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Visiting Joshua Tree National Park is a great addition to a vacation to Palm Springs or Southern California in general. It’s a very unique National Park and visiting is a very different experience compared with Yellowstone or Yosemite. I’d sooner relate it to visiting the Everglades than any other Park. There are tons of things to do on a Joshua Tree day trip, but you need to know what to do before you just show up.

Before arriving at Joshua Tree we’d done some research around hiking and unique features of the park. We didn’t fully understand the layout though and had to adjust our plans to be able to experience the best of a Joshua Tree day trip. The following guide should help you plan, prep and have an awesome time exploring this fascinating place.

What is a Joshua Tree?

So glad you asked. A Joshua Tree is a member of the yucca or lily tree family. It’s like a giant succulent that grows only in hot, arid climates. They are very rare outside of the deserts of the American Southwest (there’s a small grove in Mexico), but their yucca cousins can be found in deserts all around the world.

The Joshua tree is a rough, pokey plant. It doesn’t get very big, unlike the Sequoias or Redwoods, and it’s rarely grows straight up. Joshua Trees are shaped like Dr. Seuss trees and look a lot like the silhouette of a person jumping out to scare you. They really cool. They don’t bloom every year, but when they do it is amazing and since it’s so rare, if you get the chance to visit when they’re blooming, you’ll be one of the few people on Earth that experience it.

Locale of Joshua Tree National Park

Located halfway between Los Angeles and Phoenix, Joshua Tree National Park is actually extremely accessible. Its southern entrance is just off I-10 in the Coachella Valley, and its northern entrances are accessible from Highway 62 in Yucca Valley and 29 Palms. Many people add a Joshua Tree day trip to a Palm Springs getaway or when they do the Coachella music festival.

Drive time to Joshua tree from major Southwest destinations is as follows:

Origin Closest JTNPS point Drive Time
Los Angeles Joshua Tree CA Visitor Center 2:15
San Diego Joshua Tree CA Visitor Center 2:30
Palm Springs Cottonwood Visitor Center 1 hour
Las Vegas Oasis Visitor Center 3 hours
Phoenix Cottonwood Visitor Center 3:30

The closest airport to Joshua Tree National Park is Palm Springs International (PSP).

Joshua Tree NPS Visitor Centers

Even if we’ve been to a National Park before we always stop into the Visitor Center. We check out whatever exhibits they have, get a park map, talk to the rangers about anything special happening in the Park, and get our National Park passports stamped.

At Joshua Tree National Park there are four Visitor Centers:  Cottonwood, 29 Palms, Joshua Tree CA and the Black Rock Nature Center. Each one focuses on a different aspect of the park, whether that be wildlife (29 Palms), the palm oases (Cottonwood) or the unique landscape and Joshua trees (Joshua Tree CA).  You don’t need to visit each one, but they are great places to get information about trails, grab a souvenir t-shirt and refill your waters.

Tip:  between the heat, the wind and the activity, you’ll need to be sure to bring lots of water. There are no water stations within the park outside of the Visitor Centers. Depending on your plans and how long you’ll be active in Joshua Tree, you may need to bring at least a gallon of water per two people.

Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park

I’ll be the first to tell you that hiking is the best way to experience any National Park, and Joshua Tree is no different. I’ll also tell you that hiking in Joshua Tree is an intense activity that you need to be well prepared for.

How to be prepared for hiking in Joshua Tree

Like we said above, BRING LOTS OF WATER. There are no water sources within Joshua Tree National Park and whether you think you’ll need it or not, you need to bring as much water as you can. Also, there is no food in Joshua Tree (outside of the Joshua Tree CA Visitor Center), so any meals and snacks need to be packed in.

BIG RULE: whatever you bring into the park you MUST take out of the park. There are limited trash bins throughout the park and any trash that you create you have to take with you.

Here’s our packing list for hiking in Joshua Tree (or any desert/arid environment):

  • Reusable water bottles/jugs
  • As much water as you can carry – minimum half gallon per person
  • Waste-free snacks for the trail
  • Toilet paper or napkins/wipes – you never know when you’ll need these
  • Trash bag for any waste, even if it’s biodegradable/food leftovers
  • Sun protection – hats, sunblock, parasol… be smart and protect yourself in the desert sun

Leave no trace when you’re out in nature, and if you’re going to have an impact, make it a positive one by doing your part to clean up after others who haven’t been as conscious.

Best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park

There are some epic trails taking visitors through the desert of Joshua Tree National Park. As you hike, expect to see lots of big rocks, jagged hillsides, random cliffs, desert wildlife and of course, Joshua Trees. When you’re in such an arid climate, the trails can get dusty, but they’re still beautiful.

These recommendations are genuine hikes that will take more than one hour and require the previously mentioned preparation. We’ve selected these hikes for their unique features, length ideal for a day trip, and to showcase the best of Joshua Tree National Park. We can’t stress enough, the climate is intense and you don’t want a Joshua Tree day trip to turn into a dangerous disaster.

