Travelogue: Southwest Road Trip, Part 1 (Zion National Park)

Chalk this trip up to another “cheap flight” trip – Alaska had fare sales from Seattle to Vegas and while I didn’t have any interest in gambling, I’ve wanted to do some of the Southwestern parks for awhile. I’d also seen some great Instagram and blog posts from Local Passport Family, The Mom Trotter, Our Kindred Travels, and American Field Trip about Antelope Canyon and Zion National Park and it really got my wanderlust going. I thought this trip was overall pretty simple to plan (short, non-stop flight + shorter drives)., but I did have to do more searching for places that Peter could likely find things to eat. Road trips can be tough for someone with allergies (particularly to corn and soy, which are in everything, and are sneaky), so that was the one part of the planning phase that was a little stressful.

Where We Stayed

Ellis Island Hotel & Casino

We flew into Las Vegas in the afternoon and since it took FOREVER to take the shuttle to our rental car, I just wanted a spot for us all to crash for the night. I had booked Ellis because it was pretty inexpensive and had free parking. However, with hindsight being 20:20, I wouldn’t have stayed here again. Our Holiday Inn Club Vacations place later in the trip was about $10/night more and had 2 large bedrooms, multiple pools, etc vs. a small room with 2 queens at Ellis. The staff was very kind and friendly, but they were really busy and the whole hallway smelled like pot. The bathroom was so small that you almost ran the door into the toilet when you opened it, and it was just generally one of those “you get what you pay for” moments.

Fairfield Inn & Suites Zion National Park

This is a pretty new property (they celebrated their one year anniversary recently) that’s actually located in Virgin, UT (cue 5th grade jokes), which is about 20 minutes from the Zion National Park entrance. I booked it because it was less expensive than places in Springdale (the closest town to Zion) and because the description on listed a couple of pools, including a kids’ splash area. Unfortunately, the website didn’t say anything about the pools being closed while we were there (late February), only about them being heated, so that was a disappointment. My husband and I have different feelings about this place – he thought the 20 minute drive to town was definitely worth saving money. Given that the pool was out of service and there weren’t really any local restaurants or attractions, I would have paid more to stay in town where we could have walked to dinner. However, we still had a nice, large, clean room and it had 2 king beds instead of the usual queens, so we did have a little more space to sleep.

What We Did

After a mediocre night’s sleep at our Vegas hotel, we went out to the Sprouts grocery store (Vegas seems to be a grocery desert – there wasn’t much near town) just East of town to pick up snacks and a to-go breakfast of fruit, muffins and yogurt.

We needed a stopping point about half way to the park, and ended up going to Thunder Junction park in St. George, UT. It was such a great stop – a huge dinosaur themed park with areas for all ages. I was most impressed that it’s an “all abilities” park, so there were some spaces with ramps that a child in a wheelchair could access, and even a zip line that they could transfer into.

After about another hour of driving, we reached the Zion Visitor Center. The rangers must have already been overwhelmed with tourists because they weren’t the most helpful (example: Me: “Do you have any recommendations for a kid-friendly hike?” Ranger: “Just look at the map you got when you came in the entrance and choose what you think is right.”). However, we got some bare minimum directions to the Watchman Trail (you can find trail descriptions here) and set off. The kids fell asleep pretty quickly into the hike, so we were able to look at the beautiful scenery on our hike in peace and quiet after having been in the car with them all day.

We stopped for dinner at the Bit & Spur, which was delicious and family friendly (the kids really tested that out, too). Our waitress was really professional about dealing with Peter’s allergies, so we particularly appreciated that!

Our little wake-up call (James) didn’t care that we had changed time zones – he was still awake at 5:30 a.m. local time. So we grabbed hotel breakfast and headed out to the Canyon Overlook trail. I was grateful for the early start since we were able to snag a parking spot in the small lot across from the trail head (there are roughly 7-8 spots, including a handicap one, and a portapotty; right turn only to enter, so you have to plan it right because there’s a long tunnel adjacent to the entrance). The hike is really beautiful, with a few slippery/narrow places and a few drop offs. Like the Watchman trail, we carried the kids in carriers so this wasn’t a particular issue for us, but I was grateful for hiking boots and felt bad for a family we saw that started out with 3 young children in slip on shoes. Julia loved all the rocks to climb at the overlook – she still talks about them.

After a snack, we drove to Zion Lodge and took the Grotto Trail since the guide listed it as a place to see wildlife. The trail follows the main road very closely, so while Julia enjoyed picking up rocks and making stick forts, it wasn’t my favorite. Peter took James on a drive up the rest of the main road while Julia and I meandered back to the Lodge for lunch. I wasn’t impressed with the food and there was literally nothing Peter could eat except the lettuce at the salad bar (and beer!), but the views from the window were gorgeous.


With roughly a full day in Zion, I felt like we got a good introduction to the park with little kids. I would love to come back when they’re older and do more/longer hikes, especially when they can sit in the car for longer stretches and we can add more Southern Utah parks to our list. The hikes we were able to do were rated “moderate” on the trail description and I think that’s apt for a novice hiker (we like hiking, but we’re not pros). I was grateful for my hiking boots for some parts, and the kids rode in carriers rather than walking, but we didn’t need a frame backpack carrier or huge amounts of snacks/water and none of the hikes took us more than 1.5-2 hours round trip, even with time to explore at the destination.

I also really liked the season – shuttle use was only required on weekends in late February and the park was lively, but not crowded. Temperatures were also perfect (we had light puffy jackets and hats/gloves with us, but took them off for many of the hikes) with sunny skies. I would not be a good fit for a summer trip to Zion – the desert heat would keep me out of the park most of the time, which defeats the purpose of going!

For our next trip, I’d probably stay in the town of Springdale for the convenience to the park entrance and the better restaurant options, although if it were a summer trip, I’d definitely pick our hotel with a pool again!

Stay tuned for the next leg of our trip – Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ!