Zion National Park – adventure

If you want more info or to see behind the scenes, on my instagram I have 2 highlights called Zion and Zion ii, click here.

Ok, I haven’t blogged a personal post since last year’s Kauai trip! This little getaway to Southern Utah calls for a fresh post though, because HOLY MAGIC. My daughter is going to have a pretty intense surgery soon and after the last few months of COVID-19 and the emotional turmoil it’s been on everyone, including our kids…we really wanted to get away and fill our baby’s minds and hearts with adventure, laughter, love and togetherness before heading into this surgery.

ENTER ZION. We have wanted to do a Zion/Bryce Canyon/Moab trip for a long time, but we only had a few days to get this in and we didn’t want to spend hours and hours driving. We wanted absolute freedom from reality and stress. So we decided to stick to Zion only…it turned out to be the best decision ever. Zion is the most majestic beautiful place I could imagine and we were full of love and awe…bonus points that inside the national park, there is no cell service or internet…so it was truly escape from life. Ok, let’s dig into some logistics. I have never gotten so many questions on my IG about anything as I have this trip. So let’s dive in…hopefully I dont forget anything. 

We left San Diego at 5 am! The drive is only 6.5 hours but we stopped a few times for food and bathroom so it was about 7.5. Super easy for us, not a stressful drive at all. I packed coloring books and markers, activity books, and maps so the kids could read the maps and follow where we are..not just GPS. I also brought my laptop and downloaded a few movies on to it so we could fill a few hours that way. People had mentioned stopping a few places along the way, but we decided to just get to our destination. We wanted the escape from reality to start as soon as possible and getting off the freeway was part of that mentality. 

We were respecting COVID and social distancing so we knew a hotel wouldn’t be the right answer, so we dove into AIRBNB’s…and let me tell you, the SECOND we saw Ardella Cottage…that was it. There was no turning back, there was no other option. I honestly can’t even behind to tell you how magical this house was for our family. On an acre of green grass, this beautiful home that looks like Joanna Gaines designed it, covered every little thing. From an in ground trampoline, giant waterslide, outdoor swing, outdoor movie setup and even a camping room within one of the bigger rooms…our kids were on cloud 9 the moment we arrived. In fact, we were so in love with the vibe and old world feeling of being in this home, that we decided on day one that for our last day in Utah, we would spend the day just at the home playing and cooking and being together. The owner, Jean, is so amazing and answered every question in a snap and was just so sweet and helpful! She went above and beyond to make sure this experience was wonderful.

This house is in La Verkin – it’s about 25 minutes outside of Zion national park – we found the drive to be fun and no problem at all. It’s so beautiful to even drive in Utah…so don’t be deterred by this. The house is worth it especially if you put in work at the park and hike and exhaust yourself all day, coming home to this house is worth the 25 minutes. 

Here is the link to the magical home that we will maybe never be able to beat!! The first link is to the website for the house, the second link the airbnb for the house and the last is vrbo for the house.




Down the street you have Stagecoach Grill, expensive but delicious. A full grocery store and drive through coffee shop are both a 3 minute drive, and River Rock Roasting Co. is bonkers good with a rad view. That last one is about 5 minutes from the house and it was our fave. Another fave is The Big Chill – a snow cone spot that reminded me of Kauai snow cone places except this one is owned by a family and their sweet daughters run it and they were so well spoken and kind and just rad humans…we fell in love with this spot and highly recommend it. This spot is also 3 minutes away. 😉 FYI…one thing I wanted to mention because I know a lot of people like to enjoy a drink or two on vacation, and in Utah they have a law that they can’t sell anything above 4% alcohol unless it’s a liquor store…there is no liquor store in la Verkin – soooo the point of this is that if you want wine or anything other than beer, bring it with you or buy it in St. George on the way into La Verkin. 😉 Also…liquor stores are closed on Sundays. 

River Rock Roasting cafe
The Big Chill

As far as the park, this whole post is during COVID-19 – sooooo, what we experienced this trip might not be relevant in a few weeks or months. But the hikes I talk about are still relevant, just not this next bit of info. 

