Zion National Park with Kids (2-Day Itinerary)

If you’re headed to Zion National Park with kids, we have a perfect 2-day itinerary for you!

Zion National Park is absolutely gorgeous. Each park is unique and has its own beauty, making it hard to pick favorites.  However, if my husband, Allan, were to pick a favorite, it would be Zion.  If I were to pick a favorite, it would be in my top three (Yosemite and Yellowstone also have large pieces of my heart).

Like most national parks, you could easily spend a week in this little slice of paradise.  

Unfortunately, we don’t always have a week.  

Fortunately, you can get a nice overview of the park and visit some iconic places in two days!

While the park does have some more advanced trails and trails not suitable for young children, there are plenty of trails that are family and kid-friendly. Your kids will love Zion!

In fact, when we first entered the park, my 8-year-old was staring up at the sheer red walls, silent. “What are you thinking?”  I asked.

“God is bigger than the tallest mountain and smaller than the smallest pebble, and He’s faithful in everything,” he said, followed by, “Am I dreaming?”

Zion does feel like a dream, and this two-day itinerary will help you see and enjoy its beauty. 

DAY 1: Zion National Park with kids

The first day is a good day to get to know the park, get an overview of the layout, and just take in the splendor.

Entering Zion National Park

If at all possible, enter the park through the east entrance.  The drive through Kanab and Mt. Carmel Junction will knock your socks off. 

Confession: I loved reading westerns like Louis L’amour and Zane Grey’s books as a young adult.  When I pictured myself living on a ranch in the 1800s, it would have been that type of rangeland that’s found near Kanab.

 

Watch Buffalo Graze

Zion Mountain Ranch is on the south side of the road before you enter the park.  They have horses…and buffalo!  Since buffalo are a little sparse in California, the kids perched on the fence and watched the little herd graze.  It’s the little things.

Watching the buffalo herd at Zion Mountain Ranch in Utah

Travel Through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel

Heading east from Zion Mountain Ranch, you’ll enter Zion Valley through a tunnel.  This 1.1-mile tunnel, completed in 1930, is uniquely constructed with large rock cutouts towards that end that give you quick little glimpses of the valley.

Traveling through the tunnel with larger vehicles (like RVs) does require a permit. You can obtain a permit from the park entrance station for a small fee.  The permit provides traffic control since the tunnel only allows one-way traffic for larger vehicles.  One permit grants two trips through the tunnel.  

After driving through the main portion of the park, check into your campground or hotel.

 

Stop by the Zion Visitor Center

Whenever we go somewhere new, or if it’s been a while since we’ve last visited, we always stop by the visitor center first.  It’s a great starting place!  You can look at maps, talk to rangers, and learn about any trail or park changes.

 

Pick Up a Junior Ranger Booklet

No trip to Zion National Park with kids is complete without a Junior Ranger badge!  If you have young nature enthusiasts in your group, the beginning of your trip is a great time to pick up a free Junior Ranger booklet.  Children ages four (4) and older can work independently (or with a parent) to complete the activity booklet.

The booklet is a great way to learn more about the park and increase your knowledge about its history, geology, and inhabitants.  Our kids love participating in the Junior Ranger program at all national, and some state, parks!  As a reward for completing activities, children can earn a free wooden Junior Ranger badge.  It makes for a fun souvenir, too!

Ride the Shuttle Through the Park

Hop on the park shuttle at the visitor center and use the bus to get a free tour of the valley.  You’ll hear park facts and information over the speaker system.  It’s a great way to familiarize yourself with different areas of the park.

Due to COVID, public transportation has changed in most national parks.  Check the park website before visiting to see the current status.

Riding the shuttle in Zion National Park

Watch Zion Canyon: Treasure of the Gods (CLOSED)

There was an IMAX theatre that showed a film about the natives who originally inhabited the park, but unfortunately, the theatre was closed in 2017 and currently has no plans of reopening

 

Tour the Town of Springdale

In addition to the park shuttle, the little town of Springdale offers free shuttle service up and down their main road, stopping at many of the hotels, shops, and eateries.

View the town from the shuttle bus or get out and walk!  We aren’t into shopping, but we enjoyed looking around, eating a yummy Mexican food dinner, and getting ice cream.

Exploring Springdale, Utah

DAY 2: Zion National Park with kids

Make Day 2 a hiking day!  Zion offers over 100 trails, providing plenty of choice for those who love the feel of dirt and rock under their feet.  We opted to hike some of the most familiar trails that were kid-friendly.

Check the Weather Before Hiking (ALWAYS)

Before you hike in Zion, check the weather conditions.  Local news channels, phone apps, and the visitor center give regular weather updates.  Zion is prone to flash flooding and hiking narrow canyons with the chance of showers is never a good idea.

Hike Lower Emerald Pools + Kayenta Trail

Knowing that we wanted to hike The Narrows when it was warmer, we opted to do an easier hike in the morning.  

Starting at the Emerald Pools trailhead, take the moderately easy 0.8-mile trail to Lower Emerald Pools. 

Lower Emerald Pools Trail + Kayenta Trail

Once you’ve reached the pools, rather than retrace your steps, continue northeast along the river on Kayenta Trail.  Kayenta Trail is a 1.6-mile moderately easy trail that leads you to back to the main road just north of where you started.  

If you packed a lunch, snag a table in the Grotto Picnic Area at the end of the trail and enjoy your meal. 

Lower Emerald Pools Trail

Hike the Zion Narrows

After your belly is full, and you’ve triple checked the weather to confirm there are no approaching storms, hop on the shuttle and head to the Temple of Sinawava.  

The trail to the Narrows starts with a wide, paved trail (and plenty of people). This highly accessible portion of the trail is called the Zion Narrows Riverside Trail.  The paved trail is almost a mile (one way). At the end, you’ll put on your water shoes and start hiking up the river!