Trail name Distance Time allotment
Pine City 4 miles 3 hours
Fortynine Palms Oasis 3 miles 3 hours
Split Rock loop 2.5 miles 2.5 hours
Ryan Mountain 3 miles 2.5 hours
Bouldering off the beaten path

Since we’re not big rock climbers we find other ways to connect with the rocky terrain of the desert, and our favorite is bouldering. If you’re not familiar, bouldering is basically low level rock climbing without any equipment, just using your grippy hands and feet to explore. Bouldering takes some good upper body strength and tough hands, but as long are you’re careful and aware, nearly any age can do it.

Note:  bouldering does fall into the rock climbing designation, so it should be approached with caution. If you’re not experienced or feel that going with a guide is best for you, the NPS has a list of approved guide services you can use.

When you’re in any of the bouldering areas of Joshua Tree National Park, despite the boulders and rock piles looking like just that, piles of rocks, you also need ot be aware of desert life. Lizards, snakes, rabbits, rodents, birds and plant life find their way into the rocks and live quite delicately. And the plant life too. Imagine how tough it is to sustain life when you don’t have easy access to water. Treat the plants and animals with respect and don’t damage their habitat.

Note: I wish that vandalism wasn’t a problem, but it’s important to call out that ANY way a person damages a natural, protected area is vandalism. This includes carving your initials in tree or rails, scraping off lichens from rocks, breaking of crystals from boulders, or picking flowers in protected areas. All are vandalism.

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I hate to be that guy but I’m going to share with you the best secret spot in California for Instagram worthy pictures. I know, you’ve seen it a thousand times but this you want to check out for sure. Guadalupe is the best surprise of a town and it’s the most Instagramable town in California, or at least the Central Coast.

There are some places that have been ruined by Instagram and people over running things in an effort to get a cute picture or something. That’s not the case here. Guadalupe, CA is cool and would only benefit from people sharing its awesomeness.

Locale of Guadalupe, CA

A party of the Santa Maria Valley, Guadalupe is nestled between wine country, artichoke fields, and the sand dunes of the Guadalupe Nipomo Dunes Preserve. It’s about three hours north of Los Angeles and 40 minutes south of San Luis Obispo. It’s a short jaunt off the 101 and totally easy to add to a California Coast road trip. It’s one of the less visited towns off the 101 and is absolutely worth your stop.

Tip:  check out the Santa Maria Valley tourism’s site for a great itinerary that takes you through Guadalupe on a heritage tour of the area. It’s very similar to our own SMV travel plan but with a couple different stops.

Why is Guadalupe the most Instagramable town in CA?

Every day, more and more people are turning to Instagram to plan their vacations and day trips, and why not? True, you’re seeing something that’s typically very curated and often sponsored, but it’s also likely that the destination you’re looking at is actually pretty cool. Guadalupe is that: totally cool but also unpolished and real California. I’m calling it the most Instagramable town in California because without trying it is colorful, artistic, full of interesting architecture, and surrounded by epic landscapes.

One visit to Guadalupe and you’ll agree that it’s the most Instagram worthy town in California. It stole my photographer-heart.

Colorful downtown Guadalupe

The town of Guadalupe was first founded in the 1780s as part of a mission (it’s just off El Camino Real) and grew and became its own incorporated city in the 1940s. Growing so much in the early twentieth century there downtown area has some wonderful Deco buildings, albeit a few need a face-lift.

The old performing theater, former home of the Far Western Tavern, is in the process of getting an update and becoming home to the Dunes Center. There’s an old Royal Theater with some great neon. Pastel storefronts and brick buildings are the perfect backdrop for imagining vintage Guadalupe in its heyday. It’s really adorable and picturesque.

Bonus Instagram spot: the Amtrak station is great! Pink stucco, pink flowers, pink columns: perfect. And there’s an old Santa Maria Valley Railroad caboose you can check out (interior open with limited availability).

One last vintage California Instagram spot is the barber shop. Big windows, checkered floor, peach and aqua exterior, it’s a slice of yesteryear. But don’t just take a pic and move on, hang out and wait for a trim. It’s a popular spot, so you may be waiting a while, but how better to connect with the locals and hear more about Guadalupe than hanging out with them?

Guadalupe’s growing Street Art sites

Keeping with the vintage feel off the rest of the town, most of the murals in Guadalupe are very large, advertisement style murals that take up full sides of buildings. They’re a combination of actual old mural ads and current street art additions.

Our favorite was the Small Town Big Heart mural. That message is exactly why we love Guadalupe and it’s totally accurate. They people of the town love to share the history and also current culture and happenings. For being a city on the edge of resurgence, its citizens have the town pride of New Yorkers or Bostonians ready to tell you all about why they love Guadalupe.

Tip: check it the town’s calendar if events to experience this genuine town pride in talking about. Between tamale rolling classes to festivals, they’re all about celebrating the people that make up Guadalupe.

Nature and Outdoors around Guadalupe

Before we even knew that Guadalupe was the most Instagramable town in California we knew that it was the gateway to the dunes. Just beyond the town, past the fields of artichokes and cabbages (Instagram worthy themselves) is the Guadalupe Nipomo Dunes Preserve. Stretching along the coast, the preserve offers dramatic backdrops of rolling sands and perfect beaches.

