids
- Hiking Pa’rus Trail with kids
- Riverside Walk in Zion with kids.
Other more-challenging, yet very do-able family-friendly Zion Canyon hikes you may enjoy are:
- Enjoy the cooler air and pine forests on the Northgate Peaks Trail
- Walk behind a waterfall at Lower Emerald Pool Trail
If you have an adventurous parent in the family, consider treating them to a day without kids while they hike Angels Landing, while the other parent spends an enjoyable day with the kids doing some of the easier hikes in the park.
Zion National Park with Kids
For more Zion National Park things to do with kids, family friendly Zion hotels and campgrounds, visit our Zion National Park with Kids post.