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Why Your Kids Need a Utah Trip

Discover where adventure and learning converge across iconic rivers and ancient canyons.

Written By Kim Heys

Planning an outdoor adventure for kids is a daunting endeavor for any parent. The packing alone can be a hero's feat (Read: Planning Ahead for Your Utah Adventure). But the benefits of exploring wild lands always outweigh the disappointment of a forgotten swimsuit (shorts and a t-shirt will do) or a missing hiking boot (sneakers are just fine). And when you reach that glorious vista view or red rock reservoir, everyone seems to forget that their shoes got dirty, there’s no cell phone reception, or that they’d rather be doing something else. 

The outdoors is inspiring. But if you as the parent planner could use some inspiration for where to go, what to do and how to do it, consider going with a guide. More than just recreation experts, like Utah's park rangers, guides and outfitters can evoke both adventure and learning across the state’s spectacular landscapes. 

Parents and kids are equally amazed by Utah's towering red rock canyons.

Photo: Michelle Craig

Part of preserving wilderness for future generations is teaching children to appreciate and enjoy nature.

Photo: Michelle Craig

Few other rivers offer as a robust collection of world-class rapids, amazing vistas and unique places to explore as the San Juan River.

Photo: Michelle Craig

Where Adventure Meets Education

Utah is well-known for its natural beauty and dramatic outdoor spaces, but take a closer look and you’ll discover the signs and stories left behind by its ancient people — whose descendants make up the state's major Native Nations. And with each sedimentary layer of the great rock canyons, you’ll see millions of years of geological history. Exploring these regions invites kids and adults alike to adventure and to learn. (Read: A Family Drive Through Utah’s Quiet Places)

Guide organizations like the Canyonlands Field Institute (CFI) in Moab have gained national prominence in adventure education, offering multi-day youth programs that traverse Southern Utah’s iconic rivers, ancient canyons and cultural landmarks.

On a recent San Juan River expedition from the southeastern Utah town of Bluff to Mexican Hat, CFI’s marketing and communications director Brennan Patrick Gillis explains, “There's some incredibly strong history in this canyon. And this area has been experiencing human habitation for more than 2,000 years…and a lot of the cultures that lived here are still actively living here, which makes this area even more special because that history is still alive.” (Read: The Voices of Bears Ears)

“A big, huge part of our educational technique is to create opportunities for the kids to experience this area firsthand on their own terms…” says Gillis. And experiencing it firsthand can also mean hearing directly from the diverse and local voices that inhabit the land.

“I just love working with CFI,” says Brandi Atene, a CFI program guide who is also Navajo of the Bitter Water clan and grew up on Navajo Mountain in Navajo Nation. “Because it's education-based and we follow a lot of cultural aspects, land acknowledgment…over left [of the river] is the Navajo Nation.”

“I just like to let kids know when they're out in nature, for me, it means a lot to me,” says Atene. “I'm grateful for my creator and I believe my creator is Mother Earth.”

In Utah, you’ll find a range of native-owned guide companies and outfitters across the state, each offering unique opportunities for deep cultural and regional exploration. (Read: Following the Markings of Native American History)

Navajo guide, Brandi Atene, prepares to share a demonstration of traditional Navajo string games with the participants.

Photo: Michelle Craig

CFI_Canyonlands-Field-Institute-6_San-Juan-River_Rafting_Craig-Michelle_2021

In addition to countless rock imagery sites, you’ll find many ancestral puebloan dwellings in southeastern Utah.

Photo: Michelle Craig

Inspiring Care of Wild Places

In addition to adventure and active learning, guided outdoor expeditions can also help kids gain an appreciation for sustainable visitation and respecting the land (Read: Perks of Going with a Guide). “I believe that in order to be an advocate or a steward of an area, you've got to care about it,” says CFI’s Gillis. “And so what we're trying to do out here is we're trying to give kids the tools to create this connection. And we do that through science. We do it through art. And our hope is that once the kids build this emotional connection, they're going to be able to then come back and experience the area on their own terms.” (Read: How to Visit Rock Imagery Sites Like an Archaeologist)

As your considering guides and outfitters for your trip, look for those that prioritize responsible travel and practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife and be considerate of others. Ranger-led programs at Utah’s state and national parks are also a great way for kids to learn about protecting and preserving our natural world and keeping it Forever Mighty

Ranger-led programs at Utah’s state and national parks are also a great way for kids to learn about protecting and preserving our natural world.

Photo: Michelle Craig

Guided outdoor expeditions can help kids gain an appreciation for sustainable visitation and respecting the land.

Photo: Michelle Craig

Shared adventure with friends and family is an experience your kids won't soon forget.

Photo: Michelle Craig

Connections to Last a Lifetime

Discovering Utah’s spectacular landscapes is sure to leave anyone inspired (Read: Finding Strength and Inspiration Deep in the Utah Desert). But deepening connections with family or peers on a shared adventure may very well be what your child remembers for years to come. “We usually have these closing ceremonies where we give kids an opportunity to tell each other bits and pieces about how they've grown to respect each other over the course of the trip” says CFI’s Gillis. “Being able to see your best friend succeeding in a totally different context can definitely increase that respect and build and deepen that connection.“

Traveling to outlying and quiet places also provides a unique opportunity to connect with one’s self. “The canyon walls are so big and it's so remote. And what I really crave when I am outdoors is finding places that put my existence as a human being in perspective. It's just the scale of the Earth and sharing that with other people. Because we are so small, but we don't often get to experience that smallness,” says CFI program guide Mollye Zahler.

While the options for outdoor adventure may be endless, Utah really offers a unique opportunity to pair that adventure with learning and connection. So the next time you find yourself needing the inspiration to get the kids outdoors, just remember that Utah’s wild lands and expert guides are here to help.

Take the Next Step

Traveling With Children in Utah

A good family adventure vacation often begins in Salt Lake City, with a visit to the stunning Natural History Museum of Utah to set the context. From there, set out on any of our family-oriented itineraries to explore Utah's world-class outdoor recreation and spectacular landscapes.

See Tips for Family Travel in Utah

01

5 Days

Southern Dinos and Goblins

From fossils and petroglyphs to slot canyons and goblins, you’ll have four days of “oohs” and “ahhs” for the whole adventuring family.

Dinosaurs, Hiking, History and Heritage, Kid-Friendly, Scenic Drives/Road Trips

Highlights

See Itinerary

02

6 Days

Sandstone Spires & Swimming Holes

Walk the paths of dinosaurs and descend through 200 million years of geologic history in this six-day road trip from Vernal to Kodachrome Basin. It’s a kid-friendly desert drive in search of dino tracks, slot canyons and swimming,

Dinosaurs, Hiking, History and Heritage, Kid-Friendly, Scenic Drives/Road Trips

Highlights

See Itinerary

03

3 Days

A Family Road Trip From Las Vegas to Zion National Park

A three-day weekend is a perfect start in exploring the Wild West of Zion National Park and Southern Utah. This family-friendly road trip pairs a big helping of adventure with new discoveries in Southern Utah’s frontier for a weekend you and the kids won’t soon forget.

Camping & Backpacking, Hiking, History and Heritage, Scenic Drives/Road Trips

Highlights

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