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What does it take to have a perfect Palm Springs weekend getaway? A few things: great hotel, fun and relaxing plan, somebody wonderful to escape with (even if it’s just yourself). We had all three of these things and enjoyed a much needed dads three day weekend away to Palm Springs.

We have partnered with Best Western Hotels & Resorts to do all sorts of trips and exploring this year, and Palm Springs was one of those trips. Our opinions, suggestions and itinerary are our own and we know that all together it really does make for the perfect Palm Springs weekend getaway.

Getting to Palm Springs

Palm Springs is one of our favorite SoCal day trip recommendations. You can drive there from Los Angeles and the OC on a whim, or if you’re in Las Vegas or Phoenix, you would want to plan your drive a little more. Either way, desert driving is easy and beautiful, so no worries.

Drive times to Palm Springs are as follows:

Los Angeles 1:40 Via I-10
San Diego 2:10 Via I-15 to I-10
Las Vegas 4:00 Via I-15
Phoenix 4:00 Via I-10

You can fly there from nearly every west coast airport. It’s a breeze.  Flying into Palm Springs (PSP) is not cheap most of the time, but if you pay close attention to promotional emails, particularly from Alaska Airlines, you can find some good deals. West coast flights to PSP are pretty short, which makes a Palm Springs weekend getaway totally doable with limited time.

Tip:  if you search for flights into Ontario (ONT) you’ll find even better deals than Palm Springs. Yes, it’s an hour’s drive from ONT into Palm Springs, but you can save $200-$300 per ticket by doing the drive. Also, rental cars are less expensive out of ONT.

Where to stay in Palm Springs

As I said, we’ve partnered with Best Western Hotels & Resorts this year, so our weekend getaway to Palm Springs brought us to the Best Western Plus Las Brisas Hotel. Located downtown Palm Springs, it was centrally located for both getting out of town during the day and walking to dinner or drinks at night.

We always look for a hotel that’s going to be nice but also make our overall travels easier, so for a Palm Springs getaway, the BW Plus Las Brisas was ideal. A bonus to staying here was the pool and patio areas. Sure, most hotels have a pool, but this one also has a pool bar and full outdoor patio for relaxing all day long. Ample lounge chairs and umbrellas made it easy to return to the hotel in the afternoons and just chill.

Other suggestions for where to stay in Palm Springs include the other Best Western property, the BW Inn at Palm Springs (not downtown, but great pool area), the Caliente Tropics Resort (fun theme), and a variety of other resorts catering to the Instagram-going crowds (think Saguaro or Ace). Really, there are lots of options, but we always recommend going with a brand you are familiar with to me the be weekend away.

Perfect Palm Springs getaway plan

Of course you need to create a plan that fits with your travel style and interests, but since we’re energetic outdoors people, we are going to tell you all the awesome ways to explore the Palm Springs area and see why it’s such a cool, beautiful, natural wonder of California.

Fun in nature around Palm Springs

We’re starting here because this is why we love the Palm Springs area. Despite the city itself being a fun destination full of restaurants, art and culture, the nature that surrounds Palm Springs is really incredible and makes for a perfect nature escape.

Day trip to Joshua Tree National Park

Just north of Palm Springs in Joshua Tree National Park. It’s a really unusual place and not at all like any other National Park we’ve visited. Whether you’re a rock climber, bird watcher, hiker or nature lover in general, Joshua Tree offers all kinds of experiences. Without giving up all the details of our favorite spots, let’s just say that packing in a picnic and lots of water is the best way to explore and enjoy the park. We recommend visiting in spring for the best temperatures and abundance of flowers. Coming soon:  Joshua Tree National Park day trips

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If I say “Orange County” you most likely think of the beaches or Disneyland, and that makes sense, but did you know there in another really fun destination in Orange County? There are so many things to do in Buena Park, just to the north of Anaheim, that it’s both a great home base for Orange County and a wonderful destination in itself.

Here’s a fun fact: we used to live in Buena Park! When we lived just off Knott in the mid 2000s the neighborhood was nothing exciting. Today, Buena Park has become a bustling, colorful city that’s the entertainment capital of Orange County. We had three days and enjoyed tons of things to do in Buena Park.

Note:  we were engaged by Visit Buena Park to explore and share our favorite things about the area. We hope you enjoy and find your own favs!

Why choose Buena Park

Buena Park is located in northern Orange County, bordering Anaheim and Cerritos. A large part of the city is residential, but then the rest is all about the fun. The city has become a hub for really good food in addition to fun and activities. Article coming soon about great food find in BP.

Buena Park is ideal for both hanging out and being a home base for all things SoCal. If you’re staying in Buena Park, it’s an easy hop onto the 91 to LAX, the 5 to SNA or Beach Blvd down to Huntington Beach. Also super close is Disneyland: just a quick zigzag down into Anaheim. Really, anywhere you may want to go in SoCal is easy to access from Buena Park because it’s situated between so many highways.

