I love sharing different perspectives when it comes to visiting Zion & Southern Utah. Since I am a local, I tend to see this area a little differently than someone who has never visited before. I am so excited to bring you this itinerary from Domonique of Simple Proof Travel. If you are contemplating a trip to Zion in the spring or fall with older kids (ages 8-15), this itinerary will help get your trip planning started. Read all the details below.
As avid National Park enthusiasts, we often center our domestic travel around parks we’d like to visit and Zion National Park has been at the top of that list a very long time! Too hot for me in the summer, a fall trip to Zion was the perfect time for us to visit. It was clear, crisp, cool and most importantly, not crowded. An unexpected treat was seeing the last of the fall color in the area. I suppose because it’s a desert we didn’t anticipate much fall foliage, but we were pleasantly surprised by all the golds and yellows on the trees. It made for the perfect color explosion against the red rock landscape.
WHO: Me, Mr. Simple and our 3 kiddos (15, 12, 8)
WHEN: November 2018
HOW LONG: 3 nights
WHERE WE STAYED: Desert Pearl Inn
TIPS: Booking hotels can be tricky for a family of five and we often have to book two rooms now. Desert Pearl Inn was a pretty good fit for us. We reserved two rooms with a king bed and sofa bed in each as well as a kitchenette. There was a restaurant on site where we had a nice buffet breakfast each day. Being right on the shuttle stop for the Springdale route to the park entrance was also really convenient.
We drove to Springdale from Las Vegas in about 2 1/2 hours. It was an easy and beautiful drive. We checked into our rooms at the Desert Pearl about 2pm, quickly unpacked and were excited to head into the park for the first time. Because it was close to 3pm, we took a chance on driving into Zion instead of taking the shuttle. We had heard how difficult the parking can be, but lucked out with a parking spot probably because it was later in the day.
Our first stop at any National Park is always the Visitor’s Center. We have a tradition to walk around, reading signs, talking with rangers about hikes and vista points we shouldn’t miss and picking up our Junior Ranger Guides. Each of the kids also has a National Park Passport that they proudly stamp whenever we visit a new National Park. They’ve been to at least 10 parks in their short little lives (lucky kiddos). They tease me because I act like their national park passports are of equal value as their actual passports. When travel is at the core of your family’s values, these little books are our family history.
After familiarizing ourselves with the park, it was time to meet Arika of ZION ADVENTURE PHOTOG, our photographer. I found Arika on Instagram, following her adventures in Southern Utah with three littles. Her photography is beautiful and with holiday cards around the corner, I couldn’t resist reaching out to see if she could capture some memories of our family while we were in Zion. She’s the warmest person who immediately connected with my three kids. I knew we were on to something special. Hopping aboard the Zion Shuttle, we drove up the canyon a few stops until we reached the Court of the Patriarchs. Here we did a short hike SAND BENCH LOOP, looping around under the three massive peaks each named after the biblical figures Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
When we first entered Zion National Park, as most people, we were immediately struck by the red sandstone and the peaks rising quickly out of the river canyon. This was being made even more special at this time of day by the glow of the setting sun. A short trail, that can be enjoyed by any age, and the quintessential start to a wonderful few days of exploring.
After saying our goodbyes to Arika, we took her recommendation and had a fun dinner at Oscar’s Cafe. Located about a mile outside of the park, Oscar’s was a lively spot with something for everyone on their menu. We sat outside and though it was a chilly night, their heaters kept us nice and warm. Our family had shrimp tacos, ribs, and macaroni and cheese, there are also burgers, salads and a famous Volcano Brownie Sundae!
This is the bucket list day. After letting the kids sleep in a little later than we planned, we had breakfast at the Desert Pearl Inn. It was a chilly morning, getting us all nourished up and warm from the inside our was critical for the day ahead.
PHOTOS BY DOMONIQUE OF THE SIMPLE PROOF
There are a few hikes in Zion that get all the attention. One is Angels Landing (not for young children, the faint of heart or the acrophobic) and The Narrows. In my mind, The Narrows is why we were here. I wanted to take the kids on a different sort of adventure, something out of our normal hiking, biking, camping. The Narrows was it. Zion Canyon is the gorge created by the Virgin River. The Narrows as it’s called, is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. Upstream from the Visitors Center and the last stop on the shuttle, many visitors never venture into this section of the canyon. Why you ask? Because you have to walk through the river!
In the summer months, I imagine you could hike this in a pair of hiking boots or even good water shoes, but in November we needed some cold weather gear. We went to Zion Outfitters for our dry suits which included bibs, neoprene socks, hydro canyoneering boots, and a walking stick. Our younger two were in full dry suits. We also rented a dry backpack, and so glad we did since our lunches were in there and my husband fell in the water while goofing around!