The great thing about the Narrows trail is that you can do as much (9.4 miles roundtrip) or as little as you would like.  For the first portion of the trail, you won’t get wet, but you should definitely plan on walking, hiking, or wading through water if you opt to go further up the Narrows.

Also, make sure that any electronics are safely stowed away in a dry bag.  Sometimes, you can be walking along in knee-deep water, then accidentally step off into a drop-off that is chest-deep.  Ask us how we know… haha!

Finally, you’ll want to keep in mind that it takes significantly longer to wade through water than it does to hike on dry land.  One mile feels like four.

Despite the drop-offs, the numerous people, and the challenge of walking through water, this is a not-to-be-missed hike.  The tall, towering canyon walls on either side of the river are stunning, making you feel like you’ve been transported into another world.

Our kids loved hiking through the water and splashing around!

The Narrows is, without a doubt, the most memorable hike in Zion National Park with kids.

Hiking the Zion Narrows

Pick Up Junior Ranger Badges & Souvenirs

On your way back to the campground or hotel, drop by the visitor’s center with your completed Junior Ranger booklets to obtain your Junior Ranger badge for Zion National Park!

Kids can also pick out a souvenir from the gift shop while you’re in the area to help them remember their adventures in Zion.

ENJOY EVERYTHING ZION HAS TO OFFER

After a full day of hiking, relax around the campfire or soak your sore muscles in the hotel hot tub (we choose the latter).

If you’re traveling to Zion with a 4th grader, don’t forget to get your free park pass before you go!

Have you been to Zion?  What are some of your favorite kid-friendly hikes and activities?  What’s on your must-see list when you have only two days in Zion National Park?  Tell us about them in the comments below!

7 Things to Do With Kids in South Lake Tahoe During the Winter

You’re planning a family vacation this winter, but you’re wondering, “What is there to do in Tahoe with kids?”

South Lake Tahoe (and all of Lake Tahoe) is one of those places that has a piece of my heart.  If you’re a nature lover, Tahoe is for you.  If you need a little city in your life, Tahoe is for you.

South Lake Tahoe is for skiers, shoppers, snowshoers, and sun-seekers.  

Winter trips to South Lake Tahoe and Shaver Lake are some of our favorite trips!  To help make your trip one of the most memorable ones, ever, try some of these ideas.

Build Your Own Sled Run

More than anything, kids just want to play in the snow and drink hot cocoa.  And, playing in the snow is FREE!

If you’re renting a cabin, they will likely have some shovels in the garage and you can build your own tube or sled run on a nearby hill.  If you’re staying in a condo or hotel, bring your own shovel.  

Sled runs can be made without shovels and are certainly more entertaining.  Just watch out for the trees!

If you prefer something a little more sane and pre-fabricated, or you don’t have sleds, toboggans, or tubes, visit one of the free sledding areas.  

Sawmill Pond

This sledding area is geared toward young children.  There’s a slight incline you can tube down but nothing too exciting.  Sawmill Pond is best described as simple and sweet.

Kahle Park

Slightly more adventurous than Sawmill Pond, this park is a great place to make snowballs, snowmen, and snow angels.  There’s plenty of room to spread out and a couple of slightly steeper slopes.

Spooner Summit Slide Park

Not recommended for young children, this park is perfect for older children, teens, and adults looking for a little more thrilling experience.  If you want to fly down a snow-covered slope (and not scoot), check out this park!  

Resort Tube/Sled Hills

Many of the local ski resorts have groomed sled runs.  Of course, these runs cost money aren’t customizable.  But, if you don’t mind spending a little cash, and having facilities nearby are a priority, take your pick of one of the many options available at the neighboring ski resorts.

Allan making a sled run.

Happiness is a kid playing in the snow.

Go Ice Skating

We don’t have an ice skating rink where we live, so if we have the opportunity to skate on ice, we take it!  

Heavenly Village Outdoor Ice Skating Rink

Located in the center of everything, this charming ice skating rink sits at the base of Heavenly Mountain.  It looks like something straight out of a Christmas Hallmark movie.  You can check their fees, hours of operation, and age limits on the Heavenly Village website.

South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena

This indoor arena is also open for public skate hours (though not currently due to COVID-19).  Young skaters are welcome and, depending on your child’s age, they may even skate for free!

Take an Aerial Tram Ride

You’ll get no better view of Lake Tahoe than from high in the sky in a gondola!  The scenic 2.4-mile ride starts at Heavenly Village and makes for a great family adventure.

At the top, there is an observation deck, warm drinks, and food for purchase.  This experience can be a little pricey for families, so you may want to budget a little extra.  

Go Skiing or Snowboarding

Lake Tahoe has some of the best ski resorts in California!  There are 15 ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe area, alone.

Sierra at Tahoe is one of our favorites.  I feel like it’s perfect for families for a few reasons.  One, because it’s smaller, the lift tickets aren’t quite as pricey as larger ski resorts.  Also, because it’s smaller, it makes it easier to keep track of family members, but not so small you’re bumping elbows.  Finally, even though it’s considered a smaller resort it has something for everyone with a variety of green, blue, and black diamond trails. 

Warm layers make for happy snow memories

Ride the Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster

Riding the mountain coaster at Heavenly isn’t something we’ve done as a family, yet, but it’s definitely on my list of things to do!  This alpine roller coaster winds its way down the mountain and looks like a fun adventure for those who like a little extra thrill in their lives.

Take a Hike at Emerald Bay

There’s something about hiking in the snow that is incredibly peaceful, likely because the snow muffles sound.  We don’t have snowshoes, so we hike on trafficked trails in snow boots.

