A week of distance learning in and around Southern Utah’s spectacular national parks affords outings so incredible, the kids’ll forget to complain.
By Amy Jones
Most kids aren’t that into hiking. Mine aren’t. But you know what makes it tough to get a teen back on the trail? Having tricked him into a five-hour uphill death march wearing shoes that don’t fit.
Yep, we did that. Last July, we took our two teens up Yosemite’s famously tough trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls. It was prime Covid and neither one had been to school or sports in months. Hence, my mistake in thinking that everyone’s shoes still fit. The moaning was already in full swing as the kids got out of the car—but hit a fever pitch when my younger son couldn’t get his shoes on.
Long story short, his aunt surrendered her shoes, and my son hobbled the whole way up and down. Drop-dead, world-famous vistas, copious snacks, lots of cousin time— nothing could erase the trauma of the word “hike” in the poor kid’s head. (He has, however, become adept at explaining why hiking DOWNHILL is just as torturous as going UPHILL 😉 )
Hiking during Covid
Trouble is, my husband Dennis began living his “best life” during quarantine. He’s always been an outdoor lover—fishing and camping with family every year. But during the Covid 19 pandemic, he took up hiking and backpacking in earnest. A Black Friday download of the AllTrails app sealed the deal: We’re now a family of hikers, like it or not.
Now “hiking trip” has been added to my list, “Vacations I Would Never Have Considered before the Pandemic.” (See my article on houseboating on Shasta Lake, for another example.)
When we decided to go to Utah in January 2021, I didn’t really know what to expect. We figured that since we are all working/going to school from home, we might as well try a change of scenery. Our ideal spot was one where we were able to drive, find a house that accepted dogs, supported distance learning, and stay socially distant.
Utah was all of that and more! We had a great house in a rural area, down a dirt road, with five acres to ourselves where we could see the sunrise and sunset every day. We were all able to get our work/school done and see some amazing places before and afterward. We also saw very few people—the national parks were empty at this time of year.
And I definitely was not prepared for the natural beauty of Utah! From Zion to Bryce and the places in-between, we succeeded in finding a week’s worth of easy, family-friendly hikes, the best of which are detailed below.
It was all so incredible that the kids—and I—forgot to complain 😉
The Narrows Riverside Walk – 2.0 miles, mostly flat
We started with this easy walk. The route ended in the river which was running very low. Our daughter created her “hiking” song here—a creative saga involving a crocodile, an alligator, a terminator, and fairy dust. She sang it multiple times on each hike during this trip. I still hear it in my nightmares 😉
Lower Emerald Pools Trails — 1.5 miles, mostly flat
One of the “pools” trails. We did not go far because the trail was a bit icy and did not seem as picturesque as it probably is in other seasons.
Canyon Overlook Trail — 1.0 mile loop, 400-foot elevation
Not to be missed! Amazing. A narrow trail takes you up to a 360-degree view of the park. Our kids said it was the best hike they have ever been on. Because of the length? Maybe. Because it was the last of the day? Possibly. Because of the views? Definitely.
Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail — 2.9 miles, 646-foot elevation
If you’re like us and have previously subjected your kid(s) to a lousy hiking experience, this is the trail for you! Because, you see, the hike starts with you going DOWN into the canyon. So by the time you get to the bottom, your kids realize that they MUST hike back up or live there forever 😉
The other upside? This truly gorgeous and amazing place. I have honestly never seen anything like it. The hoodoos were unbelievable. I also bugged the kids by taking pics by the hoodoos and saying I was going to caption them, “Hoodoo? We do!”
Sunset Point to Sunrise Point Trail — 1.1 miles, mostly flat
Here’s another easy and quick hike for the kids, with gorgeous views of the canyon.
“Killer” Hikes/Outings between Zion & Bryce
The Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch — 5.6 miles, 617-foot elevation gain
Okay, now THIS was the most amazing hike I have ever been on. It is at Vermillion Cliffs, very off the beaten path. You have to drive 8 miles on a dirt road (check weather for ice in winter if you don’t have four-wheel drive). When we started out, the temperature was only 9 degrees, but this trail is so incredible that the kids forgot to complain—seriously!
The trail winds through the narrow chasms in the mountains. We went early and it was super empty. We only saw one other person the whole time but I imagine it gets pretty crowded during peak times.
I would honestly go back to Utah just for this hike. It felt serene and special and magical and it is a family memory I will cherish.
Mansard Great Diverse Trail — 5.3 miles, 1,224-foot elevation
This trail began just a mile from our Airbnb. It was a KILLER. And again, deserted except for us. Thank God for the AllTrails app that kept us on the right path because we almost got off-trail. The trail ends at a huge rock opening with Native American petroglyphs that made my teacher heart happy. We did not bring the kids on this one because we knew it would be rough.
Not a “hike” but definitely a “hike!” You could rent sled and snowboard-type things and slide down the sand dunes. The trek back up was ROUGH but the kids loved it and it was a fun way to spend the afternoon.
The sand is so soft and fine—and it gets everywhere! Months later, my daughter had to throw away the pair of socks she wore that day because she could still “feel the sand between her toes.”
Horseshoe Bend — 0.5 mile stroll to the lookout
This famous crook in the Colorado is just as stunning in person as it looks in its millions of social media photos. It’s a 0.5-mile stroll from the car to the viewpoint and back. Translation: My son loved it 😉
Amy Jones – May 2021
This L.A. wife, mom, and elementary school teacher keeps the full crazy at bay by keeping her work and home life perfectly organized, saving the extra fun for their family trips.
© ROAM Family Travel 2021 – All rights reserved
5 to-dos for today!
Cool outings from Pike's Place to the Gas Works
Biking, breweries, boats & beaches just east of SF
A day-by-day recap of one family's Alpine trek
Everything from the unusual to the majestic to the serene.
It's not just for billionaires anymore.
Oh the places you'll go... from home!
Locals' favorite family-friendly lakefront destinations
Same coast. More value. Fewer crowds.
25 unique & classic must-drive vacations for families