Best things to do in Buena Park

The city of Buena Park is very active with lots of choices for how to spend the weekend or afternoon. As we mentioned above, it’s a great home-base for an Orange County trip, but you can stay in Buena Park, never leave, and still not be bored.


 

Knott’s Berry Farm with small kids

We just have to start here because Knott’s Berry Farm is the reason most people head to Buena Park. It’s really an amazing place. You know how much we love taking the kids to Disneyland and Universal Orlando, but Knott’s Berry Farm is DIFFERENT in every way. We’ll be sharing a full article on planning a great Knott’s Berry Farm adventure, but here are our top tips:

  • Do Knott’s for the whole day, not just part of it
  • Plan your day to include down-time at the many shows within the park
  • Give the kids plenty of time to be in charge of the schedule
  • Plan one or two grown up (level 5) attractions that the adults can alternate enjoying

Knott’s Berry Farm is the perfect combo of rides and attractions for small kids AND crazy intense roller coasters for big kids and adults. Depending on who you’re visiting with, your itinerary in the park will vary greatly. Knott’s is for sure at the top of our list of things to do in Buena Park because it’s so perfect for any age group.

Note: Knott’s Soak City is a waterslide theme park directly next door to Knott’s Berry Farm. If the weather permits and you have time, spend a day there enjoying the slides and waves!  Get Knott’s Soak City tickets here.

Full Knott’s Berry Farm article to come soon!

Get your Knott’s Berry Farm tickets here! The Pirate Dinner Adventure

We did not know what to expect of the Pirate Dinner Adventure. Knowing that the Los Angeles area is full of performers of all sorts and that Buena Park is a hub of entertainment, we knew it would be fun…. And it really was! The kids were a bit nervous about going initially because you know, pirates can be iffy characters, but they loved it.

Without giving away the details of the show, the combination of singing, acrobatics, stunts and audience participation made it a really special event for us. And we get to do a lot of really cool things, so you have to know that this was great.

Get your Pirates Dinner Adventure tickets here! Tips for experiencing the Pirates Dinner Adventure

Since the Pirates Dinner is one of the coolest things to do in Buena Park, it’s also one of the most popular things to do. We recommend booking your dinner as soon as you know you’re going to be in the area. Here are the main tips to have a fun, family experience at the Pirates Dinner Adventure:

  • Choose the evening show if there are multiple showtimes when you’re going – great way to end the day
  • Arrive plenty early to enjoy the pre-show mingle w/ appetizers (complimentary)
  • If you plan on drinking alcohol, purchase the souvenir glass vs bottled drinks
  • For kids who are sensitive to loud places, ear plugs or headphones can make it easier for them
  • Don’t be shocked if there are loud bangs and explosions.

It’s a really fun experience and something everyone will enjoy!

Note:  the Pirates Dinner Adventure is about 2.5 hours from arrival to departure. Plan appropriately if you have small kids with earlier bedtimes.

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We’ve loved visiting the Santa Maria Valley of California for years, ever since our first visit in 2017. We wanted to take a different approach to visiting on our most recent trip, so went with the theme of agritourism. Of course we still enjoyed the beach and nature of the Central Coast, but California agritourism with kids was a hit in more ways than just a fun vacation.

Why the Santa Maria Valley for California agritourism? For three reasons:  diversity of farm experiences; wonderful, welcoming people; and it’s gorgeous. Just keep reading…

What is agritourism

We love agritourism because it’s a very different way to explore and learn. If you’re not familiar, agritourism is the approach of tourism through the lens of farming and agriculture. It’s visiting and interacting with farmers and experiencing both the work and the joy of farming. One of the biggest benefits of agritourism with kids is helping them see and understand where their food comes from.

Tip: a good conversation to have with kids is regarding sustainability and organic farming and labeling. When you start visiting farms and vineyards, you’ll see signs and you’ll hear farmers talking about what they do to ensure they’re growing the best produce possible, so it’s nice to lay some groundwork.

California Agritourism in the Santa Maria Valley

The Santa Maria Valley is located about 2.5 hours north of Los Angeles and about a half hour south of San Lusi Obispo. With the ample sunshine and cool coastal air funneling up the valley, it’s an ideal place for growing countless crops, particularly grapes. And cabbage. And cutting-flowers. Everything.

U-Pick blueberries, strawberries and more

Our first California agritourism stop was all about fruit farming, particularly berries. We paid a visit to U Pick Blueberries (check out their Facebook page) in the heart of the Santa Maria Valley. Here, the kids were escorted to the blueberry and strawberry rows, shows what to look for in ripe fruit, and some key skills for being efficient in your picking. Then they went to town.

U Pick Blueberries is a family run farm, so everybody is involved. Their own kids are around so they’re invested in making sure that they’re growing clearn, healthy fruits. And since they aren’t using pesticides and chemicals on their produce, you’re encouraged to sample as you pick. California agritourism with kids is all about giving them a sense of enjoyment and understanding when it comes to their favorite snacks, and in this case, blueberries and strawberries.