The Vikingsholm Trail located at Emerald Bay is a 1.7-mile roundtrip hike offering beautiful views.  The Vikingsholm museum is closed in the winter, but you can still walk around the exterior and enjoy the beauty of nature.

The trail can be icy in spots at times, so make sure you’re wearing quality snow boots to help prevent slipping.  Like you would for any hiking adventure, stick with the best hiking practices by dressing in layers, staying on the trail, and bringing snacks, and water.

Hike to Vikingsholm in the snow

Emerald Bay in the winter

Make snow slushies

It’s a bit of a family tradition to create snow slushies on our winter vacations.  Sometimes it’s the simplest of things that bring the most joy.

Bring along some cups, spoons, and some snow cone syrup, soda, or juice.  Find some fresh, powdery snow to fill up your cup (dirty, old, icy snow just won’t do) then pour over your favorite drink or syrup.

Tahoe is perfect for families!

Snow slushie!

ENJOY YOUR WINTER VACATION AT SOUTH LAKE TAHOE

We’ve created some amazing memories from our family trips to Lake Tahoe and wish the same for you and your family.  Have you been to Lake Tahoe in the winter?  If so, what is your favorite thing to do with your family?

If you’re planning a trip to Lake Tahoe, drop a note below and tell us about it!

7 Ways to Find Cheap Flights to Hawaii

You’re dreaming of a tropical paradise, but need to know one thing: how to find cheap flights to Hawaii!  

The allure of Hawaii is obvious.  I find myself often wishing to dig my toes into the warm sand, feel the sun on my face, and swim with sea turtles.

Finding cheap flights to Hawaii is doable, you just have to know when, where, and how to find them. 

Fly to Hawaii in the Off-Season

It’s no secret.  The most expensive time to travel is when everyone else is traveling.  For Hawaii, the most expensive times will be Thanksgiving week, the week before and the week after Christmas, spring break (varies from school to school, but most take theirs in March or around Easter–which changes every year), and during the summer (June, July, and August).

The cheapest flights can consistently be found in January and February, followed by a week or two in April, the first half of May, September, October, and the first half of November.

Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute to Book a Flight

There is a sweet spot for purchasing tickets.  If you purchase tickets too far in advance, you may miss a sale.  If you wait until a month before you want to travel, ticket prices usually skyrocket.

A ticket tracking app or website can help you keep tabs on these price fluctuations.  I use Google Flights more than any other app or website.

TIP: I’ve noticed over the past few years that flights to Hawaii typically go on sale in the middle of December through Christmas. If you’re trying to find cheap tickets to Hawaii, look for them in December!

Use Google Flights to Find Cheap Airplane Tickets to Hawaii

Even with all the apps and traveling planning sites out there, Google Flights is still my favorite for researching ticket prices.

You can choose your departure and arrival airports and the dates you think you may want to visit.  I always select the filter option that shows flights that allow free carry-on bags.

When the calendar pops up, you can quickly figure out what days are likely to be the cheapest day of the week, month, or year to fly.  You can also turn on “Track this Flight” and Google will notify you via email if there is a change in the flight cost, either up or down.

Additionally, another great thing about Google Flights is that it tells you if the ticket price you’ve selected is “typical, low, or high” for the dates you’ve chosen.  So, even if you’ve never researched a flight, you’ll have a general idea if it’s a good price or not.

Don’t Forget Southwest Airlines for Cheap Flights to Hawaii

Often, Southwest Airlines flights don’t show up on Google Flights.  You’ll have to go directly to Southwest’s website and search for flights.  

It’s also worth noting that Southwest offers two (2) free, checked bags per guest, which can provide significant savings if packing light isn’t your style.

Choose to Fly on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday (and Sometimes Monday)

You’re taking a week off work, so you may be tempted to request to take off a Monday through Friday.  However, premium airplane ticket prices fall on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.  

Instead, if at all possible, take off work from a Tuesday through a Tuesday (or a Wednesday through a Tuesday) and save significantly on airplane tickets!

Pack Light and Save Money on Your Airplane Ticket

Not only is packing light a money saver, but it’s also a time saver.  Our family recently took a 9-day trip to Florida.  We each took one carry-on and one personal item (backpack).  We didn’t have to check bags, pick up bags, or worry about lost luggage.

Some airlines charge a fee for carry-on bags, while others allow one free carry-on bag per person.  Most airlines charge for checked bags, except for Southwest Airlines.

Take Advantage of a Credit Card Promo to Score (Almost) Free Flights

While credit cards can be money traps, if you use them properly, they can save you money when flying.  Basically, in order for a credit card to be “worth it”, you MUST pay off any balance you owe at the end of each month.  If you go longer than a month, you’ll pay interest, which defeats the purpose of trying to save money.

Hawaiian Airlines, Alaskan Airlines, and Southwest, three of the biggest names when it comes to Hawaiian flights, all routinely have credit card offers.  Often, by paying the annual fee and spending a certain amount of money, you can score enough miles for 1-2 free tickets (depending on your departure airport).  Before your annual payment is due, cancel the card.  

Airline credit card holders often receive additional in-flight perks, as well.

Depart from, or Travel Through, San Jose International Airport

We live just south of San Jose, halfway between the Bay Area and Los Angles.  While San Francisco Airport and LAX are much larger airports and are often cheaper airport, tickets to Hawaii are almost ALWAYS cheaper from San Jose.

If you are flying from another state and doing mind having a short layover, you may even want to consider getting tickets to San Jose (SJC), then purchasing separate tickets from SJC to Hawaii.

