We Fell in Love With Utah - Part 2 - Zion National Park

I called it! A full month later and I'm getting to part two of our Southern Utah adventure.

After a full day exploring Bryce Canyon NP and Tropic Reservoir, we were ready to see Zion National Park.

Quick back story. In February Scott and I ran the Zion Half Marathon. After spending five days exploring the park without kids we knew it was a placed we needed the kids to see. Maybe one day I'll post about that kidless trip. But until then...

As with Bryce, we had a loose itinerary of easy and mostly paved trails mapped out for the day.
We had a pretty good hunch Pa'rus Trail would be where we spent most of our time. We weren't wrong. The trail is flat and parallels the Virgin River as it cuts through the park.

The kids were immediately drawn to the river.
The abundance of sand, rocks, twigs, and sticks was all their national park loving hearts could dream of.

Though Zion NP was noticeably warmer than Bryce Canyon NP (approximately 15 degrees warmer), the kids didn't seem to notice or keep them from forging ahead on the trails.

A quick park shuttle ride took us to the Lower Emerald Falls Trail. Another easy trail that led us right to the backside of Lower Emerald Falls. And this is where we really noticed just how busy the park was. The trail and waterfall vistas were packed with hikers (the park was much less crowded when Scott and I visited in February).

To better enjoy the trail we stepped just off the trail for some light and easy bouldering. It's safe to say the kids enjoyed climbing rocks more than looking at the waterfall.

About mid-day it was apparent the heat and time on the trails were getting to the kids. We hopped on a park shuttle and rode it through the park. That's about the time Julia passed out, and our time in Zion National Park was coming to an end.

However, that wasn't the end of the day...

As we were reluctantly headed out of Springdale, the town adjacent to Zion, we noticed George Barker River Park, just off the road and we decided to see what it was all about. No playground equipment, but plenty of open space, and the river flowing next to it.

It was an unexpected but perfect spot to cool off, enjoy the views of Zion, and give the kids one last good dose of Southern Utah.

So, our takeaway and advice for parents with littles from our time in each National Park:
1) Set the hiking standards fairly low. And then lower them again. Our time in each park would have been pretty miserable had we expected our kids to hike much more than 3.5 miles. And, though we were fairly spot on with the miles they could handle, we were also pleasantly surprised at just how awesome the kids did.
2) We also discovered, if you can handle cooler temps, visit the parks when no one else wants to (like, say, February).
3) The unplanned spots and visits may end up being the most memorable. This was true for us at both parks. Mossy Trail in Bryce was a last minute decision, and the stop at the Springdale park just outside Zion was made on a whim. And, both those places were clearly our kids' favorites.

The other thing we learned? We're hungry for more time in National Parks, and need to do it again, and the sooner the better.


We Fell In Love With Utah - Part I - Bryce Canyon NP

Spring Break was insanely late for us this year. The Catholic Schools coincide the break with the Easter holiday, and this year Easter fell super late into April. Which meant we had plenty of time to plan a Spring Break adventure not soon to be forgotten.

Back in February Scott and I spent some time at Zion National Park (I blogged about the half marathon we ran). After hiking several trails - realizing many were easy and paved - and discovering Bryce Canyon National Park wasn't too far from Zion, we decided it would make for the most adventurous Spring Break with the kids.

Fast forward to late April. We secured a cabin smack dab between the two parks. Our car was loaded down with all things outdoorsy and hiking, and we were off.

Eight hours of driving later we pulled up to our cabin, which was nestled in this very small community, within the tiniest of towns. One step out of the car and we were greeted with the embrace of crisp, clean mountain air and open spaces that are completely foreign to our kids.

The kids were absolutely beside themselves when they saw we had the smallest pile of snow to play in. Of all the things we saw and did, I'd venture to say that seeing and playing with snow was the highlight for them. That's not to say we didn't see and do some pretty epic stuff...

But, before a single step on a single trail, we did what any sane person would do. We got a fire going in the fire pit and made ooey, gooey s'mores.

The first full day of our trip was spent within the saturated oranges and vibrant vermilion of the Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park.
Our first expedition led us to Mossy Trail. That took us right to a stream and waterfall, which seemed to be made precisely for kids. Marcus and Julia could have spent the entire trip splashing in the brisk water, tossing rocks, and making muddy castles. Mossy Trail also led us to, well, a wall covered in moss, hence the name I suppose.
Mossy Trail is actually outside the entrance to Bryce, but within the park itself (if that makes sense). The trail, round trip, was about 1.0 mile, and very easy. Exactly the kind of hike you want when you've got kids on the path.
After a considerable chunk of time along Mossy Trail we made our way to the Park entrance.
If you've never been to a National Park, take full advantage of the visitor center. Grab souvenirs, stock up on last minute items that you may have forgotten, and talk to the park rangers! A ranger noted we had smaller kids in tow and mapped out our *entire* visit according to our family's abilities.
The Rim Trail was our main hiking focal point. In it's entirety it's about 3 miles. But we *quickly* discovered our extended stay at Mossy Trail had eaten up a solid portion of energy and excitement. So, we altered our hiking, cut the distance in half, and still saw the most incredible, out of this world landscape we've ever set eyes upon.
Hoodoos stood sentinel over the sprawling valley beyond. The rocks looked as if some giant decided to make drip castles amongst the mountains. The colors so bright and vivid it didn't seem real, they surely came straight from the palette of God. We were left breathless by the beauty, and felt transported to another planet.
The rim trail left the kids with tired legs, so we hopped in the car and took the park rangers advice and drove through the park, stopping at the most notable vistas for a few oohs, ahhs, and photos ops.
We stuck to all the ranger's  suggestions and saw everything we could have possibly dreamed of.

It comes as zero shock that Julia fell asleep before we'd exited the park.
We were looking for some time to kill before grabbing a bite for dinner. A quick break at a road side stop left Marcus, Scott and me tossing around a baseball.
Thirty minutes later, Sleeping Beauty still hadn't roused. Scott mentioned a near by reservoir, and we said why not.

As we drove down the 7-mile gravel road we were surrounded by views of mountains, a sleepy stream, open spaces, and patches of mountainous forest. It was the epitome of nature.

We spotted pronghorn, which we learned are the fastest mammals in the western hemisphere.
And as we pulled into a spot where we could check out the reservoir Marcus pointed to a very large nest tucked into a dead tree, looming just over the water. First guesses had us thinking perhaps bald eagles? But a little investigating (thanks, Google), we discovered we were looking at an Osprey nest. We're not real versed in birds, so we did a little research on Osprey. We learned Osprey were greatly impacted by the DDT use in the 50s and 60s. Coastal Osprey have successfully recovered, however, inland populations are still very low. The Osprey population in Bryce has been recent, but successful.
So, long story short, Marcus spotted a nest of a not-so-common bird. And that may have been the biggest highlight for me, personally.
Per the usual, rock throwing and splash making was the reservoir hit.
One last stop in the most insane meadow for another quick toss of the baseball, and we were officially exhausted from the best day outside.
Oh, and there was a thunderstorm headed our way, so we figured that would be a good time to wrap things up, grab some food, and prep for day two...