A Family Trip to Zion National Park (via Las Vegas!)

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Last Spring Break we took our first family trip to the beautiful Zion National Park, with a stop in Las Vegas along the way. Here are all the details from our 7-day trip including where to stay, the best things to do with kids, family-friendly hikes, and more!

my family at Zion National Park
My family on the Pa’Rus Trail at Zion National Park.

Day 1- Vegas Arrival and The Paris Hotel

We arrived in Las Vegas quite late in the evening with intentions of heading out to Zion first thing in the morning. Our real “Vegas time” was planned for the end of the trip. But given that the airport is right around the corner from the Vegas strip, it makes sense to stay on the strip to get a nice dinner and see some lights.

Now we are pretty experienced Vegas travelers, having been many many times for both work and pleasure over the years. In fact, this was our six-year old’s second trip to Vegas already. But this time we decided to stay at Paris Las Vegas Hotel, which we’ve never stayed at before.

Paris Las Vegas Hotel
Paris Las Vegas Hotel

My husband picked it mostly because he wanted to stay in an “Eiffel Tower view” room, which he thought our son would get a kick out of. So, we headed over to the hotel to check in. It was about 8pm by the time we arrived, so weren’t expecting too much of a crowd for check in. And unfortunately – we very wrong about that.

We arrived to find a massive line of guests waiting to check in. To serve those guests were a few automatic check in machines – none of which anyone in line had any success operating – and one single staff member. We waited for over 90 minutes just to reach the desk. At night. With a hungry kid. It was by far the worst check in experience I’ve ever had in Vegas – and I attend huge conferences there a couple times a year.

Meanwhile, I set off to find us some kind of food. At this point it was becoming clear that we weren’t going to have time for a nice dinner out. But surely I can grab us some pizza somewhere (or anything really). I mean this is Vegas – things are open at all hours, right?

Well, nope. At this point in time in 2021, most of the hotels and restaurants on the strip were just opening back up. And while I knew this, I didn’t fully realize the impact of that until seeing it. All of the hotel restaurants were closed and everything nearby was either limited capacity with no reservations left for the night or already closed. So… we got vending machine snacks for dinner. Yay.

Room at Paris Las Vegas hotel
Room at Paris Las Vegas hotel.

So we finally get checked into our room, make our way there… and there is no Eiffel Tower View. Yeah. After all that, they didn’t even put us in the room type that we had paid an upgrade for. We were too exhausted to even worry about it at this point. So we went to bed.

Bottom line- Vegas is great but I can’ recommend the Paris Hotel.

(P.S. I truly hope that our Paris experience was a temporary issue and that they are operating more smoothly these days. But I can only rate them based on our own experience.)

Day 2 – Arrive at Zion!

The next morning, we set out bright and early for Zion National Park, which was a roughly three hour drive.

sign for Zion Lodge
Arriving at Zion Lodge.

We only had a short wait to get into the park upon arrival and headed straight over to Zion Lodge, our accommodation within the park. If you want to stay right within Zion National Park, than the lodge is your only hotel option.

And it really is the most convenient way to see the park. If you stay at the lodge, you can walk to many of the trailheads without needing to ride the free park shuttles around too often, which saves time waiting around at shuttle stops.

View of Zion Lodge from Middle Emerald Pool Trail.
View of Zion Lodge from Middle Emerald Pool Trail.

The lodge can easily book up to a year in advance, so it’s critical to make a reservation as soon as you start planning your trip. You can check availability and rates here.

If you don’t snag a spot at Zion Lodge, there are some good hotel options just south of the park entrance in the town of Springdale. Or of course, you could camp!

It was drizzling and snowing lightly when we arrived, which my Florida kid thought was pretty amazing. We got checked into the lodge and headed straight to check out our first trail – Lower Emerald Pools Trail, which starts directly across from the hotel.

You walk across a small footbridge to reach the trail and are greeted with this incredible view along the way.

river and mountains at Zion National Park
The view from the footbridge to Emerald Pools Trails.

We only hiked a short way into the Emerald Pool Trail at this point, as it was snowing harder and harder. It was pretty slippery and we weren’t really prepared, but it was a fun little introduction to the park. And we had plans to hike the full trail later in the week, so this was just a teaser.

snowing on Emerald Pools Trail at Zion
My husband and son on Emerald Pools Trail in the snow.