SAVE MONEY ON YOUR NEXT FLIGHT TO HAWAII

Every little bit helps, and by incorporating these tips, you’re sure to save hundreds of dollars on your next plane ticket to Hawaii, making an ALOHA! vacation within reach!  How do you find cheap tickets to Hawaii?  What’s your favorite tip for fellow travelers?

If you’re looking for other ways to save money on your next trip, start with your trip budget.  Use these 9 tips to create a foolproof trip budget…every time!

8 Tips for Introverts Visiting Disneyland

Introverts visiting Disneyland may feel a bit overwhelmed.  It’s no secret that Disneyland is the “Happiest Place on Earth”.  It can also be the busiest place on Earth.

Regardless of the busy-ness, Disneyland still manages to be incredibly magical, making even the most introverted of introverts blissfully content while inside its gates.

I’m an introvert.  This comes as a shock to many people since I can be talkative when I feel like being talkative. But the honest truth is that while I love people, I need copious amounts of time alone in order to recharge my batteries.

I’ve discovered a few things during our trips to Disney that help me maintain balance and not feel too overwhelmed.

Visit Disneyland in the Off-Season

When is the best time for introverts to visit Disneyland? It’s almost easier to talk about the worst times to visit Disneyland.  

Crowds will be at their highest on weekends, holidays, and school vacation days.  You can always check a crowd calendar before you go (there are several bloggers out there that make their best guesses for each year, but keep in mind that some charge for their services).

As a free alternative, visit Disneyland’s ticket website or view the tickets section of the Disneyland app.  Prices are pro-rated depending on the popularity of the day.  Therefore, lower ticket prices = lower crowds.  

You’ll want to keep in mind that lower-priced days also have shortened hours.  So, if you’re the type that likes to stay in the park until midnight, you might have to settle for higher crowds.  However, if you’re like me, and most introverts that I know, you’re ready for a few hours of quietness by 9 pm, so the shorter hours are perfect.

We typically go in the middle of the week, while school is in session.  We request independent study for the week from our children’s school and try to complete as much as possible before we leave.

Pictures with a little Disney magic.

Book Your Own Hotel Room if Traveling with Family or Friends

Traveling with family and friends to Disneyland is always fun!  My kids LOVE making memories with their cousins. 

All five members of our family are introverted, so even though we have a great time with cousins, we all need a little space to relax and unwind.  That’s why we typically get our own hotel room rather than sharing a larger suite or house with cousins.

We love staying in a house or cabin with cousins during our winter getaways, but since Disneyland can cause more sensory overload than a cabin in the mountains, it’s nice to have a place all to yourself for a few hours after a long, full day at Disneyland.

Taking a short break

Float On Over to Tom Sawyer Island

One of the best-kept secrets at Disneyland is Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island.  This little island, located in the center of the Rivers of America, and visible from both Adventureland and Frontierland, is only a 2-minute ride from the mainland.

Guests can hop on a motorized raft that shuttles them over to the island.  Adventurers can stay on the island for as long as they would like, or at least until the rafts stop running, which is typically around dusk.

There are caves to explore, swinging bridges, trails, and plenty of nooks to pull up a seat and just enjoy the quietness.  Since the Rivers of America flows around the island, the water provides a peaceful buffer from the mainland.

Cave view from Pirate’s Lair

Watching the river boat

Peaceful views from Tom Sawyer Island

Eat Meals Early or Late

Grabbing a bite to eat during “off” hours is always a good idea!  There will be fewer people in line and more open tables.

Eating lunch before 11:30 or after 1:30 and dinner before 5 pm or after 7 pm will allow you to miss the busiest meal times, a plus for introverts visiting Disneyland!

Always Order Food Via the App

COVID-19 may have made this the default option, but mobile ordering is always my first choice.  It’s so easy!

I love that you don’t have to stand in line, then try to get everyone to hurry and choose a menu item while the cast member patiently waits.  Instead, everyone can look over the menu options on their phones, choose what they want, then pick it up when it’s ready.

I also connect the app to my credit card, making the ordering process that much easier.  Mobile ordering is more efficient and all kinds of wonderful.

Use Fastpass or Single Rider Lines

Since waiting in lines with masses of people isn’t a favorite pastime for introverts visiting Disneyland, we use Fastpass/Maxpass and single rider lines as much as possible.  Using Fastpass/Maxpass and single rider lines allows you to experience more in a shorter amount of time.

As introverts, we’re ok with not having to be seated next to our friends and family on every ride; hopping on a ride as a single rider is no big deal.  Children as young as seven can join the single rider line as long as they meet the height requirements for the attraction.

Our kids were a little nervous the first time they used the single rider line but ended up loving it.  They especially enjoyed the single rider line on the Radiator Spring Racecars ride since you frequently end up “racing” against a friend or family member who was in the single rider line with you.

Pure joy on Splash Mountain

A quiet moment with Tiana–only us!

Avoid the Center of Main Street for the Evening Shows

If large crowds give you claustrophobia, you’ll definitely want to avoid the center of Main Street, U.S.A., before, during, and after the nighttime shows.

Guests pack into the area in front of the castle, standing shoulder to shoulder (but not during COVID-19, of course).

As an alternative, the show can also be watched from other areas like It’s a Small World and Rivers of America.  The last time we were there, we were one of a handful of families watching from the Rivers of America.

We were close to New Orleans Square so we grabbed some hot Mikey beignets and mint juleps and settled in for a great show.  Unfortunately, that night they ended up canceling the show due to technical difficulties. So, instead, we sipped on our juleps, munched on our beignets, and enjoyed the silence. 

Let the Crowds Disperse Before Trying to Leave After the Nighttime Show

When the nighttime show ends at Disneyland, there is a mass exodus of guests leaving the park.  Think bumper to bumper traffic with some guests weaving through everyone like they’re on a motorcycle.

