Where We Camped (and the bigger question–how far do you want to stay from the park?):
Camp Lutherwood in Alton, UT. Weekly rate: $120. From this spot it took us about an hour to get to the east entrance of the park. While we had a good experience at the campground itself, we’re learning that (for us), there are times it just makes more sense to spend more money to be closer to our end destination. (Times like when you’re trying to hit all five National Parks in Utah within two weeks). We stayed here for a week while we checked out both Zion and Bryce. But by the end of our stay, all that time in the car was starting to wear on everyone. When you’re planning out your Zion trip (even if you don’t have kids), definitely factor in the travel time to and from and how that will affect the moods of your vehicle passengers. At the end of the day, maybe spending a bit more money a night is worth it if everyone is going to have a more enjoyable time.
When To Go:
We visited Zion in late September, so technically past peak season. That doesn’t mean much because this place was still pretty packed. Here is the key. Arrive early (before 9AM) or don’t arrive until after lunch.
What To Bring With:
Desert weather is all over the place. You’ll be all bundled up in the morning and then by lunch-time sweating your pants off. We dressed in layers daily or made sure to bring pairs of shorts or hiking sandals instead of boots in case it was blazing later in the day.
What To Expect:
Expect that you might be taking a ride on the shuttle. Don’t be like us, who initially scoffed at the shuttle. It’s actually pretty great. You might even learn something new because they include some interesting info on the history of Zion. Parking is limited, so if you don’t get there at the right time, you may not be getting a parking spot. And you don’t want to drive all the way down to the Temple of Sinawava only to have nowhere to park and turn around. If you don’t find parking inside Zion, you can park in the city of Springdale just outside the south entrance and take the shuttle from there. The shuttle has nine stops total starting at the Visitor Center, all putting you very close to big sights and trailheads. We never waited for than 10 minutes for the shuttle. Each stop had restrooms and a place to fill up your water.
It was overall a very efficient and organized system. The only downside we could see, aside from the shuttles being a little cramped at peak times, was that we had to triple check to make sure we had everything we needed with us (tons of snacks, diapers/wipes, sunscreen). Because it wasn’t as easy as just going back to the truck if we forgot something. (We forget things often).
Also expect that some of the trails may be closed due to flooding or rock slides. When we arrived Angel’s Landing (arguably Zion’s most popular trail), The Grotto and the two upper Emerald Pools were all closed. If there is a spot you really have your heart set on, check in advance to make sure it isn’t closed before you get there.
The Food Situation:
For budgetary purposes, we pack a lunch 95% of the time. You would think after four months on the road we would be good at it. But we still fail. Like when we forget to pack the bread two days in a row. Luckily, Zion Lodge has a great café with some good food (grilled chicken sandwich and strawberry smoothie for the win). Lots of outdoor seating but best of all is the large expanse of lawn under giant shade trees. Perfect spot to bring a blanket, have lunch, let the two-year old cooped up in the Osprey burn off some energy or (our top choice) take a nap.
*Disclaimer*: We are not hikers. We only started hiking when we hit the road. We aren’t good at it by any means, but we have grown to really enjoy it and that unplugged time enjoying the outdoors together. We get tons of recommendations on hikes to check out over on Instagram and sometimes they are for trails that a) Stephen and I aren’t acclimated enough to even try on our own or b) we know would really be pushing it for the kids. One thing we can say with full confidence about what we have learned hiking with a two and four-year old is this….you push them too hard and it will ruin the entire day. If you’re new to hiking (with or without little guys), you will quickly learn what the limitations are and your best course of action is to work within them. Don’t feel badly that you didn’t get to tackle that five-mile hike with the 500 foot elevation change that everyone said you HAD to do. You’ll work your way up to it with practice. Or you come back without the kids and do it. If we have one piece of wisdom to share here, it is DON’T PUSH IT BEYOND THE POINT OF NO RETURN.
What We Hiked:
On our first day we did the Riverside Trail, which is just over two miles round trip and takes you…hang on for this one….along the river and to the beginning of The Narrows hike. It’s a paved trail that is really easy, but we enjoyed getting off the main trail and walking the lesser trafficked one closer to the water for a good portion of the hike.
Our second day we hiked the Emerald Pools Trail. We would have loved to try to get to the Middle or even Upper Pool but they were closed down. The Lower Pool was a nice, fairly easy hike. The waterfall you get to actually walk under at the end was the highlight of Rowan’s day (and probably ours too because it was hotttt).
Other Cool Stuff:
The Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel was an instant kid favorite. We may or may not have bribed our four-year old at the end of the day with “getting to go through the tunnel again”. Little did she know that was the only way back out.
The sunroof windows in the Zion shuttle and snagging a spot in the front of the shuttle (best view on the bus).
Wish List Items:
(What we wished we had done at Zion)
We both agree that The Narrows is a trail we would have loved to do because it is so unlike any other trail there. (Water shoes and a walking stick are recommended for this one). Angel’s Landing is also another pick, but for Stephen only. While I would love to see that view, I am terrified of heights and know I wouldn’t do well on that one.