National Parks

17 Super Fun Things to do in Utah’s Zion National Park

Explore Zion National Park with kids
Take a hike over the Virgin River when you explore Zion National Park. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Southern Utah’s Zion National Park attracts millions of visitors a year, and it is considered a top 10 National Park. Visitors will see spectacular sandstone mountain scenery in rich shades of red and gray. Zion also offers hiking, scenic drives and horseback rides. There is more to see, so consider spending the night in Zion Lodge or camping. With a convenient shuttle service, visitors can see Zion Canyon and hop off at popular hiking trails. Here are the top things to do in Zion National Park with kids.

Table of Contents

Top 17 Things to Do in Zion National Park with Kids

  • Learn about Zion National Park
  • Stop by a Visitor Center
  • Visit the Zion Human History Museum
  • Drive Down Zion-Mount Carmel Highway
  • Travel Through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel
  • Hop the Zion Canyon Shuttle
  • Hike in Zion Canyon
  •  Attend a Ranger Program
  • Sit on the grass in front of Zion Lodge
  • Grab a Snack
  • See the Virgin River
  • Go Horseback Riding
  • See the Sunset
  • Spot Wildlife
  • Enjoy the Wildflowers
  • Earn a Junior or Bark Ranger Badge
  • Spend the Night in Zion

Zion At a Glance

Year Established: 1919
Located: Utah
Size: over 229 square miles
Top Features: Zion Canyon and the Virgin River

Why Visit Zion National Park

Many people, including myself, love this park. I have visited several times, and its beauty is still mesmerizing. The Navajo Sandstone dominated my senses with its rusty red smooth rock faces dotted with groves of trees. It is the rock that visitors see at Zion when they visit.

Though as tall and study the mountains are, it is life-giving Virgin River Zion carved the bold rock formations. It is the desert, though sudden summertime rain storms can cause periodic flooding that scoured the Zion Canyon floor, uprooting trees. It happened on one of my trips, flooding a nearby town. 

Zion National Park is part of the Grand Staircase, a geologic survey that has 500 million years of history displayed in the rock layers. The Grand Canyon represents the bottom layer, Zion is sandwiched in the middle, and Bryce Canyon National Park represents the most recent layer.

See goats while exploring Zion National Park with kids.
The Big Horn Sheep of Zion National Park frolic alongside the road. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Visitor Centers in Zion National Park

First stop, a visitor center offers interpretive information along with maps and ranger services.

Zion Canyon Visitors Center

The main visitor center in Zion has rangers, maps, and information about permits. It is also the departure point for the Zion Canyon Shuttle.

Open daily 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (7 p.m. in summer and 5 p.m. in winter). Located at 1 Zion Park Rd. 

Kolob Visitors Center

Located about an hour from Zion Canyon in the northwest corner of the park. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Zion Nature Center 

Seasonal facility with programming for Junior Rangers.

Located close to the South Entrance, next to the South Campground. Open from late May until the end of summer.

Zion Human History Museum 

This facility offers displays of the park’s artifacts, geology, and water power. From the back porch, visitors can see the Watchmen and West Temple rock formations.

Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in spring, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and summer, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in fall. 

Utah National Park Road Trip Itinerary from Las Vegas
Drive through the Mt Carmel Tunnel when touring Zion National Park with kids.
Catching a photo from the windows of the Mt. Carmel Window is part of the fun. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Scenic Drives in Zion Canyon

One of the top things to do in Zion National Park with kids is to see the scenery. The easiest way is a scenic drive.

Zion-Mount Carmel Highway

As the main road in Zion National Park, the Zion Mount Carmel Highway (Route 9) travels from the South Entrance to the East Entrance,  Along the route, visitors can see popular sites like Checkerboard Mesa and Canyon Overlook Viewpoint.

The Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, built in the 1920s, travels 1.1 miles through rock formations. Size restrictions apply, and vehicles over 11’4″ tall and 7’10” wide require a $15 oversize vehicle permit.

Zion Canyon Shuttle

The scenic drive through Zion Canyon is closed to private traffic from mid-March until the end of October and on weekends in the winter. Visitors can hop a Zion Canyon Shuttle and see popular sites like the Zion Lodge, The Grotto, and The Temple of Sinawava.

Zion Canyon Shuttle runs from the Zion Visitor Center (stop 1) to The Temple of Sinawava (stop 9) from early March until the end of November. The shuttle starts at 7 a.m. (6 a.m. in the summer season) and runs until 7:15 p.m. (8:15 p.m. in summer).

It is free to use and doesn’t require a reservation.

Planning Guide to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim
Hike in Zion National Park with kids.
Hike the Lower Emerald Pools Trail for a desert oasis and a waterfall. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Hiking in Zion National Park

The main activity in Zion National Park is hiking. Shuttle service to several trailheads makes it easy to hike in Zion.

