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Utah: Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks

Learn about visiting Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks with children.

Exploring Geography at Mama Smiles

Today’s Exploring Geography post comes from Danielle, whose goal is to expose her kids to 52 new experiences this year! 

Zion National Park

Last November, I took my kids to southern Utah for a national park vacation. Utah is home to 5 national parks, but we kept it simple and visited two of them. Both Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks are spectacular, but very different in their appearance.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is known for its beautiful valley, surrounded by cliffs made of many layers of rock. The canyon that is the center of the park was carved out of rock by the Virgin River. You would think that a river would have to be very swift and fast to carve such a steep canyon. My children and I were very surprised to see that the Virgin River appears lazy and narrow. We suppose that is why the river took millions of years to create the canyon! The canyon floor is lush with trees and flowers because of the river’s waters. As we hiked higher into the park, we noticed that the land became very dry.

Bryce Canyon

Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park are part of something that geologists call the Grand Staircase. The top layer of rock found in Zion National Park is the bottom layer of rock at Bryce Canyon. So, the rock layers we saw in Bryce Canyon were quite different from what we saw at Zion National Park. In fact, Bryce Canyon is not a “real” canyon. It was not carved by a river. Instead, it was created (and is still being created) by water seeping into the rock and freezing inside the cracks. Eventually, the cracks expand and break the rocks. Over time, arches are formed and eventually break into the “hoodoos” that are unique to Bryce Canyon.

Bryce Canyon

We enjoyed looking out over the canyon and walking along the rim. Unfortunately, we could not hike into the canyon because there was too much snow on the ground. We weren’t too disappointed because we knew that snow would eventually melt and freeze again– creating more hoodoos for us to see on our next visit!

Bryce Canyon

Teaching about geology and the forces of the earth can be very complicated, but learning about rocks is fun for kids of all ages! Here are a few books that relate to geology that my children have enjoyed: Let’s Go Rock Collecting by Roma Gans The Magic School Bus Inside the Earth by Joanna Cole Rocks: Hard, Soft, Smooth, and Rough by Natalie Rosinsky

Thank you, Danielle for this fantastic post with such inspiring pictures! I definitely want to take my kids to visit Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park, someday!

MaryAnne lives in Silicon Valley with her Stanford professor husband Mike and their four children. She writes about parenting through education, creativity, and play. Mama Smiles - Joyful Parenting is a space to share crafts, hands on learning activities, and family outings that enrich lives and bring families together.

18 thoughts on “Utah: Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks”

  1. It sure is a gorgeous park. We nearly went there when we drove out to California, but just couldn’t quite justify the time…….

  2. We live near a National Park and always have a blast when we go. Each visit is different. Last time we hiked a short trail and came upon an elk. Fortunately he was sleeping and we walked away (after a few pictures…. we kept our difference). The National Parks are such a fun, inexpensive way to make lasting memories.

  3. I have family in Utah and go often but have never been to these parks, they are just gorgeous. God’s creations are truly astounding.

  4. It looks so beautiful! We almost went to Zion last summer when we were in Utah. We went to Moab instead to Arches. It was amazing! We’ll have to check this one out sometime!

    1. I hope you make it back! I think I went there when I was small, but haven’t been back since I was old enough to remember!

  5. Oh!!! We are heading to Southern Utah on Sunday…..cannot wait! One of the most beautiful places in the U.S. We also love Capitol Reef! So fun.

  6. Elisa | blissfulE

    Beautiful! I hiked Bryce Canyon with wee Nikki on my back while pregnant with Michael. It’s fun to see pictures with snow on the ground because it was warm when I was there. (Here’s a bonus picture on the same trip of me and Ben and Nikki in front of the Grand Canyon.)

  7. We’re going to Utah in 3 weeks! It looks amazing! My son Josh is a very keen Junior Ranger and so visiting a national park on weekends or holidays is a must. Maryanne do you know if we can get a badge and a stamp in Zion? We visited Niagara Falls last time and they don’t seem to support the program :( Thank you! Kay

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