So we headed back towards the lodge. And good thing because it was really snowing hard by then.

This is that same view from the footbridge at the trailhead – only now it’s snowing so heavily that you can’t even see the mountain peak. Crazy!

snowy river view at Zion National Park
This is the same view as earlier – so much snow now!

We arrived back at the lodge and finally got a chance to really check out our room. We opted to stay in one of the cabins at Zion Lodge, rather than a traditional hotel room, which was a really fun choice.

It had a cute little front porch and a gas fireplace, which made for a very cozy little spot to hang out in the evenings.

cabin at Zion Lodge
Our cabin at Zion Canyon Lodge.

The room was clean and comfortable on the inside. Nothing too fancy – but you are in a national park after all.

Cabin at Zion Lodge.
Cabin at Zion Lodge.

Next, we headed back into the town of Springdale, which is just outside the park’s south entrance. We grabbed a quick lunch at Meme’s (okay, but not great) and stopped at Hoodoo’s General Store for some snacks and supplies.

If you’ve forgotten anything you need for your trip (or just want to stock your room with snacks), Hoodoo’s is going to be the place to find it. They had groceries, wine and beer, toiletries, and medicines. Plus gloves, socks, and all the other things you can’t hike without in cold weather.

Hoodoo's General Store near Zion
Hoodoo’s General Store in Springdale

We made a quick stop at the Visitor Center on our way back into the park, where we picked up a Junior Ranger booklet for my son. If you have kids along on your trip, be sure you let them participate in the the Junior Ranger program. It’s totally free and very fun.

They get a workbook of activities to complete throughout your visit, and turn it in to receive a Junior Ranger Badge at the end!

snowy day at Zion Lodge
Playing in the snow!

It was snowing very heavily by evening, so we opted to just explore the area around the lodge for the remainder of the afternoon, and test out that cozy fireplace. Some friendly deer even paid us a visit!

deer at Zion Lodge
Deer checking out our carbin.

We made our way back into Springdale for dinner at The Spotted Dog Cafe. It’s located within Flanigan’s Hotel and is one of the more popular restaurants in the area. I do recommend making reservations for dinner, as the waits can be very long during tourist season.

The restaurant was very cute inside and we really enjoyed our meals!

food at spotted dog cafe in springdale, utah
Our dinner at Spotted Dog Cafe

We headed back to the lodge afterwards. Interestingly, there were no rangers at the gate when we entered the park at night. We already had our pass of course, but I guess it runs on the honor system after dark. I can’t blame them for that!

Day 3 – Zion Mt Carmel Highway and Emerald Pools Trails

The next morning we woke up to a little surprise. My son lost his first tooth sometime during the night and… it was gone. Ha. I mean really gone without a trace.

Luckily, we were able to write a note explaining this to the tooth fairy and she kindly accommodated him with a few bucks the next morning, even without a tooth to exchange. So once that excitement was over, we were ready to start our day.

driving Zion Mt Carmel Hightway
Driving Zion Mt. Carmel Highway

We popped over to Café Soleil in Springdale for a quick breakfast. I highly recommend this place for a quick bite in the morning. They have fancy coffees, yummy pastries, and breakfast sandwiches. And it’s super cute too.

It was still very snowy at this point, and we weren’t quite prepared for hiking in heavy snow. So we opted to start the day off with a drive down the Zion Mt. Carmel Highway, which is a scenic 10 mile stretch of roadway that connects the east and south entrances of the park.

No shuttles run in this more remote area of the park, so you need a private car to explore it. That also means it’s way less crowded!

view from Mt Carmel Highway in Zion
View from one of the switchbacks on Zion Mt Carmel Highway.

We headed out from the lodge and drove the first few miles of the scenic roadway, starting from Canyon Junction and heading East. It’s a beautiful drive, filled with switchbacks and gorgeous viewpoints.

We even stopped for a snowball fight on the side of the road!

my son throwing snowballs
Snowball fight alongside Zion Mt Carmel Highway

The one mile long Zion Mt Carmel Tunnel is one of the highlights of the drive. Cars go through one at a time, with park rangers at the entrances to control traffic. If you have an oversized vehicle, you actually need a special permit to go through the tunnel!

And it is pitch black in there. I found it a little freaky, but the rest of the family thought it was pretty awesome.