Tip:  when you do U-Pick of any sort, expect to pay the same prices or slightly more than you would for organic produce of the same type at the grocery store. The benefits of picking your own fruit are the fun, sense of place and immersion in the experience. It’s worth a little extra.

Why should you visit U Pick Blueberries? Because yum. You actually would be surprised to find how much more flavorful fruit is directly from the plant when it’s perfectly ripe. It may be a little addicting, so be cautious about how much fresh fruit you eat in one sitting… or picking. Check out our guide to Rochester NY for more agritourism ideas, including apples and sunflowers.

For more information check out the Local Harvest website to see more options for varying types of U-Pick and farm-to-table, local options.

Organic farming and beneficial insects in farming

If you meet an organic farmer they are more than happy to tell you all about their practices and products. We got the full rundown from the farmers at UPick Blueberries regarding their methods and the work that goes into keeping their plants healthy. The kids were fascinated to learn about mites and introducing beneficial insects to help keep pests down. I mean, add bugs to anything and you’ve got their full attention.

Tip:  if you’re a gardener yourself, do a little research on ways to grow your own produce and flowers organically. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to leave out the chemicals and love all the goodness.

Visiting the Luffa farm with kids

First thing’s first: luffas and sponges are two VERY different things. Not the same. At all. When we pulled up to the Luffa Farm in Nipomo we had no clue what we were doing or why, except that it was a part of California agritourism so worth the time to learn something. OMG, super cool and wow, plants are amazing!

Almost from the moment we arrived at the Luffa Farm the kids were working (by choice). So, how you get luffas for the shower/bath is actually from gourds, like squash. They are grown in greenhouses and mature very quickly, much like zucchini. They wither on the vine and then once dry, are peeled and sold as luffas. We were surprised and amazing. And peeling luffa gourds is a really zen activity for kids.

Why should you stop at the Luffa Farm? Simple. Seeing where an everyday product comes from and supporting a small, local operation is an interesting and uplifting experience. The farmers are passionate about their plant and loce to educate visitors.

Bonus: stop into the shop at the Luffa Farm to get your own natural bath products including tallow-free glycerin soaps. The kids picked out cool shapes, including dinosaur soaps, which is a pretty cool souvenir.

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Yes, you can totally get a good sense of Zion National Park in just one day, but believe me when I say that you’ll leave wanting more. Between the unique, red and yellow and white canyon walls to the waterfalls that appear out of nowhere, it’s remarkable. This is our complete family guide to Zion National Park, basically giving a high level overview and drilling down into our more detailed posts. We’ve written a ton about Zion because it’s awesome and we love it, so get all the goods.

Complete guide to Zion National Park for families (and everyone else too)

The first time I planned a trip to Zion National Park as an adult I didn’t even know where to begin. I had visited as a kid and remembered everything we did… including hikes that I’d never take my four year old on. I ended up spending hours Googling hiking guides, travel blogs about Zion with kids, the National Park website itself and couldn’t find all of the information I needed in one place, so I decided then and there that following our trip I would make something super easy that was exactly what I needed. And that’s what this is: your one stop shop resource for all things family-friendly at Zion National Park.

When to visit Zion National Park

If you’re in Southern Utah, you should visit Zion National Park, no matter the time of year, but just know that it won’t all be accessible. The absolute best time to visit Zion is early to mid Spring or early Fall. Being such a popular National Park, Zion is very busy and trails can be exceptionally crowded in the summer. Whatever season you choose to visit, you always need to be prepared. The weather can change in a heartbeat, although the summer months are pretty consistent with hot days and random cloud bursts. A guide to Zion National Park wouldn’t be complete without data to back up a weather warning:

Accessing Zion: the shuttle system

You probably have heard or read that you can only access Zion National Park via shuttle. That’s not completely true. Yes, Spring through Fall, the main Zion Canyon area is ONLY accessible via the provided shuttle, but in low season you can actually drive to certain areas.  Check out our complete Zion Shuttle information here! And a big tip, if the shuttle is running, that’s a key sign that you should be taking it because the park is busy. Even if the main canyon road is open before high season, if there’s a shuttle running, take it.

Note: the shuttle from pick-up points in Springdale is free and saves you the pain of having to park INSIDE the Park. Be smart. Click the link above for more guide to Zion National Park info around shuttles.

Driving in Zion National Park – yes, you can!

It’s true, there is a road that goes through the park. It’s important to know where it goes and what to expect. Not unlike Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park or the General’s Highway in Sequoia National Park, the Mount Carmel Highway and Kolob Canyon Road are both masterpieces of engineering. The views are incredible and, thank goodness, they come with roadside pull-outs so you can safely take pictures and enjoy the view. Be sure to familiarize yourself with driving routes before you visit and think you’ll be hiking the Narrows until 7pm and hopping back in your car… That’s why we’ve made this guide to Zion National Park: to keep you from being stranded.

