I am not sure who was more excited about our Spring Break mother-daughter adventure in Zion National Park. Ok, that is a lie, I was definitely more excited than my tween daughter. Yes, she was looking forward to it – but she went into our 7-days in Zion National Park with only two expectations. She wanted to scramble on rocks and wanted to gaze towards a night sky filled with stars.
But for me? The idea of spending a full seven days in the outdoors – in a place of jaw-dropping beauty and wonder (according to my Instagram research) – had the potential to be one of those trips for the memory books.
Dreaming of Mother-daughter adventure in Zion National Park
I dreamed that our week would leave a lasting narrative that traversed epic adventure and life-changing bonding. I already knew that our mother-daughter travel experiences brought us together – like our last trip to New York City where we could be seen walking hand in hand through Manhattan and over the Brooklyn Bridge, often times with my daughter singing out loud.
So yes, I was hopeful that over the course of our 7-day hiking trip, we’d hike. We’d bond. We’d laugh. Maybe we’d even sing. My heart hoped we’d strengthen our sometimes typically tenuous mother-daughter relationship that I suspect will only get more difficult as we approach the teen years.
While many people spend only a day or two in Zion National Park, usually while visiting the Utah Mighty Five – I’d planned our trip to focus solely the trails in Zion. We were there to hike. To play. To be inspired by our national surroundings. And yes, I dreamed that we’d connect on a deep mother-daughter level that would get us through the upcoming teenage years.
7 days in Zion National Park
What does a mother-daughter adventure in Zion National Park really entail? Did we really need seven full days? The short answer is that a mother-daughter trip – much like a family trip or really any adventure travel trip – involves a bit of planning, and a whole lot of flexibility. My daughter is a fabulous hiker, but I needed to make sure that we were both set up for success with days that would interest both of us and down time every single day. And spending 7 days in Zion was pure magic. We didn’t have to choose between which of the big hikes we’d explore. We had time to do everything we wanted and then some. Yes, we hiked. We laughed. And we sang. But I realized something even more important. Pre-conceived notions and expectations were totally unnecessary. This was a place were being awake and aware were key to appreciating the red hues, the layers of sandstone and the powerful Virgin River that cut through the canyon to form the 229-square mile park. It beckoned us and fed our thirst for exploration without even trying.
And the mother-daughter dreams that I had? The hopes? Yes, we hiked. We laughed. And we sang. But I realized something even more important. Pre-conceived notions and expectations were totally unnecessary. This was a place were being awake and aware were key to appreciating the red hues, the layers of sandstone and the powerful Virgin River that cut through the canyon to form the 229-square mile park. It beckoned us and fed our thirst for exploration without even trying.
I’ll never forget listening to my 11-year-old sing “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas as we waded through the Virgin River through the area known as the Narrows, our bodies covered in dry gear while we tried to distract our brains from the freezing water temperature that permeated our shoes and neoprene socks. Nor will either of us ever look at each other the same way after earning mutual respect while we descended a 60-foot rappel or held each other on belay during our canyoneering adventure day. And I’ll be forever grateful that she distracted herself (and me) when she sang a mashup of the Pitch Perfect soundtrack while dancing her way up a steep incline at the end of a long day.
We didn’t visit the museum nor did we sit in the IMAX theater to watch National Parks Adventure (we did, however, drive one hour away to watch Allegiant.) Instead of sleeping in, we rose before sunrise to beat the crowds on trails like the fear of heights inducing Angel’s Landing, the hike-through-water Narrows and the 8-mile Observation Point route. We ventured off the main trails on the Eastern side of the park until dark clouds loomed in the distance making our idea of exploring off-trail canyons, not the smartest proposition. And, perhaps my favorite of our non-typical moments, we practiced yoga on ledges and sat criss-cross, applesauce to meditate. (Until my daughter honestly noted that while meditation might be my happy place, hers was singing. So maybe we could pass on the breathing and mantras. Ok then. Noted.)
I didn’t realize how much our mother-daughter adventure in Zion National Park was exactly what we needed until the last night when the weather conspired to create a cloud-free night, perfect for stargazing. My daughter is a star person. I’m not, but I am a camera person (or wanna-be) – so being able to practice my night sky photography jived perfectly with her dream of seeing the Milky Way. Full of awe and astronomical inspiration, I could feel a softening in her while we strolled. Like I’d broken through the “I’m too cool for my mom” vibes. We walked through the camp area suddenly wishing we had a tent and campfire to go back to instead of our hotel room. I even learned a secret or two of hers without any coercion (I had to promise I’d never tell, but ahem…let’s just say there was a cute fifth-grade boy who also has a great personality).
Will this be one of those trips that she remembers forever and ever? I hope so. But it almost doesn’t even matter. We’d bonded. We learned to trust and respect each other even more. And despite the fact that once we landed at Dulles airport, the eye rolling and tween attitude had re-appeared, we’d filled up on Zion-inspired mother-daughter moments that I’ll replay in my mind when days start to fill with girl drama.
Where to stay in Springdale, Utah:
I spent weeks trying to decide between hotels in Springdale, Utah and Zion National Park. I chose to reserve a one-bedroom suite at Cable Mountain Lodge and am so glad I did. With a well-equipped kitchen, pool and a location just steps away from the Park entrance – I cannot imagine staying anywhere else. We had the best of both worlds – being able to walk into the park (rather than relying on the convenient shuttle that runs through town) and walk to dinner when we wanted to eat out. Oh…and as a bonus…staying at the Cable Mountain Lodge gives you a discount in the village stores, including a small grocery/convenience store.
Where to eat:
Our plan had been to blend eating out and staying in. We’d stocked up on groceries in Las Vegas at Whole Foods before making the drive. By the end of out trip, We had two favorite restaurants. Cafe Soleil was our go-to for a smoothie, salad or sandwich. We went in the afternoons after hiking and even ordered take out on the nights that we wanted to stay in but didn’t want to cook. And while we’d heard great things about the Whiptail Grill, we waited until our last night – which was sad because we would have eaten there multiple times had we known how good it really was.
I knew that we wanted to spend one day learning about canyoneering. We considered rock climbing as well, but decided that rock climbing was something that we could do at home – while canyoneering was as readily available. After researching multiple adventure outfitters, I chose to plan our adventure day with Zion Adventure Company. They offer multiple programs including full and half-day options and make special considerations for families (keeping the groups small and in many cases – private). Our guide – Jon Ritze – led us through two canyons just outside the boundaries of Zion National Park and empowered both my daughter and I to learn and trust ourselves, but also each other.
Want to plan a family trip to Zion? Here are a few more ideas of what to do with kids in Zion National Park.