Easiest Trails

Pa’rus Trail—An accessible 3.5-mile (5.6 km) paved trail from the Visitor Center to Canyon Junction along the Virgin River.

Riverside Walk—A partially accessible 2.2-mile (3.5 km) along the Virgin River.

The Grotto Trail—A 1.0-mile (1.6 km) trail from the Zion Lodge to the Grotto

Weeping Rock Trail–A 0.4 mi  (.6-km) roundtrip trail from #7 Weeping Rock Shuttle Stop

Moderate Trails

Lower Emerald Pool Trail—A 2.2-mile (1.9 km) with 150 ft. (46 m) elevation change trail from across the Grotto via the Kayenta Trail to the Lower Emerald Pools

Middle Emerald Pool Trail—A 2.2-mile (1.9 km) with a 150-foot (46 m) elevation change roundtrip trail from across the Grotto via the Kayenta Trail connects to the other Emerald Pool Trails.

Upper Emerald Pool Trail—A 3.0-mile (4.8 km) with a 200-foot ( 61 m) elevation change roundtrip trail from across the Grotto via the Kayenta Trail trail to the Upper Pools.

Kayenta Trail–A  2.0-mile (3.2 km) with a 150-foot (46 m) elevation change roundtrip trail from across the  #6 The Grotto Shuttle Stop and across the footbridge that connects the Grotto the Emerald Pools Trails.

Canyon Overlook—A 1.0-mile (1.6 km) with a 163-foot (50 m) elevation change roundtrip trail trail that overlooks the Zion Canyon from the parking area just east of the tunnel. No shuttle service.

Note: The Narrows and the Angels Landing are both all-day strenuous hikes not for families with younger or fearful children. Angels Landing requires a special permit. 

Hiking Lotteries

Some trails in Zion National Park require a hiking permit, awarded by lottery.

Angels Landing is a 5.4-mile  (8.7 km) with a 1,488-foot (453 m) elevation gain. For more information about a permit for Angels Landing, visit its webpage.

Stop by an NPS Visitor Center for maps, movies and Junior Ranger booklets. Credit: Catherine Parker

Ranger Programs in Zion

Park Rangers offers free educational programming. The Visitors Center offers the Ranger Program schedule. Some popular ranger-led hikes might require in-person reservations.

  • Ranger Walks
  • Junior Ranger Activities
  • Evening Programs
Planning Guide to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Biking in Zion

When Zion Canyon Road closes to private vehicles for the season (Spring through Fall), bicycles are permitted on all roads except for the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. Trails are off-limits for bicycles except for the Pa’rus Trail.

Rental bikes are located close to the main entrance of Zion National Park.

Riders must travel in groups of six or fewer in a single file. 

Visit The Zion Lodge

The Zion Lodge is the only place inside of Zion National Park that offers lodging and dining. This Zion Canyon area offers several popular trailheads as well.

Emerald Pools features waterfalls even in the heat of the summer. With a couple of trails, hikers take the bridge over the Virgin River. I have done this trail, and it was a nice shady hike.

After a hike, hikers can take a break and sit in the shade of the cottonwoods on the Zion Lodge’s lawn. The Zion Lodge offers two restaurants (one seasonal) for meals.

The Castle Dome Cafe offers outdoor seating with coffee drinks, baked goods, hamburgers and hotdogs. After noon, you can get a local craft beer. Open seasonally from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Red Rock Gill is inside of the Zion Lodge and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Reservations are accepted for same-day dining.

See The Virgin River

The Virgin River carved Zion Canyon. Visitors can see the river at several spots in the park, one of the most popular is at the Temple of Sinawava and the Riverside Walk. It is the first section of the longer, more strenuous Virgin River Narrows Bottoms Up Hike.

The Virgin River is calm the majority of the time. However, it can flashflood at any time, especially after monsoon rains upriver.

Horseback Riding in Zion

Guided Horseback rides are available inside Zion National Park with an authorized concessionaire. Riders can choose between a guided one-hour or three-hour trip.

Rides are for those 7+ for the one-hour ride, 10+ for the three-hour ride and everyone must be under 220 pounds. Available from March to October and reservations are required. Prices from $60 per person.

Sunsets and Night Skies in Zion

Sunsets set the rock formations ablaze when its red sandstone glows in the late afternoon light. For the best locations for sunset, consider walking along the paved Pa’rus Trail or the Zion Human History Museum. 

For thos camping in Zion National Park, check in at the Visitor Center for evening Ranger programming at the campground.

Top Things to Do in Flagstaff, Arizona
Explore the rock formations when exploring Zion National Park with kids.
The sandstone rock formations come in all sizes. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Wildlife in Zion National Park

Visitors will find a rich ecosystem in Zion. Elk roam, and mountain lions stalk. Peregrine falcons and Stellar’s jays are also found above. Bighorn sheep perch along rock ledges. Remember to keep 25 feet away from all animals.