Where to stay at Zion, in and outside of the park

Everybody travels in their own way. Understanding where to stay at Zion is important to make exploring each day easier. Also, if you want to do day-trips from your home base at Zion, you’ll nee to be properly stationed.  If you require staying within the boundaries of the park, check out the Zion Lodge and camping options. These will have you squarely placed inside Zion National Park, but believe me when I say it’ NOT REQUIRED.

We recommend staying outside of Zion so you have better access to services AND optional day trips.  Staying outside the park is also good for your budget. If you’re on the Springdale side, there are loads of restaurants directly in town, which is nice, and you can easily drive out to Kolob Canyons in northern Zion or Snow Canyon State Park in nearby St George.  On the east side, at Mt Carmel Junction you can enjoy easy access to Zion, Kanab (OMG, the landscape!), and Bryce Canyon National Park. Lot’s of reasons to stay outside the Park boundaries.

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Zion National Park is known for its epic hikes and canyoning routes, but it’s also full of fun hiking trails that are great with kids too! By now you’ve seen that we really love Zion; we found that the scenery paired with the activities make for a perfect family vacation destination. And that’s what we’re talking about here: best kid friendly hiking in Zion National Park.

If you are looking for epic views or easy strolls, there are plenty of kid friendly hiking options in Zion. You truly don’t have to over-exert yourself (or your kids) to experience and appreciate the best of what Zion has to offer. These are our top picks for families and safety tips for some kid friendly hiking in Zion National Park.

Hiking Safety in Zion

We always start here because it’s easy to get right into the hike info. Here’s what you need to know to be prepared for hiking in Zion National Park:

  • Know the details of your hike – distance, elevation gain, estimated time
  • Bring more water than you think you’ll need – we do 1.5 refillable bottles per person
  • Bring enough snacks to equate to a meal
  • Don’t rush kids on rocky trails

As long as you follow those simple hiking safety tips you should be good to go. Keep in mind the skill and fitness level of those you’re hiking with. Even though it’s good to push yourself when you’re healthy and prepared, that is difficult to gauge with others.

Check out our full article on Hiking Safety for more tips and ideas.

What to pack for hiking with kids

Leave the iPads at home. You’re in nature. Kids’ hiking backpacks are just as important as adult hiking packs, and even more so at times.  We like to be sure that at least one of our kids has a backpack with some provisions in it. It gives them a sense of purpose and they feel like they’re just as much of a participant as the adults, not just dragged along on a hike.

So, what do we put in our hiking packs? I’m glad you asked! This is our standard day hiking backpack list:

  • Lots of water – I know, we said that, but it’s that important
  • Lots of snacks – said this too, but hiking with kids requires lots of snacks
  • Binoculars – this is important for scenic hikes and epic bird destinations
  • Cameras – we’ve started bring our professional camera AND a camera for the kids
  • First aid kit – true, it’s mostly band aids but still needed
  • Chapstick and sunblock – we are very selective about when/where to use sun protection, but at high elevations we have found that the kids are more susceptible to burning

This easy packing list applies to hiking nearly everywhere, but particularly in mountain National Parks. Tough trails, high elevations and jaw dropping views need to be supported with preparedness. You’re welcome.

Best hikes with kids in Zion National Park

The moment you’ve been waiting for!! What are our actual recommendations for kid friendly hiking in Zion National Park? Here you go! These suggested Zion hikes are noted for their level of difficulty, length and ultimate selling point. We’ve done each of these, and the ones we haven’t we note as such. This is the first-hand list from a parent of small kids what hiking in Zion is good for the whole family.  Download Zion National Park hiking guide here.

Hiking in the main Zion Canyon w/ shuttle service

All of the following kid friendly hikes in Zion are accessible from one of the Zion Shuttle route and are open nearly all year. Trail availability is dependent on weather, both current and recent, so double check at the Visitor Center regarding which trails are open for the full route you’re interested in.

Pa’rus Trail along the Virgin River

The Pa’rus trail is the very first trail you’ll encounter at the main entrance to Zion National Park. Fitting that it’s our first recommendation for kid friendly hiking in Zion.  The  Pa’rus trail begins at the Visitor Center and goes as far as Canyon Junction. It’s a pretty mellow hike and is even wheelchair accessible for the 3.5 miles along the river. This is a busy trail though, as it’s one of the few that dogs and bikes are allowed on, but it’s beautiful and if you don’t have a ton of time but want to experience a taste of Zion, this is ideal.

Emerald Pools

This is a fun, relatively easy trail. It’s not too long, but is long enough to make you as an adult feel like you’ve accomplished something. The payoff at the end of the trail is worth it too. You begin the Emerald Pools trail at the Zion Lodge and cross the Virgin River immediately. As you hike along, watch for BOLD ground squirrels, cactus right off the trail and impromptu waterfalls. You’ll get different trail bonuses depending on the time of year.

The trail itself is actually paved a good portion of the way to Lower Emerald Pool, but when it stops, the trail is pretty iffy. After a bit of rain or snow melt, the last quarter of the Emerald Pools trail is pretty muddy. While there are no crazy cliffs and the trail is pretty wide, we do recommend holding kids’ hands for this section if the trail is gross. Let’s just say the mud here is straight from Willy Wonka’s chocolate waterfall.

