Zion National Park: Making Memories With Kids
Zion National Park is a feat of nature that defies description. The adjectives "majestic" and "awe-inspiring" have been used countless times to describe its titanic mountain monoliths, buttresses, and canyons, but the very act of putting into words the Park's features implies bringing them down to a human level, an oral level on which the Park cannot be fully understood. It has to be experienced first-hand, on a personal, visual level.
I have experienced the Park at that level for many years, both before I got married and several times after. It goes without saying that visiting the Park as a mother is vastly different than visiting it as a single person, but I hope that my memories of the Park from my single days, along with my careful efforts guiding my boys, now 10 and 4, through the Park, will instill in them a love for the wonders of our planet that will serve them well throughout their lives. During a recent trip to Zions, where we stayed at the nearby Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort, I had the opportunity to share those memories and guide them through the Park, and was rewarded by the sight of their dropped jaws and excited exclamations about its beauty. Let me provide some suggestions for visiting Zion Park with children:
Take the Shuttle
If you visit Zion anytime between mid-March and late November, you can only experience the main Park drive this way, as visitation from all around the world is in the millions. There are, in fact, only a few roads going through the Park, the main one entering the canyon from the south and extending northward several miles, and it is this main one that the shuttles traverse, where most of the sights are to be seen. It is a good way for kids, especially young ones, to get a good overview of the Park. Shuttles are free and run often, so you can get on and off them at various stops along the way. Older children who want to hike or have a more in-depth, hands-on experience of the Park have a variety of trails to choose from, all of which are accessible from the shuttle stops.
It is, in fact, one of those trails, The Narrows, that I hiked back in my single days, and about which I was able to share a story with my young ones that expanded their knowledge of the Park. Hiking The Narrows means hiking upstream through the Virgin River and its surrounding slot canyon, which is 16 miles long, up to 2,000-feet tall, and 20 to 30-feet wide. It is a popular, though somewhat strenuous hike, particularly during the summer months (and particularly for European men, who like to do it in Speedos for some reason). I hiked it 20 years ago with my friend Karen and two young men. Ten miles into the hike, it started raining. The Narrows, though wider than most slot canyons, is still a slot canyon in which water quickly amasses during rainstorms, and the water level began visibly rising within minutes. The young men who had accompanied us decided to continue on up the river, but Karen and I turned around and hiked, or rather floated, our way back down the canyon.
This was an experience that brought the canyon to life, so to speak, for my 10-year-old son. Visiting the Park in November, when snow had just begun to fall, made hiking The Narrows for us an impossibility, along with the fact that our four-year-old could not have done it even if the weather had been good, but my vivid recollection of that experience made for an
Do the Junior Ranger Thing
The Junior Ranger program is an awesome opportunity for kids to understand their national parks on their level. My kids get one at every national park we visit. Zion's program is perhaps a bit more in-depth than others, say at Arches or Craters of the Moon, taking maybe two to three focused hours, but well worth the effort. Help your kids grab a free self-guided activity booklets at park visitor centers, the Zion Human History Museum, or the Nature Center, and then let them take some time to answer the questions and do the activities in the booklet that, once completed, earn them a special badge.
Whether you're a parent, a single person, or a child, you can create memories in Zion Park that are life-long.
Have you visited Zion National Park as a parent? What tips have you found helpful?