Zion National Park in Utah is without a doubt one of the most awe-inspiring national parks we’ve ever had a chance to visit. Words can’t describe how I feel, and pictures don’t do it justice. Honestly.
Known for its red rocks and phenomenal scenery and alive with the essence of creation, Zion also boasts an incredibly vibrant ecosystem. Something our kids couldn’t get enough of.
FYI, for much of the year, Zion is accessible via FREE shuttle that will take you through various sections of the park along its 9 stops. It’s a convenient and comfortable way of getting around and allows you to really savor the views.
HIKING is probably the most popular activity in Zion and – with trails of all levels – beginners and advanced hikers alike are bound to find what they came looking for. While you may decide to skip some of the more adventurous trails like The Narrows, The Hidden Canyon Trail, or Angels Landing if your kids are small (I’m right there with ya’), rest assured that there are plenty of awesome family-friendly hikes in Zion to explore. You will not be disappointed!
Family-friendly hikes in ZION – WATCHMAN TRAIL
Watchman Trail is a moderately-rated out-and-back hike with a trailhead conveniently located right near the visitor center.
The trail doesn’t actually take you to the top of the Watchman Mountain but to a viewpoint from which you can get a good view of the Watchman Peak. It’s about 3 miles total and ends with an optional loop at the top that takes you around for scenic views.
The hike itself isn’t too bad, but it is a consistent incline and most of the trail is fully exposed. The path is dotted with prickly pears and other types of cacti that I don’t know the name of. And if kids generally didn’t do the opposite of what their parents tell them, perhaps we wouldn’t have had to spend so much time trying to remove cactus spines (easy) and glochids (impossible) from the red little fingers of our children while they cried and said things like “the worst trip ever” and stuff. Fun.
As you conquer a few switchbacks and reach the more elevated parts of the trail, you’ll be rewarded with views of the lower Zion Canyon and the city of Springdale. This is a great place to take a break if you’re lucky enough to find a tiny bit of shade and to also snap some pictures.
The view was really nice.
Our battery died right before we got there.
Because of course it did.
Family-friendly hikes in ZION – RIVERSIDE WALK
Riverside Walk is an easy out-and-back trail starting at the Temple of Sinawava (shuttle stop #9). It’s a comfortable 2-mile roundtrip stroll on a flat paved surface that follows along the Virgin River. This hike is not as much about the destination – the gateway to the famous rugged Zion Narrows – as it is about all that you can see while getting there. And there IS a lot to see here…
As you watch the abundant wildlife and marvel at the views of towering cliffs and glimmering pools while surrounded with lush vegetation and hanging gardens, DO NOT get carried away and DO watch your snacks! I’ve never seen squirrels as creative as the ones here on this trail. Don’t be surprised if they roll over in front of you and do the Macarena when they smell something really good hiding in your pocket. Sneaky little things. Do not feed them, no matter how adorable they might seem.
The trees lining the path provide a decent amount of shade on this trail. And if that’s not enough on a hot day, you can also get your feet wet at one of the access points to the Virgin River. There are several.
This was BY FAR the most traveled trail in the whole park. But that’s exactly what happens when you have more of a walk rather than a hike that happens to offer spectacular views, right? Regardless, the scenery felt very peaceful, and it was very much worth passing the crowds nonetheless.
Family-friendly hikes in ZION – WEEPING ROCK
Weeping Rock is a pretty short interpretive hike (<1/2 a mile) at shuttle stop #7 that ends abruptly at a rock alcove with dripping springs. It’s a paved path with just a few steps, but there is a bit of an incline to it and it can get slippery in spots.
This trail seemed pretty busy, so we were surprised that while everyone was admiring the lizards…
…no one seemed to notice this guy in clear view:
That’s right. A
little fuzzy tarantula.
Now, all four of us have varying degrees of arachnophobia, so seeing a tarantula in the wild for the very first time was quite the experience. Me and Mia couldn’t get enough of the little fuzz ball. My husband, on the other hand, took off almost immediately and took Ella with him, saying something about the size of that wasp freaking him out. OK, there WAS a wasp there also, frantically moving around on the ground, and it WAS huge. Google told us later that it was none other than a tarantula hawk which prays on tarantulas. The wasp stings the spider and drags it to its nest where it becomes a home and a meal for the wasp’s lucky offspring. The wasp’s larva devours the paralyzed spider alive for several weeks before breaking out alien-style. Not cool, right?
