Zion National Park with kids (in winter)
We spent a few hours in Zion National Park before heading to Brian Head Resort for skiing last February. We realized this was not the ideal time to visit Zion but we wanted a quick glimpse and planned to come back during the warmer months. We entered the park by going through the town of Springdale, UT where there were only 2 booths to buy tickets.
Entrance fees were $25 which was good for 7 days. We saw plenty of shuttle buses parked near the visitor’s center which are operational between April and October. The visitor’s center was a great place to visit. The bookstore and souvenir shop was actually pretty big. Next to the rangers’ information counters were benches to watch some movies on the canyon. There were also various displays of the canyons.
The giant multi-colored monoliths greeted us as we entered the park and were pretty amazing. We got lucky and spotted a couple of deer grazing a few miles down the road.
We followed the Scenic Byway/Highway 9 to the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. My kids have a fascination with tunnels and holding their breath as long as they can as we go through one. This was too much of an engineering marvel to pass up. It was especially amazing carved inside the giant sandstone cliff. This was a 1.1 mile tunnel, two –lane road completed in 1930.
The unique thing was the big windows carved out of the rocks showing some of the spectacular scenery outside. The kids stopped their ‘hold your breath’ game after catching a glimpse of the windows excitedly. It got pretty dark in some areas since we were the only car in there. Surprisingly, it didn’t feel too claustrophobic though. There were rangers posted at each tunnel entrance to guide oversized vehicles for a $15 fee. I guess they stop traffic and escort the vehicles through the tunnel. We crossed the tunnel but after reaching the end of it and reaching a higher elevation, it was starting to snow pretty hard so we decided to turn back and explore the rest of the park. As we were driving down from the tunnel we caught a glimpse of the windows on the face of the cliffs. Awesome!
We drove to the Temple of Sinawava (I really like saying this word for some reason) which is at the end of the scenic drive. There was a road that looped around the canyon took us to some impressive vertical cliffs. This section was described in the park maps as a “natural ampitheater”. There were plenty of parking spaces with some facing the Virgin River. We saw traces of water trickling on the canyon walls forming mini-waterfalls. Our kids were more interested in playing with the snow and trying to bounce rocks in the river than looking up though. The two large rock formations in the middle are apparently known as the Altar and the Pulpit which made for a fantastic picture with the canyon in the background. It was too cold to stay outside for us, San Diegans, so our visit here was a bit short.
We also briefly stopped by the Zion Lodge area for a restroom break. The cabins were neatly tucked under many of the trees and seemed to blend in with the canyon. We’d have to remember this in-park lodging next time. The nearby restaurant was closed for the winter. The adjacent gift shop was really small. The shop at the visitor’s center was so much bigger with a lot more merchandise.
Even though we were only here for a short time and most of it was covered with snow, it was still surprisingly beautiful. The winter wonderland scenery seemed almost magical with the colored monoliths peeking out. The amazing monoliths and canyons definitely need a return trip without the snow and plans for small hikes with the kids.
Each national park offers a Junior Ranger program where kids learn specific things about the park they’re visiting and about conservation. The Junior rangers handbook was sold for $1 at the bookshop inside the visitor’s center for ages 6-12. It was actually a very nice bound booklet with colorful illustrations. The ages 6-8 group complete all the seven activities marked with Tara Tarantula. Ages 9-12 complete Tara Tarantula’s and Lewis Lizard’s activities for a total of . Activities range from watching a film at the visitor’s center and exploring the exhibits to answering questions about what they observed.
The smaller kids ages 5 and under do a one sheet (back to back) with simple activities such as playing scavenger hunt bingo and using their senses to observe the park environment. My 5 year old liked the simplicity of this activity sheet and was able to learn some things too.
We brought the completed booklets and activity sheets to the visitor’s center for the park ranger to look over. The friendly ranger asked our kids a few questions about their activities and what they learned. The 5 and under get a park button and the 6-12 get the park plastic badge similar to what they give out at other parks. We liked that they incorporated animal characters to engage and guide the kids through their activities. Another park, another badge to add to their collection.