At the last stop of the shuttle, you will find a paved trail called Riverside Walk. This trail is one-mile long and takes you to The Narrows along a beautiful path on the edge of the river. We were lucky enough to see it in all its fall glory. There is no trail for The Narrows. The Riverside Walk simple ends and you walk into the Virgin River.
Before I continue, I want to be sure you all know that while we were completely safe, you are walking in the river and this area, especially in the late spring and summer, is prone to flash flooding. Be sure to check in with the rangers at the Visitors Center the day you plan to hike The Narrows and watch the weather report. Flash floods are no joke!
TIP: No permit is needed for the bottom-up part of the canyon. To get to the turn around point at Big Springs (a permit is needed to go any further) it is 4.5 miles one way, including the paved hiking on Riverside Walk
We probably saw as much as we were going to see and experience within the first 30 minutes up river, except for Wall Street which was the point at which I was hoping we would make it. This is the area where the canyon narrows to 20 feet wide and the water is deeper. The walls of the gorge soar to 2,000ft tall so you can imagine the impression it would make on children 4ft tall particularly where the canyon is only 20 feet wide. Whether we made it beyond this point on this trip wasn’t important to me. I was so proud of my kids, especially my youngest. While she is a fantastic traveler, hiker, biker, sightseer, she is only 8 years old and this sort of hike through a river and over rocks is not the same as hiking on a trail at all. My knees the next day proved that point. We brought water, lunch, and plenty of snacks with us as well as our cameras. My older two kids could have gone on forever, and the narrower the canyon became, the more curious we were to forge on. The Narrows did not disappoint! An adventure for all of us and an experience we won’t ever forget. Nature is truly amazing.
After returning our gear and shuttling back to the hotel, we had some down time before showering up and going out to dinner. I had read about King’s Landing Bistro before our trip and wanted to try it. We all deserved a celebratory dinner after our big day. King’s Landing Bistro was cozy and delicious. We started with a huge bavarian pretzel with house made beer-based mustards, butternut squash soup, shirley temples and a glass of red wine. For dinner we had steak, pasta, burgers and salads, pretty much each of our dream dinners. We followed it up with a warm fruit crisp and scoops of ice cream too. We enjoyed our dinner here so much, we tried to go back the next night but they were all booked. Definitely recommend making reservations.
MORNING & AFTERNOON ACTIVITIES
Today we set our alarms to get up early and drive over to Bryce Canyon National Park. You can read more about that here. It’s a gorgeous drive through Zion National Park’s east side, through the east entrance along meadows, canyons and a river to Bryce Canyon National Park 85 miles northeast of Zion. It is a great day trip from Zion that allows you to see both parks while staying in Springdale. Other than the red rock, the two parks are very different. I’m so glad we made time to drive over. Our hike that day was unforgettable.
After spending the day in Bryce Canyon, we drove back to Zion and were able to hop on the shuttle to Zion Lodge to fit in one last hike before sunset to Lower Emerald Pools. The roundtrip on this hike is only 1.2 miles and easily accessed by any age. We hoped to continue on to middle and upper pools (3 miles RT), but those trails were closed. You will follow the trail along the river and pass over a bridge, through green areas, and under a waterfall that comes from middle pool above you. The storm this past summer (2018) damaged the upper parts of this trail, but hopefully this can be repaired for other visitors to enjoy in the future.
PHOTOS BY DOMONIQUE OF THE SIMPLE PROOF
For dinner, we went to Meme’s Cafe. While the decor leaves a bit to be desired, the food was great. Crepes, sandwiches, salads, and burgers then sweet crepes were just what we needed after another fun day exploring two remarkable National Parks.
After we travel, I spend some time reflecting on our highs and lows for each trip. We each decided that we want to explore much more of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. At the very least we still have 3 more National Parks to visit in Utah. Thank you Arika for the beautiful photos of our family and for asking me to share our Zion National Park travels with you.
MEET THE SIMPLE PROOF FAMILY
Both California natives, Domonique and her husband love the outdoors. First introduced by friends because of their mutual love of travel, they are now raising three kids in Northern California and continue to enjoy traveling as a family. Whether it’s a day trip at home in the SF Bay Area, hiking through U.S. National Parks, or venturing around the globe, this family loves to try new things, seek new places, and learn more about our great big beautiful earth. Follow Domonique and her family adventures at INSTAGRAM and on her website THE SIMPLE PROOF