The best Southwest national and state parks for kids
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
There are hundreds of national and state parks in the United States, offering countless adventures for your family. And, while many of them were temporarily closed or open with limited access to due the novel coronavirus, more and more parks are opening back up so you can see their beauty firsthand. Always contact the park before heading out to be sure the sights you’re interested in are open and accessible.
When visiting national and state parks in the Southwest USA most people fly into Phoenix, Las Vegas, or Salt Lake City. When we visited last year, we used miles earned from our Chase Sapphire Reserve® to fly into Las Vegas McCarran International Airport. Arriving late at night, we used Hilton Honors points to stay at the DoubleTree by Hilton Las Vegas Airport location.
For hotel stays only one chain has a property near every park we visited: Best Western. Unfortunately, the chain doesn’t have any transfer partners, but Best Western sometimes offers attractive promotions and will also give status matches to other hotel loyalty programs.
Park entrance fees range anywhere from $3–$35 per vehicle. Since we were visiting three of the 413 parks covered by the America the Beautiful annual pass, we purchased that instead. It costs $80 for unlimited entrance for one year (pass holder plus three adults and any children 16 and under). On just our one-week trip we saved $25. If you have a fourth-grader you can get a pass for free through the Every Kid in a Park program. (See tips to visit America’s national parks for less.)
Here are some of the best Southwest parks to visit with kids and what to do there.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park in Utah is three hours outside of Las Vegas or 4.5 hours from Salt Lake City. Entrance to the park is $35 per vehicle (up to 15 passengers) for seven days. The park offers family programs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and occasionally in March and April. Children ages 6–12 can also participate in Zion’s Junior Ranger Program.
To fully take in the beauty of Zion you’ll need to hike. Not to worry: There are plenty of kid-friendly hikes, including:
- Archeology Trail: 0.4 miles
- Riverside Walk: 2.2 miles and stroller-accessible
- The Grotto Trail: 1 mile
- Pa’rus Trail: 3.5 miles and stroller-accessible
- Weeping Rock Trail: 0.4 miles
- Lower Emerald Pools Trail: 1.2 miles
If hiking isn’t your thing, you can take the scenic drive through the park, although you’ll see significantly less and the drive is only available Oct. 27 through the end of May, minus weekends in November.
Zion National Park Points Hotels
- Hampton Inn & Suites Springdale/Zion National Park — 39k–60k Hilton Honors points
- SpringHill Suites by Marriott Springdale Zion National Park — from 50k Marriott points (standard dates)
- Best Western Plus Zion Canyon Inn & Suites — from 40k Best Western Rewards points
- La Quinta Inns & Suites by Wyndham at Zion Park/Springdale — 30k Wyndham Rewards points
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is also in Utah and only 1.5 hours from Zion National Park or four hours from both Las Vegas and Salt Lake City airports. Admission is also $35 per vehicle. Here kids 3 and up can participate in Bryce Canyon’s Junior Ranger program.
Unlike Zion, you can skip hiking and still see much of Bryce Canyon’s beauty from several viewpoints. You can take the park shuttle (from April 12–October 21) or park near each viewpoint. We visited the viewpoints below on our trip last year when our daughters were 2 and 4 years old.
- Sunset Point
- Sunrise Point
- Inspiration Point
- Bryce Point
In addition, the Rim Trail covers seven-tenths of a mile, connecting Sunset Point to Sunrise Point. It is flat and stroller-friendly.
If you’d like to hike into the canyon to get a closer look, these are the best routes for families:
- The Navajo Loop: 1.3 miles
- Queens Garden Loop: 1.8 miles
- Mossy Cave: 0.8 miles
- Bristlecone Loop: 1 mile
Bryce Canyon National Park Points Hotels
- Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn — 28k Best Western Rewards points
- Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel — 40k Best Western Rewards points
Antelope Canyon isn’t technically a national or state park but part of the Navajo Nation Parks within the Navajo Nation Reservation. Still, if you’re visiting the Southwest you can’t skip this beauty halfway between Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. Antelope Canyon is split into Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. Lower Antelope Canyon requires climbing down a steep ladder so we decided it would be best to limit ourselves with the kids to Upper Antelope Canyon where you can just walk in.
You cannot do a self-guided tour of Antelope Canyon. Guided tours sometimes sell out six months in advance so if you’re visiting during peak season, make a reservation ASAP. Although there aren’t any specific kid components to the canyon tours, both of my daughters were in awe of it. They had a great time trying to make out all the stone shapes of animals and other objects within the canyons.
Antelope Canyon Points Hotels
- Hyatt Place Page/Lake Powell — from 12k World of Hyatt points
- Courtyard by Marriott Page at Lake Powell — from 35k Marriott points per night (for standard dates)
- Hampton Inn & Suites Page – Lake Powell — 36k–50k Hilton Honors points
- Holiday Inn & Suites Page – Lake Powell Area — from 30k IHG Rewards Club points
- Best Western Plus at Lake Powell — 40k Best Western Rewards points
- Best Western View of Lake Powell Hotel — 32k Best Western Rewards points
Grand Canyon South Rim
The most anticipated stop on our Southwest trip was the Grand Canyon. It’s four hours from Las Vegas or 3.5 hours from Phoenix. We visited the South Rim because it is most accessible plus the North Rim is closed during the winter when we visited. Entrance to the park is $35 per vehicle for seven days.
Like Bryce Canyon, you don’t have to do any hiking to see the beauty of the Grand Canyon. This makes it ideal for those with young children. Just pull up to any of the viewpoints and stare out in awe. The Grand Canyon also offers a Junior Ranger Program for kids 4 and up. My 2-year-old even participated, although her older sister helped her out quite a bit.
If you do want to hike with kids, the Rim Trail even offers a paved road, great for strollers. What’s nice about this trail is that if you or your kids get tired, you can always catch one of many shuttles going around the park.
Other fun things for kids to do:
- Take a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway
- Helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon
- Experience the SkyWalk
- Take mule trip into the canyon (kids 9+)
Grand Canyon South Rim Points Hotels
- Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn — 56k Best Western Rewards points
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites Grand Canyon — from 40k IHG Rewards Club points per night
Here’s some more Grand Canyon advice:
- Visiting the Grand Canyon with a family: Where to camp, stay and play
- Best times to visit the Grand Canyon
- Grand Canyon gets new zip line experience
Red Rock State Park
The last stop on our road trip was Red Rock State Park in Sedona, Arizona, just two hours from the Grand Canyon and a little under two hours from Phoenix International Airport. Entrance is also covered by the America the Beautiful annual pass. Otherwise, the cost is $7 for anyone 14 and up, $4 for kids 7–13 and free for kids 6 and under. In Red Rock State Park, the best hikes for families are:
- Eagles Nest Loop
- Apache Fire Loop
- Coyote Ridge Trail
My daughters’ favorite activity in Sedona, however, was our Pink Jeep Tour. They loved every minute of this bumpy ride and we rode to areas only accessible by four-wheel drive. As a parent, my favorite aspect was that the tour company provided children’s’ car seats. Pink Jeep Tours are bookable via the Ultimate Rewards portal.
Red Rock State Park Points Hotels
- Holiday Inn Express Sedona – Oak Creek — from 25k IHG Rewards Club points
- Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock — 56k–60k Hilton Honors points
- Hampton Inn Sedona — 59k–70k Hilton Honors points
- Best Western Inn Plus of Sedona — 32k Best Western Rewards points
There is something special about exploring America’s national and state parks. We didn’t have the time to go everywhere we wanted — parks such as Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Grand Canyon North Rim. We hope to get back.
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