If you’ve ever been to Bryce National Park – you know that it’s just a short drive from Zion National Park and it would be irresponsible to not visit both!

My love for Zion runs deep – ever since my college days when I spent three summers working at a dude ranch on the east entrance. The one thing I don’t love about Zion is just how busy its become – a stark contrast to the park I became familiar with almost 20 years ago. It is the 4th busiest national park – and a word to the wise – national parks were not set up for “busy”! We were hopeful that with covid…and a downtrend in international visitors…and going on a Thursday in October we would beat some crowds. We purchased our shuttle tickets in advance (a new requirement during covid) and I naively thought this meant we would be good.

When we arrived to board the shuttle, the visitor’s center lot was full. We were then informed that they removed 4 of the shuttles stops so the only location you can get on is at the visitor’s center (another covid change). We drove around for a little bit hoping for a spot to open up and it didn’t. So we drove into the park a little more until we finally found some side of the road parking. But it presented one major problem: It was a mile and a half walk with all our kids to get back to the visitor’s center to board the shuttle. The other option was to drive back out of the park and park in Springdale which also presented a bit of a hike to the visitor’s center (Thanks to shuttle routes being closed). We really wanted to get on the shuttle – its the only way up the canyon – but it wasn’t worth the three mile round trip hike with our children’s little legs.

So we improvised. We drove another mile into the park, found some parking on the side of the road and we started marching the troops into the unknown. There was a pretty defined trail that we followed. And then it turned into back country exploring. We saw a few other hikers that promised the view was worth it if we kept venturing deeper into the canyon.

We hit a shaded spot that offered so many things for our little kids to explore that I figured that would be the end of our journey. Some of the older kids went further to explore and a short while later they came back and insisted we follow them back to the spot they found. It was a little dicey with a four-year-old but he made it without any problems and we landed at a beautiful waterfall surrounded by weeping rocks. The road less traveled paid off!

After our 2 1/2 hour impromptu hike, we drove east through the park and through the tunnel to hike Canyon Overlook. This is a relatively easy hike with a rewarding view. We’ve hiked it as a family before but it’s been a few years; I carried Briggs as a newborn and Steve carried Cannon in a backpack. Hiking has become far more enjoyable now that we don’t have to carry any kids! Although there is a fenced observation point, it has some sketchy areas and we kept the kids on a tight leash while at the top.

After Canyon Overlook, we continued to head east through the park. I was quickly reminded that the east side of the park is not nearly as popular and yet it has so much to offer and we never spend enough time exploring this section. We need to head back just to spend some time at checkerboard mesa or many pools. We ended up driving to Kanab for the night, took a quick dip in the pool and went to a fun park.

At the end of our trip (we were gone for a week and a half) Steve points to this day as one of his favorites. Not because he likes Zion more than anywhere else…But because the flow of the day pushed us a long and it was so enjoyable. Sometimes we feel as though we’re fighting against the flow and its exhausting. And sometimes the flow just takes us on a ride (albeit a ride we didn’t necessarily plan and look forward to) that was far better than we could have planned. For Steve, this was that day. It just worked. It worked without fighting and stress and anxiousness. It was not as we had anticipated, but so much better.