I have only witnessed happy, tired guests leaving, but it’s just A LOT of people.  If you opt to hang out in the park for a few extra minutes, you can leave as the crowd dies down.  Just don’t be one of those people that the cast members have to ask to leave the park.  Nobody wants to be those people…not even the introverts visiting Disneyland.

Making memories at Disney’s California Adventure Park

It’s Time to Plan Your Next Trip to Disneyland

I know a few people who haven’t been to Disneyland citing crowd concerns, but to me, Disney crowds are happy crowds.  There’s no comparison between a state fair crowd and a Disneyland crowd. 

By implementing all these tips I hope you can enjoy a more “low-key” Disney vacation.  Here’s to planning your next trip to Disneyland!  May all your dreams come true!

2-Day Itinerary for Grand Teton National Park

Need help planning your itinerary for Grand Teton National Park?  We have you covered!

If you’re planning a road trip to Yellowstone National Park, you’ll definitely want to add Grand Teton National Park to your itinerary as well!

On our last visit to Yellowstone, we spent three days in the park and were able to see all the main attractions.  After leaving Yellowstone, we made the short drive south to Grand Teton National Park to spend a couple of days exploring the area.

The Grand Tetons are known for their stunning scenery and wildlife.  It’s one of those places that just makes your heart happy!

Camping in the Grand Teton National Park

We were tent camping and opted to stay at the Colter Bay Campground located at Jackson Lake.  If you want or need hook-ups for your RV, you can reserve a spot in advance, but since we were tent camping, we opted for the first-come, first-served campground.  We arrived around 11:30 in the morning in the middle of July on a Wednesday and were able to secure a spot easily.

The ranger assigned us a campsite in a loop furthest from the water, but it was the quietest campground we’ve ever visited.

Plan for Mosquitos

Just like Yellowstone, the mosquitos in the Grand Tetons can be a bit of a nuisance during the summer months.  Unfortunately, my son and I got eaten alive, but the rest of the family faired quite well.

The mosquitos weren’t as noticeable at the water’s edge or while hiking, but they definitely were in full force at the campground.  We noticed that while they only seemed to make an appearance at dawn and dusk at Yellowstone, they hung around all day at the Colter Bay campground.  I’m not sure if we just got unlucky or if that’s typical.

Bring bug repellent and long sleeves and pants to help deter the pesky little critters!

 

Amenities at Colter Bay Village

One of the reasons we chose to stay at Colter Bay was the amenities.  While we typically enjoy areas that are lower key, we knew we would need to wash clothes and restock our ice chest.  Also, showers are always a welcome amenity when you’re tent camping!

Laundry Facilities

We were a week into our road trip when we arrived in the Grand Tetons and needed to do some laundry.  Fortunately, the Village at Colter Bay has a decent-sized, coin-operated laundry facility.

 

Shower Facilities

Shower facilities at national parks aren’t always the most prestigious, but if you bring your flip-flops and set your expectations low, you’ll be thrilled with the warm water coming out of the showerhead and won’t get too critical of your surroundings.  Fortunately, the showers are located right next to the laundromat and the general store, making it easy for the entire family to shower while you wash a load or two of laundry!

Enjoying ice cream at Colter Bay Village at Jackson Lake

Day 1 (half day): Grand Teton National Park Itinerary

The first day of our itinerary for Grand Teton National Park was a good introduction to the park.  We arrived at Jackson Lake mid-day, secured our campground, set-up camp, then headed down to the marina area for some lunch and to explore the area.

Food and Ice Cream at Colter Bay Village

First, we grabbed some pizza and salad from the cafeteria near the marina.  

Next, we restocked our ice chest with some essentials from the general store.  We were excited to get some fresh berries (shipped from fields near our home in California)!  After eating dried fruit for a few days, fresh fruit is always a hit.  Overall, the prices were better than I expected with a good variety of foods to choose from.

Of course, the highlight of the general store was discovering the ice cream counter at the back of the store.  Yes, I still dream about huckleberry ice cream.

 

Swim in Jackson Lake

After lunch, we went to our campsite, put on our swimsuits, and drove back to the marina.  We all got an ice cream cone then headed down to the day-use area to the right of the Visitor Center.

Luckily, we found a spot on the small beach and dipped our toes in the water.  It was warmer than we expected, and it didn’t take long before we were all the way in.

The views of the snow-capped mountains are absolutely breathtaking.

After swimming, we went back to the campsite, ate dinner, then moseyed back to the marina to wash laundry and shower.

Swimming in the pristine water of Jackson Lake’s Colter Bay

Visitor Center

The Colter Bay Visitor Center sits right at the water’s edge.  We chatted with the rangers to find out more about viewing wildlife in the evening.  

If you have kids 12 and under, the first day is a great time to pick up their Grand Tetons National Park Junior Ranger Booklet for free from the visitor center.  Getting it the first day gives them plenty of time to complete the booklet and earn their Junior Ranger badge before you leave the park.

Wildlife Viewing in Grand Tetons

An hour before dusk, we headed south on Highway 89/191 in search of wildlife.

Willow Flats

Willow Flats is located near the Grand Teton Lodge Company.  As you would expect, it a large, flat, marshy area.  Moose like to graze in this area, but we didn’t see even one. However, we did see some iconic views and take a family photo.

Oxbow Bend

Driving further south towards Jackson, we reached Oxbow Bend.  We still didn’t see any moose or bears but we did get to watch birds, river otters, and even a beaver!

After sunset, we called it a day and headed back to the campsite.

Elk grazing at Willow Flats near Jackson Lake, Grand Teton National Park

Day 2 (full day): Grand Teton National Park

Knowing we had a full day, we decided to make it a hiking day.  Grand Tetons, like Yellowstone, has its fair share of grizzly bears, so renting a can of bear spray, or bringing your own, is always advised.

