With the first stop on our National Park to Park Highway Tour complete I wanted to share our pick for the best 10 things to do with kids in Zion National Park.
Ride the Free Shuttle. Few public transportation options offer the kinds of views you can get from riding the Zion National Park shuttle along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Private vehicles are not allowed on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive road from April-October unless you’re staying in Zion Lodge. So in addition to getting you where you want to go, the shuttle offers amazing views of Zion National Park’s sandstone monoliths. With shuttles coming by every 15 minutes you never have to wait long.
Little G was excited to ride the Zion Scenic Drive shuttle, not because of the views but because, “I get to ride on the bus!” just like Big E does going to school.
Drive the Zion to Mt. Carmel Highway Tunnel This 1.1 mile long tunnel was blasted through the red sandstone in 1930 by the Citizens Conservation Corps. At the time it was the longest tunnel ever built. It’s fun to drive through even for adults, but check vehicle size restrictions, if you’re driving a motorhome expect to pay the $15 fee for a tunnel escort.
Bike the Pa’rus Trail This 1.75 mile paved bike trail follows the Virgin River in Zion Canyon. The path is shared with pedestrians and pets (the only trail on which pets are allowed in Zion National Park). We made frequent stops to swim in the Virgin River, a perfect activity for a hot summer day.
Picnic at Lava Point Escape the heat and crowds by driving the Kolob Terrace Road from Virgin. The road crosses into Zion National Park three times. Near the end of the road is a turnoff to Lava Point Picnic area and Campground. This area offers a completely different feel than the typical Zion National Park experience. At 2000 feet higher elevation, the air is cooler and the trees more alpine.
Hike the Riverside Walk The Temple of Sinawava is the end of the road for the Zion Scenic Canyon Drive, but is just the beginning for a beautiful easy stroll along the Virgin River. The paved trail is accessible for wheelchairs and strollers (with a little assistance). With cottonwood trees and canyon walls for shade, it’s a great choice for Zion with kids. This is also the beginning of the famous Zion National Park Narrows hike, a hike/swim through narrow canyon walls.
Explore Kolob Canyon Outside of Zion Canyon there’s lots for kids to do. In the north west corner of the park is Kolob Canyon, with red rock vistas and a 5 mile scenic drive it’s a great short activity for a family.
Swim in the Virgin River Sometimes the only way to escape the heat in Zion National Park is to jump in the river. The mighty Virgin river may not seem so mighty to look at but its consistent flow and intermittent flash floods helped form the Zion Canyon in the first place. Access the river from the Canyon Junction shuttle stop or from several points along the Pa’rus trail.
Camp at South, Watchman or Lava Point Campground Watchman campground is the only campground in Zion National Park that takes reservations and spots fill up quickly. You can reserve your place on recreation.gov or try to get a first come, first serve site at South or Lava Point. South Campground is also in Zion Canyon, get there before noon if you want a shot.
Hike the Canyon Overlook Trail This 1 mile out and back trail is a great hike that packs a lot into a short distance. Beautiful views, shady caves with hanging gardens, sand to dig in, steps in sandstone, even a bridge that connects two parts of the trail over a dropoff. With some steep dropoffs it’s not appropriate for young children who can’t follow directions. At 4.5 and 7 years old, Little G and Big E did great and Baby L was strapped to me the whole time so she was fine too.
Visit the Nature Center At the north end of the campground parking area is the Zion National Park Nature Center, a great place to learn about the park’s wildlife in a kid friendly way. They offer youth programs, games and displays that discuss the wildlife and history of Zion National Park. It’s a great way to get out of the heat and do something fun with kids.