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Memorial Day Weekend at Zion National Park

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What did you get up to Memorial Day weekend? Normally our clan wouldn’t really do anything special. Possibly we would barbecue or visit friends. If I was back home in Pennsylvania I might visit a few graves, but here in Utah I’ve not got any loved ones to see.

Mark and I had been talking for ages about visiting one of Utah’s five national parks, and we really wanted to get down to Zion National Park before the weather got too hot. So when I saw a Groupon for 60% off a stay at a hotel in St George, I hopped on and booked us two nights so we could take the kids on a mini vacation.

We had planned to head out first thing Saturday morning (it’s a five hour drive without stops), but I’d totally forgotten that Mark and I had signed up to run Color Me Rad 5k that day. So we adjusted our plans a little bit so that we’d leave a little later in the morning. Then, in a further change of plans we invited my mother in law to come with us, and she was happy to tag along. All this to say that we didn’t end up leaving Salt Lake until later in the day Saturday. Ah well.

It turned out the hotel we had booked was not exactly what I imagined. It had been advertised as an award winning hotel near the red bluffs. But it was actually a motel. It also advertised being a double queen room with a pull out couch (so could easily accommodate the three kids, mother in law and us), but it turned out the couch was just a couch. When I inquired they said Groupon rates didn’t include the pullout. That first night was… frustrating to say the least! But we dealt with it. They were fully booked so we couldn’t even get a second room until the next day. Them’s the breaks!

Sunday we got a later start than we wanted, but we were in time to drop my mother in law at church in Springdale. We planned to get up to the canyon with the kids and she’d take the shuttle up when church was finished. So off we headed, but it was a little stressful as traffic going in was queued up for miles! Parking was limited, so it took us over an hour to get into the park and find a spot to leave the car. We got the kids out and into carriers and began trying to figure out where to go.

How cool is this?! Day 1 vs Day 2 seeing this amazing formation.

As you can imagine, hiking with three small kids is a bit difficult. Not to mention that I am nursing double heel injuries which meant I was limping pretty badly. And to top it off I am also incredibly unfit – more so than I’d imagined, so I was struggling to keep up how I wanted to.

Still, we took the tram halfway up the canyon to Zion Lodge and hiked up a trail to visit the Lower Emerald Pool, featuring an amazingly beautiful waterfall. It was about a mile round trip with a change of elevation of about 69 feet. Not too strenuous normally but carrying a baby and toddlers made it a bit difficult. Plus it was a pretty overcast and rainy day, which made for slow going and slippery paths – though the sun shining through the misty clouds above the mountains were spectacular to see.

We did have to stop and take a break close to the top because the baby needed feeding. I found a nice little rock to brace against so I could nurse him while the kids had fun climbing and sliding down a sheer cliff face.

Once we had finished our hike, we met up with Mark’s mom, about three and a half hours after we’d left her. She was waiting at Zion Lodge, and we decided to have lunch at the Red Rock Grill. The adults opted for the taco bar, and the kids decided to waste money by ordering expensive meals that they didn’t bother eating. Ah, the joys of kids, eh?

By this point Dan was becoming severely unruly as he was so exhausted, and we knew if he didn’t get a nap we would have trouble on our hands. We decided to head back down to the car and drive through the canyons for a while to let the kids sleep.

What an amazing experience. Going slowly up the winding mountain roads, seeing the natural beauty of the rocks. Imagining how these stones looked 100 or 1000 years ago. We saw stunning vistas of vermilion, pink and white, and we stopped several times to photograph the majesty around us. We drove through a mile long tunnel punctuated by small windows every few hundred feet that looked out into the vast forever of the Park.

It was indescribable.

By the end of our drive, we were getting hungry again, and it was later in the day than we had imagined, so we headed back to St George. We stopped at IHOP for dinner and then Mark took the kids to the swimming pool so I could get some work done. We headed to bed early.

On Monday we were determined to get to the park early and make the most of the day since we would have to leave by three in order to get back home before too late.  We did better than on Saturday but we were still later than we had planned. I think that most folk were taking advantage of the holiday weekend to visit the park, so it was slightly less busy than it had been the day before, but I heard our driver say there were 42000 people there! By 10 am!

This time we headed straight up to the top of the canyon to the Temple of Sinawava. This is where hardcore hikers go to test their mettle at The Narrows, but we were there to do the Riverside Trail, which is a two mile round trip and mostly paved. But once again plans were scuppered by kids. Dex decided he was starving (he’d refused his waffle at breakfast), and we realized that we had left our food packs in the car. D’oh! We urged them forward anyway, and we found a small little sandbar along the Virgin River, and we sat down to feed the baby and let the older boys play. We spent about an hour exploring the area and watching them throw rocks into the river over and over. It was actually quite cute. We tried to urge them back onto the trail to go for our planned hike, but they weren’t having it. They only wanted to play. 

Eventually we talked them into going for food, so we headed once again to Zion Lodge to order up some quick food. We threw ourselves down on the sprawling lawn outside the Lodge and had an impromptu picnic. The kids ran around, enjoying the sunshine and green grass. It was adorable to watch them.

We were hoping to get in another trail since our first had been a fail, but unfortunately we knew we had a deadline when we’d have to leave the park so we could get home before too late, and it was fast approaching that time. Everything takes so much longer with kids! In the end, I was actually glad we left when we did, as the buses back down to the Visitor’s Center were SUPER crowded, and we had to wait for AGES to find one we could actually board. By the time we got back to the car, it was our original time to leave anyway!

At the end of the day, we could have spent a whole week at Zion and still not got to do everything we wanted. But we had an amazing time anyway, and the kids haven’t stopped talking about it since! They really and truly loved going there and seeing the “big rocks” and “beach.”

Mark and I would love to have the chance to go back without the kids in tow so we could try some of the harder hikes. If you’ve ever seen photos of Zion National Park, you’ll know there are some INCREDIBLE vistas to be experienced if you’re willing to put in the effort to get there. My bucket list got a little longer since we went, and I am determined to make it to Observation Point and Angels Landing at some point.

I can see us returning as a family again soon, and I think I may book Mark and I a weekend down there at some point for some quality bonding time.

Have you ever been to Zion? What’s your favorite National Park?

* This post originally appeared on amotherthing.com

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