Zion Mt Carmel Tunnel
Entrance to the Zion Mt Carmel Tunnel

We headed back to the lodge and picked up some lunch at the hotel’s Castle Dome Café. It’s a seasonal quick service restaurant that is great for grabbing coffee in the morning or lunch in the afternoon. They had the usual concession food type stuff – burgers, hot dogs, fries.

And then we headed out to hike the Emerald Pools Trails (but properly this time!). From Zion Lodge, you simply walk across the street, go over a small footbridge, and you’re on the trail!

bridge to Emerald Pool Trails at Zion
The footbridge to Emerald Pool Trails at Zion National Park.

Now the Emerald Pools Trails are actually a grouping of three trails, which are all connected to one another – the Upper, Middle, and Lower Emerald Pools Trails. We hiked all three in sort of a big loop – starting with the Lower Emerald Pools Trail, which connected to the Upper Emerald Pools Trail, and then made our way back again via the Middle Emerald Pools Trail.

hiking emerald pool trails at Zion
My husband and son on Lower Emerald Pools Trail at Zion National Park.

The full hike was about 2.5 miles roundtrip. The lower trail was very easy and flat, and ends at a little stream – an easy hike for families. The middle trail was steeper but we still didn’t find it difficult, even with a six year old. In my opinion, this part of the trail had the best views.

view of Virgin River from Middle Emerald Pool Trail
View of Virgin River from Middle Emerald Pool Trail

The upper trail was considerably steeper and harder, and had a couple spots that were a little nerve wracking. But that was the shortest part of the hike, so I’m glad we pushed and did it. There is even a little waterfall at the end waiting for you! (But when I say little, I mean really little so temper your expectations.)

boy hiking Upper Emerald Pools Trail at Zion
My son hiking Upper Emerald Pools Trail

If you decide the upper trail is too much for your family – you can always turn back and just do the lower and middle trails.

tamales at Bit & Spur Restaurant in Springdale
Tamales at Bit & Spur Restaurant in Springdale

After getting cleaned up from our hike, we headed into Springdale for dinner. We ate at Bit and Spur, which is a totally delicious Mexican restaurant. It turned out to be one of our favorite restaurants at Zion! (In fact, we liked it so much that we made a second visit later in the week.)

Day 4- Riverside Walk Trail and The Grotto

Riverside Walk Trail at Zion
Riverside Walk Trail at Zion National Park

The next morning, we set out to explore the Riverside Walk Trail, which leads to The Narrows (one of Zion’s most famous hikes!). We took one of the free park shuttles to the trailhead at the stop for the Temple of Sinawava.

From there, it’s an easy hike along a one mile smooth paved trail. This is completely family friendly hiking trail – you could even walk with a stroller here!

Riverside Walk Trail at Zion National Park
Riverside Walk Trail at Zion National Park

The whole trail is paved, as shown in the picture above. But in many places, you can also opt to walk on the footpaths right by the river.

The riverside is a really beautiful area and we enjoyed walking along the meandering water and taking in the canyon views. My son had a grand time hopping from rock to rock in the river as we went along.

Riverside Walk Trail at Zion National Park
Riverside Walk Trail at Zion National Park

The trail ends at the entrance to The Narrows. This is a very famous area of the park. It’s the narrowest section of Zion Canyon and requires hiking in the river! Yes, literally wading through the river.

hikers going into the Narrows at Zion National Park
Hikers going into the Narrows!

There were a few crazy people actually doing this despite the freezing and snowy weather. In the picture below, you can see a group about to head out towards the Narrows. But um… no thanks. I would love to return and hike The Narrows during the summer though! Instead we hiked back again on the Riverside Walk Trail – so a two mile roundtrip hike.

Zion National Park Lodge
Zion National Park Lodge

We headed back over to Zion Lodge where we grabbed some lunch at their grab-and-go cafe. The lodge is a great place to hang out for a bit in the afternoons. There were many families lounging on picnic blankets and playing catch on the big lawn.

In the afternoon, we were up for a little more hiking so we headed out on The Grotto trail. The trailhead is accessible right from the lodge, and it’s a pretty easy 1.2 mile loop.

hiking Grotto Trail at Zion
My son conquering The Grotto Trail at Zion National Park.

This wasn’t the most spectacular of all the trails we saw at Zion, but the views were still pretty and it was a nice walk. We even managed to grab a photo with all three of us in it – a rare feat!

family photo at Zion National Park
A family photo stop on The Grotto Trail.