The big sight of the Emerald Pools trail is walking behind waterfalls. That’s why this is one of our picks for kid friendly hiking in Zion National Park. The splash down and subsequent lush vegetation makes for a unique and beautiful sight, easy to talk up for kids.

Note: the loop portion of the Emerald Pools trail that continues to the other pools and sights is currently closed (as of..

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Bryce Canyon National Park is exceptional when it comes to unique geology and sights. It’s a place for hiking and appreciating nature’s fascinating processes and diversity. It also gets tons of snow in the winter and spring, so visiting Bryce Canyon in the off season is tricky but totally doable and beautiful. We paired it with a trip to Zion National Park and loved the combo and its varied experiences.

This is our guide for sights, hiking and accommodations at Bryce Canyon National Park, good for any time if year, but especially the off season. That’s actually the best time to go! Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park in the off season ensures smaller crowds and lower costs, so it’s a great budget friendly option.

Tip:  check out our full Southern Utah National Parks road trip itinerary for more ideas!

When to visit Bryce Canyon

The most popular time for visiting Bryce Canyon is for sure the summer, and why not? It’s gorgeous and sunny; thunderstorms show up out of nowhere; hiking trails are sure to be open; it’s great! Here’s a huge tip though: visitors taper off in early fall and the weather is still awesome. In winter and early spring you’re guaranteed minimal crowds and perfectly snow-capped hoodoos. Spring brings the snow melt and prairie dogs. You’ll love it, no doubt.

Tip:  check out our ideas for Glacier National Park in the off season too. It’s also an amazing National Park and beautiful any time of year (as long as the roads are open).

The downside of off season

While it’s unlikely that early fall and mid to late spring will have a lot of trail closures, you could certainly well face them. If you’re visiting in winter, it’s highly likely that most trails into Bryce Canyon from the rim will be closed. These trails include some of the most iconic shots you see on Instagram and the web: lone pine trees surrounded by sandstone cliffs, arches with zigzagging trails, bighorn sheep in remote areas of the park.

Depending on your goals and what’s most important to you for your trip, visiting Bryce Canyon in the off season may not be your best choice. Just keep the potential closures in mind as you plan your itinerary.

Where to stay at Bryce Canyon

National Parks offer many options for travelers of all types. From national travel brands to unique accommodations, RV parks to camping, every price point can be met. We strongly recommend staying just outside of the Park both the price point and the convenience of being a bit closer to all of the amazing day trips you can take from Bryce Canyon. 

Hotels outside of Bryce Canyon

We partnered with Best Western Hotels & Resorts when we visited, and even though they hosted us, our recommendation for the Bryce Canyon Lodge Grand Hotel is genuine. The rooms are spacious and nicely up to date. The lobby is grand, as the name suggests, with an enormous hearth and great seating. Breakfast is included in your stay and at this hotel, it’s actually a full breakfast with everything you can think of for an American breakfast. Also, there is a large swimming pool and separate hot tub area that we enjoyed.

Tip: to keep things low key and fun with kids, take advantage of hotel amenities like the hot tub to allow everyone to decompress. Travel is tiring.

Other options outside of Bryce Canyon National Park include another Best Western, BW Plus Ruby’s Inn, and some small independent resorts:  Bryce Canyon Resort, Bryce View Lodge and Bryce UpTop Lodge.

Not far from the main Bryce Canyon entrance is another town, Tropic, UT, which also has some good options. There is a KOA resort, some independent motels, and Kodachrome Basin State Park, which has camping. There’s really a lot of choices when it comes to where to stay at Bryce Canyon National Park.

Tip: if Bryce Canyon is just a day trip for you, choose your accommodations based on the other day trips you plan on doing as well. Grand Staircase Escalante and Zion National Park are also nearby…

Staying in Bryce Canyon National Park

The Bryce Canyon Lodge has been in operation since 1925. It’s got a variety of room types, again depending on your budget. The main lodge building has guest rooms and suites, detached is what they refer to as the “motel” and then there are also Western Cabins. A good portion of the rooms, including the cabins, have been renovated in recent years.

We haven’t stayed at the Bryce Canyon Lodge yet so cannot attest to the overall guest experience, but it is located just off the canyon rim so is an ideal location for exploring and relaxing.

Tip: if you’re not staying at the lodge but want to check it out, the dining room at the lodge is open to the public.

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You know how there are those projects that you always want to do but you keep putting off? One of them for me was writing a book. I never really wanted to write a novel or scholarly work, but I’ve always wanted to make a book for kids. And I did it! The Ultimate Travel Journal for Kids is live on Amazon for pre-order and hits the shelves May 21, 2019.

I’m really excited about it. “But what’s this book about?” Well, it’s a travel journal for kids (or adults that want an easy way to journal). “Why not make a travel guide?” Well, we might just work on that as a joint project, both Chris and I, but for now this was the best option and what I was really passionate about working on. So, here’s the story of the Ultimate Travel Journal for Kids.

