A Family Friendly Itinerary to Utah's National Parks

This past spring break, our family finally experienced an amazing six day trip to four different national parks in Utah.


I'm sharing our itinerary for two reasons.


Note: this is a visual of what our “rough” itinerary looked like in hopes that it will inspire you 🙌🏼

OUR ROUGH ITINERARY

1) I HATE planning trips. The eagerness and excitement see this part of the world forced me and my sis-in-law to put in the work. Wa-la! You get to reap the bennies.


2) I hope that the images and simplicity of the trip inspire you and your family to #optoutside and go forth!


But first, let me share a quick background of my childhood.


Let me start off with saying that my kids are sooooooo unbelievably lucky. I don't go a day without reminding them.


Never ever, in my childhood, did I even taste the experiences my children have had.


I was born in Germany 🇧🇪, my father's last duty station before retiring from the U.S. Army. Memories of explorations to grandiose castles with pristine decorative walls still live fondly in my mind. However, I'm confident those were school field trips. Family adventure was not our thing.


After my father retired, we moved home to Guam 🇬🇺.


Our island of Guam is incredibly beautiful and offers jungles 🌴and oceans 🌊to explore. Sadly, my parents did not share my same deep love of adventure. Weekends were spent tending to the ranch, planting new trees/plants or cleaning house. I do not regret any part of my childhood. I just didn't get the same life I'm creating for my children.


Now speed up 30 years, my soul has a special zest to explore our beautiful earth 🌎.


That being said, Zion National Park had always been on my bucket-list. It was my goal to see it in person and share it with my family. This April, we made it happen. Not to mention that Earth Day 2019 marked the 1st Anniversary of Sunsets with Kids. It was vital that me and the fam spend it outside enjoying Mother Earth.


After doing months of research, I learned that there are soooooo many parks in Utah and many recommend the Mighty Five.


The Mighty Five include: Arches, Zion, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Bryce.


Our trip itinerary included six days in four national parks in this order + a bonus stop to Zebra Slot Canyon Trail.

  • Zion National Park (2 Days)

  • Bryce Canyon National Park (1)

  • Zebra Slot Canyon Trail (1/2 Day)

  • Capitol Reef National Park (1 Day)

  • Arches National Park (1.5 Day)


DAY ONE:

Los Angeles to Las Vegas to Zion National Park


MORNING:

Los Angeles to Northern Las Vegas = 4.5 Hours


We started our spring break kick-off day before sunrise (the only way to start with young kiddos). If you want to appreciate a few hours of silence without sibling bickering, start early my friend.

Southern California to Las Vegas takes roughly 4.5 hours. If you're not driving, this is just enough time take a nap, research if/what roads are closed and simply enjoy music without unwelcome screams from your children in the back seat.


We arrive in Las Vegas by 9:30am. We squeeze in the morning to spend time with my big sis visiting from Guam. We enjoy a homemade breakfast and a quick visit to the Las Vegas Strip to spend a gazillion dollars on a 1/2 pound bag of M&M's at the M&M store.



My amazing sis, Norma.


AFTERNOON:

Northern Las Vegas to La Verkin, Utah = 2.25 Hours


Close to 2pm we hit the road to La Verkin, Utah.


We chose La Verkin for several reasons.

  • The Airbnb we selected accommodated our group of 7 comfortably

  • Less than 25 minutes from Zion National Park at under $400 (in April) for 2 nights

  • Inclusive Free Laundry - we had expected to hike the Narrows. We knew that if we did the Narrows, we'd definitely be wet in the end and would need to do laundry.

  • Backyard was great to relax and chill/grill

Now after settling in and preparing in our "hiking" clothes, we were off to Zion National Park.




PRO $$$ SAVING TIP:

If you have a 4th grader, the national park system has an Every Kid in a Park Program. Go to www.everykidinapark.gov and sign your child up. The sign-up process is SUPER easy, all you need is a printer to print your pass.


Once you get to a participating national park's entrance gate, you hand your print out of the pass to the park ranger. In exchange, you will receive a handy little card. Save it with your life, it's valid thru August 2019.



Watchman Trail

Miles: 21 Miles from La Verkin, Utah

Length: 29 Minutes


Level: Moderate

Length: 3 Miles Roundtrip


Only 25 minutes from our temporary home, the Watchman Trail was our very first hike.


