Are you thinking of visiting the Southern Utah National Parks with kids? We took a one week road trip around all 5 Utah National Parks, plus a couple of state parks, as well. Keep reading to see how we divided our time!
I’ve only been to Southern Utah a couple of times in my life, and always when it was boiling hot. Many California schools give two week-long breaks in the spring – one in February and one in April. We decided to take that February break and travel around Southern Utah on a road trip.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect – it turns out we arrived in an unusually snowy week, and it was frigid. But the weather also made the red rock even more dramatic and beautiful, and we had the parks practically to ourselves. It was magical!
We decided to fly into Vegas, then rent a car from there and drive to Utah. Here’s how our week went!
DAY 1: Drive to Zion National Park in Utah
We flew from Oakland to Vegas on a very early flight on Spirit Airlines. Typically, I’m vehemently opposed to Spirit, but it was such a short flight that it was just fine. We arrived in time to attend church, then we were on our merry way to Zion National Park.
We decided to stay right inside the park at the cabins rented through Zion Lodge. These tend to book up far in advance in the summertime, so we were thrilled they were available to us. Each cabin stands on its own – ours had two double beds, a bathroom, and a cute little fireplace that kept the room toasty warm. It was right across from the Emerald Pools trail, which we did first thing after we arrived. In spite of the snow, the trail was doable, if a bit slippery. It was so fun seeing all the frozen icicles and the waterfall!
That night, we were pretty exhausted, so we ordered dinner from the Lodge restaurant and crashed early.
Day 2: Zion National Park Hikes with Kids
We knew we wanted to spend a decent amount of time out hiking, especially since we were lucky enough to be staying right inside the park. And since it was a weekday in February, we were even able to drive our car through the park instead of needing to take the shuttle (as is required during peak season).
We started off by heading to Riverside Walk, the flat path that heads down to the mouth of the Narrows. It was so beautiful walking along the cliff faces and seeing the canyons all around us. The trail was technically closed about halfway down, but we saw plenty of people still walking, and they all said it was totally safe (it was closed for risk of falling icicles), and there was only a small (15-foot) section that was very close to the rock wall. So we decided we were comfortable with it and headed all the way to the mouth of the Narrows. It was spectacularly beautiful covered in snow. The whole trail was about 2 miles out and back and took us a couple of hours as we made a lot of stops to play in the snow.
After that, we had some lunch and went over to the visitors’ center. We watched the video about the park and chatted with the rangers. We’d grabbed Junior Ranger books the day before, so we were sure to turn those in, as well.
After our break, we decided we were up for a bit more adventuring so we headed out on the Pa’rus Trail, a nice easy, flat, paved path that has beautiful views as you walk through the valley. You get a feel for the canyon and the views are reasonably different from Riverside Walk. We headed as far as we wanted, then turned around, drove into Springdale for dinner, and crashed from our busy, nature-filled day.
Day 3: Zion National Park Canyon Overlook Trail; day trip to Bryce National Park
The next day was bright and sunny, which made us so happy since we’d skipped out on the Canyon Overlook trail the day before since it was so cloudy and snowy. It’s a short trail – about a mile round trip – but has a bit more incline than the others. A few parts were a bit slippery from the snow, but the worst was probably the stops right at the beginning. Be sure to hold onto your little ones at the end as the dropoffs are very steep, but the incredible views of the entire valley are worth the short trek. This is one of those low-effort, high-reward hikes that you shouldn’t miss. There was also lots of snow up there and kids loved playing!
After getting our fill of sliding and oohing and ahhing, we hopped in the car and drove out the east side of Zion over to Bryce. The drive took about 1.5 hours. While Zion had warmed up a bit this day (we were all stripping off our coats), Bryce was dang cold and windy. We quickly did the Junior Ranger, stopped at a few overlooks to see the magnificent hoodoos covered in snow, and headed out without doing much hiking. We are not cut out for hiking at 0F and windy, even with all our layers!
After dinner outside Bryce, we drove back to Zion in the dark, narrowly missing hitting a giant herd of elk and having close calls with several other animals. If you’re driving in this area at night, be careful!
Day 4: Road Trip to Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley to Moab, UT
The next morning, we packed up our stuff and continued our road trip east. Our first stop was Horseshoe Bend. Honestly, I thought this would be a hot tourist spot and not that exciting, but it was actually pretty awesome to see! It was significantly more crowded than the parks had been, but it was still pretty amazing seeing how the river curved. There is a section with a fence, but much of it is still open, so beware with little ones.
From there, we headed over to Lower Antelope Canyon. The lower canyon is cool because it’s very narrow at the bottom, so there are lots of sections where you barely fit through. Our kids thought it was a blast to walk through and had so much fun finding “hideouts” in there. I wasn’t sure if this would also be a tourist trap, but it was amazing! I’d never been in a slot canyon before and I’d highly recommend it. Our Native American tour guide was also very knowledgeable and helpful.