In the evening, we headed back into Springdale for dinner again. This time we opted to try Zion Pizza and Noodle Company, which is a crazy popular spot. Now I will warn you that this place gets jam packed, and they don’t take reservations. So go early and put your name on the list if you want a table at prime dinner time.

food at Pizza and Noodle in Springdale, Utah
Our food at Zion Pizza and Noodle Company in Springdale, Utah

The pizza was really great – fresh and homemade, with some seriously creative toppings. I can see why everyone raves about this place!

And after dinner we headed back to the lodge, and I took a little nighttime stroll to try my hand at getting some night time photos of Zion! I can’t say I’m an expert at this, and it was doubly hard in the snow, but I got a few pictures of the stars!

stars at night in Zion National Park
Zion National Park at night.

Day 5- Canyon Overlook Trail and Biking the Pa’Rus Trail

The next morning, we set out before sunrise in order to hike the Canyon Overlook Trail. This was probably my favorite hike of the trip! Canyon Overlook is a very popular destination for sunrise.

The bad news is that it requires driving out on Zion Mt Carmel Highway, through the tunnel, and then parking and hiking about one mile (round trip) up some fairly steep and rocky terrain to get there. The good news is that most people won’t do this. So if you’re willing to put in the effort, this place is pretty serene.

Canyon Overlook Trail at Zion.
Canyon Overlook Trail at Zion.

This trail, while short, was definitely more challenging than the others we had done so far. It’s only one mile round trip but there are some fairly steep areas and a couple spots where the trail wasn’t very clearly marked.

But it was still very manageable for us with our son, and I saw a few other families with young kids tackling it as well. In fact, the park has quite a few trails that are easy enough for families – making it one of the best national parks for kids!

When you arrive at the top, you’re greeted with an expansive view of the canyon below! And at sunrise, you can watch as the sunlight clears the mountain tops in waves. It’s really something.

view from Canyon Overlook
View from Canyon Overlook

We took our time relaxing at the viewpoint for a while. There were a few other groups that made it to the top for sunrise, but it wasn’t crowded at all. This would be a great place to pack a picnic breakfast!

boy at top of Canyon Overlook Trail
My son at Canyon Overlook in Zion National Park.

I should mention that the parking situation was a little tricky here. If you’re going, be on the lookout for the very small parking area immediately after you exit the tunnel.

parking lot for Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion
Parking area for Canyon Overlook Trail.

If it’s full (and it probably will be since there are only a few spaces), continue a bit down the road and you’ll find a few areas where there is space to park on the side of the road. Then walk back to the trailhead.

After the hike, we headed back to the lodge for lunch and my son spotted the bike rentals. And since we had no plans for the afternoon – we went ahead and rented bikes!

This was seriously so much fun. We took the bikes over to Pa’Rus Trail, and I think this was my favorite activity of the whole trip!

boy biking on Pa'Rus Trail in Zion National Park
My son biking on Pa’Rus Trail in Zion National Park

The trail itself was very flat and easy. But… getting to and from the trailhead was a little bit tricky.

From Zion Lodge, you need to ride the bikes south on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive (the main road through the park) for about 2.5 miles to reach the trailhead. The ride to the trailhead is almost all downhill so it’s very easy – but of course that means the way back is all uphill. ;)

During most of the year, the only vehicles allowed on this road are the park’s own shuttle buses and guests staying at Zion Lodge. So the traffic was minimal, which was my main concern with a pint sized biker.

Pa'Rus Trail in Zion National Park.
Pa’Rus Trail in Zion National Park.

Once you get to the trail, the route is pretty flat and easy. There are plenty of places to hop off and explore the river, and we even had a little picnic with some snacks. The view is stunning! In fact, I think the views on this trail were some of the very best in the whole park.

Pa'Rus Trail at Zion National Park
Pa’Rus Trail at Zion National Park

The trail ends south at the Visitor’s Center. If you have kids along and picked up Junior Ranger booklets for them, this is where you can turn them in for their badges!

After a brief stop at the Visitor’s Center gift shop, we headed back north again on the trail.

Zion National Park Visitor Center
Zion National Park Visitor Center

This time when we reached the main road back to the lodge it was all uphill – so it was way harder. In fact, we had to walk our bikes in some areas because it was just so steep. So we went very slowly back to our cabin.

