In an effort to show our kids as much of the country as possible, my husband and I started gifting Spring Break trips as Christmas gifts to our two children a couple of years back. Our kids love traveling and have seen many states in their young years. Last year we when we were deciding on where our next adventure will be to, it was really a no-brainer.
The most beautiful National Park of them all: Zion in southern Utah.
Zion is located about 2.5 hours from Las Vegas right outside of Springdale, UT. Flying into Vegas and driving to Springdale is the most common way to get there if you are not from the area. While the drive might sound long after a full day of traveling, there is so much to see along the way that essentially your sightseeing begins the second you get on the interstate and begin your drive. Not only was Zion on our list of things to do, but there were some other amazing sites that we had on our list as well.
DAY ONE: Las Vegas to Springdale, UT
After landing in Las Vegas, we shuttled to the car rental location. Months earlier we decided on renting a mid-size SUV and settled on the VW Atlas. This car gave us plenty of room for our gear and enough room that the kids wouldn’t be on top of each other. Heaven forbid they were too close to one another.
Our first stop was In-N-Out Burger. We are big fans. It was a no-brainer that is where we would have lunch. After filling up on double doubles, we headed to Springdale, UT.
The drive to Springdale is long BUT there is a stop that you must take: Valley of Fire State Park in Overton, NV. Valley of Fire is a bit of a drive off Interstate 15, but it is worth the few hours setback to see. The drive is mainly flat desert and out of nowhere, the rocks change from brown to orange and bright red. This is due to the amount of iron (rust) found in these rocks. There is also a lot of petrified wood out here to see. The entire park is breathtaking, and it was the perfect first stop.
We got to Springdale that evening and checked into our hotel. From there we had dinner at the Spotted Dog Café. Our dinner was excellent. After dinner, we went back to our hotel and got a good night’s sleep so that we could be up early for hiking in Zion.
Tip: Staying in Springdale, UT is not necessary as there are some great places to stay just a few minutes from Zion. St. George, Hurricane, and La Verkin are all nice areas with plenty of hotels.
DAY TWO: Zion National Park
One of the most important things to note about getting in and around Zion is the shuttle system. You have two options: buying tickets online from rec.gov for shuttle passes on certain days for $1 per person OR paying more for a private shuttle. Buying shuttle tickets online is what I would expect buying fast passes from Disney World would be like. You must be signed on early and you must be fast. Shuttle tickets are released twice a month: the 1st and the 15th. Once they are out, that’s it. You do have an option to buy tickets at the park, however those are first come first served.
We arrived at Zion at 7:30 am with 8:00 shuttle reservations. We had to get a private shuttle because we missed the opportunity to get park shuttle tickets. All shuttles, private or public, drive you from the visitor’s center to inside the park. You pick which stop that you want to be dropped off at and picked up. We chose to be dropped off at the Grotto. This gave us easy access to start our hike to the Upper and Lower Emerald Pool Trails. These trails are an easy and moderate hike. The elevation change on each of the Zion trails should be noted as the higher in elevation that you go, the thinner the air is and can make your hike more strenuous. Both trails were great for our kids. Neither of them had any issues completing them. There are also trails along the Virgin River that is easy and beautiful.
A list of the trails at Zion can be found here: https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/zion-canyon-trail-descriptions.htm
Tip: Wear layers. Our morning started out at 28 degrees, but it was near 70 when we left. Make sure you wear clothes that can be taken off while you are hiking and active. (Light jackets, flannels, thin sweatshirts etc. over t-shirts.)
Tip 2: Food is not sold inside of the park so stock up on beef jerky, nuts, fruit, etc. at the Maverick gas station right at the turn onto Route 9 heading to Springdale.
DAY THREE: Bryce Canyon National Park
An hour and a half from Zion is another beautiful national park that doesn’t get enough credit: Bryce Canyon. Take Mount Carmel Highway and prepare to be blown away by the views around you. If you have time, pull over right outside of the first tunnel and walk the 15 minutes to Canyon Overlook. Here you will find some of the best views in Zion NP.