Jenny Lake

I knew from research, that one place we had to have on our itinerary for Grand Teton National Park was a visit to Jenny Lake.  We packed a lunch and our backpacks and made the 30-minute drive to one of the prettiest lakes in the United States.

Hike to Hidden Falls

We had planned to hike to Hidden Falls on the other side of the lake, but, unfortunately, there was a rock slide (which occurred a few months later) and the trail closed temporarily.  Several of our friends have done this hike and enjoyed it.

If you choose, there is a shuttle boat that travels between the marina and falls.  If you’re not up for a hike, the shuttle is a good option.  Or, if you only want to hike halfway, you can grab a one-way shuttle ticket.

Tickets cannot be reserved in advance, but can be purchased at the main boat dock (East Dock). The shuttle can drop off hikers at the West Dock near the Cascade Canyon trailhead.  From there, is a short ½ mile hike to Hidden Falls. Hiking from the main (East Dock) marina to the falls is 2 ½ miles, one way.

 

Hike to Moose Pond

Since the trail to Hidden Falls was closed, we opted to hike to Moose Pond on the south side of the lake.  We started at East Dock and followed the easy 2.7-mile (out-and-back) trail to Moose Pond.

As our luck would have it, we didn’t see any moose.  We hung out for a while and bird-watched admired the amazing scenery and found plenty of moose tracks. 

Fish, Swim, or Boat at Jenny Lake

In addition to hiking, guests can rent canoes or kayaks, swim, or fish!  The lake has lake trout, cutthroat trout, mountain whitefish, brown trout, and Chinook salmon.

Visitors can swim in designated areas at Jenny Lake, or head back to Colter Bay for an afternoon swim!

Hiking Jenny Lake Trail

Stunning views!

Moose-less Moose Pond

Swim in Colter Bay

Our family opted to go back to Colter Bay to swim.  Ice cream may have been a contributing factor.  Are you noticing a pattern, yet?  Ice cream first, followed by a swim.  Priorities. 

Dinner at Trapper Grill

For dinner, we ate at Trapper Grill.  This lovely little spot is located right on the water at the Signal Mountain Lodge.  While it wasn’t phenomenal, the food was the best we had while in the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.  The views were gorgeous and guests have the choice between indoor dining and patio dining.  Both locations offered excellent views of the Grand Teton mountain range.

Scenic Drive in Search of Wildlife

After dinner, we went in search of wildlife, again.  We drove down Teton Park Road.  Then, we went back to Oxbow Bend and Willow Flats.  Although we took several little dirt roads that had been recommended to us by rangers and staff, unfortunately, we never found any moose nor bears. 

We didn’t see nearly as much wildlife in the Grand Teton National Park as much as we did in Yellowstone.  I’m not sure we just got unlucky or if we needed to stay a few more days.  Regardless, the scenery is jaw-dropping everywhere you go!

The Snake River near Jackson Lake

Day 3 (half day): Grand Teton National Park

After spending our morning packing up camp, we headed back to the Colter Bay Village

Colter Bay Vistor Center & Gift Shop

The last day is when we typically buy our souvenirs.  And when I say souvenirs, I mean small mementos.  For me, that meant a couple of huckleberry bonbons.  Chocolate is my favorite souvenir.  Though, is it considered a souvenir if it doesn’t last more than one day?  The memory will stick with me for years to come, so I guess that counts!

The last day is also a great time for kids to present their completed Junior Ranger booklets and obtain their free Junior Ranger badge!

 

Tour the Jackson National Fish Hatchery

After leaving Jackson Lake, we made our way south toward the town of Jackson.  Outside the town, we spied a fish hatchery with free tours. We enjoyed learning more about conservation endeavors and the process of raising fish.  

 

Explore the Town of Jackson

Next, we traveled on to the quaint, touristy town of Jackson.  We enjoyed eating lunch in a real town for the first time in a week, visiting art galleries, taking a stagecoach ride, and walking around the square.

While we enjoyed the town, we’re definitely not shoppers, and the town itself felt very touristy.  It was good for a short visit, but definitely not someplace we would want to stay for more than half a day.

Sculptures in Jackson, Wyoming

Stagecoach ride around Jackson Square

Plan Your Grand Teton Visit

This two-day itinerary for Grand Teton National Park allowed us to see the highlights of the park and the town of Jackson!  We loved the natural beauty of the park and hope to visit again someday.  But, next time, we plan to stay for a few more days.

Are you planning a trip to Grand Teton National Park?  Do you have any questions?  I’d love to hear them and help answer them!

Hiking in Yosemite with Kids (4 Hikes You Must Do)

If you’re going to Yosemite National Park with kids, here are four hikes that they will enjoy!  Yosemite has over 750 miles of hiking trails–enough to try a new hike (or two) every time you visit!  If this is your first visit, you’re in for a treat!  Hiking in Yosemite with kids is both doable and enjoyable!

1. Hike to Bridalveil Fall

Distance: 0.5 miles

Elevation change: 80 ft.

Time: 15 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Bridalveil Fall Trail is one of the easiest, and shortest, trails in the park.  The path hugs the river, and the mist from the fall can get you wet.  The trail was my kids’ first little hike in the park, and they loved every minute of it.

The trailhead parking lot is the first one you’ll see as you enter Yosemite Valley.  We like to make this our first stop when we arrive!

Make this adventure a little longer by walking along the trail where it runs parallel to the road after visiting the viewpoint.

Bridalveil Fall Trailhead

2. Lower Yosemite Fall Trail

Distance: 1 mile (round trip)

Elevation change: 50 ft.