If you want to bike the Pa’Rus trail, but don’t like the idea of riding up and down this hill to the lodge, another option is to rent bikes from the Zion Outfitter, just outside of the park by the visitor’s center. Then you can ride the bikes into the park, do the trail from south to north and back again (opposite of how we did it) and return the bikes. So you can skip the ride on the main road to the lodge. But you do have to deal with parking near the busy visitor’s center and will have to pay the bike entrance fee to the park.

After recovering from our bike adventure, we headed back into Springdale and enjoyed dinner for a second time at Bit and Spur. Look, there’s not a ton of restaurant options in Springdale and this place was really good. Plus, they take reservations which is a big bonus.

Day 6 – Back to Vegas (and The Bellagio!)

The next morning we packed up and started making our way back to Las Vegas for our final night of vacation. We arrived mid-morning and headed straight to The Bellagio. Now Bellagio is one of our all time favorite hotels and is almost always my first choice when staying on the Vegas strip.

It has a perfect location that is central to everything, service is impeccable every time, and that fountain. My husband surprised me with a Fountain View room for this trip and it was seriously worth every penny. Being able to watch the fountains play from our own window was so cool – it was like a private show.

view of Bellagio fountains from room
View of Bellagio fountains from Fountain View Room.

Oh, and we waited maybe five minutes to check in to our room. Which was ready for us even though we were way too early. Ahem, Paris Hotel.

Now we were hoping to go check out the Eiffel Tower but found that the wait time was upwards of two hours! Not wanting to wait in that, we let my son pick an alternative. (Don’t feel too bad for him, he’s been in the Eiffel Tower on prior trips!)

So he picked the High Roller instead. Always a good choice. The High Roller is the giant Ferris wheel that you can see in so many pictures of the Vegas Strip. It’s not a traditional Ferris wheel where you sit in the little bench seats. Instead it’s like little pods that you stand in.

High Roller Ferris Wheel in Las Vegas
High Roller Ferris Wheel in Las Vegas.

It takes about 30 minutes to go around the full loop and you get amazing views from 550 feet above the Las Vegas Strip! And of course, there is a bar as you enter so you can get some refreshments to take along on your ride. It is Vegas, after all.

view from the High Roller Ferris Wheel in Las Vegas
view from the High Roller Ferris Wheel in Las Vegas

We grabbed a pizza lunch at Giordano’s and did some more exploring around the strip- including the fun (and free) Flamingo garden.

And then had dinner at Benihana. Hibachi is always a hit with kids – and it was super good! Make a reservation – they get very busy.

hibachi cooking at Benihana's in Las Vegas
Hibachi cooking at Benihana’s in Las Vegas

We spent some time watching the amazing fountain shows from our room before heading to bed.

And by some time, I mean that I spent at least two hours taking pictures and videos long after my family went to sleep.

Bellagio Fountains at night
Bellagio Fountains at night

Day 7 – Venice Gondola Rides and Home!

The next day we were due to head back home to Tampa, but we still had a few hours to spare in the morning. So my husband went off to get a little gambling fix and my son and I headed to The Venetian for a gondola ride.

Gondolas in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas
Gondolas in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas

In all my years visiting Vegas, I have never actually gone on one of the famous gondola ride. So… it is every bit as cheesy as you would expect. And you should still do it once. ;)

We had a grand time being rowed through the fake Venice canals. There’s even a fake sky painted on the ceilings of the hotel that honestly feels like you are really outside.

Gondolas in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas
Gondolas in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas

After that, we met back up with my husband. Sadly, he had not become a millionaire at the card tables. And we had a family style lunch at Carmine’s restaurant. It was the perfect way to finish up our trip – a big bowl of pasta and a glass of wine.

From there, we headed back to the airport!

Wrap Up!

Overall, this was a really fun family trip to Zion National Park (with a side helping of Vegas)! I feel like we did a pretty good job of packing in all the main sights and attractions, and was really happy with our choice to stay right inside the park at Zion Lodge.

If I were to change anything, I would consider arriving earlier on the first day and just driving straight to Zion upon landing in Vegas. That first night was kind of a waste, and it may have been nice to just get to the park and perhaps do two back-to-back nights in Vegas at the end of the trip instead.

But beside that detail, I was pretty pleased with our experience at Zion In fact, this trip to Zion is what inspired our trip to the Grand Canyon National Park soon after!

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