Fall Family Adventure Itinerary - Zion National Park
Fall comes to Zion National Park a little later than it does to most areas of the country. In mid-November, you will find yellow leaves on the trees, cool crisp air perfect for all those hiking adventures, and bonus, the summer crowds have thinned out.
If you want to experience Zion in all it's fall glory I have put together the perfect fall family adventure itinerary. This is the actual tried and true itinerary I did with my family 2 years ago and we had such a great time.
Who: Me, my hubby and our 3 children (1, 4, and 7 years at the time)
When: November 18-20 2016
How long: 3 days 2 nights
Where We Stayed: Cable Mountain Lodge
We booked a Wallbed Suite and loved it. It was spacious with 3 beds (a king bed, a sofa bed, and a murphy bed) and a kitchenette. The rustic decor was very warm and cozy. The hotel’s location is the absolute best in Springdale since it is a 2-minute walk from Zion National Park. Parking at the park’s Visitor Center can sometimes be hard to find, so being able to leave the car at the hotel is extremely convenient. You also get a 20% discount at all the shops and restaurants on the property.
Food in Springdale is a little expensive. Save money by buying groceries in Hurricane or La Verkin before heading to Springdale and use the suite’s kitchenette.
After checking in we ate dinner at Zion Canyon Brew Pub. The location is convenient as it is located on the hotel’s property. We also received a 20% discount on our bill by showing our room key. The food was tasty, and the service was prompt. The restaurant has high chairs and plenty of space for strollers, but does not have any crayons or other activities for keeping little ones entertained. Make sure to bring your own books and toys if you plan to eat here.
I was hoping to do a sunset walk along the Pa'Rus trail after dinner but we didn't arrive early enough and it was already dark. The evening was really cold so we decided to snuggle up in our suite. We made hot chocolate, which we had purchased in town earlier, and enjoyed a movie together. The kids were thrilled to be on a mini-adventure and to be staying in a hotel.
The baby was up by 6.30 a.m. so I bundled the two of us up and we went for an early morning walk while my hubby played with the girls in our suite. We ventured into Zion National Park and walked along the Pa’Rus Trail with the beautiful sunrise as our backdrop. The weather was quite chilly, but, as soon as the sun rose, it warmed right up.
On my way back, I grabbed two Junior Ranger handbooks at the Visitor Center so my kiddos could start working on getting their Junior Ranger Badges.
The National Park’s Visitor Center offers free Junior Ranger booklets for visitors ages 4 +. This activity booklet leads little nature explorers through Zion National Park in search of natural treasures. Upon completion, a Junior Ranger Badge is earned. The program is tailored to different age groups. Younger children only need to complete a couple of the pages, while older kids must complete the entire booklet. Allow for several hours to complete the entire program.
For breakfast, we ate cereal in our suite that we had purchased in Hurricane. It was such a treat to have a relaxed morning in the room. I also grabbed a coffee from Perks, the on-site cafe.
Once I returned from my walk with the baby, we prepared for our family hike. We ate a quick snack of cheese, crackers, and apple slices in the suite since we knew we would be on our hike during our normal lunch time. We were out of our suite by 11.15 a.m. and headed to the Visitor Center to board one of the free shuttles.
The majority of the year the park operates a free shuttle into the main canyon, with nine different stops throughout its grounds. To avoid long lines during the summer, plan to get to the park either first thing in the morning or later in the day. In the winter, the shuttle only runs on the weekends, and it is possible to drive into the park with your own car, but it can be difficult to find parking.
We had a 10-minute wait for the shuttle to arrive, and then we rode the shuttle to its final stop: Temple of Sinawava. The ride on the shuttle takes approximately 40 minutes and it’s a great way to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Zion National Park, especially on a chilly fall day. From Temple of Sinawava, we embarked on our hike of the Riverside Walk Trail. This is a great hike for kids because it is relatively flat and only a 2-mile round trip. Even novice little hikers will enjoy this adventure. It took us about 1 ½ hour to complete, including frequent stops to play on the trail.
Hiking for the first time with your kids? Allow plenty of time for them to play and explore and pack lots of snacks. Children get hungry quickly and will be more motivated during the hike if you promise them their favorite treat.
After the hike, we had a late lunch at the Castle Dome Cafe at the Zion Lodge and shared a cheeseburger and a slice of pizza. The food was very mediocre, but we enjoyed sitting outside and eating on the grass while the kids played.
Food options within Zion National Park aren’t the best. It’s better to pack your own picnic lunch.
On our shuttle ride back to the lodge, we stopped at the Human History Museum to watch a movie about the park, which was a requirement for the Junior Ranger badge. The short introduction to the park lasts about 20 minutes and plays every 1/2 hour. Its content was engaging for the kids, and the baby napped throughout it. When we returned to our hotel we went down to the river where there are picnic tables and a barbecue. We played in the fallen leaves before retreating to our suite for a rest.
We had dinner at Zion Pizza & Noodle Co., which is a 5-minute drive from Cable Mountain Lodge and has a sizable selection of salads and pizzas. Our kids are always up for pizza and they loved it!
We had a late breakfast around 9.30 a.m. at Cafe Soleil, a small cafe within walking distance from the hotel. I always enjoy when I don’t have to drive somewhere. The food was a little pricey, but good. The menu even featured a small selection of kids’ sandwiches. My kiddos were so hungry they gobbled everything up.
After breakfast, we packed up and made a picnic lunch before heading over to the start of the Watchman Trail, which is about a 10-minute walk past the Visitor Center. The trail is 3-miles round trip with an elevation of 300 ft. Though this trail is a little long and has an elevation climb, the kids did great. We hiked at a slow and comfortable pace and packed plenty of snacks to refuel along the way. The weather was much warmer this day and we didn’t even need coats. Unfortunately, it started to sprinkle when we reached the top so we ate our lunches quickly and then headed back down. If it’s not raining during your hike, the trail offers beautiful picnic spots with gorgeous views. The trail took us about 2 ½ hours to complete.
Sometimes it takes some bribery to get your kids to complete a hike without complaining. Receiving the Junior Ranger badge is one that worked well with my daughters.
After the hike, we dropped by the Visitor Center to collect the girls’ Junior Ranger Badges. We presented the handbooks at the information booth, and the kids repeated an oath about protecting the park and keeping it clean before receiving their badges. It was adorable, and the kids loved the Junior Ranger program. Definitely a highlight of our trip. We loaded the car shortly thereafter and headed home.
If you have more time, take a drive through the upper section of Zion National Park and discover its dramatic difference in landscape compared to the rest of the park. Driving through the Mount Carmel Tunnel is such a fun experience for kids. The walls of the tunnel are interspersed with holes that allow young explorers to peek through and admire a sweeping panorama of Zion’s surroundings. A short and sweet hike suitable for kids is Canyon Overlook, located just east of the tunnel.
Baby Hiking backpack. This is essential for hiking with a toddler.
Stroller. This was convenient for the morning walk along the Pa'Rus Trail.
Warm coats, beanies and gloves. Even if the daytime temperatures are pleasant, the mornings and evenings can still be pretty chilly this time of the year.
Comfortable hiking shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty on the hikes.
Plenty of snacks for the kids. Trail mix, peanut m&m's, jerky, and goldfish crackers are our go-to options.
Always bring plenty of water for all members of the family. Riverside Walk and Zion Lodge have water fill stations.