By combining fun in Las Vegas and gorgeous scenery in Utah, my family enjoyed an exceptional and unique spring break — checking off a bucket list National Park and one of America’s most famous cities in the process.
Instead of the traditional beach spring break last year, my family decided to do something out of the ordinary: hike a National Park we’d heard so much about and whose imagery we found strikingly compelling.
Driving into Zion National Park in Utah was like stepping onto another planet. The towering red rock formations, waterfalls and canyons are otherworldly — and like nothing my Midwestern family had ever seen. Combined with the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, it turned into a spring break we’d never forget.
Las Vegas as a Home Base
We opted to fly into Las Vegas so we could walk with our kids through the neon lights of this famous city. Over the course of a few days, both before visiting Zion National Park and after, we saw all the over-the-top attractions and hung out by the pool in the desert sun.
After walking around Las Vegas — a hike all its own! — we packed up the car with our hiking gear and took the roughly three-hour trip to Zion National Park, choosing to stay overnight in the nearby city of Kanab.
Zion National Park is busiest between March and October; however, outside of those months, be prepared for cold weather and even snow.
All About Zion National Park
According to the National Park Service, Zion was the third most popular U.S. National Park in 2017, behind only Great Smoky Mountain and the Grand Canyon National Parks. Known for its many slot canyons and towering pink stone cliffs, Zion is truly a marvel.
Because the park is so busy, the parking lot fills up quickly. Their website advises arriving well before 10 a.m., which is when the lot typically fills. If you don’t score a spot, you can park in the nearby town of Springdale and catch a shuttle into Zion. We arrived just in time to grab one of the few remaining spots.
Once inside, Zion has a shuttle system that takes you to key areas of the park, including its most popular hiking trails, as well as the Zion Lodge, which offers two restaurants in case you didn’t bring a picnic lunch. As on any hike, you’ll need to carry plenty of water, and Zion helps by offering water bottle refilling stations throughout the park.
Hiking the National Park
To truly enjoy Zion, it’s best to arrive as early as possible before the crowds show up mid-morning. The park is open 24 hours a day every day of the year — camping overnight and heading out at daylight would give you the ultimate access.
Zion is home to several famous hikes. Angel’s Landing features sheer cliff drop offs on either side as you hold on to chains to complete the hike. The Narrows, on the other hand, is a slot canyon filled with water that you wade through in high boots. But with kids in tow, we skipped both in favor of more moderate hikes.
Instead, we chose to hike the Hidden Canyon Trail and the Upper Emerald Pool Trail. The Hidden Canyon Trail also has sharp drop-offs like Angel’s Landing, but only on one side of the trail. It was a bit heart-pounding at times, but we all made it through!
Other than the scary drops, this trail was ideal for kids, as it had tons of “scrambling.” This is hiking lingo for climbing over, onto and under rocks, and my boys absolutely loved it. The trail wasn’t too crowded, and we completed it around lunchtime.
Stopping for a Swim
After a sandwich and a short break, we headed to the other side of the park via the shuttle for a hike up to an emerald pool and waterfall. This trail offers beautiful panoramic views of the park as you make your way higher to the falls, which was a fun spot for the kids to splash around and cool off as the temperatures climbed in the afternoon. More crowds on this trail meant we often had to squeeze up against the rock to let other hikers pass.
We were fairly exhausted at this point, but we knew there was so much more to explore in Zion, and we vowed to return one day. After returning to Las Vegas to lazily recover from our hikes, we hopped a plane back to our good old flat Midwestern geography. When back at school, my kids enjoyed bragging about our daring-do while exploring one of America’s great National Parks.
Make a reservation for dinner at nearby Zion Mountain Ranch. This quaint restaurant with ranch views offers sustainable food and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Kids will enjoy checking out the ranch’s animals while waiting for their meal.
Where to Stay:
Marriott’s Grand Chateau®