Zion National Park

14 years
9 years
7 years
2013-03-04 to 2013-03-15

Zion National Park in Utah is one of the most popular destinations in the southwestern US, and with good reason.  The beauty of the high desert with its red rocks, sheer canyon walls, towering sandstone formations, and the tranquil Virgin River leaves visitors stunned.  Plan to spend at least one week here, but if you can spare two weeks you will enjoy your visit even more.

petroglyphsHuman History Museum and Petroglyphs


Begin with a stop at the Human History Museum to watch the informative video and read up on the first people to settle in the area.  Exhibits teach about the Native American tribes and the Mormon settlers who managed to carve out a life here despite the harsh conditions.  Just south of the museum across from the South and Watchman campgrounds, a very short trail leads off the road to a huge boulder with petroglyphs, pictures carved into the rock by the Ancestral Puebloans.

Emerald Pools Trail

This trail is paved and fairly easy for even young children (or the parents who might be carrying them!).  It leads to a lovely viewpoint of the pools and the waterfalls that created them.  Here there is ample space to rest in the shade and enjoy the view while having a snack, but this trail is very popular so plan to set out early.

at the summit of Angels LandingAngels Landing

Probably the most famous trail in the whole park, this one is not for the faint of heart or for very small children.  The final 6/10 of a mile is accomplished on an extremely narrow (3 feet in some spots) ledge of rock with cables to hold as you snake your way upward.  The drop from these ridges is about 1500 feet straight down.  However, you do not have to make it to the summit to score an amazing view.  The first 1.8 miles is moderately strenuous but paved and accessible for most families.  There are a few exposed areas, but the trail is wide and we never felt unsafe.  Once you reach the "saddle" you can stop and decide whether to enjoy the view of the canyon from there or to make a final push for the summit.  I chose to wait back with our 7 and 9 year olds, while my husband went onward with our 14-year-old son.  This was their second successful summit attempt, the first being done when our son was only 9.  

Observation Point

Echo Canyon on the Observation Point TrailFor those who appreciate a long hike with a spectacular pay-off, there is the 5-mile (one way) Observation Point Trail.  You will traverse an variety of landscapes beginning in a moist, lush oasis, winding through a hall of rocks that resembles the colors and patterns of Jupiter, above a slot canyon, and along a ledge of white Navajo Sandstone to the summit that has you looking down on the canyon and Angels Landing.  Plan for a full day to enjoy this one and let your kids make side trips to explore all they find.  We had a great time wandering around in Echo Canyon and of course we stopped for many, many photos!

The Riverside Walk and the Narrows

Just north of Angels Landing is the Temple of Sinawava and the Riverside Walk Trailhead.  This paved, easy one-mile stroll takes you through a lush riparian environment where the main canyon narrows dramatically.  The sidewalk ends and those who wish to see what lies around the bend have two options:  ask someone who has gone that way or rent some gear and get a bit wet finding out for themselves.  We chose the latter and it made for an exhausting but amazing adventure.  

We rented gear (dry suits and bag, river poles, water shoes, neoprene booties) and received basic training from Zion Adventure Company in Springdale.  This is a must if you plan to go upstream more than a hundred yards or so.  The water can be extremely cold and in many paces you will be in up to your knees or deeper.  You need to know current river conditions, weather forecast, how to recognize an imminent flash flood, and what to do if you are caught.  With the right preparation a day in The Narrows can be a perfectly safe experience for the whole family.  Our children had a blast and our youngest only had to be carried across the deepest sections where the current was a bit strong.  The rest of us found it very manageable.  We found a large sandbar on which to have lunch and we made Orderville Canyon in good time to allow the kids time to explore.  Allow a full day to enjoy this Zion "must-do."

scene along the Zion-Mt. Carmel HighwayTunnel and Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

You will want a full day to drive through the tunnel and wander the slick rock landscape along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway.  The tunnel is an engineering marvel.  There are restrictions on allowable vehicle sizes so check with a ranger before setting out.  On its other side is a landscape so different from the rest of the park you will think you are in a completely different part of the country.  The famous Checkerboard Mesa is here too, and it's a great place to look for bighorn sheep.  

Mountain Biking Excursion

A fun excursion in the surrounding southern Utah area is a day of mountain biking on Gooseberry Mesa, about an hour's drive from Zion near the city of Hurricane.  Bikes and helmets can be rented in Springdale and shop staff can offer pointers on the best trails for your skill level.  We spent most of a day (including drive time) enjoying the trails on the Mesa where riders of all levels can test their skills and find fun and a challenge.  

Spring and fall are great seasons to visit Zion when the weather is near perfect and the crowds are thin or non-existent.  The facilities in the campgrounds are newly refurbished and clean.  The town of Springdale offers many lodging options plus all manner of services within walking distance.  Eat at the Whiptail Grill for a gourmet Tex-Mex meal in a laid-back atmosphere, or try the popular Bit 'N Spur restaurant.  Both offer excellent meals and have a good kids menu.

Hiking to Angels Landing
along the Observation Point trail
at the summit of Angels Landing
ravens in a tree at the Temple of Sinawava formation
all suited up for a day hiking The Narrows
The Narrows
The Narrows
crossing the Virgin River in The Narrows
Daddy-Daughter portrait in the Narrows
light dusting of snow on the canyon walls
sunset on the Watchman
near the Emerald Pools Trail
scene along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway
a stop on the Observation Point Trail
Echo Canyon on the Observation Point Trail
most of the way to the top of Observation Point
at the summit of Observation Point
Article Type: 
In-Person Impressions


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