The Watchman Trail in Zion National Park is a great kid-friendly hike which offers amazing views of Zion Canyon without a tremendous amount of work.
The Watchman Trail follows along the side of a small canyon on the east side of Zion. The hiking trail is mostly in the open which results in increasingly impressive views of Zion Canyon 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 Zion Canyon valley from north to south. The scenery is truly breathtaking and showcases why Zion National Park is so popular.
The plateau at the top of the Watchman Trail 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 of Zion Canyon instead.
Another nice thing about the Watchman 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 Zion shuttle bus is long!
Watchman Trail Hike Stats
How long is the Watchman Trail?
The round trip distance of this Zion hike is 3.3 miles / 4.3 km.
How Steep is the Zion Watchman Trail?
This excellent Zion hike has a steady, but moderate incline the entire way. There are no really hard parts to the Watchman Trail, just a steady effort the entire way up.
The official elevation gain for the Watchman Trail hike is 368 feet / 112m, but our GPS clocked in at 560 feet / 170m. I’d trust the official numbers more than mine…
How hard is the Watchman hike?
This is no easy stroll along the riverside, nor is it a grueling expedition to the top of a mountain, so the Zion Watchman Trail is firmly in the “moderate” difficulty range. Anyone in reasonable shape ought to be able to do it no problem.
Our 3 & 5 year old kids easily hiked the entire Watchman Trail in Zion by themselves, with the small exception of us trying out our new Piggyback Rider for a little while on the way down.
How Long will the Watchman Trail Take?
This moderate Zion hike took us 2.5 hours to complete, which is bang-on to our usual hiking pace with kids. They were busy doing the scavenger hunt in their Junior Ranger Handbooks, which slowed them down a lot at the beginning.
Without kids, at our normal hiking pace we could complete the Watchman Trail round-trip in about an hour.
The Watchman Zion Location
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 Watchman hike ends in dramatic fashion at a large, flat plateau, offering amazing north-south views of the valley.
- The Watchman Trail in April (when we did the hike) was full of beautiful wildflowers, including many vibrant red Indian Paintbrushes.
- The Watchman hiking 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 Zion 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 a California Condor 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 the Watchman 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 the Watchman Trail, 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 hiking hats, bring lots of water and apply sunscreen continually.
- The Watchman Trail is not stroller accessible, but tons of parents took their small kids to the top in a backpack carrier.
- As with most hiking trails in Zion, dogs are not allowed on Watchman Trail.
- Keep your eyes open for wildlife. Although this was the first Zion hike we’ve done 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, the Watchman Trail is a fun sunset hike in Zion.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
There are virtually no places to stop for an extended break along the Watchman hiking trail, but once you get to the plateau at the top, there are plenty of places to plop down your picnic blanket 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.
Zion Canyon Hiking Safety
- 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 Zion hike without handrails, so watch your children closely.
What to Bring on Zion Hikes with Kids
- Hiking hats
- Hydration packs for the adults and kids
- High-energy hiking snacks
- A small garbage bag to carry out your trash
- Binoculars to see the California Condors
Other Zion National Park Hikes
If you are looking for easy, kid-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 doable kid-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 things to do with kids in Zion National Park, family-friendly Zion hotels and campgrounds, visit our Zion National Park with Kids post.
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