Zion National Park guide for First-timer Families with kids

Nestled in the heart of Utah’s canyon country, Zion National Park offers a stunning array of red rock landscapes, emerald pools, and serene riverside walks. Having explored over ten national parks in the US, from the grandeur of Yosemite to the sprawling expanse of Yellowstone, our family’s first journey to Zion National Park was during Thanksgiving week, a time we soon discovered to be one of the park’s busiest.

To start, here are a few pictures that we took, during the trip. Our tips and tricks are included after.

1. Thanksgiving week is busy at Zion National Park

Planning a visit to Zion during Thanksgiving can be a delightful experience, especially if you want to avoid the summer heat and need to consider school schedules. Be prepared for the bustling crowds, as we found many families enjoying their holiday in the park. An amusing sight was the children swimming in the hotel’s warm pool, a perfect respite from the November chill. However, do note that shuttle bus lines through Zion Canyon Scenic Drive can get lengthy, particularly from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.

2. Springdale Utah is a perfect town to stay when visiting Zion

The town is less than a few miles away from the gate. It is a small town, yet with “relatively” full services. There are many options for hotels and restaurants. We stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites Springdale/Zion National Park by Hilton. And I normally don’t do this but we are very impressed with this hotel.

For context, I used to stay at hotels for more than 100 nights per year in different parts of Asia, and the US so we have experienced many hotel chains and locations. This hotel service is good and you can get a sense of the attention to detail throughout the hotel, from checking in, to the room design, to lobby decoration, etc… For example, they serve good quality cookies in the late afternoon/evening for guests, have to-go healthy snacks ready during breakfast.

It is a 3-star hotel so of course, don’t expect a five-star treatment but still, we highly recommend it and will stay at this hotel again or try the Hilton chain again in other locations.

Driving to Zion National Park Thanksgiving 2023

3. One day is enough to hike through the Riverside Walk trail, Emerald Pools trail, and Court of the Patriarchs.

Below is the official hiking map from the National Park Service for Fall/Winter 2023. Do stop by the Visitor Center at Zion to ask the rangers about the latest conditions. For example, during the Thanksgiving week of 2023, Weeping Rock and Big Bend were closed due to a rock slide the previous week.

All of the easy trails are suitable for young kids (like 4 or 5 years old). We saw many of them on the trails.

Zion National Park hiking trails official fall winter 2023 map

We couldn’t hike the Narrow (because of the cold weather) or Angels Landing (our daughter is not ready for that hike) but we did most of the rest from:

  • Riverside Walk trail
  • Temple of Sinawava
  • Emerald Pools
  • Court of the Patriarchs
Court of the Patriarchs Zion National Park thanksgiving 2023

We finished all of these trails in about three or four hours. We saw lots of young kids (like three or four years old) on these trails and they are not that hard.

One quick comment about the Emerald Pools trail though: all of the pools are not that great. The color is more dark brown in winter vs emerald so adjust your expectations accordingly. These pools can’t compare with the colorful geysers in Yellowstone National Park. For more information about these trails, you can check out the National Park service information.

4. Make sure to drive through Canyon Overlook trailhead

The short drive (less than 30 mins) from Springdale to Canyon Overlook trailhead is scenic, with lots of stops for pictures along the way. Even if you can’t find parking space or don’t want to hike the Canyon Overlook trail, it is still worth the drive-through and stop along the way. You can see the video below to get a sense of the drive.

Scenic drive from Springdale to Canyon Overlook trailhead Thanksgiving 2023

We went to Kolob Canyons too but there wasn’t much to see so we didn’t spend much time there or take any pictures.

6. Conclusion

Our family’s adventure in Zion National Park was a memorable one, filled with natural beauty and quality family time. We hope our experiences and tips help make your visit as enjoyable as ours was.

7. Engage with Us

Have you visited Zion National Park with your family? Share your stories or ask questions in the comments below. We’d love to hear about your experiences!

8. Other US National Parks that we have been to

Yellowstone National Park

Pacific NorthWest National Parks: Mount Rainier, North Cascades, Crater Lake and Lassen.

Joshua Tree National Park

Yosemite National Park

Pinnacles National Park

Petrified Forest National Park

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