Spend a day in Zion National Park with kids

The siren song of Zion National Park, one of the many Utah national parks, has been calling nature lovers for generations. Hikers flock here year after year to climb sandstone peaks and splash through the Virgin River to enter The Narrows.

A trip to Zion is the highlight of many family’s summer vacations, even when temperatures in this desert region reach scorching heights. Is it worth it? Why yes it is.


Why Zion National Park?

Zion National Park was one of the many parks we squeezed into our cross-country, family travel road trip when we first moved from Seattle to Maryland.

A simple trip to see the Redwoods and Yosemite quickly turned into a trip to see as many national parks with kids in the west as possible, even though we could only spend about a day in each. We would go on to see Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon after Zion before we booked it to the east coast.

Our boys, who were ages 2 and 5 at the time, were seeing parts of their country that they never knew existed. My husband and I were excited to explore as much as possible, and our boys were more than up for the adventure.

In fact, my oldest pushed us more in Zion than any of the other parks by insisting we complete the Emerald Pools hike (see below) before we left the park for the night. We only had one day to explore this family-friendly park, and he didn’t want to miss a thing.

We didn’t have time to do any ranger programs with the kids, but these are certainly worth the time.

If you are short on time, or have mobility issues but still want to see the park, the Zion Canyon scenic drive is a must.


Planning a trip to Zion National Park

Organizing any kind of family trip can be stressful, and Zion National Park in Utah is no different. There are a few things to know before you head out to the park and hit the family-friendly trails.

If you are short on time, this is the perfect guide for you, but if you are planning to stay more than a day, you’ll still enjoy this easy guide to exploring the park with kids.


Where to stay

The drive into Springdale, UT towards Zion National Park, passing through St. George in southern Utah, is overflowing with lodging options that will be happy to have you and your children stay.

We loved the Cliffrose Lodge and Garden. It was an easy five-minute walk into the park, located along the Virgin River and a short distance from restaurants in town. The rooms were spacious and comfy and the staff went above and beyond to make our stay effortless and enjoyable. The included breakfast didn’t hurt either.

Zion National Park Hotels

Zion National Park Vacation Rentals

Need a bit more space and amenities? Check out the vacation rentals near Zion National Park.

Hiking the Zion Narrows Zion National Park Utah

What to pack

  • Water
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Hiking boots or good walking shoes
  • Snacks for your hikes
  • Picnic lunch (unless you eat in the park at the lodge)
  • Kid carrier (strollers will work on very few trails)
  • Travel insurance (always better to be safe than stranded!)


FAQ Zion Natinal Park

  • Park entrance fee $25 per vehicle/ $12 per pedestrian
  • Cell phones do not work in the park. Stick to the trails.
  • Check the weather before you start a hike. Distant storms can cause flash floods. Ask park rangers at the visitor’s center if you aren’t sure about weather or trail conditions.
  • You will need more water than you think. It is the desert and you will dehydrate more quickly while hiking around the park, especially if you are carrying a kid on your back.
Hiking the Zion Narrows Zion National Park Utah


The parking lots in Zion fill up by 10am most mornings and don’t start to clear out until about 3pm.

Walk from your hotel in the town of Springdale to the park visitor center if that is an option or park in Springdale and take the free shuttle into the park to access the hiking trails.

The tram

One of the best parts of the park is the free Zion shuttle system that brings you to different spots throughout Zion Canyon. You can leave your car in the lot and dive right in. Shuttles run regularly and you will never wait for one for too long.

The Narrows Zion National Park Utah

Kid-friendly hikes

Riverside Walk (easy)

The Narrows, Zion’s legendary slot canyon, but when you are exploring Zion National Park with small children the closet you might get is the end of the Riverside Walk.

Older kids can definitely hike the Narrows, and younger kids can tackle it at least in summer. Just listen to flash flood warners.

This peaceful and paved hike is the last shuttle bus stop, and runs along the river that carves its way through the canyon.

