National Park to Park Highway – Best Outdoor Adventure 2016

Best Outdoor Adventure 2016

With the end of 2016 quickly approaching I’ve been looking back at our family’s best outdoor adventures we enjoyed. I realized pretty quickly that all of our great adventures of 2016 can be summed up into one great adventure – Traveling the National Park to Park Highway

As most of you know 2016 was the 100th anniversary of the US National Park Service. To celebrate, my family traveled along the historic National Park to Park Highway visiting 23 National Parks and Monuments in the western US in seven weeks.

Baby L on the National Park to Park Highway
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10 Things to Do With Kids In Zion National Park

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 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.

What IS the National Park to Park Highway?

Last week we announced our biggest adventure yet. A seven week, 5,600 mile auto tour of the National Park to Park Highway. You may be wondering the same thing everyone I’ve talked to does: What exactly IS the National Park to Park Highway?

Image from Paving the Way: The National Park-to-Park Highway

In 1920 there wasn’t good road access to the National Parks of the West. The primary transportation in and out of National Parks was the railroad or roads designed for use by horse and wagon, not the increasingly popular automobile.

A group of intrepid travelers wanted to change that. With the help of AG Westgard, route finder for AAA, and Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, the National Park to Park Highway Tour was born.

The Playground Trail

National Parks were known as The Nation’s Playgrounds in those early days, and this book by Lee and Jane Whiteley is the best resource I’ve found about it. It’s a wealth of information with authentic maps and photographs, plus directions on driving the tour today. 
One thing I learned from The Playground Trail: The National Park-to-Park Highway was that roads in the 1920s were named and maintained by private groups, usually auto clubs. Nowadays we take for granted that some government agency maintains our roads, but at that time private groups provided signs, maps and maintenance of their adopted route.

Although many auto trails existed, nothing connected all of the National Parks of the west. The National Park to Park Highway association banded together to fix this.

View on

Paving The Way
The PBS Documentary Paving the Way: The National Park to Park Highway directed by Brandon Wade is another invaluable resource. It chronicles the efforts of the dedicatory tour that left Denver on August 27, 1920.

Twenty vehicles joined the 5,600 mile caravan on The Longest Auto Highway in the World. Along the way they advocated for paved, well maintained roads to connect the National Parks. Their 76 day schedule is truly amazing considering how slow and difficult car travel was compared to nowadays.

If you have any interest in early National Parks or good historical story telling I highly recommend watching Paving the Way: The National Park-to-Park Highway.

See America First
You can learn all you want from books and movies, but at some point you have to be in a place to truly experience it. That’s why I’m taking my mountain family on a tour of the twelve Parks on National Park to Park Highway, plus six more National Parks and Monuments along the way.

Since 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service it’s the perfect time to celebrate these outdoor spaces. This summer we hope you can #FindYourPark along with us as we take the advice of the 1920s National Park advertisements and See America First. We’re taking off in late June and would love for you to come along.

Image from

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National Park Week 2016

I’m so excited to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service this year! In case you missed my previous post, our Mountain Fam is planning a reenactment of the National Park to Park Highway Tour to celebrate the centennial.

It’ll be a 7 week National Park adventure visiting some amazing sights along the way. We’ll be posting about the history of the National Park to Park Highway as well as cool stuff to do in each of the 15 parks and 3 National Monuments we visit. So stay tuned over the next few months.

But before we get to that summertime adventure we’ve got to celebrate this week’s beauty. This week is National Park Week, in case you didn’t know. From April 16-24, 2016 every National Park and Monument offers free admittance. FREE! So how will you enjoy your National Treasures?

For a little inspiration I thought I’d repost some of our National Park Photos from years past. Click on any photo to enjoy the whole slideshow and take a moment to #FindYourPark.


Bryce Canyon 


Capital Reef

Colorado National Monument

Craters of the Moon National Monument


Dinosaur National Monument

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Kenai Fjords