Zion National Park is one of those places I find very difficult to describe in words. You can talk about the dramatic red canyon walls towering above you, the muddy brown Virgin River rushing through the desert decorated with a surprising abundance of flowers, the bright green vegetation clinging to life in crevices of rock, the way the dry desert air mixes with a delightful coolness on the canyon floor, and the vistas that make it feel like you are in a beautiful painting. You can even take a million photographs to capture every detail. But, until you have set foot in the Zion Canyon and felt it, you just haven’t truly experienced it! Fortunately, Zion is a park that is easy to set foot in!
Zion is one of the most popular western national parks for good reason. Its land size is rather small compared to other iconic parks, a shuttle system was instituted almost 10 years ago to relieve traffic and parking concerns, and a return of tranquility to the canyon. The shuttle runs from May to October from the super cute gateway town of Springdale, all the way to the end of the canyon road at The Narrows trailhead. You can literally park your vehicle at your hotel in town, or at the Watchman Campground in the park, and walk or ride public transportation everywhere you need to go! A bonus for those with kids who adore all forms of public transportation (that would be mine).
Once you are settled, have sorted out the shuttle system, and are ready to explore, here are a few trails that are great for kids of all ages. This is a small sampling of the options out there, but be aware that some trails are dangerous with kids due to cliffs and steep drop offs. So be sure to do your homework before setting off on an unknown trail!
-Pa’rus Trail – This accessible, mostly level, paved trail follows the Virgin from the South Campground to Canyon Junction (about 3.5 miles round trip) through some of the most dramatic scenery in the west. Great for bikes, wheelchairs, and strollers!
-Lower Emerald Pool – A very popular 1.2 mile hike near the Zion Canyon Lodge, this trail can be made even longer by connecting to the Middle Pool Trail for beautiful loop hike.
-Weeping Rock – This short but steep half-mile trail leads you to an alcove in the canyon walls dripping with springs and lush vegetation. In the desert environment of Zion, it’s a stunning burst of fresh green.
-Riverside Walk – Walk 2 miles roundtrip along the Virgin River from the Temple of Sinawava. Strollers and wheelchairs are allowed, and trail exhibits along the way make it even more interesting.
-Canyon Overlook – For a dramatic view of the Zion Canyon from above, check out this one mile roundtrip hike, on the east side of the Zion Mt Carmel Tunnel. You do have to drive to get to this one, but the kids will love the big tunnel through the mountain to get there!
Zion’s Junior Ranger program begins at age 4, younger than many other parks, so for some extra fun pick up an activity booklet at the visitor center. Completing the activities will earn them a Junior Ranger Badge!
To celebrate the National Park Service’s Centennial this year, Zion National Park is encouraging all visitors to Explore Five More! So many unique and beautiful parks are clustered in southern Utah, northern Nevada, and Arizona that for every big name park you visit, there are 5 lesser known places worth exploring nearby. You can discover local parks, hidden gems, and National Park Centennial events in portions of Utah, Arizona, and Nevada on the Exploring Five More website at www.parks100.com, a group effort of over 25 parks and organizations in the area.
Been admiring those photos of Zion National Park for years now? Maybe 2016 is your year to set foot in it. Because while photos are excellent for helping us recall a place, and relive an experience, don’t settle! They are never a substitute for experiencing the real thing!
Check out the park’s website for more information at www.nps.gov/zion.
Alana Dimmick is the branch lead for Hike It Baby Eatonville. She is wife to a park ranger, and full time mom to Eli (6), Riley (4), and Isaac (3 months). Alana currently lives in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.