This trail is walking distance from the Visitor's Center and does not require a shuttle. It's a fantastic hike to see the scenic rock formations and beautiful Utah skies. This hike (with children) took us roughly an hour, however not going around the entire loop. At this point, it was getting late and we did not want to hike back in the dark.




Super Perk:

Our house was only 2 minutes away from a Davis Food & Drug grocery store. To save $$$, load up on water, snacks, fruits/veggies in advance of your trip to the park. The city has a handful of restaurants to choose from, but it's always best to be prepared with snacks to keep the little ones fueled and ready to go.


Cranky children = terrible hike experiences.


Discounts on Park Merchandise:

The park system has a program called the Zion National Park Forever Project that supports long term preservation of the national parks. With a $50 tax deductible investment/donation, you're supporting the creation and engagement of programs/conversations to keep our parks preserved for our future generations. Bonus, you get 10% off all visitor center merchandise, a beautifully illustrated book and a couple window stickers. The discount comes in handy when you're kids beg you for stickers and such as you visit multiple parks.




DAY TWO:

Zion National Park

Miles: 21 Miles from La Verkin, Utah

Length: 29 Minutes


Start your morning early at the Zion National Visitor Center. If you don't have a 4th grader with you, expect to pay $35 per vehicle (good for 7 days).


If you want to beat the crowds, I'd recommend starting your day no later than 8am. Remember, this is a national park where visitors from ALL AROUND THE WORLD are coming to enjoy.


TIP: Check the Zion National Park page before your trip to triple check road and trail closures. Information changes daily.


Image of the free shuttle system.

Shuttle System

The shuttle system is an easy free way to get around the national park. In addition to taking you around the park, there is also a shuttle system that takes you outside of the park. See the above map to see where the shuttle system travels.


JR. Ranger Program

The JR. Ranger Program is an incredible, engaging experience for the little ones. They provide self-guided activity books triggering engagement during the trail. My husband, too, was uber involved offering suggestions and tips to our little guy. Austin took it so seriously and even cried at the end, nervous that he didn't complete the book.


WATER TIP:

The national park has water fill sites for FREE. They aren't located at each shuttle stop, but scattered around the visitor's center for everyone's use at no cost.

This water station was found less than a mile outside of the Zion National Park.

Weeping Rock Trailhead

Level: Easy

Length: About 1/4 mile roundtrip


In order to visit the Weeping Rock Trailhead, you must take the shuttle to stop 7.


The park site rated this hike as easy. If you're traveling with little ones, I'd rate this hike as "moderate" . However, the park system rates it at "easy". The climb up was uphill and might be challenging for small children. Prepare to carry them 😉as the path becomes narrow and some parts are slippery.

This is the initial paved hike up to Weeping Rock. Incline gets a bit steeper, but is mainly paved all the way up.

Once you've made the short walk, you are welcomed by this incredible weeping wall.


Lower Emerald Pools

Level: Easy

Length: 1.2 Miles, roughly an hour


Shuttle Stop 5 takes you to the Zion Lodge and Lower Emerald Pools trail. Below is an image of the bridge that takes you towards the entrance of the hike. The hike takes less than an hour and makes for a nice walk with the family.



First of all, how incredibly beautiful is this park and view!!!? I seriously did not want to leave! Our family lied on the grass, resting our tired feet and took a moment to enjoy popsicles from the lodge.







Oscar's Cafe - Dinner


We wrapped our day outside the Zion National Park at Oscar's Cafe in Springdale, Utah. Their burgers were delicious and seriously the BEST salad dressing I've ever had. Even bought a bottle to go. Lots of restaurants to choose from, depending on your taste buds.


What did we learn?

**We learned in the end that it may have been best if we stayed in Springdale, Utah. Springdale is RIGHT outside of the national park and only walking distance from a shuttle service that will take you through the city. There were plenty of hotel and food options in this area. May be a bit higher priced but certainly a good option if you want to stay really close.


DAY THREE:

Bryce Canyon National Park

Miles: 128 Miles

Length: 2 hours and 10 minutes from La Verkin, Utah


The next day, we checked out of our La Verkin Airbnb before 10am and started our super scenic drive to Bryce Canyon Resort. Luckily, the resort staff were kind enough to let us check-in to our two bed cabin before the standard check-in time.


First off, Bryce Canyon National Park was my absolute favorite. The hoo-doos were so incredibly cool and Bryce offers a whole deluxe package of so many different types of rock formations all in one place. The photos say enough.

