Zion National Park: A Guide for Families

A trip to Zion offers many opportunities for families to explore, learn, and connect with the park.
A trip to Zion offers many opportunities for families to explore, learn, and connect with the park.
3/30/24 - By Gina Ragland

Zion National Park in southern Utah is a geological gem. The iconic red sandstone canyon cliffs are majestic, and the unique water features amid its desert landscape make this national park a true wonder to explore.

When navigating national parks, it's best to have a plan and know what to expect, especially when kids are along for the adventure and the inevitable long car rides that lead to the expedition. With Junior Ranger programs specifically for children and ample family-friendly hiking trails, Zion National Park is a fantastic choice for kids of all ages.

For more national park adventures, discover Yosemite National Park with kids, explore things not to miss in Joshua Tree National Park, and get inspired with additional outdoor adventure ideas in our National Parks Family Travel Guide.


Zion National Park: A Guide for Families: Pa’rus Trail at Zion
Several of the trails in Zion Canyon, like the Pa’rus Trail, are rated as easy and a good fit for families.

Getting To Zion National Park

The most popular entrance at Zion National Park is in Springdale, Utah, and this is where your adventure in the park is most likely to begin. To get a feel for the park with time for activities, Zion is manageable to visit in two to three days.

There is a $35 daily vehicle entrance fee for the park, though if you have a fourth grader, don’t forget you can get in free! There are also a few fee-free national park days throughout the year.

If you plan on spending two days or more in Zion, it’s worth it to purchase the $80 America the Beautiful pass, which admits you into all national parks for a year from the purchase date. You can get it at the entrance of any national park. Our family purchases this pass every year, and we’ve surpassed long entrance lines as pass holders and gotten our money’s worth by simply visiting two national parks within the same year.

Parking at Zion National Park

Like any national park, Zion will be busier on holidays and weekends, particularly in the summer. You will need to head into the park early to secure a parking spot at the Zion Visitor Center and trust me, you’ll want a spot for convenience with kids.

Plan on driving into the park, with the goal of parking at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center parking lot by 7am. By 8am, all spots in the parking lot will be taken, and you’ll be circling the lot for hours. There is also a small overflow parking lot at the Zion Nature Center.

If the Zion parking lot is already at capacity, you’ll need to exit Zion National Park and instead park at one of the Springdale Line shuttle stops.

The first Springdale shuttle stop is Zion Canyon Village, near the Zion Canyon Brew Pub. It has pedestrian paths leading directly to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. It’s a very short distance away, and you won’t have to pay a vehicle entrance fee if you walk on foot or bike into the park.

The Springdale shuttle is solely for operating in Springdale, Utah, and is separate from the Zion Canyon Line shuttle that is necessary to take throughout the park.

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Zion National Park: A Guide for Families: Riverside Walk.
Don't miss walking along the water at Riverside Walk. Photo by Jackie Jones

The Shuttle at Zion National Park

Zion is unique in that to access the majority of hiking trails and other popular parts of the park, the Zion Canyon Line Shuttle is the only transportation option. The first stop is at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center (this is why you need to secure parking early!). Note that the shuttle hours vary throughout the year.

With a one-year-old, we likely had more gear than most when visiting Zion National Park. Having a spot at the visitor center was essential for our family, so we didn't have to transfer between two shuttles. If you plan to bring bikes, the shuttles only have room for three bicycles.

From the first stop at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center to the furthest stop at the Temple of Sinawava (which you will presumably be going to because you won't want to miss the Riverside Walk), the shuttle ride takes 45 minutes. It feels shorter than it is, and you will be getting on and off at various points along the route.

As you wind through the canyon roads and pass scenic vistas, there's an interesting narration about Zion flora and fauna, Angels Landing, and more. It makes the shuttle ride an attraction in itself.

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Whether hiking, having a picnic, or attending a ranger-led program, you'll find something great for your family at Zion. Photo courtesy of NPS

Kid-Friendly Activities at Zion National Park

Nature Center

If it’s too hot in Zion National Park for the kids, the seasonal Nature Center offers a nice respite from the heat. This is where the overflow parking lot is, but chances are that it will be full. So, to access the Nature Center, take a short walk along the gorgeous Pa’rus trail, which starts at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.

