Best Hikes for Kids in Utah’s Big 5 National Parks + Grand Staircase-Escalante

The Best hikes for kids in Utah's Big 5 National Parks.  Hiking in Chesler Park, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Hiking in Chesler Park, Canyonlands National Park

Southern Utah is a favorite destination for tourists and locals alike.  Who can resist giant arches, towering hoodoos, sculpted slot canyons, and rock formations galore?  The good news is that the national parks in southern Utah (namely, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Arches National Park) can also be very kid-friendly, with lots of hikes for children and families of all ages and all hiking skill-levels.

Hiking up Hole in the Rock (technically in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, but accessed through Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument), Utah
Hiking up Hole in the Rock (technically in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, but accessed through Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument)

When I first thought up the idea for this post, I went to my siblings.  “What were your favorite hikes in Bryce Canyon, Zion, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands when you were young?” I asked them.  The trouble was that they kept highlighting hikes in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  So since apparently their best Utah kid-hiking memories are from GSENM, I’m including it along with Utah’s Big 5!

Two children in the bottom of Double O Arch in the Devils Garden Area of Arches National Park, Utah
Two children in the bottom of Double O Arch in the Devils Garden Area of Arches National Park

As a note: While the youngest members of my group are now in their mid-teens (how do they grow up so fast?) we’ve hiked most if not all of these trails with kids as young as two or three years old (younger than that for some, but they were in the baby backpack then!)

Kid-friendly Hikes in Arches National Park

Arches may be the most kid-friendly national park in Utah.  Trails tend to be shorter, and I’ve never met a kid who didn’t like climbing on the slickrock (just know that climbing on the arches isn’t allowed).

Sibling Favorite

Delicate Arch about 30 minutes before sunset, Arches National Park, Utah, family-friendly hikes Arches
Delicate Arch about 30 minutes before sunset

Delicate Arch Trail (3 miles RT)

“It was such a sense of accomplishment,” he said to me.  He was 5 the first time he hiked the trail.  “And there’s such a real reward at the end of the trail.”

Other kid-friendly hikes in Arches:

Park Avenue. PC m01229

Park Avenue (1 mile shuttle/2 miles RT)

Double Arch (0.5 miles RT)

Double Arch, Arches National Park, Utah
Double Arch

Windows/Turret Arch (1 mile multi-spur)

Sand Dune Arch (0.3 miles RT)

Lower Courthouse Wash (up to 6.3 mile shuttle or you can decide how far you want to go)

Kid-friendly Hikes in Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands has three (general) units: Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze.  I’ll be focusing on Island in the Sky and The Needles since they are more accessible than The Maze and don’t require hours of 4x4ing to get there.

Sibling Favorite

Hiking up Whale Rock, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, family-friendly hikes Canyonlands
Hiking up Whale Rock

Whale Rock (Island in the Sky) (1 mile RT)

“I wouldn’t call it a trail,” the back-then-9-year-old told me, “but it’s pretty cool to scramble up a steep slickrock slope the whole way!”  I might mention that back then he climbed everything in sight, from trees and swingsets to windmills and slickrock.  It’s still a great hike for kids of all ages who enjoy a less-than-traditional trail.

Other Kid-friendly Hikes in Canyonlands

Mesa Arch (Island in the Sky) (0.8 miles RT)

Aztec Butte (Island in the Sky) (2 miles RT)

Views from Grand View Point, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Views from Grand View Point

Grand View Point (Island in the Sky) (2 miles RT)

Lathrop Point (4.3 miles RT)

Cave Spring (The Needles) (0.8 miles RT)

Inside of a "Joint," Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Inside of a “Joint”

The Joints* (The Needles) (3 miles or 11 miles RT)

*The non-4×4 route to The Joints is through Chesler Park and is longer than many kids want to hike.  If you have 4×4 and can snag at permit to drive the Elephant Hill Road (considered one of the most technical popular 4×4 trails in Utah), you can get to The Joints Trailhead which is much closer to the fun part – the joints, themselves!

Kid-friendly Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is less-visited than the other parks in Utah’s Big 5.  Many of the hikes are longer, but there are still some great, kid-friendly adventures.

Sibling Favorite

Barn from the orchards in Fruita, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, Family-friendly hikes in Capitol Reef
Barn from the orchards in Fruita

Fruita and the nearby Orchards (varies, but isn’t too long since most of it can be driven or walked)

“In what other national park can you pick fruit with wildlife all around you in a gorgeous canyon surrounded by history?” she asked me.  “The first time we went, I remember the tractors and I remember the sprinklers [in the campground].”  That’s pretty good for someone who was 3 at the time!