Main Entrance to the National Park

Queens Garden to Peek-A-Boo Loop Trail

Level: Moderate

Length: 5.2 Miles


April offers quite the experience given variances of temperature. Sadly, our plan to hike to Navajo Loop fell thru as the trail was closed due to weather reasons. We opted for Queens Garden and the extra challenge to Peek-A-Boo Loop.


As we walked down the trail, we experienced different temperature changes. Snow patches surfaced everywhere, which lent to necessary snow fights.


There were large crowds and an incredible array of different languages. Such an awesome learning opportunity for your kids and to expose them to how people travel from all over the world to partake in these marvels. Definitely an opportunity to teach appreciation and gratitude. Hopefully it all sticks :).


Note, this hike is long. If your young ones aren't used to long hikes, be prepared to be a motivational speaker along the way.








After what felt like the longest hike of my life, we journeyed our way out for some grub.


It's important to note that there are not many food options in this area.


Less than 4 miles outside of the park, we found the most heavenly spot sent from the pie gods. Bryce Canyon Pines Restaurant was the absolute pinnacle food experience of our entire trip. Every suspenseful moment waiting was worth it.


I know that's a massive overstatement but EVERYONE has to visit this place. Why!? Two words. THEIR PIES. Coconut, banana/blueberry, strawberry/banana, apple, sour cream and raisin. THEY ARE ALLLLLL SOOOOOOO GOOOODDDDDDD!!


Best part? Family owned and operated. #myfavorite

Bryce Canyon Resort was not our favorite, but certainly gave us a good place to rest for the night.


Why wasn't it our favorite?

  • Cabin was a bit dated

  • Called a "Resort" but not technically "resort" style

  • Hot water only lasted for the first 4 showers (combined 15 minutes)

  • Tiny refrigerator

  • Rooms felt dusty and caused us to be stuffy the next day

  • Complimentary Breakfast was meh (great for apples/bananas to go, but still grateful)

Worked well for us because:

  • Less than 10 minutes from Bryce Canyon National Park

  • Staff delivered us extra towels quickly (thank you!)

  • Parking was good for 2 vehicles right by the cabin



DAY FOUR:

Zebra Slot Canyon + Capitol Reef Resort near Capitol Reef National Park


On day four, we woke up welcomed to stuffy noses and some soreness from the previous 2 consistent days of hiking. No big deal, let's get this show on the road.


We skipped the complimentary hotel breakfast and decided to go back to our ultra favorite restaurant - Bryce Canyon Pines Restaurant. This time, we were not as impressed for their breakfast options but certainly delighted that we had round 2 of their pies (because why not, we're adults right?)


After a delicious breakfast, we gassed up and started our journey to Zebra Slot Canyon trail.


Zebra Slot Canyon Trail

Miles: 60 Miles

Length: Roughly 1 hour 15 minutes from Bryce Canyon Resort


Level: Moderate

Length: 6.6 Miles

Cost: None

Beautiful Skies in Zebra Slot Canyon

Zebra Slot Canyon is a great segway and break from the national park trails. The drive to the trailhead start consists of gravel and I would recommend a pick-up truck or SUV to get in. I did see RV's at the entrance.


The hike in has absolutely no shade, layer on that sunblock!


Traveling in April, it was in the high 70's and required 3 miles of flat walking before getting to the slots. There was a little bit of water crossing at one point, but nothing too strenuous.


The hardest part to get thru is a 10" slot passageway. If you can slide you and your bags through here, you are golden. There was no water inside the first few hundred feet of the slots, but further up. I have never been to Antelope Canyon, but I can certainly say this FREE variation was worth it and definitely an amazing science learning opportunity for everyone.




After our 3 mile hike out, we were tired and on our way to Capitol Reef!


Capitol Reef Resort

Miles: 69 Miles away from Zebra Slot Canyon

Length: 1 hour 40 minutes


First off, the drive is absolutely scenic. Be prepared to want to make stops along the way.


Can I just say, Capitol Reef Resort was the best decision/choice of our entire trip. Although the cost was a bit more than what we'd typically pay, the resort is absolutely incredible and none of these photos do any justice!


Although we did not actually visit the National Park, we took a rest day and enjoyed the amenities of the resort.


Why was the Capitol Reef Resort a great pick??

