This post was most recently updated on December 11th, 2016
Once or twice a year, beginning in 1989, my husband and I would drive from San Diego, CA to Kaysville, UT to visit his family. We always drove straight there and then straight home again, to mazimize our time with family. Every trip, I couldn’t help notice the signs leading to Zion National Park. Sometimes I mentioned how nice it would be to check it out, but our schedule never allowed the detour. Finally, after many trips like this, I suggested we just drive in and out of the park to catch a glimpse, so we did. One cannot avoid looking up in Zion National Park– it is an amazing park full of giant monoliths that rise up to 4000 feet above the valley floor. It is beautiful and awe-inspiring, and we were hooked.
Our trip to Zion National Park in 1998…
We invited my husband’s family to meet us at Zion, so we could combine a sight-seeing trip with a family visit, and we were pleased when his parents took us up on the invitation. While tent-camping at a campground just outside the entrance of the park was perfect for us, there was also a hotel on-site for my in-laws. We woke early to hike in Zion and then returned to the campground when the temperatures rose to let our children (ages 4 – 11) play in the stream that flowed through the campground–they loved it! The hikes we took that were good for younger children included the Weeping Rock and Emerald Pools. We also did the Riverside Walk, which is the gateway to the Narrows. It is along this walk that there is a steeply inclined overhead rock everyone likes to pose with — as if they are holding it up.
A few years later,
when my oldest son was a Boy Scout, he and my husband returned to Zion National Park for a scouting adventure. With all the energy of a pack of young boys, they camped and hiked for several days, hiking Angels Landing, the Narrows, and the Subway. They hiked the Subway from the top down, also taking advantage of the rock water slides! The incredible views and towering peaks, the river and challenging hikes all served to keep them entertained.
In 2006, we took our two oldest to BYU
for college and decided to spend a few days in Zion on the way. Now, our children’s ages ranged from 11 to 19 and we were ready for a little more action. We stayed at the Zion River Resort, a few miles from the park in Virgin, Utah. This is a great resort, by the way! We were tent camping next to the river. However, they also have RV camping and cabins to rent, plus a laundry room, small restaurant, pool and wi-fi. I remember the bathrooms and showers were very clean, too! (Hey! That’s important, right?)
We wanted to hike the Subway from the bottom up, but when we went to get permits, we could only get three (there are six of us). So we decided to split up: boys to Subway and girls to Angels Landing (which didn’t require a permit). The girls got the best camera because our hike didn’t include wading in water! Some of our family also did the Narrows, which does require getting wet, but that feels so wonderful in August, when the temperatures are close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day.
One thing we learned about hiking in Zion: because of the low humidity and high heat, it is absolutely crucial that you have water with you for hiking…and plenty of it. On our Angels Landing hike, there were three of us sharing two camelbacks of water, and it wasn’t enough. It really made the last hour of hiking uncomfortable, to say the least! The hike is strenuous, as the signs attest. And near the top, there are sheer dropoffs on either side of the trail, making the embedded chain handrails pretty important. Once you arrive at Angels Landing, this is one place you won’t be looking up because everything in the park is now below you. The views are breathtaking!
Photo credit for the image of Walter’s Wiggles
Most recent visit–Thanksgiving 2014
I wondered if we would ever go to Zion National Park again as empty-nesters. But last year, my oldest daughter’s in-laws invited us to join them for Thanksgiving in Zion’s Watchman Campground, inside the park. I thought it would be freezing, and although the evenings got down to the mid-30’s, the daytime temperatures couldn’t have been more perfect for hiking — 65 degrees Fahrenheit. We were a large group of family/friends with a hybrid trailer and fifth wheel trailer for cooking, sleeping, and congregating for card games. My husband and I slept in a tent and were able to stay toasty with good sleeping bags.
My nearly 2-yr old granddaughter joined us (in a carrier) for several of the hikes, but she also loved exploring the campground, spotting deer or throwing rocks in the river bed. I think this was one of my favorite Zion visits because of the temperate weather, the variety of activities we had available to us, and being inside the park for the entire time. We even watched a movie one night at the Zion Canyon Theatre, just across the river from the park. Did you know it’s the largest theatre screen in Utah and one of the largest in the world? We saw a “Hunger Games” movie, but the theatre is famous for the movie, “Zion Canyon Treasure of the Gods”, which showcases Zion National Park. You can check for currently showing movies here.
Camping below Watchman Tower was inspiring, whether it was watching the sun rise over its height, or seeing the long shadows it cast later in the day. Seriously, if I wasn’t watching my granddaughter or spotting deer along the river, I was always looking up!
We enjoyed this last visit so much, we may be making this an annual Thanksgiving tradition. Next time we will consider renting a home nearby for our growing family (five grandchildren now!) and doing lots of daytime hikes in Zion!
Things to Know
- It is very dry in the park; always have water and chapstick handy.
- There is a fee to enter Zion National Park. See the park website for more information.
- The park has a great shuttle system to cut down on vehicle traffic and pollution. Read more about it here.
- Zion has three campgrounds within the park, plus a beautiful lodge and cabins. For more information or to make reservations, check here.
- We have only mentioned a few of the many hikes available in the park. For some of the best hiking trails, see this summary or this guide to hikes in Zion.
You may also be interested in reading my post on a family reunion we held in neaby St. George, where we stayed in a beautifully restored pioneer mansion.