Other Kid-friendly Hikes in Capitol Reef

Hickman Bridge. PC Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

Hickman Bridge (2 miles RT)

Cassidy Arch (3.4 miles RT)

Grand Wash (4.6 miles RT)

Kid-friendly Hikes in Bryce Canyon National Park

For whatever reason, Bryce Canyon sticks out in my mind from childhood visits to the American Southwest.  Maybe it was the hoodoos, or maybe it was the drama of having a rock formation named after Queen Victoria.

Parent Favorite

Along the Peek-a-boo Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, Family Friendly hikes in Capitol Reef
Along the Peek-a-boo Trail

Peek-a-boo Trail (5.5 miles RT)

“My kids loved this one,” he said.  “You all had so much fun in all of the formations!”  I remember it as the longest hike we’d ever done up to that time – which was almost more exciting than the views (which were great!)

Other Kid-friendly Hikes in Bryce Canyon

Navajo Trail from Sunset Point, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Navajo Trail from Sunset Point

Sunset to Sunrise Points (0.5 mile shuttle or 1.0 miles RT)

Queen’s Garden and/or Navajo Trail* (3.6 miles RT)

Mossy Cave (0.8 miles RT)

*I highly recommend Wall Street if the kids can do the steep switchbacks (I, at 7 years old, was definitely overawed by the sheer walls).  Otherwise, Queen’s Garden or the other arm of the Navajo Trail may be a better option.

Kid-friendly Hikes in Zion National Park

One of my favorite memories from the first time we went to Zion National Park was the red pavement that makes up the roads.  Who’d ever driven on a red road before?  (Though it sparked a few rounds of “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.”)  There are also some great short hikes in Zion Canyon, usually only accessible by the park shuttle.

Sibling Favorite

A shallow section of The Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah, family-friendly hikes in Zion
A shallow section of The Narrows

The Narrows (2+ miles RT)

The key to enjoying the Narrows is to go when 1) the water isn’t too cold (or it’s just so hot you don’t care) and 2) the flow is low enough that the kids can enjoy it (with older kids this isn’t so much of a problem).  Even if the conditions aren’t ok for swimming, we loved hiking down there to let the kids play in the edge of the Virgin River.

Other Kid-friendly Hikes in Zion National Park

Weeping Rock (0.6 miles RT)

Watchman Trail (3.3 miles RT)

Emerald Pools Loop (3.6 miles RT)

Emerald Pools, Zion National Park, Utah
Emerald Pools. PC Kyle Greenberg

Kid-friendly Trails in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

As I mentioned above, most of my siblings’ favorite childhood hikes in Utah happened in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  (I even remember my 1-year-old sister decided that the Grosvenor Arch parking area was the place to perfect the art of walking.)  So I may get long-winded in this section… but enjoy!

Parent Favorite

Rock formations in Devils Garden, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, family-friendly hikes in Grand Staircase-Escalante
Rock formations in Devils Garden

Devils Garden (varies from short to not long)

“Devils Garden was the best!” she said when I asked about hikes in Utah.  “You guys spent hours there, climbing the formations and wandering around.”  It’s true; we all have many happy memories of wandering around the almost-trailless area to rock formations and arches: each a new discovery as though we were the first to find it.

Sibling Favorite

Narrow section of Spooky Slot, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah
Narrow section of Spooky Slot

Dry Fork Slots (specifically Peek-a-boo and Spooky Canyons) (3.5 miles RT)

“The Dry Fork Slots, of course,” he said when I asked him for his favorite childhood hikes in Utah.  He was a teen by then (which might be why he enjoyed finding a very live tarantula in the Dry Fork Slot), but even the 3-year-old enjoyed hiking through the slots that seem to be more their size than for us adults…

Other Kid-friendly Hikes in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Lower Calf Creek Falls (6.7 miles RT)

Upper Calf Creek Falls (2.7 miles RT)

Upper Calf Creek Falls, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah
Upper Calf Creek Falls

Zebra Slot/Tunnel Slot (5.3-7.2 miles RT)

Grosvenor Arch (0.4 miles RT)

Stream in Coyote Gulch, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah
Stream in Coyote Gulch

Coyote Gulch (4+ trailless miles RT)

20 Mile Dinosaur Tracks (1.2 miles RT)

Do you have any other kid-friendly hikes to add to the list?  Please comment below!  I love hearing from you!

**Please remember that your abilities (not to mention trail conditions) may vary. Don’t try something that is beyond what you want to endure!

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