3 Kids hiking on rocks along Virgin River, Zion National Park

Zion With Kids: 10 Tips to Avoid The Heat And Crowds

Zion is a spectacular National Park in the USA to visit and one of the most popular. The red rocks are mesmerizing, a backdrop to the many hiking trails, vistas and wildlife roaming and soaring through the park. If  you are travelling to  Zion with kids, you’ll need all the best tips to avoid the heat and crowds, and to make the most of your time.

We’ve higlighted the best tips for Zion with kids below, including how to avoid the heat and the worst of the crowds, best trails in zion national park with kids, what to bring, where to stay, plus other activities, for when you need a break from the park.

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ZION WITH KIDS – 10 Tips to Avoid the Heat and Crowds

1. Choose Your Dates Carefully – Avoid Peak Times

Going ‘off season’ to Zion can be a challenge, as it is one of the most visited National Parks in the USA. 

The busiest times are summer, and holidays like Memorial Day and Labour Day, as that is generally when  kids are out of school, and families like to travel. During those times:

  • Trails are crowded, especially the more popular ones like the Narrows and Angels Landing.
  • Parking is limited at the Visitors Center and fills up quickly
  • Lodging in and near Zion is more expensive

If you want to avoid the worst of the crowds, and have flexibility with your schedule, the best time to visit Zion would be between the end of October and April.  Late fall is a perfect time to go, as the temperatures are still mild, and the snow hasn’t yet fallen. You also avoid the spring melt / runoff that can make hiking trails muddy and difficult in spring.

2. Where to stay when visiting Zion?   Stay Close in Springdale and Nearby

If you are looking for easy Zion National Park access, and don’t mind paying a bit more, you can stay right in Zion Canyon at the Zion Lodge. The Zion Lodge inside the Park is a very popular and convenient place to stay. Step out your door and you are instantly surrounded by awesome landscape, wilderness, and convenient access to hiking trails. You must book well in advance. 

Your other options to stay in the park are the Campgrounds in Zion. Both the South and Watchman Campgrounds are near the Zion Canyon Visitors Center. The Lava Point Campground is out in Kolob Terrace area, but is closed until further notice.

To avoid the crowds of those playing and sleeping in Zion, Springdale and the Route 9 to the park have many great lodging options, for all budgets. 

The Cable Mountain Lodge is  just minutes walk from the Zion Canyon entrance, which means you won’t have to catch the Shuttle from Springdale, or try to find parking at the Visitors Centre. Convenient for heading back to your place during the heat of the day for a rest, or  a swim in the pool, before heading back to the park in the late afternoon.

In Springdale, many family friendly hotels like the Springhill Suites, are on or near the Zion Shuttle route for easier park access.

For the most budget friendly options, hotels in Hurricane, St. George or La Verkin would be your best bet. The downside is you’ll be further away from the park (up to an hour away), so it will be harder to get to Zion National Park early in the morning, and take a break in the afternoon. The upside is, accommodations will be significantly cheaper.

3. Park Early or Late Afternoon

When heading to Zion with a vehicle, you’ll need to park early in the morning, or in late afternoon. The parking lot at the Visitors Center has limited space, and fills up by 8 am. I hear 6am is the best time to go.

You can avoid the hassles of trying to find parking, by staying within walking distance of the south entrance.

Private vehicles are not allowed in Zion Canyon between March and October, so the other options are to bike or take the Zion Shuttle. If you do arrive a bit later, and the parking lot says it’s full, circle around the lot a few times, and you make get lucky, as cars are coming and going all day long.

The parking lot starts to empty out after 3pm, as tired visitors head back into town for dinner, and relaxation after a long day hiking and enjoying the fresh mountain air.

Zion Canyon Mountains with Zion National Park sign
Zion National Park, Utah USA
Photo: “Joecho-16 / istock.com”

4. Arrive Early, and Stay Late into the Evening

Hiking and exploring the park  first thing in the morning, and  later in the afternoon (after 3pm) into the evening  is essential in the summer months. This way you’ll  beat the heat and almost daily thunderstorms, as well as most of the crowds. 

Bonus points if you arrive in time to view the sunrise, and experience this magical time as darkness fades and the sun lights up the canyon with fiery reds and pinks.