Time: 30 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Lower Yosemite Fall Trail is another favorite when you’re hiking in Yosemite with kids.  This trail is an easy loop. Start at the Lower Yosemite Fall trailhead (bus/shuttle stop #6).  You will see a building that houses restrooms at the trailhead.

TIP: I’ve learned to always have the kids stop by the restroom before starting a hike.  Even if they don’t need to. Even if they don’t want to. Yes, even if they just went 30 minutes ago. Take them. Always. 

It works well to walk this trail in a clockwise pattern.  You’ll cross the river at the base of the fall (plan to get wet if you’re here during waterfall season) then make your way back toward where you started.

Part of the trail winds over dispersed river water, and it’s best if younger kids stay close to parents during this portion of the trail.

If you’re feeling adventurous and your kids are intermediate hikers, you can take the Upper Yosemite Fall trail up 1,300 ft. to Oh My Gosh Point which overlooks Lower Yosemite Fall and Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite Falls

3. Mirror Lake Trail

Distance: 2 miles (round trip)

Elevation change: 100 ft.

Time: 60 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Mirror Lake is one of the most photographed spots in the valley and a great trail to explore when hiking in Yosemite with kids.

Best Time of Day to Visit Mirror Lake

To get the full mirror effect of this lake, you’ll want to visit in the morning or evening when the lake water is in the shadows.  With kids, morning is typically best.  By late afternoon and evening, they’re usually done with hiking and prefer to run around like crazies, chase each other at the campground, roll around in the dirt, bike, or eat ice cream.

Ride Your Bikes Partway to Mirror Lake

We actually like to ride our bikes most of the way to Mirror Lake from our campground.  Bikes aren’t allowed past a certain point (there’s a sign and a bike rack), so you will have to walk the final portion of the trail.  You can make this hike longer by hiking all the way around the lake, but usually, our kids just want to go straight to the lake, then play on the boulders nearby and in the dirt.

4. Vernal fall footbridge + Mist Trail + Clark Point + John Muir Trail

Distance: 3 miles (round trip)

Elevation change: 1,500 ft.

Time: 3-4 hours

Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult

young hikers at the top of Vernal Fall in Yosemite National Park in California

Beginning hikers may just want to do the first leg of this hike, the Vernal Fall Footbridge Trail.  However, if your kids are a little older and stronger hikers, this hike is one of our favorites!  Our kids were comfortable hiking this loop by ages six to eight.  Every child is different though, so keep that in mind.

Leg 1: Vernal Fall Footbridge Trail

Distance: 1.6 miles (round trip)

Elevation change: 400 ft.

Time: 60-90 minutes

Difficulty: Moderate

Hiking to the Vernal Fall Footbridge isn’t hard, but it isn’t easy.  It’s a paved path, but it can be fairly steep at points and a little crowded. 

Best Time of Day to Hike the Mist Trail and Vernal Fall Trail

The trail typically gets busier mid-morning, so if you go first thing in the morning, crowds are a little more sparse.  However, if you plan to hike the Mist Trail, you will likely get wet.  During waterfall season you will get SOAKING WET.  We like getting wet when we’re hot, so we aim for being at the trailhead between 9am and 10am with a packed lunch.

Trail Details

Partway up the trail, you’ll notice a natural spring under a large rock on the side of the trail.  The kids love to stop here and scoop the cold water from the spring and dump it on their heads.

Once you arrive at the footbridge, you’ll glimpse picturesque views of Vernal Fall in the distance.  Across the footbridge, you’ll see more restrooms and a water bottle refilling station.  There are no water refilling stations beyond this point, so you’ll want to top off your bottles.  There are additional restroom facilities at the end of the next leg of the journey at the top of Vernal Falls, making hiking in Yosemite with kids that much easier.

Iconic Vernal Fall Footbridge family photo

Leg 2: Mist Trail

Distance: 0.7 miles (one way)

Elevation gain: 600 ft. (hundreds of granite steps)

Time: 40-60 minutes

Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult

The Mist Trail is a family favorite.  It’s a magical path with large rock formations, greenery, rainbows, and as expected, the mist from Vernal Fall.  Depending on the time of year and the amount of snowfall, the mist can be non-existent or like walking through a shower fully clothed.  Generally, you can tell just how wet it will be by looking at the people coming back down Mist Trail.  

Since waterfall season is our favorite season at Yosemite, we pack plastic ponchos to wear up the trail.  They help, but if the water is roaring, the wind from the fall will make the poncho feel like a useless piece of plastic, flapping in the breeze.

Toward the end of the trail, the trail moves away from the waterfall providing the opportunity to capture the beauty of the fall (without soaking your camera or becoming a traffic hazard).

Is the Mist Trail Safe for Kids?

In my opinion, the Mist Trail is NOT suitable for young or very young children, especially if the river is roaring.  The first time my children hiked it they were 6, 8, and 10.  I felt safe about them hiking the trail at that age.

If your children are cautious rule-followers who listen to and obey adults, then they may be ready for this hike.  My kids don’t always listen well (neither do I), but when it comes to things like this, they do.  I’m also very upfront with them about WHY they need to be careful.  I don’t try to scare them, just be honest.  There are STEEP, wet, granite steps on Mist Trail with hikers going up while others are going down.  People also pass you from time to time.  

I feel better taking the kids UP this trail since we walk on the right side of the trail, which is the side furthest away from the gorge and river. On the way back, we take a different route, away from the water.  It’s a little longer but allows you to let down your guard a little, relax, and enjoy the journey.