Bryce is a park full of what are known as hoodoos. The drive to Bryce Canyon is gorgeous. The scenery changes the entire 2-hour drive there. There is a stop along the way that you mustn’t miss. Red Canyon is at the beginning of Interstate 12 and is a small park with so many amazing natural wonders.
Bryce Canyon is different than Zion in that you can drive into the park. There are many places to pull over and get out to view the scenery. We stopped at the Lodge at Bryce Canyon to park. From there you can hike several trails. We did the Tower Bridge trail. It took some time to hike but it was worth it.
After hiking we drove as much as we could around the park. Sunrise Point is a beautiful spot to see a lot of the natural formations that make Bryce Canyon so well known. Natural Bridge is an absolute must see. There are shuttles that run in Bryce Canyon, and they take you from one point to the next. Personally, I prefer driving so that we aren’t on anyone else’s watch, and we can come and go as we please, but the shuttle service is available for those who wish to sit back and have someone else drive.
Even though we went to Bryce Canyon in April, there was still a lot of snow on the ground. The weather was perfect, and it was an amazing day. It might have been my favorite day of our vacation.
Tip: There is a Subway right outside of the park entrance. Inside of the park are a few places to stop and grab things to eat but the lines are long, and the prices are high. Safe your sanity and some money and wait.
DAY FOUR: Page, AZ
Page, AZ is only about 2.5 hours from Zion NP. The drive is easy and like Bryce Canyon, very beautiful. We decided since we were in the area, we needed to hike a slot canyon.
So Buckskin Gulch it was.
Along Route 89 in Kanab, UT is a turn off. If you blink you might miss it so definitely be on the lookout. This is House Rock Valley Junction. The road is not maintained and is made of rock and mud, so go slow. It seems to go on forever (probably because you must cruise at a cool 7 mph) but eventually you come to a small parking lot at the Wire Pass trailhead. Park here and pay a small parking fee. Grab as much water as you can carry, cross the road, and walk for a mile or so until you come to a makeshift ladder that you take to get down into the canyon.
Buckskin Gulch is known as the longest slot canyon in the world. Taking the Wire Pass Trailhead, however, allows you to see some of the amazing parts of the canyon but on a smaller scale. It is 3.5 miles round trip but since you are in a canyon with not a lot of sunlight, it’s nice and cool. The miles fly by because of the amazing views around you.
After Buckskin, we continued to Page, AZ. Right when you get into Page you will see the Glen Canyon Dam. It is like the Hoover Dam, only on a smaller scale. It is worth stopping and getting out to see, so make sure you save some time to do that. You can walk along the bridge and view each side of the Colorado River.
The main reason we wanted to visit Page was to see Horseshoe Bend. The Horseshoe Bend Overlook is only a 10 min. drive into Page. It is easy to get to and the parking was simple.
The walk to get to the actual overlook…well. I was surprised. It is a good 20-minute walk from the parking lot and while that might not seem like a lot, this is Arizona we are talking about. It’s hot. Like a desert. BRING WATER. Horseshoe Bend is huge. Once I saw it, it took a few seconds for it all to sink in because the pictures I have seen of it just don’t do it justice. It is so beautiful.
Tip: If you have the time, book a kayak tour or a river trip. We couldn’t do this as our time didn’t allow it, but if we could have, I would have booked a boat tour that brings you to Antelope Canyon. It’s on our list for next time!
Utah Restaurant Recommendations:
- Muddy Bees Bakery: Great coffee shop with smoothies and gigantic cinnamon rolls.
La Verkin, UT:
- River Rock Roasting Company- Quick, on-the-go food.
- Stagecoach Grille- Make reservations for breakfast here!
- Balcony One- One word: Empanadas. Balcony One is a great lunch spot.
- The Bit and Spur- Best Mexican I have ever had. Get a table outside for some amazing views. The Cadillac margaritas are a MUST.
- Jacks Sports Grill- Right next door to the Switchback Grille. Delicious quesadillas, burgers, and Moscow Mules.
- Spotted Dog Cafe- Small place with a big menu full of great food. The crab cakes were surprisingly fantastic.