  • You are surrounded by incredible landscapes of Capitol Reef National Park

  • Heated Pool (85 Degrees) + Jacuzzi

  • The two-bedroom cabin we stayed in was absolutely INCREDIBLE! (Roughly $375)

  • Surround sound Jensen sound system embedded in the cabin

  • TVs in the bedrooms + kitchen/living room

  • 2 Bathrooms (1 Shower/Bathroom + 1 Bathroom)

  • Kitchen includes everything you need in a kitchen plus full sized fridge

  • Patio + Full-Size Grill

  • Your backyard is stunning!

  • Fire pits with chairs + adorable wagons as part of your back drop

  • Restaurant on site, didn't try it, but it's nice to have a restaurant on site

  • Laundry Services on site + Ice Machines









DAY FIVE:

Capitol Reef Resort (National Park) to Arches National Park Visitor Center

Miles: 152 Miles from Capitol Reef Resort to Downtown Moab

Length: 2 hours and 20 minutes


We left Capitol Reef Resort (truly did not want to leave) by 12noon and started our journey to Moab (Arches National Park).


Honestly, I napped majority of the ride, but I'm confident it was yet another scenic drive.


Still tired and not ready to complete yet another hike, we opted to stop at the visitors center to prep for our early morning hike.


After the visitor's center, we cruised to our hotel and excitedly settled our belongings. We were now off to explore downtown!

Downtown Moab is as if Downtown Austin met Sedona. It is filled with Food Truck options, a whole range of restaurants and outdoor shops to pick up last minute supplies.


I highly recommend biking/cruising thru the town. Note: off-road vehicles are allowed on the roads here. Also, Moab seems to ALWAYS be busy, regardless of what day of the week it is.


A good handful of coffee shops to choose from too 😉.

Austin being Austin at the yummy 98 Center in Downtown Moab. Great choice for traditional/fusion Vietnamese cuisine.




DAY SIX:

Arches National Park

Miles: 5 Miles from our hotel, Homewood Suites by Hilton Moab

Length: 8 Minutes from our hotel


Where to stay?

My co-planning partner aka my sister-in-law Mary, used her credit card points to get us a room at the Homewood Suites by Hilton Moab. Incredible choice for several reasons:

  • Nightly "Social" with complimentary snacks (good stuff, not pretzels and cheese)

  • Complimentary Breakfast - waffles, eggs, sausages, cereal, fruits, oatmeal, bagels, coffee/juice/water

  • Indoor heated pool and jacuzzi (this is a bonus when you're traveling with kiddos)

  • Complimentary Fruit Sprinkled Water in the Lobby

  • Big Spacious Rooms

  • Easy, Free Parking

  • Walking distance from Downtown Moab and many restaurants, stores, coffee

  • Walking Distance Food Truck options


There are many different hikes to choose from, check them out here.


Double O Arch at Devil's Garden

Level: Difficult

Length: 4.5 Miles Roundtrip


Since it was our final day, we were hiked-out. We decided to do one final hike.


The Double O Arch to Devil's Garden is an incredible hike and I highly recommend it. The landscapes and rock formations change as you go further thru the trail. There were a few strenuous uphill treks that required me and my kids to stop several times to catch a breath, but certainly worth every minute.


TIP:

Start before 8am!! We went on a Thursday and as we were leaving at 9:30am, the entrance had a line of over 45 cars waiting to get in.


A shot at our half-way point to Devil's Garden

Expect to climb this bad boy up. No easy feat.



Standing in front of the many layers of beautiful rock formations with the fam.

After our morning hike, we were pooped and ready to finalize our journey. We were off to Lake Havasu to wrap the trip.


After 6 years sporting the elementary mom-card, this was my first Spring Break where I broke away from last-minute shuffling game of "who's going to watch the kids today?" Man was it a relief and boy was it an incredible six days.


Setting aside all work guilt and making it a personal goal to create and cultivate this trip was worth every back seat fight. Thank you to my sis-in-law Mary for being my planning partner and to my hubby for being down to participate.


THANK YOU to the staff and rangers that help preserve and maintain the beauty of Utah national parks.


THANK YOU to the Zion National Park for encouraging our kiddos to become Junior Park Rangers 😄.


THANK YOU to my husband for driving 94% of the trip, helping me keep the kids in check during the snowballing and attacking of one another, ] and more importantly, supporting my love for the outdoors.


THANK YOU to Mary, my planning partner. We did it!!! Let's plan our next one! Thank you Ray for being down for the ride and helping adopt Austin when the brother fights required separation.


I hope that the photos and reviews help you craft your future trip to Utah.


We get only one earth, let's nurture and explore it!!!

Cheers 🥂

Your Fellow Adventure Familia💗




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