Usually getting into the park is no big deal – there are tons of shuttles and you can park nearly anywhere and shuttle in to the national park and get dropped of at various locations for different hikes. Right now though, the park is only allowing a small amount of people in and a few hikes and areas are closed. I am an avid researcher, I like to know everything about everything – so as soon as we booked this trip a few weeks ago, I started going ham on research. My fave way to research the local areas is to look at a map online and click on every little thing to see what it is and then research it and see if it’s worth a visit. Not restaurants or businesses, just adventures. I knew we would want to get into the national park for at least 2 days – so, day one, we had every intention of waking up early and getting there to grab a parking spot that is so limited. HA…none of us woke up til 8. So we wandered into the park at 9 and made it through the first gate, we were in the park!! But we were stopped almost immediately and couldn’t go any further in, so we hooked a right and parked at the first area that was open. This is where Watchman Campground and Pa’rus Trail is – we LOVED this spot. Super easy to walk it – the entire thing is paved so you can ride your bikes too – or you can go off the paved path and walk along the virgin river! We did a little of both…back and forth. FYI…the river rocks are slippery as heck…and if you try to wander out there or let your kids, you will slip and fall. Haha it’s not deep or scary…just a point to mention because I was fully dressed and just trying to walk in the water a bit with my shoes off to cool off, and I fully fell in. 🙂 My family loved this part. My kids were in their bathing suits and decided to hop in and catch frogs and tadpoles. The river is amazing – fresh beautiful clean and refreshing water that you can literally hop in anywhere through out the entire park. There are a few swimming holes you can find too, where you can actually jump in and sometimes there are swings hanging from trees so you can swing into the river!! We happened upon this and it was one of the most magical things because my kids were  so full of joy and laughter and it had been awhile since they’d been so carefree and happy!! It made me cry..no joke. Ok, so we played around this area for a few hours and then decided to hop in our car and see if the road closures had lifted yet. The first area where we parked is the easiest to get into, past that they only let in 100 or so cars in the morning and then through the day when people leave, they open the closure and let in 20-30 cars. This occurs all day and you have to just be lucky to get through when they open it. Beyond that second stop, is another area that they only let 70 cars into – this is where angel’s landing, and the emerald pools hikes are…as well as the Zion lodge. THEN, if you can get into that part, there is another entrance beyond that where they only let 30 cars into…this is where the narrows are. All in all, these are magical areas and worth trying to get into, but if you’re just trying to randomly happen upon the gates being opened at these multiple spots, you’ll be left frustrated and disappointed. We did get lucky on this first day, but only because it was late in the day and people had been leaving by this point, 2-3pm I think. So in this experience we learned just that, if you want to make it to the big hikes (during covid) you need to be there at 5am or you can wait until late in the day and get in when the early risers are leaving. Ok…back to the first day, we made it in and were immediately in awe as we drove the Zion scenic route…it’s nothing short of magic. We parked at the grotto and hiked upper emerald pools. This was my favorite hike of the trip..it’s not hard, it is steep and it is scary. You’re on the edge of 800 feet with no barrier – you’re on dirt with uneven ground and you need to be hyper aware and careful, if you are doing this with children, I recommend only doing so if they are extremely good listeners and understand they need to walk at all times and stay on the inside of the trail. Again, it’s not hard, we didn’t even get out of breath, but it is dangerous if you’re not paying attention. It is however, my favorite view of the whole trip. UNREAL. After this, it was almost 5pm and we knew we didn’t want to do anymore big hikes and be stuck in the evening or darkness so we headed back Pa’rus trail and the kids swam in the river and swung on tree swing into the river again! MAGIC. 

