We are a family of five with children that are ages 14, 12 and 11. At these ages, we can definitely be more adventuresome, so we amped it up this year with a trip out West visiting three National Parks: Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. Two other families joined us on our adventure with children in the same age range. I must say we made the most of our limited time and hit the ground running as soon as we hopped off the plane.
We flew out of our little regional airport in North Carolina and made it to Las Vegas, where we rented a 16-passenger van and drove one hour to Hoover Dam. Unfortunately, due to some elevator issues we were not able to take the official tour but there was a short video and some question and answer opportunities as well as plenty of walking around to see the sights.
We then drove 3.5 hours to the Grand Canyon and stayed at Maswik Lodge. The lodge has no-frills basic rooms that provide all that is needed for a short stay. There is easy access to the trails, eating places within walking distance and a friendly and knowledgeable staff. The decor could be described as “vintage” and the word is that a much-needed update is coming soon. Although it’s not a five star hotel, it is convenient. Being able to step right outside your door and hop on the bus to take you to any of the trails is worth it. We choose to explore South Kaibib Trail and the Bright Angel trail.
On Day Two, we packed our Osprey backpacks with snacks and lunch and headed to the South Kaibib Trail and hiked to Ooh Aah point (1.8 miles round trip) which continued to Cedar Point at the three mile round trip mark. Cedar Point had a restroom and plenty of rocks to hang out on and have lunch. There were great photo opportunities there, which is just another reason to stop and relax a minute. We attempted to make it to Skeleton Point, which would have been a six mile round trip hike, but only managed to make it halfway. The hike became steeper and more strenuous, plus, it takes twice as long to get back up as it does going down so we headed back up. I would not recommend going further than Cedar Point with children under the age of 12.
We headed back to the lodge and got cleaned up for dinner. We all dined at El Tovar Dining Room located in El Tovar Hotel, which was within walking distance of Maswik Lodge. The restaurant offered gourmet food with an international and local Southwest influence. The service was top-notch and we all enjoyed ourselves after a long day of hiking. The restaurant was fancier than I expected, but wearing jeans, boots and a heavy wrap was appropriate attire.
On Day Three we finished hiking in Grand Canyon and ended at Zion National Park. We got up early and hiked two miles of the Bright Angel trail, which had a lot of twists and turns. The path was well groomed but I found it to be narrower than the South Kaibib Trail. While on the trails, be prepared to run into mules. A mule-led excursion into the Canyon is a great option, but you will need to book it a year in advance. Click here for more info about the mule tour. We stopped at the only bathroom on the trail and headed back as we were on a tight schedule. Once we got up, we got on the road and made a quick stop at Desert View Watchtower which I highly recommend.
Then, back in the van to drive four hours to Zion National Park. We rented a beautiful home at HomeAway that was a 9000-sq. ft. house that slept 24 and overlooked east Zion National Park. It had an amazing gourmet kitchen, theater and hot tub. Check it out here. We were in complete luxury here.
Day Four we found easy access from our house to one of the iconic views of Zion National Park, Observation Point. We traveled a short ten minute drive to the trailhead and proceeded on a seven mile roundtrip hike through a wooded forest. The hike was less strenuous than the others, but it had lots of rocks, inclines and declines as well as a few views along the way that were quite beautiful, but nothing compared to what lay ahead at Observation Point. Once you arrive you will find yourself on the rim overlooking Zion National Park. There are no ropes or boundaries, so you will need to watch yourself and your children carefully. The area had lots of rocks and places to eat lunch and enjoy the view. This trail had a lot more foliage than the others, which was nice considering there were no restrooms:) For those of you that want a challenge, there is another path to get to Observation Point which is much more strenuous.
Day 5 we headed to Bryce Canyon and, much to my surprise, the Navajo Trail combined with the Queens Garden Trail were very different than all the others. These trails create a loop so you are not viewing the same scenery twice. You go deep into the canyon, therefore it starts out quite chilly but the temperature rises as you get into the canyon. I recommend layers on this trip. I was wearing several. Be sure to check out previous post for What I Wore to Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. During this hike you will go through carved out pieces of huge rocks, called hoodoos. There are several switchbacks and a lot of steep inclines and declines. It is approximately a three mile round trip hike.
On Day Six we headed back to Zion National Park. We drove through the east entrance where you actually drive through a mountain to get to the trails! How cool is that! The views when exiting are incredible as well. Our first trail of the day was Hidden Canyon Trail. It started out steep and was strenuous, however, the mental challenge was much harder, as there is a section of the mountain that will require you to hold onto chains that are in the mountain to keep from falling. We all managed to do it and the kids did great, but clearly you would not want to take really young children or elderly on this trail. While on the Hidden Canyon trail, you can see Weeping Rock which was our next stop as we headed back down. It was the shortest trail in Zion National Park and easy peasy. Be prepared to get a little wet at the rock. Speaking of wet, we opted out of The Narrows, which is a very popular trail, but requires you to wade through water that can get up to chest level and be quite cold. If it had been warmer, we would have put this on the itinerary. I would recommend at least hiking to The Narrows because it is really neat and you can see Observation Point from it.
On Day Seven we headed to Las Vegas where we had rented a home. It was not as extravagant as our luxury home in Zion, but certainly beautiful with plenty of room for our families. An added bonus is the house offered a pool and pool table that all the kids enjoyed. It was less expensive than renting a hotel room and we didn’t need to worry about disturbing our neighbors. That day, the men and children stayed home and the ladies took a much needed trip to the spa at the Bellagio! We all met up later at Julian Serrano Tapas, which offered great drink choices and an array of food options, although quite pricey for a family night out. We ended the evening with Cirque Du Soleil “O” Show at the Bellagio.
That’s a wrap! If you are wanting to hit three National Parks in a short timeframe, this is a great way to do it. We had very little down time but we covered a lot of ground, literally:) Happy Hiking!