We spent 5 days in Zion National Park in mid-April with our two kids (who were 3 & 5 years old at the time). We love to go on family hikes to enjoy the beauty of nature, so Zion Canyon was ideal for us. A lot of people visit for just one day, but Zion is one of the best national parks in the USA, so if you are able, stay longer and enjoy the many great things to do in Zion NP.
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Shuttle Buses: Getting Around Zion National Park
If you visit Zion between spring and fall, you will not be allowed to bring your car into the park due to congestion issues. There is a small parking lot near the Zion National Park Visitor Center, but it typically fills up prior to 8am.
If you are not a super-early riser, there are two free shuttle services which will get you around during your stay:
The first shuttle service to be aware of is the one which moves visitors from the town of Springdale to/from the gates of the Zion National Park. There are nine stops on this route, starting at the Majestic View Lodge (stop 9).
It may sound great to stay as close to the park gates as possible, but we were there in mid-April and we stayed at the Zion Canyon Campground and RV Resort near stop 3. We found that more often than not the shuttles were already completely full when they reached our stop and we couldn’t get on.
Luckily, it was only a 15 minute walk from our campground to the park, so most mornings we skipped the shuttle and walked. If you plan on staying in Springdale and taking the shuttle, we recommend staying in the south-half of town. See our family-friendly hotel recommendations below.
Zion Park Shuttle
Once you have paid to get into the park, your next step is to hop on the Zion Canyon shuttle bus. There are 9 stops on this route, beginning at the Zion Visitor Center and ending at the Temple of Sinawava (stop 9). It takes approximately 45 minutes to get all the way to the end.
Keep your eyes peeled during the drive as it’s a great opportunity to see some of Zion’s wildlife, such as deer and wild turkeys.
We visited in mid-April and the wait for the shuttle was never more than 10 minutes. During spring break and the summer months, the wait for the shuttle can exceed an hour, so do yourself a favor and get to the park as early as possible.
Things to do in Zion National Park
We came to Zion National Park to do what we love most: hiking. We spent most of our days enjoying all of the corners of the park while hiking with our kids.
Are you tired of the huge Zion shuttle bus lines? Enjoy a good laugh as you walk right on past the shuttle lineup on your way to the Watchman Trail, one of our favorite Zion National Park hikes.
Watchman conveniently begins at the Visitor Center, follows the Virgin River for a while, before ascending up one of the canyon walls to a plateau where you will enjoy outstanding views of the canyon below.
It’s a bit of work, but anyone in decent shape ought to be able to do it.
Looking for a place to escape the heat in Zion National Park? The Lower Emerald Pool Trail is a great choice.
This slightly uphill, paved path runs through a dense patch of forest, providing a decent amount of shade throughout your walk.
But the best part of this hike is the chance to walk behind a waterfall! Kids of all ages will love this unique Zion hike; walking through the mist of the waterfall is so fun and refreshing on a hot Utah day.
Once behind the waterfall, you can stop and enjoy the cooler temperatures and take in the beautiful scenery, which includes some of Zion’s famous hanging gardens.
The Pa’rus trail is a super easy paved trail which departs from the Zion National Park Visitor Center, giving you an alternate choice if you’d prefer not to wait in line for the shuttle bus.
The Pa’rus trail runs north/south along the center of the canyon floor offering up some of the best views of Zion Canyon you’ll see during your visit. Keep an eye on the sky and you may be rewarded with a glimpse of a majestic California Condor riding thermals high above the canyon.
This is a multi-use trail, which means bikes and dogs are allowed.
The scenery within the Riverside Walk is worth the long shuttle ride to the last shuttle stop within the park. The Riverside Walk is an easy stroll through a narrow canyon with towering walls rising overhead. The walk through the canyon would be worth it by itself, but this walk also features waterfalls and hanging gardens.
This walk is the feeder trail to the famous The Narrows Zion hike; where most people stop and turn around, those hiking the Narrows will walk into the water and continue upstream for their adventure.