  • Elk
  • Bighorn sheep
  • Mountain lion
  • Mule deer
  • Gray Fox
  • Coyote
  • Rock squirrel
  • Ringtail
  • Bobcat
  • Porcupine
  • Petite kangaroo rat

Wildflowers in Zion National Park

One of the surprises of Zion National Park is the abundance of plants. In the spring, the wildflowers pop up first on the canyon floor and move up the canyon as the temperatures warm. During the summer, visit the hanging gardens at The Grotto.

Zion features forests of pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, cottonwood, and juniper trees. In the fall, Zion National Park’s aspen trees start to glow in shades of yellow. 

What to do in Zion with Kids or Pets

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about Zion National Park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the patches that the Rangers present them after completing their booklets. 

For kids who yearn for more, Zion National Park offers a seasonal resource for families. Zion Nature Center offers families a chance to play games, look at exhibits, and read books. Families can also find ranger-led activities and tours. 

Located north of the South Campground, minutes from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. Open Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Zion National Park offers the Junior Paleontologist Program as well.

Fun Activities for Kids

For families with strollers, try the Riverside Walk at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop. Find an accessible 2.2-mile roundtrip trail from the Virgin River to the Narrows.

To explore Zion National Park at a slower pace, try a guided scenic tour aboard a bus to see all the photo-worthy sights and maybe some of Zion’s mountain goats, too. Afternoon tours depart from Zion Lodge three times a week.

For adventurous families, Zion National Park offers guided horseback rides. With a one-hour and three-hour tour to choose from, families ride in the shadow of the peaks.

BARK program

Zion National Park welcomes pets as long as they practice the principles of the BARK program.

B–Bag waste and dispose of it in the trash

A–Always leash your dog for their safety and others

R–Respect wildlife

K–Know where you can go

Dogs can hike along Pa’rus Trail, though prohibited from other trails. Dog families will find water near the visitor centers. For more information, visit its website.

Guide to Junior Ranger Badges to Earn at Home

Where to Eat in Zion

Red Rock Grill

Located inside Zion Lodge, it serves a breakfast buffet and lunch with southwestern and American favorites, along with a kid’s menu for each meal. Dinner requires reservations and features a menu that showcases ingredients from Utah and northern Arizona, along with a wine, beer and cocktail menu.

Open year-round from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and features a seasonal patio. Reservations are recommended for dinner.

Castle Dome Cafe

Seasonal snack bar with outdoor seating, serving traditional cafe items, like coffee drinks along with pastries, along with burgers and sandwiches. Find a beer cart in the area as well. 

Open daily from March until November for breakfast and lunch from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Picnicking in Zion

Find picnic tables at several locations in the Zion Canyon area.

  • South Campground, near the Visitor Center
  • Zion Nature Center 
  • The Grotto 
Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park
Stay in a cabin in Zion National Park
Kids love cabins so reserve a Western Cabin in Zion National Park. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Where to Stay in Zion National Park

The Zion Lodge

With traditional lodge rooms and suites along cabins, Zion Lodge offers a host of options inside the park, including an on-site restaurant and seasonal snack bar.

The lodge rooms feature two queen beds along with a private porch or balcony. Guests will also find televisions in the rooms, a rare treat for National Park lodges. 

The suites boast two rooms: a sitting room with a wet bar equipped with a microwave, mini-refrigerator and balcony. The other room features a king-sized bed. Reservations are a must.

Zion Lodge Cabins

With 40 cabins in the area, the Zion Lodge offers 28 cabins with two double beds and 12 with one queen bed. Each cabin features a working fireplace, a private porch, a private bathroom, a mini-refrigerator and a microwave, perfect for picnic lunch supplies. Reservations are a must.

The Zion Lodge is open year-round.

Camping in Zion

Find three campgrounds in Zion National Park, two are located in Zion Canyon, most popular part of the park. The Lava Point Campground is one hour away off Kolob Terrace Road

Watchman Campground

  • Open year-round
  • Reservations required
  • 176 sites, 69 tent-only. 
  • Some sites offer electricity. No full RV hookups 
  • Potable water with flush toilets, no showers
  • RV dump station

Lava Point Campground (in Kolob Canyon)

  • Seasonal from May until September 
  • First come, first serve
  • 6 primitive sites
  • No water with pit toilets

South Campground (closed for renovation)

  • Seasonal from mid-March until the end of October
  • Reservations Needed
  • 117 sites, no RVs hookups
  • Potable water with flush toilets, no showers
  • RV dump station
Grand Canyon’s South Rim Planning Guide 

History of Zion National Park 

Over 180 million years ago, a windswept desert slowly compressed into the Navajo Sandstone. Rising up 2000 feet today, water sculpted the canyon with the eye of an artist, with frequent flooding of the Virgin River. 

