Zion National Park Guide with Kids – Where to Hike and 10 Tips for Visiting + Map

    Located in southwestern Utah, Zion National Park’s dramatic landscape offers iconic scenery that calms the soul. Sheer sandstone cliffs, pine and juniper dotted slopes, waterfalls, and river combine as gorgeous backdrops for a memorial vacation. There are many ways to explore the park; your family can enjoy hiking, biking, paddling, horseback riding, rock climbing, and more.

    A visit to Zion can be part of a 6 park national park loop. We visited the park as part of a Grand Circle Tour road trip which includes Utah’s five national parks and the Grand Canyon. Of Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks, Zion was my favorite. Zion offers enough hikes and activities to fill a 2-4 day itinerary. Whether you stay for one day or four, Zion should be on your family’s travel list. I hope you find the following information and tips for visiting with kids helpful.

    How to Get to Zion National Park

    The park has two entrances, the East Entrance and the South Entrance.

    East Entrance

    Traveling from the east, take State Route 9 west at the intersection with US-89/Mt Carmel Junction. The park entrance is 13 miles west. This entrance has a 1.1-mile tunnel with some oversize vehicle restrictions.

    South Entrance

    Get off Interstate 15 at exit 16/State Route 9. The park is 20 miles east in Springdale, Utah.

    Park Distance from Nearby Cities and Parks

    • Las Vegas to Zion is 167 miles or about a 2.5-hour drive.
    • Salt Lake City to Zion is 308 miles or a 4.5-hour drive.
    • Grand Canyon – South Rim to Zion is 241 miles or about a 4-hour drive.
    • Bryce Canyon to Zion is 73 miles or a 1.5-hour drive.

    How to get around Zion National Park

    Driving and Parking

    Your initial drive through the park when entering from the east is along UT-9, Zion – Mount Carmel Highway and Tunnel. Several pull-outs give opportunities to stop and view the scenic overlooks. However, there isn’t much for parking.

    Shuttles

    Springdale Shuttle to the Pedestrian/Bike Entrance

    This shuttle is free and located in the Town of Springdale. It stops at 9 locations in town and picks up and drops off visitors at the park’s pedestrian/bike entrance. During peak season, the shuttle will fill up at the stops further on route, making closer stops harder to get spots on board. (2021 – Masks required)

    Park Shuttle from Visitor Center up the Scenic Drive

    The Main Shuttle Route (green above) runs from the visitor center up the Scenic Drive to destinations like the Zion Lodge and trailheads, including Emerald Pools, West Rim Trail, and Temple of Sinawava where hikers depart for the Narrows. (Masks are required) The Circulator Shuttle Route (orange above) loop along the Scenic Drive. (check the NPS site for 2021 stops)

    Walk to Park Entrance

    If your hotel is within a mile of the pedestrian bridge, we recommend walking to the entrance.

    Best Hikes in Zion National Park

    When traveling with younger kids, any of the hikes below listed as easy are a good pick. For older kids, pick from the moderate or strenuous hikes.

    Easy Hikes With Kids

    • Riverside Walk, 2.2 miles round trip, 1.5 hours to complete. Paved trail along the Virgin River. Wheelchair and stroller friendly. Trail leads to The Narrows Trailhead.
    • Pa’rus Trail, 3.5 miles round trip, 2 hours to complete. Paved trail following the Virgin River from the Visitor Center to Canyon Junction. Wheelchair and stroller friendly. Bikes (rentals available in Springdale) and pets on leashes allowed.
    • The Grotto Trail, 1 mile round trip, 30 minutes to complete. Trail parallels the roadway between Zion Lodge and the Grotto.
    • Lower Emerald Pool, 1.2 miles round trip, 1 hour to complete. Trail to the pools below Middle Emerald Pools and the Upper Emerald Pools Trails.

    Moderate Hikes

    • Canyon Overlook – 1 mile round trip, 1 hour to complete. Ends at a viewpoint into lower Zion Canyon. Minor drop-offs and handrails.
    • Upper Emerald Pool – 1 mile round trip, 1 hour to complete. Sandy and rocky trail that climbs to the Upper Emerald Pool at the base of a cliff.
    • Kayenta Trail – 2 miles round trip, 1.5 hours to complete. Unpaved climb to the Emerald Pools, Connects the Grotto to the Emerald Pools Trails
    • Middle Emerald Pool – 2.2 miles round trip, 1.5 to complete. Unpaved climb to a sandstone ledge that parallels the lower trail but at a higher elevation.
    • Watchman Trail – 3.3 miles, 2 hours to complete. Ends at viewpoint of the Towers of the Virgin, lower Zion Canyon, and Springdale, Minor drop-offs.
    • Sand Beach Trail – 7.6 miles round trip, 4 hours to complete. Commercial horse trail from March to October. Hike atop a massive landslide under The Sentinel.