The next day we changed our plan, we wanted to do Angel’s landing and knew we wouldn’t be able to do it late in the day due to it being 100 degrees. So we woke our kids up at 430am, on the road at 5, and we got to the gate at 530 – we were the second car in the line to get into the grotto parking (where the trail head is for emerald pools and angels landing). Within 5-10 minutes there were more than 50 cars behind us. You can check the Zion national park twitter for daily reports on how quickly they closed the parking lot – while we were there, they opened the gates at 6 and the parking lot was full at 615. BUT WE MADE IT. We hiked angles’ landing – well, we hiked to scout’s landing, which is a 2 mile 1000 foot elevation gain hike. YA’LL. This hike is no joke, it is HARD. Think about the incline you’re on if you gain 1000 feet in only 2 miles..it’s entirely straight up the mountain and its intense. We made many stops because we had our 5, 8 and 10 year old – we knew we needed to pace ourselves and enjoy the hike, we were in no rush. You can make it to the top in 45 minutes to an hour if you absolutely book it like many do, we were lapped many times. It took us 75 minutes to get to the top – when you get to the top, it’s insane. 1000ft up and you’re just chillin on the edge of the cliff – no railing, no rope, just you and the 1000 foot fall and your own choice for where you stand. I won’t lie, this part made me a little nervous – my 5 year old is a mover and shaker and having him not play around up there after that hike, was tricky. I was a little panicky 😛 from here you can continue up another .5 mile to the very top – angel’s landing, it’s insane and you have to hold on to chains to get to the top – kids shouldn’t do this at all, chris and I would have done it I think…had it been open. It was closed due to COVID because you have to physically hold on to chains the whole time and people can’t be touching things like that these days. The way down is hard on the body…1000 foot decline is hard to walk normally. BUT I’M GETTING OLD. 😛 

After this, we really wanted to try to make it up to the narrows – this area is the hard one to get into, where they only allow 30 cars up. You can always walk to it or ride your bike though…so we decided after realizing we were never gonna make it in with our car unless we just say in our car and waited for the chance, so we hopped on our bikes and rode the 2.9 mile ride to the river side walk, then we walked the 1.5 mile river side walk along the river and ended up at the trail head for the narrows. You can research the narrows – it rated in the top 10 hikes in the world. If you want to attempt this, rent the gear in spring dale – you’ll need hiking boots, neoprene socks and a walking stick. You have to walk 2 miles in the actual river which is described as walking on slipper bowling balls in ice cold water. If you’re not prepared with gear hypothermia and frostbite can occur. We really want to go back and do this hike to the narrows – but like I said, we had gotten into the park at 530am and the rental gear places weren’t open and if we left to go back, we probably wouldn’t have gotten back in. If you have bigger kids, I would totally recommend doing the narrows with gear!! NEXT TIME for us! 🙂 Ok, so after we played in the narrows trail head for a few hours, we made the 1.5 mile hike back to our bikes, and then rode the 2.9 mile ride back to our car. This was a 12 mile day for our family and we were absolutely destroyed at this point. Lol my watch said I burned 1200 calories that day. EXCUSE ME. On the way out we ate at whiptail grill – right outside the park, it’s Mexican and it was SO GOOD. I might have eaten back the 1200 calories I burned. 

The last day we knew we wanted to do cliff jumping at sand hollow state park – so we got up and headed there about 9 am. You can ask them at the gate where the cliff jumping rocks are and they’ll tell ya. We parked and made the 5 minute walk to the cliffs and jumped in the lake. This was definitely a highlight for us! 🙂 Looks like a mini lake Powell! You can rent wave runners, kayaks and stand up paddle boards at this lake and if you have 4 wheel drive you can drive down the sand and park right at the water! 🙂 We only spent a few hours here because this was the day we said we would be at home enjoying the house and relaxing together before the drive home. So we headed back to the cottage, got some food from river roasters and put the sprinkler and water slide up, grabbed a bottle of wine and enjoyed breathing each other in. We finished the night with setting up the outdoor movie set up on the grass with blankets and pillows and popcorn. GOOD GRIEF…maybe the best vacation of my life. So perfectly sweet and simple. 

A few random questions I got – we didn’t buy the kids new hiking boots. We had some from going to joshua tree national park last year – they weren’t expensive, I got them at Nordstrom rack. But truth be told, Zion hikes for kids are pretty chill. Most paths are easy and just tennis shoes are ok!! I told my family I would rather get everyone those TEVA sandals for hikes so you can walk in the river! 🙂 

We did bring 4 camel baks – we each wore one except my youngest. There are water refill stations in the national park and we refilled those hydration packs multiple times. We packed some apple sauces and energy bars and sadnwiches. We always keep motrin, benedyl and epi pens in our bags. I travelled with my big camera, and my gopro! 🙂 Ok now for photos. 90% of these photos are just iPhone pics. The last ones are big camera.

If you want more info or to see behind the scenes, on my instagram I have 2 highlights called Zion and Zion ii. iPhone photos first :