Growing up, virtually the only family vacations we took were camping trips. All 9 of us would pile into our massive, blue Chevy Beauville at 2am and my dad would drive into the sunrise so we would reach our destination by breakfast. Now that I'm a parent, I can completely understand how driving in a quiet car and watching a beautiful sunrise would be heaven compared to the alternative of traveling with kids- driving all day with 7 loud kids, making up songs and hanging signs in the windows for passerby's to see as they sped along far faster than we were. Nobody will ever know how many bathroom breaks he avoided this way too...
From birth, I've always been a bit of a diva. I have pictures of me toddling around as a baby with a purse and lipstick, and could never understand as a kid why you would sleep in a leaky camper when there was a perfectly good hotel in town. Don't get me wrong, I love being outside as long as I can sleep in a real bed at night and take a long, hot shower the next morning. I like my temperature regulated bedrooms and high-pressure faucets thank you very much. Even though I moaned and groaned as a kid and vowed to never go camping as an adult.... like never, this past year I've found myself wanting to get outdoors, get back to basics and get my kids outside. Here in Utah, we live close to amazing canyons (I actually live at the mouth of one and rarely hike up it) beautiful mountains, and some of the most surreal, natural places in the country.
So, over Labor Day weekend, we decided to take our first family "camping trip" to Zions National Park. Since we have virtually no camping equipment and I'm still not 100% sold on the tent aspect, we opted for a luxe condo at Brian Head Resort that was right across from a restaurant, zip-line, Jacuzzi and just an hour drive into Zions each morning.
The first day was amazing. We came in late the night before, woke up on memory foam mattresses, packed a lunch and snacks, and were off to see The Cedar Breaks by 9:30. The kids thought it was amazing and even though it was chilly, stood and took it all in for longer than I expected. To see the striking difference between the bright red cliffs and evergreen pines is really incredible. I can't think of anywhere else in the world like it.
Next, we made the drive into Zions. We didn't really have much of a plan, so drove through and when a spot of the road opened up, parked and went exploring. The kids named the park "Dr. Seuss Land" and they loved being able to explore and climb to their hearts content. We wandered and found a beautiful waterfall, climbed it, built a sand house, and took slow-motion videos of the kids jumping through the bright-red sand. It was just crowded enough that you didn't feel isolated but still empty enough that you could just relax and let the kids explore. The kids got to just be kids.
The red cliffs and incredible shapes really do make this place amazing. Now that we've been, we don't know why we couldn't get here sooner and are making plans to go back without the kids so we can take on the harder, my extreme hikes. Angels Landing here we come!
We spent the entire day driving through the park, finding the perfect climbing spot, and heading out to tackle it. Hundreds of other cars were doing the same. At one location a photographer ran past us saying, "Big Horn Sheep! 100 yards ahead!" We took just a few steps and sure enough, we were staring at a massive, beautiful big horn sheep. The kids were totally and completely mesmerized. We ended up leaving that location so we wouldn't scare or intimidate the family of sheep. When it comes down to it, this is their home and we are just visiting.
On the way home that night, we stopped by the cutest little rock shop and bought a coffee. The sweet women who owned the shop showed us where to drive to collect natural geodes straight out of the ground. The kids got really, really excited and we made plans to go exploring more the next day.
Back at the condo, Jon and I really planned out the next day's agenda. We would get moving earlier and bring more layering pieces. (It can be really cold in the morning and extremely hot in the sun.) Our first stop would be Cedar Breaks again and then we'd catch a free shuttle in Zions to hike The Narrows and go geode hunting on the way home. We'd be back for dinner, unwind in the Jacuzzi and have the kids in bed before too late. Sounds good right?
We set off on our way, stayed at Cedar Breaks a bit longer, and were in line to catch a shuttle by lunch. Unless you are on the shuttle first thing in the morning, be prepared to wait awhile and eat in line. It does give you a great opportunity to reapply sunscreen, go back over any rules you made with the kids, make sure everyone is hydrated and doesn't have to pee etc. The kids loved riding the bus without their car seats and every time we saw anything flying, they just knew it was bald eagle or something else magnificent.
Hiking The Narrows with kids was incredible. When you are in The Narrows, you are literally surrounded by massive red cliffs while walking through a shallow river. The trail literally is the river. Baby Zoe stayed in a carrier the entire time since sometimes the current can get a little strong and some sections drop into 3' deep pools. It was no big deal for my 6 and 7 year olds, but I'd rather be safe with a toddler. We toddled around, resembling the walking dead for about 3 miles and then headed back. Seriously though, the Zion Narrows look like a giant zombie apocalypse with all the stiff, slow people awkwardly wading over smooth, round boulders. You'll envy everyone with a walking stick- and the pros that show up with 2 never seem to stumble.
The drive home was a very different story....
We actually never made it back to the condo that night.
My next post will share the details of the following day and the process of getting back home to Salt Lake City safely. Until then, don't worry- everyone is healthy, fine, and safe. We learned a lot and have some very useful tips for the next time you take a road trip with kids.