Zion National Park

Zion National Park

Utah parks: beauty in family-size packages

September 14, 2009, 7:08 am

Five family outings in Utah's parks

Hike the Narrows at Zion: Most school-age kids can handle wading up the Virgin River amid sheer rock walls. Turn back wherever you like -- the river meanders 16 miles north of the trailhead.

Older kids and teens: Rent river boots, a walking staff and a sleeping bag at Zion Adventures or another outfitter and make it an overnight (get a permit and check the weather with a ranger at the visitor center).

Hike Angels Landing at Zion:
The popular trail climbs 2 miles to a sandstone perch with stunning views of Zion Canyon.

Older kids and teens: Scramble the last half-mile to the summit up a narrow ridge that has chains bolted into rocks to guide you. Not for those who fear heights -- the ridge narrows to only a few feet in spots with dizzying drop-offs on both sides.

Raft the Colorado River in Arches and Canyonlands:
Half-day and full-day river trips that skirt the parks are operated by Moab outfitters such as Moab Adventure Center, Adrift Adventures and others. Lively stretches of whitewater and lots of floating opportunities.

Older kids and teens: Outfitters also run kayaks and offer white-knuckle whitewater trips through Cataract Canyon and other river sections over multiple days, with minimum ages typically 10 to 12 years.

Mountain bike in Arches and Canyonlands: Moab's red rock country is mountain bike heaven. Rent bikes and go on your own, or take a guided family ride, such as a sunrise downhill run that starts at Canyonlands or a ride along Klondike Bluffs, where you can see dinosaur tracks along with views of Arches.

Older kids and teens: Longer, more technical rides include the Slickrock Trail and Porcupine Rim outside Moab.

Hike into Bryce Canyon: Rangers here call the Queen's Garden-Navajo Loop trail the "best three-mile family hike in America." A bit of hyperbole, sure, but the scenic trail descends into a limestone quilt of orange, red and pink hoodoos with names like "Thor's Hammer" and "Queen Victoria."

Older kids and teens: Escape the crowds on a more strenuous hike or guided horse ride, such as the seven-mile Peekaboo Loop that drops 800 feet to the bottom of the canyon and then back up to the rim.