Finally, we drove through Monument Valley to get to Moab. Again, I wasn’t really sure how interesting it would be, but we were pretty blown away by the rock formations in the middle of nowhere. We were there as it was starting to get dark, and all the formations were so dramatic in the waning light.
Day 5: Mesa Arch at Canyonlands National Park & Dead Horse Point in the Snow
After staying the night in Moab (we had some issues with our Airbnb, so ended up staying at the really fantastic Marriott SpringHill Suites), we headed over to Canyonlands National Park the next morning. To our dismay, the park was closed! There was a big barrier that wouldn’t allow cars through as the roads hadn’t been properly plowed. We talked to the plow operator, and he told us he thought the roads might be cleared by mid-afternoon and recommended trying back a bit later. We decided to head over to Dead Horse Point first while we were waiting. It was interesting to see down into the valley, although honestly nothing mind-blowing (but perhaps we were a bit spoiled with incredible scenery by this point).
After we finished up there, we headed back to Canyonlands, but the park still wasn’t open. Our kids needed a bathroom break, though, and that bought us just enough time that the kind plow operator came back and let us know that the roads were clear! We were the first ones through the gate and we headed straight to Mesa Arch. We were the first ones to arrive at the arch and had it all to ourselves – unheard of in the summer months! We felt so lucky to be there just as the snow had cleared and we had an amazing view of the rock formations through the arch. It started snowing about 15 minutes later and a few others showed up. The kids could’ve played in the snow for hours there; it was pretty incredible.
After that, we headed over to Antica Forma for dinner. We’d eaten at the Vernal location a few years prior, not expecting it to be any good but were completely blown away. We were so happy to have it again. I highly recommend going there if you’re in either city! Then we headed back to the hotel and played in the pool and hot tubs of various temperatures. It was heaven!
Day 6: Hiking with Kids at Arches National Park
The next day, we headed over Arches. We went straight to Delicate Arch first to hike it while we still had lots of energy. The hike is about 3 miles round trip and felt very doable with our kids (aged 8, 6, 4, & 1). The three older kids walked and we wore the baby in a carrier. There’s one part near the beginning where you hike up a huge slickrock, and they did get a bit tired on that, but we just stopped halfway and had a snack, and then they were good to go for the rest of the hike. With all the snow, we didn’t go right up next to Delicate Arch, but we loved admiring it from close up. Plus, any hike that involves rocks and climbing is right up our alley! The only part that felt a bit treacherous was at the end – there’s a drop off on one side, and it was pretty slick and snowy. But even with normal snow boots, we did fine and everyone stayed safe.
From there, we backtracked to the visitors’ center to do Junior Ranger before it closed, then headed over to the Double Arch. This was a very short walk (1/4 mile) and was so cool to see! There’s lots of opportunity for climbing under the arches, which we loved. We only had about half an hour, but our kids could’ve climbed rocks for hours there. It would be a great stop to play a bit if your kiddos are tired of straight hiking!
We took a few other quick photo op stops, then headed back to Moab for dinner at Miguel’s Baja Grill. Maybe we were just starving from all the hiking but we were pleasantly surprised!
We finished out the night with another dip in hotel pools and headed to bed.
Day 7: Exploring Goblin Valley and Capitol Reef National Park with Kids
Our last day had Dan and the kids dropping me off near Capitol Reef for a girls’ trip, then driving back to Vegas for a late flight home. But before separating, we decided to make a quick stop at Goblin Valley, as we’d heard it was so fun for kids – and that was not wrong! It was like a bunch of mini hoodoos that you could climb and walk around. It was basically a giant playground for kids. We only spent about an hour, but could’ve stayed all day!
Then before they dropped me off, we stopped into Capitol Reef. The kids did Junior Ranger and we watched the video, plus we stopped to see the awesome petroglyphs. The next day, I came back with friends and hiked part of the Rim Trail as well as the Cohab Canyon Trail. I’d love to bring the kids back to that as there were all kinds of mini slot canyons to explore and climb, and the hike itself was spectacularly beautiful!
So that was our one-week Southern Utah National Parks road trip with kids! It was truly one of the best, most freeing, family-relationship-building trips we’ve experienced and we’d love to make it a tradition. There aren’t many places we return regularly as we love exploring new places, but I think this would be an amazing one to go back to to recharge and focus on connecting with each other and with nature. If you’re shorter on time, though, here’s a great list of USA weekend trips where you could also spend time connecting with those you love.
What do you think? Do you love National Parks as much as we do? Is this something you’d do with kids?
And if you need a TON of amazing road trip ideas, check out this post on 25 of the best road trips in the US!
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Awesome post! I intend to follow much of it for an upcoming March trip with littles! Which tour guide did you use for Antelope Canyon and do you recommend? Thanks!
We just went to the Lower Antelope Canyon entrance and bought tickets there. I think there were a couple of guide companies, but we just picked the first one with availability and it was great. 🙂 I think they’re pretty similar!
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