Free interactive programs for kids occur daily in the summer, from park ranger dress-ups to scavenger hunts and dinosaur discovery activities. Arts and crafts activities were underway when we stepped inside, and my book-obsessed toddler didn’t want to leave the reading corner. Nature Center programs are for children ages 4-12 and last 30 to 45 minutes. There are also real bathrooms inside, which was a pleasant surprise.

Junior Ranger Program

Zion’s Junior Ranger program offers an exciting way for kids to explore and learn about the park. Intended for children ages 4 and older, young adventurers receive a self-guided Junior Ranger activity booklet, which is available at the Nature Center, museum, and visitor centers. The activity booklet is meant to be completed while in Zion Canyon. A digital version is available online if you want a sneak peek of what it entails.

The other component of the Junior Ranger program is that kids have to attend one ranger-led program. After attending a ranger-led program and completing certain sections of the activity booklet, a ranger reviews the booklet and awards your little one a Zion Junior Ranger badge.

Zion Human History Museum

Another way to beat the heat is through the educational experience of visiting the Zion Human History Museum to take in exhibits about geology, animals, and plants.

While it’s only a half mile from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, it’s safest to take the shuttle to stop two instead of walking the main road where private vehicles can drive. Check with Park Rangers at the visitor centers for museum hours.

Family-Friendly Hikes at Zion National Park

Food Options Near Zion National Park

1. Zion Lodge — Shuttle Stop 5

If you don’t feel like packing any food on your Zion adventure, then the Zion Lodge is your best bet for buying food in the park. The Castle Dome Cafe offers quick-service options like salads, sandwiches, pizza, hot dogs, and ice cream. Grab your food, then take it outside to enjoy on the outdoor patio. There are even a few high chairs available.

Red Rock Grill, a full-service restaurant, is also at Zion Lodge. Other notable amenities at Zion Lodge are nice restrooms with changing tables and water-filling stations. There’s another gift shop here, too, in addition to the one at Zion Canyon Visitor Center.

Tip: After hiking Emerald Pools, walk the short and flat Grotto Trail toward Shuttle Stop 5, which will take you directly to Zion Lodge.

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Zion National Park: A Guide for Families: Camp Outpost
The counter-service restaurant Camp Outpost comes with an amazing view.

2. Camp Outpost — Springdale

Full-service restaurants sometimes aren’t an option when you have young kids. Camp Outpost is counter-service, but uses quality ingredients for its rotisserie-driven comfort food. Enjoy fried chicken sandwiches, crispy shrimp sandwiches, root beer floats, and huckleberry shakes while relaxing at one of their outdoor tables overlooking the red sandstone cliffs. There’s also a kids’ menu.

3. Bumbleberry Bakery — Springdale

After a hot day of hiking, ice cream seems like a requirement, and I can’t recommend Bumbleberry enough. Its flavors are named after notable Zion locales like Emerald Pools and Angels Landing Recovery, but its namesake bumbleberry flavor is not to be missed.

4. Whiptail Grill — Springdale

Whiptail Grill is a must-visit for those seeking a taste of the Southwest amidst the stunning backdrop of Zion National Park at a converted gas station. Choose from delicious tacos, burritos, and other regional specialties.

5. FeelLove Coffee — Springdale

Long drives and jam-packed hot days in a national park might leave parents needing a good caffeine fix. FeelLove is a hip artisanal coffee shop close to the entrance of Zion National Park. It offers an extensive menu of enticing lattes and signature coffees.

6. Zion Pizza & Noodle Co. — Springdale

This popular eatery offers a diverse menu of handcrafted pizzas and flavorful noodle dishes. With its relaxed ambiance and scenic views of the surrounding red-rock landscape, it's the perfect spot to refuel after exploring Zion National Park.

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Zion National Park: A Guide for Families: Thunder Junction All Abilities Park
With its accessible play area and fun water features, every family can have a blast at Thunder Junction All Abilities Park.

Things To Do Near Zion National Park

There are endless adventures in southern Utah that extend beyond Zion National Park but are still near it.

7. Thunder Junction All Abilities Park — St. George

This expansive all-abilities park is a must-visit and will entertain kids for hours. A gigantic volcano sits in the center of this dinosaur-themed park, with shaded picnic tables inside the volcano. There’s a climbing wall, slides galore, a zip line, a musical instrument area, and a huge splash pad with two levels of waterfalls cascading down a large red sandstone structure and through dinosaur fossils.