Ideal schedule for Zion with Kids:

  • Arrive at 6am
  • Hike and enjoy the relative peace and quiet until about 9am 
  • Picnic breakfast or breakfast at Zion Lodge (make a reservation)
  • Hike and explore the park until 11am 
  • Go back to Springdale or your accommodations, take a dip in a pool, drive (with air conditioning) to a viewpoint, and eat a little lunch
  • Head back to the park after 3pm
  • Enjoy the sunset and a bit of stargazing in the evening.

Check out One Day in Zion National Park for all the family friendly details, hikes, and itineraries.

5. Hike Less Popular Hiking Trails 

If you’ve ever looked at Zion National Park photos online, you’ll have noticed the more popular trails in Zion Canyon are well populated with lines of visitors hiking together. Think the Narrows, Angels Landing. Hiking some of the lesser known trails, will still give you the experience of the red rock canyon,  rock formations and geography, without all the crowds.

Do your research, and plan out your hikes before you leave on your trip. I recommend always building in a contingency plan, especially with kids.

For families with babies and toddlers, using a carrier like the ergo or a backpack carrier  will be your best choice, as there are few stroller friendly trails. The Zion Canyon has the easiest trails, so the best bet for families with young kids, unless you plan on carrying them everywhere.

6. Go Against the Flow

First stop, all the way to the top. Take the first Zion Shuttle to the end of the road, Shuttle Stop #9 Temple Sinawava, and make your way slowly back, hiking various trails that catch your fancy. The Riverside Trail, a popular family friendly easy hike, also starts here. 

The Zion Lodge is the only place to get food in Zion National Park. Stop at Shuttle stop #5 Zion Lodge, for an early breakfast, after your first hike. Slowly make your way back to the Visitors Center by 11am, to beat the heat and rush.

At the moment you need to buy Zion Shuttle tickets in advance, so this will eliminate the worst of waiting around in line ups.

Tip: For the best views, sit on the left side of the Shuttle going up, and on the right going down.

7. Hike Shady Trails and When the Temperatures are Cooler

Hiking early in the morning and after 3pm will award you and your family with more pleasant  temperatures. These are also the times for the best quality of light for all those memory making photos and fewer crowds, so less random strangers to photobomb your pics.

Avoid hiking during the heat of the day 11-3pm in summer months, unless you plan on some of the shadier trails, or hiking at higher elevations.

Tip: Some of the less exposed, shadier trails in ZIon Canyon are the Riverside Walk, Emerald Pools Trails and Weeping Rock. 

Bryce National Park is another popular National Park to visit in Utah

8. Tips for Hiking Zion with Kids 

The easiest and most kid friendly trails to hike are in Zion Canyon. Any one of these trails would be a good place to start your Zion family adventure. The numbers are the Zion Shuttle Stops:

  • Lower Emerald Trail (#5)
  • Riverside Walk (#9)
  • Weeping Rock (#7) – Check first, may still be closed due to rockfall
  • The Grotto (#5 or #6)
  • Pa’rus Trail (#1 Visitors Center)

We have all the details and info on these trails  plus more family friendly Zion hikesone day Zion itineraries, and other  activities for kids in our One Day in Zion National Park post.

As the Narrows is one of the most famous Zion hikes, we wanted to mention it here as well.  Many families walk a short distance to get a feel for the Narrows, and dip their feet in the Virgin River. 

It is a strenuous, wet hike through swift moving water at points, that requires proper gear and planning,  if you continue on to Big Spring (5miles from the trailhead). The Narrows is not a suitable hike for very young children to walk, beyond dipping their toes at the start. 

Angels Landing is another popular trail with the instagram folks. This hike is  not suitable for very young children, due to steep drop offs, and narrow trails, and the last  

Grandparents hiking with young girl along Emerald Pools Trail in Zion Canyon.
Hiking in Zion with Family – Emerald Pools Trail
Photo: “JeffGoulden / istock.com”

9. Tips for Zion with Kids – Eats, Water, Clothing, Logistics & More 

Travelling with kids always requires a little extra prep and planning. Here are some essential tips to help make your family vacation to Zion National Park smoother:

