Top 10 Family-Friendly Hikes in Utah's National Parks

With so many destinations, and so many trails, it can be difficult to decide where to begin in Utah's Mighty 5® national parks. Here are 10 hikes, two per national park, that are fun for the whole family.

Zion National Park   |  Alison Vagnini

Year-round, Utah's red rock country lures families from all over the world to experience what will surely be among their top 10 hikes of all time (Read: Why Your Kids Need a Utah Trip). With so many destinations, and so many trails, it can be difficult to decide where to begin in Utah's Mighty 5® national parks. Here are 10 hikes, two per national park, that are fun for the whole family.

Please note that these popular trails can have limited parking at the trailhead, particularly Mossy Cave, which is not accessible via the park shuttle. Practice responsible travel and consult the visitor center if the day requires an alternative hike. Start early in the morning for the least crowded experience.


Navajo Loop in Bryce Canyon National Park

Photo: Matt Morgan

1. Navajo Loop Trail

Bryce Canyon National Park

One of the best ways to see Bryce Canyon. From Sunset Point descend into Bryce Canyon on the Navajo Loop trail. Though slightly steeper, with 550 feet of elevation change (167 meters) the Navajo Loop is shorter, at 1.3 miles (2.2 km). Good hiking boots are definitely recommended for the whole family to help you navigate the loose gravel. If you have time, continue along the Queen's Garden trail for the best family-friendly, round-trip access to Bryce Canyon. The trail adds about 1.8 miles (3 km) and rises 320 feet back up to Sunrise Point. Alternatively, the park recommends taking the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop combination from Sunrise Point to the canyon floor then returning up the Navajo Trail. Depending on the pace your family takes, the approximately 3 miles (4.6 km) of the combination hike will take about three hours. Bonus Points if you add on Queens Garden.

Landscape Arch in Arches National Park

Photo: Angie Payne

2. Landscape Arch

Arches National Park

Landscape Arch in Arches National Park appears very fragile. Indeed, since the early nineties, several large slabs of rock have fallen from the thinning ribbon of the arch, which is about an American football field in length. At 306 feet, Landscape Arch is the longest arch in North America. The popular trail is 1.8 miles round trip (2.9 km) and can be accomplished in under an hour. If the kids are game, there are a couple of side trips with plenty to explore. This trail is an especially delightful alternative if the road to Delicate Arch is looking a little too busy. And remember, if you're visiting Arches from April to October, between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., you'll need a timed entry ticket.

Park Avenue Trail in Arches National Park

Photo: National Park Service

3. Park Avenue Trail

Arches National Park

The Park Avenue Trail is most aptly named for New York City’s famous street. Early travelers noticed a similarity between these sandstone spires and the famous skyscrapers along New York’s Park Avenue, and the name stuck. The main difference, of course, is that the “skyscrapers” of Arches National Park were sculpted by nature. You’ll really be missing something if you leave Arches without taking this short hike, it's 2 miles out and back. While you can see the Courthouse Towers, Tower of Babel, Three Gossips, the Organ, and other grand “skyscrapers” from the scenic drive, walking among them can't be beat. Remember to pack water for the whole family. and be aware that daytime temperatures in the peak of summer can exceed 100 F (38 C).

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park

4. Mesa Arch

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky District

The Mesa Arch trail can be completed in 30 minutes, but go for sunrise and you'll want to linger awhile among amateur and professional photographers as the rising sun sets fire to the rock, drawing out the brilliant colors of Canyonlands National Park. Perched on a cliff's edge, Mesa Arch frames the startlingly vast expanse of Canyonlands. The half-mile trip (.8 km) is a must-hike trail in Canyonlands. To avoid the sunrise crowds, visit Mesa Arch at other times throughout the day.

Mossy Cave Trail near Bryce Canyon National Park

Photo: James Phelps

5. Mossy Cave Trail

Bryce Canyon National Park

At under a mile (1.5 km), Mossy Cave is actually just outside Bryce Canyon. It's a nice introduction to the national park's distinctive red rock formations and also a great short hike to fill in part of the day. Smaller children will enjoy splashing around in the stream that follows the trail but the cavern itself is not accessible. As the trail has gained popularity, however, access can be limited. Please avoid the area if it is highly trafficked at the time of your visit as parking on the street creates unsafe conditions. Very often, earlier in the morning is better.

Cave Spring Trail in Canyonlands National Park

Photo: Casey Schreiner / Modern Hiker

6. Cave Spring Trail

Canyonlands National Park's Needles District

This wonderful, short trail is a delight for everyone. At just over half a mile (1 km), this Canyonlands gem can be hiked in about 45 minutes, but still pack plenty of water as it doesn't take long to get thirsty in the hot, dry climate. Follow in the footsteps of cowboys and take to the slickrock on this well-marked trail, which is important to protect the cryptobiotic soil. Cattlemen settled the area in the late 19th century and Cave Spring offers a glimpse into their life in an area that once incredibly remote. Petroglyphs point to even more distant history. There is little elevation change and a couple of ladders are the only obstacle that smaller children may need to be carried up.

Grand Wash Trail in Capitol Reef National Park

Photo: Matt Morgan

7. Grand Wash

Capitol Reef National Park

The Grand Wash in Capitol Reef National Park is accessed from a trailhead on Highway 24. The elevation change of only 200 feet (61 meters) with sheer canyon walls on either side and great scenery means not very steep and a lot of fun for the whole family. It's 2.5 miles one way (4 kilometers) but you can go as far as the kids are willing then turn back.

Hickman Bridge Trail in Capitol Reef National Park

Photo: Andrew Burr

8. Hickman Bridge Trail

Capitol Reef National Park

There is a rockfall hazard associated with Hickman Bridge and the climb begins strenuously, but the remainder of the hike is quite moderate and only about a mile one way to the base of a massive 133-foot wide (40 meters) natural bridge that towers 125 feet (38 meters) into the air. In about an hour (1.8 miles/2.9 km), this self-guided nature trail is a marvelous introduction to Capitol Reef's truly astonishing geology. Refresh your family with a stop near Fruita during harvest season (middle of June through October). A self-pay station, scale and sign listing fruit prices is located near the entrance of orchards open for fruit harvest.

Emerald Pools in Zion National Park

9. Upper Emerald Pools

Zion National Park

Access the Upper Emerald Pools Trail in Zion National Park from the Lower Emerald Pools Trail directly across from the Zion Lodge. 2.2 miles (3.5 km). It takes a little longer and is a little steeper trail to reach the upper pools, but it is generally not difficult, even for small children. Return the way you came or take a more adventurous route along the Kayenta Trail, but with caution: there are steep drop offs on the return, which may not be ideal for smaller children. 

Riverside Walk in Zion National Park

Photo: Andrew Burr

10. Riverside Walk 

Zion National Park

The Riverside Walk is a paved, accessible trail that takes about 1.5 hours round trip — but you'll want to spend some time playing in the water if conditions permit, i.e. if it's hot outside and there isn't a flash flood threat (don't worry, there are well-marked indicators).  On the Riverside Walk, you'll get a glimpse deep into the magnificent geology of the canyon the Virgin River carved. It's also the gateway to The Narrows, but a hike into The Narrows is not recommended for children under 16. As always, water and sunscreen should be welcomed into your day pack.  

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