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!