    Strenuous Hikes

    • The Narrows – 9.4 miles, 8 hours to complete. Hike up the Virgin River and back. While this is listed as strenuous it is due to the uneven, sometimes slippery rocky river bed and current of the river. River depth can be up to chest height in a few areas. We recommend this hike with older kids, know your limits, and turn around and head back when you’ve had enough.
    • Angels Landing – 5.4 miles, 4 hours to complete. Long drop-off. Not for young children. The hike is classified as a class 5 climb The last-half mile has chains to grip with 800 to 1000 foot drop offs.

    How Many Days Do You Need at Zion National Park?

    If your big family visits first thing in the morning, you can cover Zion National Park in one day with a few easy hikes. However, during the busier months, shuttle lines can be long which will greatly impact your activities. One way to avoid the shuttles is to rent bikes, however, you are then sharing the narrow roads with the buses. Below are our recommendations for one, two, and three-day itineraries.

    Zion National Park One-Day Itinerary

    • Visit as early as possible as any available parking is filled fast. The park will then limit car access to the park.
    • Hike one or two of the easy hikes
    • Eat your packed lunch
    • Drive the beautiful Zion – Mt Carmel Highway and stop at the overlooks
    • Complete a free Junior Range handbook at the visitor centers to earn a badge

    Zion National Park Two-Day Itinerary

    In addition to the above, add some of the following activities for your second day.

    • Hike a harder trail or a more time consuming trail. We suggest The Narrows first thing in the morning and following it until someone cries. (Just kidding, it’s not that bad.) Remember that when you decide you are done, that point is your half-way point as you have to hike back to the trailhead.
    • Enjoy the Zion Scenic Drive on a shuttle
    • Visit the Zion Human History Museum (closed 2021)
    • Drive through Zion – Mount Carmel Highway again.

    Zion National Park Three-Day Itinerary

    • Explore Kolob Canyons. Drive the Scenic Road, stop at the visitor center, and hike the trails.

    Entrance Fees for Zion National Park

    We highly recommend buying an America the Beautiful pass for $80. The pass is good for one calendar year and is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Having a pass will allow you to pop in for a few hours in the evening and again the next morning.

    If you have a 4th grader, check out the FREE Annual 4th Grade pass which is good for the duration of the school year through the following summer (September-August).

    Current U.S. military members and their dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and Space Force, as well as Reserve and National Guard members, qualify for a free annual pass.

    Can You see Zion and Bryce Canyon in One Day?

    No, I would not recommend trying to see Zion and Bryce Canyon in one day. Even without any hiking, the summer crowds and distance between parks means that trying to visit both parks in one day is not worth your time. Visiting both parks over two days can be done.

    Best Time to Visit

    We visited in mid-May and found the weather optimal for hiking. Summer will bring large crowds. Autumn is great for cooler temperatures. Winters are usually mild but visitors during November through March should be prepared for snowy conditions.

    Tips for Visiting Zion National Park

    • Hotels in Springdale offer free parking during your stay. Our hotel gave us parking access through 5 pm the next day. Paid parking in Springdale lots is $30.
    • Pack plenty of water, a lunch, and energy snacks for your visit.
    • There is only one restaurant inside the park. Red Rock Grill Dining Room at Zion Lodge.
    • If traveling with a large trailer or RV from the east, know the Zion Tunnel size restrictions.
    • Zion is a popular park with over 4 million visitors per year. The park can be crowded between February through late November.
    • Be aware of the shuttle schedule. The last shuttle from the Temple of Sinawava is 7:15. If you miss the bus, you’ll have to walk the 8 miles back.
    • Eat a late lunch at Cafe Soleil in Springdale. Paninis and pizzas are big and can be shared. Eat dinner at Flanigan’s Spotted Cafe, while on the expensive side, the food is fabulous.
    • Good locations for stargazing include the museum patio and Pa’rus Trail.
    • Rent hiking gear such as boots and baby/toddler backpacks at equipment rental companies in Zion. Book gear when planning your trip.
    • Remember to slow down and enjoy the views. Sit for a while, have a snack/hydrate, and just enjoy it all.

    Where to Stay at Zion National Park

    Big family friendly hotels near Zion

    Zion Lodge located inside the park does not have rooms to sleep six or more. Check out our listings in Springdale, UT for big families.

    Camping and RV

    South Campground

    Campground is open from March to the end of October. Reservations must be made online up to two weeks in advance. The campground offers 112 tent campsites and 9 RV/Motorhome sites.

    Watchman Campground

    Located near the park’s south entrance, the campground is a short walk from the main visitor center. The campground has 190 regular sites ans 91 RV/Motorhome sites. Sites can be booked up to 6 months ahead.

    Vacation Rentals

    If you need more room, a nearby vacation rental can be your home base for your visit.

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    Theresa Jorgensen

    Theresa is the mother of four including twins. She is the owner of SixSuitcaseTravel, a travel site for big families of 5, 6, 7, 8. She enjoys helping other big families build life-long travel memories. Her family's travel bucket list includes Yellowstone, London, and anywhere in the Caribbean.