Zion National Park, UT

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– Traveled Summer 2011 –

This is our second trip to a national park as a family. After adventuring last year to Sequoia we were more confident about this trip.  From the trip planning to our hikes in the park, we were riding high.  Understanding everyone’s limitations is a plus.

Like our prior trip, we left Southern California to Zion National Park at 5:00 a.m. to avoid the daily commuter traffic.  We arrived at our lodge at around 3:00 pm after a couple of stops at State Line, NV for Breakfast and at Mesquite, NV for lunch, and after losing one hour due to daylight savings (Arizona doesn’t make adjustments for daylight saving time).  Even arriving mind afternoon, we had enough time to explore the park and get our bearings for the rest of our stay.

Zion National park is a hiker’s and climber’s paradise.  There are a lot of trails tailored to the very beginners to the very, very advanced.  The park is located inside a canyon and the main and only road inside the park its about 3 miles long.  Driving inside the park is not allowed unless you are staying in the Zion Lodge so plan accordingly.  There is a parking lot outside the park’s entrance and parking overflow around town.  The only way, other than walking, to move inside the part it to use the trams provide by the park.  From beginning to end the ride is about 45 minutes, one way, with 8 stops along the way.  While in the tram you will hear an audio narrative about the history of the park and the special points of interest.  This is a great way to get an overview of the park.  There are restrooms along the route so plan accordingly, especially if visiting with younger kids.

From each one of these stops there is the opportunity to go to many hikes; from a beginner’s hike, Lower Emerald Pool to and advanced hike, the Hidden Canyon Trail.  The moderate and strenuous hikes are very narrow and steep ridges with no guard protection.  These hikes are not recommended for small kids or people with vertigo.  The park’s newspaper does a great job on describing each one of the hikes.

If you are not planning to do a lot of hiking, three days should be enough time to explore the park.  Add an extra day to visit Brice National Park; a two hour drive, one way, north of Springdale.

Transportation and Accommodations

Shuttle Vans
Available April to October – check the park website for the latest information.  This is a free transportation offered by the park that makes it convenient to travel within the park.

Own Car
Private cars are not allowed within the park so be prepared to either take the tram or walk.

There are a couple of gas stations in the town of Springdale, so filling up the tank is not an issue.

Park Permit
Entrance fees are required to access the park.  Since you can’t drive in the park, entrance fees are per individual and not per car and most other parks. We paid $25 for the family (this is the price that we paid during our visit, check the park website for the latest fees).  If you decide to camp, there is an additional fee; camping fees are not included in this entrance fee.  Other options and discounts are available; check the park newspaper for the latest information.

As with many other parks, lodging inside the park is very limited.  In the park there is only one place to stay, Zion Lodge.  There are plenty of places to stay outside the south entrance of the park in the town of Springdale which offers free shuttle buses to the entrance of the park throughout the day.  If you can, stay at a hotel close to the entrance of the park, this way there is no need to depend on the town’s shuttle schedule; you can walk to the park’s entrance.

If you like a very quiet place to stay and frolic with nature, this is the place to stay.  The lodge is in the middle of the park, surrounded by nature.  After dusk there is a high probability that dear will come and grace in the front lawn.  The town of Springdale offers a bit more of civilization with many hotels, restaurants and shops.  Next to the park’s entrance you can also find a grocery store where you can replenish your food supply.

We stayed at the Cliffrose Lodge.  We loved this place, first because we got a  great deal for one of their suites (ample living room, kitchen, bathroom and master bedroom) and second, because it is located within a two minute walking to the entrance of the park and the visitor center.  In addition to the closeness to the park, this place offer stunning views of the mountains and the Virgin River.

Where to go

Riverside Walk

This is a moderate hike that you shouldn’t miss.  The trail to the River Walk is located at the end of the tram ride.  Depending how far you want to go on this trail, this can be an easy or a moderate hike.  From the Temple of Sinawava tram’s stop (last stop), the trail will lead you to the Virgin River where the only way to continue on the trail is to walk in the river.  As you advance in the river, the canyon gets narrower, creating some astonishing views.  In some areas of the river the water can get over 5 feet deep.  This is a fun hike for everyone, especially for kids since they get to walk in the water.  Before you start this hike, check for flash flood warnings at the visitor center.  Make sure to wear close toe shoes since the rocks can get slippery.

Emerald Pools
This walk is divided into three steps, the lower pools, middle pools and upper pools.  The lower pool trail offers an easy walk, with a paved path.  This walk offers a great view of the cliffs and the river basin.  At the lower pool you can enjoy a view of the pond and a waterfall.  Continue on this trail to get to the middle and upper pools.  The trail gets a bit more strenuous as you ascend to the upper pool, but if you are up for it, the climb is worth it.

The Grotto
This is an easy hike to a water fall where you can stand behind it and enjoy the scenery.  Two thousand year old water emanating from the rocks forms this waterfall.  Many kids like catch the water drops with their mouths and drink the water; don’t do it.  There is a very small sign at the entrance of the waterfalls that warns the visitors not to drink the water, but the sign is too small, too small and easily overlooked.  There is a bacterium in the water that can cause stomach indigestion.  Don’t drink the water, even if you see other kids doing it!

Other Activities
Zion Adventure Company
, located in the town of Springdale, offers other activities such as canyon tours, hiking, biking, rock climbing, River tubing and other activities.  In addition, they rent all equipment necessary for these activities (hiking sticks, wet shoes, river tubes, etc.)

River Tubing
After renting the tube from the Zion Adventure Company and receiving instruction on where to enter the river, how far down the river to go, not to trespass into private property, etc. each individual carries the tube across the main street towards the river.  Once at the river, the group hops on the tube and floats down the river for about two miles where a van is waiting to bring you back the store.  This is a great and relaxing activity for kids and adults.

Overland Tours
This tour provides you with spectacular views of the town of Springdale, a ghost town, old cemetery canyons and the surrounding mesa.  When arriving to the mesa, the path takes you within a few feet of the cliff, so be prepared if you have vertigo.  Once at the top of the mesa you will have the opportunity to stretch your legs and get as close (or far) of the edge as you want to.  No bathrooms are available during this 2 ½ – 3 hour tour so plan accordingly.


There are a lot of stores in the town of Springfield. Also, next to the park entrance there is a small market where you can buy your everyday foods.

Additional Resources