Soft surfaces cover the entire park, making it accessible to everyone. It’s also all free, apart from the $1 train rides. And, there are family bathrooms.

Tip: Pack a picnic or stop by the nearby Great Harvest Bread Co. on E. Brigham Road, which is very kid-friendly with a kids' book nook, outdoor seating, and high chairs.

8. Fort Zion — Virgin

Kids can explore reconstructed Old West buildings and feed animals at a small petting zoo. There's also homemade ice cream in the large souvenir store. Fort Zion is just minutes away from AutoCamp Zion.

9. Sand Hollow State Park — Hurricane

Sand Hollow State Park offers breathtaking scenery and a wide range of recreational activities, including swimming, boating, fishing, and off-roading amidst its stunning red sandstone landscapes. Visitors can also enjoy camping, hiking, and picnicking, making it an ideal destination for outdoor adventures.

10. Red Hills Desert Garden — St. George

It will be hard to believe that this family-friendly desert botanical garden has free admission. Admire desert flora, a stream with fish, and even dinosaur tracks. Paved paths make it easy to push a stroller through the serene backdrop.

Combine it with an outing to the nearby Pioneer Park, where kids can climb rocks and go on hiking trails through stunning red rock landscapes.

11. St. George Children's Museum — St. George

Young visitors will love exploring the interactive themed zones, including a mini grocery store, a construction site, and a science laboratory, fostering imagination and curiosity in a fun-filled environment.

12. Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park — Kanab

Enjoy thrilling activities like sandboarding, sand sledding, off-roading, and hiking on vibrant pink-orange sand dunes.

13. Bryce Canyon National Park — Southern Utah

Looking for your next national park adventure? You could easily add Bryce Canyon to your itinerary when visiting Zion. At just under a two-hour drive, Bryce Canyon is a small national park that can be done in a day. The three-mile Navajo Loop and Queens Garden Trail is the highlight of Bryce Canyon if you only have time to do one very extraordinary hike before heading back to Springdale.

14. St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm — St. George

It's a small museum, but it provides a fascinating glimpse into the prehistoric world, featuring exceptionally well-preserved dinosaur tracks and fossils. Visitors can explore interactive exhibits, learn about ancient ecosystems, and even participate in guided tours.

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Zion National Park: A Guide for Families:  AutoCamp Zion
Experience Zion National Park from the comfort of an Airstream nestled along the Virgin River.

Where To Stay Near Zion National Park

15. AutoCamp Zion — Virgin

AutoCamp Zion offers a unique glamping experience amidst the stunning natural beauty of Zion National Park, providing luxurious accommodations in stylishly designed Airstream trailers. Enjoy upscale amenities such as outdoor fire pits, complimentary cruiser bikes, and a swimming pool, making it an ideal retreat for those seeking both comfort and adventure in the great outdoors.

16. Cable Mountain Lodge — Springdale

Cozy accommodations and stunning views of the surrounding red-rock cliffs make this an ideal base for exploring Zion National Park. With its convenient location near the park entrance, guests can easily access hiking trails, scenic viewpoints, and other attractions, ensuring a memorable stay for families.

17. Cliffrose Springdale — Springdale

Luxurious accommodations are nestled along the Virgin River, providing a serene retreat after a day of exploring Zion National Park. With picturesque surroundings, modern amenities, and proximity to the park entrance, it's an ideal choice for families seeking comfort and convenience during their Zion adventure.

18. Desert Pearl Inn — Springdale

Desert Pearl Inn, situated by the Virgin River, overlooks stunning canyon landscapes. Offering spacious accommodations and convenient access to the entrance of Zion National Park, it's the perfect haven for adventurers seeking relaxation and exploration.

Know Before You Go

  • Since Zion National Park is a canyon, temperatures get high, especially during the peak summer season. Hike early before temperatures get too hot.
  • Have plenty of water and sunscreen with you, as getting around Zion National Park relies on the shuttle.
  • The Pa'rus Trail is the only accessible paved trail in Zion National Park. It's stunning, and a great way to give little legs a rest in a stroller.
  • Parts of Zion National Park, like the Nature Center, are only open seasonally. Check the website to see what's currently open before going into the park.
  • Zion National Park trails may close for a variety of reasons, so check the website for shuttle detours and closure updates.
  • Arrive early to avoid long entrance lines and to get a parking spot.

Unless noted, photos by the author

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