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. I can’t even begin to describe how breathtaking Zion really is…
Known for its red rocks and phenomenal scenery and alive with the essence of creation, Zion also boasts an incredibly vibrant ecosystem. It’s the drastic elevation difference of Zion that provides vastly different types of environments supporting an amazing array of plants and animals. This was a perk that our whole family really enjoyed.
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 to get around, allowing 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 came looking for. While you may decide to skip the more adventurous trails like The Narrows, The Hidden Canyon Trail, or the Angels Landing if your kids are small (boo!!!), rest assured that there are plenty of awesome family-friendly hikes here in Zion to explore.
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 long (roundtrip) 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…
While you surround yourself with lush vegetation and hanging gardens and as you watch the abundant wildlife and marvel at the views of towering cliffs and glimmering pools, 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. It was really crowded! But that’s exactly what happens when you have more of a walk rather than hike offering 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 (less than half a mile) interpretive hike (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 these two guys in clear view:
All four of us have varying degrees of arachnophobia. Seeing a TARANTULA in the wild for the very first time was a little creepy for a few seconds but really neat from then on. Except for my husband who refused to get a closer look and quickly left after saying something about the size of that wasp freaking him out.
And the reason why the huge blue-black-orange wasp was frantically moving around the spider? It was none other than a TARANTULA HAWK which prays on tarantulas. The wasp is capable of overturning, stinging and paralyzing the spider in order to drag it to a specially prepared nest where a single egg is laid into the spider’s abdomen. Once hatched, the wasp’s larva devours the paralyzed spider alive for several weeks before breaking out alien-style.
I can’t say I like spiders, but that seems pretty cruel. This tarantula wasn’t moving very much. It was truly beautiful, at least for an arachnid… May it rest in peace.
Though the wasp has usually very little interest in humans, 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, and 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 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.
The trail ends once you reach the Upper Pool.
Without a doubt, Zion is definitely worth a visit at least once in a lifetime. However, the dramatic views and breathtaking scenery at every turn make Zion one of the most visited national parks in the US. With folks flocking here from across the world, the park is now considering putting a limit on daily visitors, at least during peak times.
Two (actually three) more things worth mentioning:
❶ If you’re planning on CAMPING here, arrive early in the morning since the sites tend to fill quickly.
❷ 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 are incredibly beautiful around here. You can also watch bighorn sheep relaxing on the slickrock or walking across the road here.
SECONDLY – Are you HUNGRY and want to enjoy every bite? Don’t forget to stop by at the Zion Mountain Ranch, located 4 miles east of the east entrance. You will not regret it!
The menu is always changing here and your meal comes from a sustainable source. We had the most delicious restaurant meal ever here at the ranch. Honestly! Everything was made fresh and seasoned with a lot of love. The restaurant has a beautiful rustic décor, great service, and fantastic views. I highly recommend this place!!! And the chicken poop that you carefully step over on the way in? Can it get any more real than that?!