The spider was beautiful. Well, at least for an arachnid. RIP, little guy… He was already paralyzed. Hence, we got to hold him.
FYI – the wasp tends to have very little interest in humans. However, should you ever get stung by it, here is what you do: STOP, DROP, and SCREAM like you’ve never screamed before. The tarantula hawk delivers the second most painful sting on Earth! Ouch!!!
When you make it to the end of the trail, watch for slippery rocks and expect to get a bit wet. No matter how dry the rest of the park may get, the Weeping Rock drips water every single day of the year. The ancient water that continuously seeps through the sandstone creates perfect conditions for a lush hanging garden of flowering plants, mosses, and ferns that grow in the cracks.
Did you catch that?
The water that once fell as rain on the towering cliffs and plateaus above seeps slowly through the Navajo Sandstone until it reaches the bottom impermeable shale and forces its way out, drop by drop. How slow is the process? It is estimated that the water that trickles on visitors standing beneath the Weeping Rock took around 1,200 years to make its way out.
The rain from around 800 AD.
Oh and the frogs are plentiful along this trail. That’s all my kids care about anyway.
Zion family-friendly hikes – LOWER, MIDDLE, and UPPER EMERALD POOL
We started this hike at the lodge (shuttle stop #5), but you can also reach the pools via Kayenta Trail which begins at the Grotto (shuttle stop #6). This trail is actually a network of trails (all out-and-back) and a series of three different emerald pools. The entire trail is a 3-mile roundtrip starting as an easy stroll that progresses to a more strenuous hike as you advance up past the Middle Pool.
LOWER EMERALD POOL is the easiest one to reach and the busiest one by far. A paved path will take you through a pretty cool forest before reaching the waterfalls and the first pool. The length of this trail is 0.6 miles one way. It may become wet and slippery as you get closer to the waterfalls. When you look up above before skirting behind the falling water, notice the plentiful hanging gardens on the surface of the alcove.
Past the Lower Pool, you can continue hiking another half-mile up to the MIDDLE EMERALD POOL. The pavement ends here, and the trail becomes more rugged as you climb up a series of steps carved out of the sandstone. Now this is where the fun begins!
The Middle Pool is a large area of slickrock where multiple streams flow across, forming a pool and feeding the waterfall you’ve passed under at the Lower Pool. It’s an area worth of exploring and a great place to take a break and soak in a little bit of zen. ***This was quite possibly the most tranquil place that we’ve found in Zion.***
From here on, the trail becomes a tad more strenuous as it climbs the last half-mile up to the UPPER EMERALD POOL. Expect sand and rock surface, and be prepared for some serious panoramic vistas of Zion lasting all the way to the Upper Pool.
Three, no wait, four more things worth mentioning about ZION:
#1 Zion has become a really popular place to visit. With folks flocking here from across the world, the park is now considering putting a limit on daily visitors, at least during peak times. Peak season is mid-June to August, so if you want to eliminate long lines and crowds, visit Zion in the spring or fall.
#2 If you’re planning on CAMPING here, arrive early in the morning since the sites tend to fill quickly. Beware, ants love this place as much as people do. Summer in particular brings masses of ants and there really is no escaping them.
#3 If you enter or exit the park via ZION-MOUNT CARMEL HIGHWAY (the park’s EAST ENTRANCE) – first of all, what a sight! The views along the road are incredible! You can also spot bighorn sheep relaxing on the slickrock, or crossing the road.
4# If you find yourself around the EAST ENTRANCE and you happen to be hungry and want to enjoy your every bite… Don’t forget to stop by at ZION MOUNTAIN RANCH located 4 miles east of the east entrance. I’m pretty sure you will not regret it!
Your meal at Zion Mountain Ranch comes from sustainable sources, likely right from the ranch’s garden. We had the most delicious restaurant meal here ever! Everything was made fresh and seasoned with lots of love. And the chicken poop that you have to step over on the way in? Can it get any more real than that?!