We visited Zion National Park during Spring Break, and toward the end of the week, we started to notice more and more people arriving. There were lines to enter the park, as well as to get on the shuttle, and we weren’t even there during the peak summer season. We love this national park, and you can read all about our tips for visiting Zion with kids, but if you are looking for an escape from the busy park, we have put together a list of activities you can do with your family near Zion National Park.
Most are FREE, but all are close enough to visit when you need a break from the crowds. We’ve also given you the number of minutes from Zion’s gate to each side adventure. And here is a Zion Bingo sheet that we used with our kids while exploring Zion and the surrounding area. Click on each link for full information and pictures.
West Side of Zion
This restored ghost town is a located outside of Rockville, which is just a few miles away from Springdale. There is an old pioneer cemetery as well as a schoolhouse and homes. It is in a beautiful location, but you do have to travel on well-maintained dirt roads to get there. [20 minutes from Visitor’s Center]
This is a FREE section of Zion National Park, and not to be confused with Kolob Canyon located on the 1-15. This road (turn off found in Virgin) leads to a lot of backcountry hikes such as The Subway, but does not have as many kid-friendly hikes. We drove this road to the end and found a beautiful Kolob Reservoir that was covered in ice in April, but in the summer would be a fun place to throw rocks and cool your feet off. [18 minutes from Visitor’s Center to turnoff for the drive]
This is a fun stop along the road from Hurricane to Zion. Fort Zion is actually in the town of Virgin and you can’t miss it as you drive by. We stopped to see what the fun buildings were all about. There is a petting zoo and some Wild West buildings that kids can play in, as well as a gift shop and restaurant. It cost $1/person to go to the petting zoo area, and it’s a great place to let the kids out of the car for awhile. [15 minutes from Visitor’s Center]
This historic park and museum are located on the main road through Hurricane. The museum is FREE and has some fun displays including a 100 year old wedding cake! Outside, there are some pioneer farm tools and wagons, but this historic place is also connected to a playground and splash pad. [28 minutes from the Visitor’s Center]
It’s virtually impossible to see a mojave desert tortoise, but that didn’t stop us from trying! Check out the results of our endeavor and see if you can spot a tortoise at the preserve. [This place is huge, but we accessed it in Hurricane which is 28 minutes from Zion]
This has become one of our favorite water state parks. It is beautiful. There are red sandy beaches on one side of the reservoir, and on the other side is slick rock to climb on and throw rocks from. We spent a morning here enjoying the crystal clear water and beautiful red rocks. You can bring ATVs to this state park as well. [45 minutes from Visitor’s Center]
East Side of Zion
This amazing beginner slot canyon is found in Orderville, a few miles north of the Mt. Carmel Junction on the east side of Zion National Park. This was our boys favorite adventure outside of Zion and if you’ve never hiked a slot canyon, this is the perfect one to begin with! Only 1.0 mile roundtrip and completely flat. [21 minutes from east gate]
Belly of the Dragon is a man-made tunnel near the east entrance of Zion. Walking through the sandstone tunnel feels like you are entering the belly of a large beast. It is a fun stop along the US-89 when exploring the area. [17 minutes from the East entrance]
You can visit an arch right near Zion. The Sand Dune Arch is just a few minutes from the Belly of the Dragon. This arch is an easy hike through some sand to a beautiful arch that you can walk right beneath. There are some fun rocks to climb around here, too. [25 minutes from east entrance]
The Moqui Caverns or Kanab Sand Caves are another free stop near Kanab. These caves were created by miners decades ago when they mined the sand for glass. The caverns are quite large and they are fun to explore. This adventure requires some climbing over sandy slick rock, so make sure to wear shoes with good traction. [26 minutes from the East entrance]
This museum is home to old west movie sets from films that were filmed in Utah. This is a FREE museum behind a large gift shop in Kanab, and you will be amazed that what looks like a home in a movie is just a front with some sticks to hold it up. [33 minutes from east gate]
This park is located in Kanab and is beautiful. It has a wonderful playground, picnic tables, bathrooms, lots of grass, and shade, and some fun displays like an old windmill weather vane. We had a picnic lunch here one afternoon and enjoyed every minute at this great park. [33 minutes from east gate]
Otherwise known as “The Big Sandbox” in our house. The sand in Coral Pink Sand Dunes might not actually be as pink as much as they are orange, but it is soft and amazing. We brought our sand toys, and this kept the kids entertained for hours. [38 minutes from the east gate]
This adventure isn’t in Utah, but it’s not too far from Zion. Just over the border into Arizona, Pipe Spring became home to pioneers escaping from the law because of polygamy. The fort is built on top of the spring and right into the hillside. They have a great tour of the fort and a Junior Ranger program for the kids. [56 minutes from east gate]
For other ideas in the Kanab area (east side of Zion), check out our Things to do in Kanab post. And for other ideas in the St. George area (west side of Zion), use our Things to do in St. George Post.