Hopefully, this information can help you make an informed decision about whether or not your children are ready to hike this trail.  If they are, then go!  Have fun!  This may be one of the most memorable experiences you will having hiking in Yosemite with kids

Plan to get wet on the Mist Trail

Steep granite steps next to a roaring river

Leg 3: Clark Point and John Muir Trail

Distance: 1.7 miles (one way)

Elevation gain: 500 ft. to Clark Point (then down 1,500 ft. to the Happy Isles trailhead)

Time: 60 minutes

Difficulty: Moderate

At the top of Vernal Fall, there’s a giant slab of rock where you can dry out and eat a snack.

From Vernal Fall, you’ll head upstream a little.  On the right, up the hill, away from the river, you’ll spot some restrooms.  After taking a potty break, follow the trail signs up the hill toward Clark Point for 0.4 miles.  From there, you can connect to the John Muir Trail and head down the 1.3-mile trail back toward the Vernal Fall footbridge and Happy Isles!

The trail will take you back to the Vernal Fall Footbridge but will keep you high and dry and give you beautiful views of Vernal from above.

Drying out and taking a break above Vernal Fall

The view from Clark Point

Tips to Remember When Hiking with Kids in Yosemite

Hiking in Yosemite with kids can be challenging (they get hungry, tired, and fussy), but with a little preparation, and proper setting of expectations, hiking with children is so rewarding!

There are so many trail options in Yosemite National Park, making it a great place to hike with children.  Before you go hiking in Yosemite, here are a few tips that have helped us hiking with our own kids in (and out) of this beautiful valley!

Know Your Child’s Hiking Skill Level

When you think of Yosemite, what do you think?  I think of massive, powerful, roaring waterfalls.  This is because that our favorite time to visit is during waterfall season, typically late April through mid-June.

The waterfalls are both beautiful and terrifying. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t feel comfortable taking my toddlers to Yosemite.  I don’t really like just hanging out at the campsite when I’m in Yosemite.  I want to hike to the waterfalls and feel the mist and wind from the crashing water in my face.

In reality, it’s probably easier (read: safer) to take young children than to take teenagers (I remember being one of those teenagers at one time).

The best way you’ll know what hikes your family is ready to tackle at Yosemite is by knowing your children.

Beginning Hiker

Beginning hikers are typically under the age of five.  An almost unlimited supply of snacks and lots of breaks are a must for this level.  They may still need a nap and will need to be carried when they get tired.  These young hikers will likely need to hold a parent’s hand for safety at times.

Intermediate Hiker

Intermediate hikers are typically under the age of ten.  They will still need regular breaks and snacks, but they can hike fairly independently for several hours.

Advanced Hiker

Advanced hikers are basically grown-ups with the boundless energy of a child.  

My oldest child, by the time he hit 13, could out hike my husband and me.  And I would say my husband and I are both fairly athletic.  He doesn’t hike trails, he runs trails.

Knowing your child’s abilities and what they can handle makes a big difference and helps you prefer not just for WHERE you’ll hike, but HOW you’ll hike.

Happy hikers

Impromptu exploration is half the fun

Start Hiking with Kids When They’re Young

We have always hiked with our kids from the day they were born.  Well, maybe a few days after they were born.  Or weeks.  I remember hiking through the caves at Pinnacles National Park with my six-week-old.  I’m not sure what I was thinking. Scrambling over rocks in the dark with a baby in a front pack isn’t very practical, but I guess I didn’t think about it.  He slept most of the time, making it fairly easy.

Our kids love to hike, so I can’t relate entirely to families that have to drag their kids out on hikes.  I’m sorry!  I’m not sure why.  Early hiking might have something to do with it, but I’m sure it’s also just a stroke of good luck.

 

Hiking with Kids Can Be Challenging

My youngest child, Claire, has a muscle disease (caused by a mutation of the RYR-1 gene) and a carnitine disorder (this affects her cellular energy).  For her, hiking has gotten progressively challenging.  When she was younger, we carried her when she was too tired to hike.  She loves being in nature, she just doesn’t have the strength or stamina to go long distances.

Now she’s getting older and it’s definitely getting more difficult.  We still carry her sometimes.  She’s at the age where she gets embarrassed easily, especially if people make comments in passing, not knowing the situation. Other times, we split up. Allan or I stay with Claire while everyone else hikes.

However, as much as possible, we find hikes that she can do on her own. Yosemite is a great place for kids of all skill levels to hike and enjoy nature.

Trails are my happy place.  I feel truly alive, aware, and soaking in everything around me: the smells, the sounds, the sights, and the feel of the rocks and dirt beneath me.

Rapid Changes in Elevation Can Put a Damper on Your Hiking

Something you’ll want to take into account when hiking in the mountains is the elevation change.  

If you’ve been at a lower elevation before arriving in Yosemite, it’s not uncommon to experience a little altitude sickness.  Headaches, stomach aches, tiredness, fatigue, and irritability can occur.  For this reason, we always take the first day to acclimate to the new elevation.

Once, when I was a teen, our family made the mistake of hiking the Upper Yosemite Fall Trail (switchbacks galore!) the first day we arrived.  We were puffing like road lizards and felt like crud.

LESSON LEARNED: Take it slow and use the first day for low-key exploration.

Small streams–every kid’s favorite

Half Dome

Hiking trail between Happy Isles & Curry Village

OTHER KID-FRIENDLY HIKING OPTIONS IN YOSEMITE

In addition to these four hikes, there are kid-friendly trails EVERYWHERE throughout Yosemite Valley.  Pick up a trail map as you enter the park to see all your options, review the Yosemite Valley trail map online, or just start walking!  Kids will love the little footbridges over ponds and streams, as well as looking for butterflies, bugs, birds, ground squirrels, and deer as they meander through the beautiful valley.

MORE THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS IN YOSEMITE

If you’re looking for doing more to with kids in Yosemite National Park in addition to hiking, or need aditional tips, check out our post, 21 Top Travel Tips for Visiting Yosemite National Park.