You will have the chance to skip a few stones, look up at the mammoth rocks that make Zion the beauty she is and see a lot of people in water pants and water shoes who just came back from hiking the Narrows.

The hike is worth it even if you can’t venture on into the Narrows. Take the shuttle to the end and just start walking. It’s a great way to start your day in Zion.


Emerald Pool Trail (easy to moderate)

The Emerald Pool Trail starts out easy as you wander your way through some woods on a paved trail. You will hear the pool before you see it depending on the time of year as water crashes over a cliff into the first pool. You can even walk under the waterfall. Just watch out—it can get slippery.

Water levels will be higher in spring and much lower in autumn. Either way, take note of the “hanging gardens” spilling over the canyon rock as you wander past.

The trail from the lower Emerald Pool to the upper Emerald pool does get a little trickier.

The paved trail disappears and you will walk on a sand and rock trail, which can get slippery in spots. There are no guardrails, so make sure young children stay away from the edge.

The final leg of the upper pool does require climbing a few rocks, but it’s nothing a mom or dad with sure footing and a baby in a hiking carrier on their back couldn’t do with a little hand holding from their spouse.

If our 5 year old can do the entire round trip hike, so can you.


More kid-friendly Hiking Trails

  • Archeology Trail (easy)
  • The Grotto Trail (easy)
  • Pa’rus Trail (easy)
  • Weeping Rock Trail (easy)
  • Canyon Overlook Trail (moderate, but steep drop-offs)
  • Angels Landing (challenging)


Animal Encounters

In the canyon you might bump into a few creatures that you weren’t expecting. Keep an eye out for scorpions, mountain lions and desert tortoises. This is their home, not yours, so be respectful and give them space.

We didn’t meet any animals except a few elk in a field, but we were always on the lookout during our family vacation in the park. If you want to learn more, pop into the nature center.

Zion Animals to See

  • Steller’s Jay
  • Peregrine falcon
  • Tarantula
  • Bats
  • Canyon tree frog
  • Black-chinned hummingbird

Zion Canyon Drives

You cannot actually drive into Zion Canyon. You can walk, enjoy biking or take one of the many shuttles that run a round-trip loop throughout the park. This has helped alleviate congestion and also make the canyon one of the more peaceful national parks in America, or at least I think so.

The shuttle is free to those visiting Zion National Park, and makes it very easy to get to trailheads and see multiple spots in the park in just one day.

You can also just sit back and enjoy all of the gorgeous sandstone cliffs looming overhead.

zion national park

Zion-Mount Carmel Highway

There is one drive you can do that takes you east out of the park if you drive far enough—the Zion- Mount Carmel Highway (Rt. 9).

This drive is definitely worth it, as you will drive through rock arches, the very impressive Mt. Carmel tunnel that was dug out by hand, and pass stunning multicolored sandstone that was around well before man probably.


One-Day in Zion National Park with kids itinerary 

  • Enter the park as soon as it opens (8a.m.)
  • Talk to the park rangers about hiking conditions in the visitors center
  • Pick up a Junior Ranger workbook
  • Take the shuttle to the end of the line
  • Walk along the Riverside Walk (about 2 hours)
  • Take the shuttle to Weeping Rock trail
  • Hike Weeping Rock trail (about 30 minutes)
  • Take the shuttle to Zion Lodge
  • Cross the street and climb the Emerald Pools Trail
  • Lunch at Zion Lodge
  • Take the shuttle to Zion Human History Museum
  • Explore the museum before hiking the Pa’rus Trail
  • Take the shuttle back to the Visitors Center shuttle stop, buy a few trinkets
  • Hop in the car and drive the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway

NOTE: if you are heading to Bryce National Park the next day skip the Zion-Mount Carmel drive. You can, pass through Mount Carmel tunnel and see a ton along the way. If you are headed back to St. George, make sure you stop at Snow Canyon State Park.