This is one of Zion Canyon’s easiest hikes and offers some of the best chances to see wildlife during your visit. This flat gravel trail runs between the Zion Lodge at shuttle stop 5 and shuttle stop 6.
The trail follows a wide, open forest which itself follows the Virgin River. With this calm natural setting, it’s easy to see why your chances of seeing wildlife are so good on this trail (although we didn’t see any). We recommend getting off at stop 6, walking to the Zion Lodge and having a picnic or snack on the large grass lawn at the Zion Lodge.
This short, yet reasonably steep trail is another great chance to cool off on a hot Utah day. The trail follows the side of the canyon to a spot in the canyon wall where water seeps out (“weeps”) and drips down onto the trail below.
Walking through the weeping water is incredibly refreshing and brings you to an alcove in the canyon wall where you can turn around and enjoy beautiful views of the canyon valley you just walked up.
The abundance of water provides a source of life for many plants clinging to the canyon walls, creating one of Zion’s hanging gardens.
The Northgate Peaks Trail is a good choice for families looking to avoid the crowds and the heat. Located outside of the main area of the park in the Kolab Canyon area, this hike is quite a bit higher in altitude, thus proving cooler temperatures than those down below in the valley.
This flat, gravel trail runs through a forest of Ponderosa Pines (smell their bark for a pleasant surprise!). The trail terminates at an opening in the forest providing great views of the Northgate Peaks and of the greater Zion Canyon in the distance.
Junior Ranger Program
Zion National Park offers a fun and educational Junior Ranger program. Kids must complete a number of exercises within the Junior Ranger Handbook (available at the Information Desk at the Visitor Center) and must also attend a Ranger-led talk at the Museum.
This program is educational, but is designed to be a ton of fun for the kids. When our kids completed their assigned tasks, a Park Ranger checked their work, led them in saying the Junior Ranger Oath, “I am proud to be a Zion Junior Ranger. I promise to help take care of and protect Zion National Park and all national parks. I also promise to continue to explore, learn about, and respect the natural world wherever I go.”.
After completing the oath, the kids were given their Junior Ranger badges – they were beaming with pride!
Where to Stay in Zion National Park
We camped at the Zion Canyon Campground and RV Resort near Springdale Shuttle Stop 3. We chose to stay here as it was close to the park entrance and Zion camping is an affordable way to stay in Springdale (hotels can get quite expensive). Plus, we’ve always wanted to try camping as a family.
We were lucky enough to get a campsite right next to the Virgin River, which provided a calming white noise at night. Although we found the Springdale shuttle was almost always full when it got to Stop 3, the campground was only a short 10-15 minute walk to the park entrance.
For Zion National Park lodging, a fun option would be to stay at the historic Zion Lodge, the only lodging available within the park (at Shuttle Stop 5). Guests may stay in a historic cabin or within the lodge in a room with 2 queen beds. As a fun way to get around the park, bikes are available for rent.
As described above in the shuttle section, if you wish to stay in Springdale, try to stay within walking distance of the Zion National Park Visitor Center or stay in the southern half in order to give yourself a chance of getting on a shuttle without much delay.
When we travel, we typically look at our Airbnb options first. As a family, we enjoy having our own bedrooms, along with a full kitchen and laundry facilities. There are many vacation rentals in Springdale, but you will find more affordable options in Hurricane (approx 30 mins outside of Springdale). If you are new to Airbnb, get a $35USD discount on your first rental by using our signup link.
The following four family friendly hotels near Zion National Park are rated as Exceptional on Hotels.com:
See more family-friendly hotels in Springdale.
What to Bring to Zion National Park
Zion National Park offers some of the world’s best adventure activities. We found most of them to be beyond the capability of our young kids, so we focused our time on the family-friendly Zion activities, which were mostly hiking.
We’re minimalists when it comes to hiking gear, but here is what we would recommend you bring with you each day:
- Sun hats
- Hydration Packs for the adults and kids
- A garbage bag to carry out your trash
- Backpack carrier for smaller kids
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