Archaeologists found evidence of human existence, and the Ancestral Puebloans cultivated corn and squash in the area. The Southern Paiute roamed the area after the Puebloans moved on. 

The Mormons settled in Utah during the 1850s, and Isaac Behunin named the area Zion, or Kingdom of Heaven. Frederick Fisher, a Methodist minister, named the Three Patriarchs, the Great White Throne, Angels Landing, and the Organ rock features and continued with the religious theme. 

Zion National Park earned its national park status in 1919.

The People of Zion

The Ancestral Puebloans and Southern Paiute People

Since 6,000 BCE, people have hunted in the area that would become Zion National Park. As the first humans to leave permanent evidence, like pottery and baskets, the Ancestral Puebloans cultivated crops in the area of Zion National Park in addition to hunting. Though drought in the desert required them to move on. 

The Southern Paiute arrived in 1,300 CE. They used the land in a more nomadic way, hunting and collecting fruits and nuts instead of cultivating. 

The Mormons

John Wesley Powell explored Zion Canyon in 1872 for the U.S. Geological Survey. Though fur trappers explored the area for much of the 1800s.

 The Mormons flocked to Utah in the 1860s as pioneers and settlers. They changed the landscape of Utah by cultivating the land and building log cabins. However, settlement was difficult due to periods of drought followed by floods. 

The Civilian Conservation Corps

As a part of President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Program, the Civilian Conservation Corps worked on conservation projects across the U.S. A group of young men arrived at the 1933 and stayed until 1942 when the program was terminated.

During their tenure, the men of the CCC built and maintained the trails in Zion National Park, built buildings along with campgrounds. Mainly of the stone buildings are still in use, like the amphitheater the CCC built. 

Read More 

Palo Duro State Park and the CCC
The Indian Lodge in Texas 

Weather in Zion National Park

Winter: Highs—50sF  (teens C) Lows—30sF (1 to 3C)

Spring: Highs—60sF (15 to 12C) Lows—50sF (4C to 10) 

Summer: Highs—100F ( 30sC) Lows—60sF (15 to 20C)

Fall—Highs 60sF (15 to 19C) Lows—40sF (4 to 9C)

Rainfall is consistent year-round with 1 to 2 inches (40 to 50mm) monthly.

National Parks Located Nearby

Zion National Park is part of the Grand Staircase. It’s located 85 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is 122 miles away.

Many visitors continue to see the rest of the Mighty Five, Utah’s national parks. Each park offers a unique landscape to explore. Utah’s Route 9 is the Zion National Park Scenic Byway from the Interstate 15 turnoff. If continuing to Bryce Canyon National Park, exit through Zion-Mount Carmel Highway for more of this stunning drive.  

Read More

Utah’s Mighty Five Road Trip 

Gateway Towns to Zion National Park 

Springdale, Utah, is located at Zion’s  South Entrance, offers lodging and dining along with outdoor activities and outfitters. It offers paid parking lots near the entrance of Zion National Park along with a free shuttle for visitor staying in town. 

Zion National Park is located 160 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada, the closest international airport (LAS). Find a dizzying amount of hotels, dining along with casinos. 

Note: Gas is available inside Zion National Park.

Shuttles in Zion National Park

Find two different routes servicing Zion National Park. 

Springdale Route—With nine bus stops in the town of Springdale, ride to Zion National Park’s visitor center for free. This route starts in mid-March.  

Zion Canyon Scenic Drive—At the visitor center, a free shuttle takes visitors along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Stops include Zion Lodge, The Grotto, Big Bend and the Temple of Sinawava. A circular route shuttle is available in Zion Canyon that doesn’t stop at Zion Visitor Center. 

Where’s Zion National Park

Zion National Park is located 160 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada, the closest international airport.

Zion National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $35 per private vehicle.

Read More

Guide to National Park Passes 
Best National Park Books 

Know Before You Go:

  • Temperatures in the summer can reach 100F, carry water at all times. I stop and make my kids toast the mountains so we remember to drink water.
  • Wear a hat and apply the sunscreen.
  • Monsoon season is late June through September where flash flooding can occur with little warning.
  • Consult a Park Ranger before hiking The Narrows Trail to see if flash flooding is predicted.
  • Cell service is weak within the park.

Located in Southern Utah, Zion National Park is a Top 10 National Park. Find hiking, horseback riding, scenic tours, along with Junior Ranger badges and ranger programs. Get all the details on what to do in Utah's Zion National Park. What to do in Zion National Park with kids | Where to Stay in Zion National Park | Camping in Zion National Park #NationalParks #Zion


Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

Comments are closed.