Pin it and start planning!


17 thoughts on “Spend a day in Zion National Park with kids”

  1. Terra Trekkers

    We went to Zion/Bryce/Grand Canyon in October ’14 too! What an amazing place. I thought late Fall was a good time to go: nice weather and fewer people. We were lucky and had two days at zion: The Emerald Pools and the Riverside walk were lovely. One the second day we went the adventurous route and hiked the Narrows. It was definitely a highlight for us. Our kids are a bit younger (1 and 4) than yours though so we were able to put them in packs and hike through the gorge. The water level was pretty low for us and we saw a few kids in the 7/8/9-year-old range. We rented booties/socks/sticks and bundled the kids up in layers. It was epic. Perhaps in a few years when the children are a bit older?

    Willis Slot Canyon outside of Bryce would be my pick for a family that isn’t quite ready for the river but still wants to do a slot canyon. We also did Antelope Canyon (Page, AZ) but my son found both the canyon and the guided tour to be a bit confining. Adults will love it, though. (Provided its not flash flood season….!)


  2. michael

    Thank you so much for all that information , i don’t know where start but now i have and idea. I have 2 kid one is 7 and the another is 2 . Thank you.

    1. Keryn Means

      I’m so glad you found the information helpful Michael. You will have an amazing trip!

  3. Sarah

    This is a great, comprehensive guide! We took our then 3 month old to Zion last spring and I had such a tough time finding info on bringing kids (and babies!) to Zion. We especially struggled with the parking situation and didn’t realize until too late that parking in the park is extremely limited! Once that was resolved, we had a great time and our son loved looking around at everything from inside his carrier. I can’t wait to take him back when he’s older like your kiddos!

  4. Sarah

    This is a great, comprehensive guide! We took our then 3 month old to Zion last spring and I had such a tough time finding info on bringing kids (and babies!) to Zion. One article even suggested hiking Angel’s Landing! We especially struggled with the parking situation and didn’t realize until too late that parking in the park is extremely limited! Once that was resolved, we had a great time and our son loved looking around at everything from inside his carrier. I can’t wait to take him back when he’s older like your kiddos!

  5. Tiffany

    Thanks so much for this guide. I totally used it this week with our family.

    1. Keryn Means

      I’m so glad it was helpful Tiffany! We can’t wait to go back and explore more. Did you have a favorite hike?

  6. Allison

    Great overview of Zion National Park! I’ve visited this park many times and you’ve covered Zion Canyon well. There are other sections of Zion National Park, but Zion Canyon is the most visited. I just checked the entrance fee this week, and it has gone up to $30.

  7. Craig

    Followed in your footsteps today , itinerary perfect , 3 kids 6,9,11 all made it through , even added the upper pools . Thanks

    1. Keryn Means

      Ah! I’m so excited for you! I bet the pools were magical and a lot more full than when we saw them during the dry season. Glad you had fun!

  8. Mickey

    Awesome post! Thanks for all the cool tips and for laying out a great Itinerary

  9. Lynn

    we are taking advantage of having a 4th grader and getting in free. I think more people should know about this: Everykidinapark.gov/

    1. Keryn Means

      I totally agree! Thank you for the reminder. My oldest will be in 4th grade next year and we will be taking FULL advantage!

  10. Lauren

    Just wanted to say thanks a bunch for this really helpful post. Our kids are 6 and almost 4 and we only had one afternoon / evening in Zion. We ended up doing the river walk and lower emerald pools and still had enough time for a dinner at the local brewery just outside the park before taking the Springdale shuttle back to our hotel. Excellent guide!

    1. Keryn Means

      I’m so glad you had such a great time!!! We still remember that trip fondly and want to go back with the boys now that they are older.

  11. Shala

    Thank you so much for this post! It was super informative and helped me a lot with the planning as we travelling with 2 kids 8 and 2 and my parents (Aged over 60) .

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