  • Drink a lot of water, and eat regularly and healthy
  • Plan your meals for non-peak dining hours, and spend the best times exploring the park
  • Road Trip Food List – plan your snacks out
  • There is limited cell phone service in Zion National Park. WIFI is  available at Zion Lodge for a fee.
  • Bring and wear sunscreen
  • Make sure your kids have comfortable backpacks to carry their own snacks, water & change of clothes. Check out our recommendations for top kids travel / hiking packs.
  • Wear sun hats that protect you all from the strong suns rays,  and allow circulation
  • Layer your clothing. Wear breathable, light weight clothes, and be sure to throw in a  long sleeve shirt, sweater or jacket. Wear synthetic fibres, if you are heading out to the wilderness areas. 
  • Bring a backpack carrier or ergo type carrier for babies, toddlers – There are few, stroller friendly trails
  • If you are doing a out and back hike, always turn around before everyone gets tired
  • When you are tired of walking or hiking, take a drive along the Zion – Mt Carmel Highway.
  • Look for wildlife in the park – there’s rock squirrels, birds, fish, mule deer, bighorn sheep, foxes, collared lizards.

My number one tip for travelling to Zion with kids is to slow down. It’s ok if you won’t get to see everything you wanted to, or planned for. The magic really happens when you slow down and experience being together out in nature. 

Tip: Print off the Zion Mammal List,  or the extensive Bird List  or the Reptile & Amphibian List.  Learn more about the creatures that make Zion home, and to  see how many you can check off during your visit. 

10. Other Things to Do In and Near Zion National Park with Kids

  • Join the Zion Junior Ranger Program: Complete age appropriate activities in the park, and get a cool souvenir badge. You can download the booklet ahead of time, or check in at the Visitors Center. 
  • Join a Ranger Led Program: Kid-friendly Ranger led activities include Family Walks, Nature Center youth programs, and games, music and storytelling on the lawn at Zion Lodge. Check their calendar for their list of events. 
  • Zion Nature Center (Closed currently – check back to confirm if open and the hours): Just north of the South Campground the Zion Nature Center has exhibits and activities for kids. Perfect for a respite from the heat, or bad weather. 
  • Zion Park Colouring Sheets: Download and print off the park colouring sheets, to keep your kids entertained on your road trip, or at a restaurant. 
  • Things to do with kids near Zion National Park:
    • St. George, Utah: Take a break from the heat and the wild. The  Sand Hollow Aquatic Center has a waterslide, water toys and pool of course. Many playgrounds and splash park areas. Also check out the Dinosaur Discovery Site, Wildlife Museum.
    • Hurricane, Utah: Hurricane Valley Pioneer Park ( museum, playgrounds, water play area, picnic spots), playgrounds and splash park areas.
    • Springdale, Utah: Think beyond Zion National Park. Tubing down the Virgin River, take in a show at the outdoor amphitheater. Visit the  Zion Human History Museum, or take in a movie at the Zion Canyon Giant Screen Theatre.

11. Bonus Tip: Buy the Annual America the Beautiful Park Pass

The entrance fees to National Parks and Federal Recreation sites can add up, especially if you are planning a longer road trip, or multiple park visits in a year.

The America the Beautiful Park Pass is a more affordable way to travel, which covers entrance for driver and passengers. It also makes a great gift for family members, friends, and RV enthusiasts.

What To Pack For A Day In Zion National Park With Kids

Depending on your length of stay, and how far you are venturing into the park, what you pack for your kids, will be similar to what you’d want in your pack, plus a few extras. 

If you are only going for an hour, it may be best to leave the majority of stuff in your car.  I like to be prepared anyway, no matter what the length of stay, as you just never know.

Here are some essentials to pack when hiking or spending the day in Zion with kids:

  • Backpacks for the kids
  • Snacks – sandwiches, trail mix, apples, granola bars
  • Reusable water bottles and safe water 
  • First Aid Kit – basic first aid items like moleskin, bandaids, alcohol swabs, rehydration packets (pedialyte or NUUN tablets),  wipes
  • Sun hats and sunglasses
  • Face masks – for riding the shuttle, or congested trails
  • Sunscreen and bug spray
  • Change of clothing, long sleeve shirt, light jacket or sweater
  • Baby / Toddler Items – extra diapers, wipes, extra change of clothes
  • Comfortable Child Carrier and Backpack

Zion with Kids Conclusion

Zion National Park is a fantastic place to spend time as a family. What are you looking most forward to? Or have we missed any of your best tips for Zion with Kids? Let us know in the comments below, or connect with us on social media.

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