Why make a travel journal for kids?

If you’re a parent or have spent a lot of time with kids, you know that it can be difficult to get them to genuinely engage and have meaningful conversation about their day or what they’ve been doing. When I started to write the prompts for the Ultimate Travel Journal for Kids I had to think about the questions I ask the boys when we’re traveling or when we’ve been apart for a few days. I considered what they get excited to talk about and what topics are like pulling teeth.

As a dad, something I want to understand with my kids more than anything is what makes them happy and piques their interest. Conversation about what is going through their minds and what they think about what we’re doing while traveling can be tricky. I’m totally up for the effort, but anything to make it easier AND to document what they’re thinking about is a win in my book. And that’s why I’ve worked to create this awesome journal. I’ve tested it out with our oldest, and Oliver is a journaling champ, so hooray!

About the book creation process

It was strange to work with an editor and collaborate on what kids enjoy and will engage with, but actually also really cool. I got to partner up with a cool group of people that understood the struggle of traveling with kids and keeping them engaged. As I would think of journal prompts and activities, my editor would question them and give ideas that would spiral into other activities. It was really interesting, both seeing things change and getting new ideas.

Also, designing games that were doable for kids, that was a challenge. That took both adults and kids to test before I had those sorted out. All it takes is stumping your own kid who you know if super smart to take a second look at what you consider kid-friendly challenges and puzzles. Thank goodness for a team that is willing to tell you “You made this too tough” to reel it back a bit. The final product is awesome though and perfect for traveling kiddos.

Inside the Ultimate Travel Journal for Kids

Curious what’s inside the Ultimate Travel Journal for Kids? It’s pretty cool. We’ve set it up to provide four different trips of fun and journal prompts. Knowing that travel can range from a few days to a couple weeks, depending on the family, we set up the travel journal for kids that might have a variety or trips in a year. It includes two sets of prompts for 10 days trips and two sets for shorter, four day trips. 

What I think makes the journal special and different, particularly knowing how our oldest works through workbooks and prompts, is that the journal pages each provide a different aspect of travel for kids to think about. Without considering the larger social issues, the Ultimate Travel Journal for Kids encourages young travelers to think about the people they meet and the foods they try as a part of getting out into the world. Looking at activities and weather in terms of preparation and enjoyment, kids get to evaluate their own feelings and processes. I think what we’ve got is something unique and exciting.

And it’s a got number of activities too, perfect for challenging the busy kid-mind. A journal that’s all work and no play is good, but one that includes some stimulation and encourages a different kind of brain activity, now that’s awesome. I know, I’m tooting my own work here, but I think that my editor and I built a really special travel journal for kids.

Who is this travel journal for?

Every kid is different, learning and communicating at different rates. As I wrote the prompts and pages of the Ultimate Travel Journal for Kids I did it with young elementary kids in mind.  The noted age range is 6 to 9 years old, but it can fit well with kids up to 10 or 11. Some of the road games are geared for more playful minds and some are puzzles for patient brains that need to dig in. Also, we’ve included some free space with each of the trip sections for drawing or writing more, for kids to make up their own activities, or just to take notes on whatever inspires them.

Where can I get the Ultimate Travel Journal for Kids?

Hooray, the fun part! Working with a publisher that knows the biz is awesome, because it means that distribution is wide and accessible. We’ve got the Ultimate Travel Journal for Kids available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indigo Books (coming soon), Indie Bound and BAM!  We’ve got it set up to be able to pre-order it and then it goes on the shelve on May 21, 2019. 

We may do a few small events to launch the travel journal locally, but offering it online is the best way for us to make it available to parents, aunts and uncles, and eager traveling kids all over the globe. 

We would love for you to share this with friends and family, as it’s been a really fun, meaningful project and seeing it go live is kind of a dream come true. I’d love to hear feedback from parents and kids alike, so feel free to send us a note or leave a comment, particularly as we get to work on our next book project!

Want to pin this for your own education, birthday or holiday shopping list? Go for it!!!

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We love our road trips, you know that, and living in the Pacific Northwest, we’re at the gateway to some of the best road trips in the United States. Oregon is our neighbor and we visit it a lot, but it’s rare that we really explore the south part of the state. This is our (future) award winning southern Oregon road trip that takes the best of the Cascades and pairs it with the Oregon Coast. This road trip itinerary is ideal in Spring and Summer and is great with kids!

Note: we were invited by Travel Oregon to explore the southern region, but our itinerary and opinions are all our own based on our own awesome experiences.

Planning a Southern Oregon road trip

When we found out we were heading to Southern Oregon we knew two things: the Umpqua National Forest and the southern coast are going to be fun and drastically different. The Cascade Mountains run from British Columbia to Northern California. They’re dotted with snowy peaks and dense forests, which when put together make for an epic collection of waterfalls. Doing a road trip with kids, we knew that we needed to pack in some big wow items, and waterfalls always do the trick.

For fun along the coast, we make it a habit to fly kites when possible, but when the weather doesn’t permit we do the next best thing: beach combing. Even in rainy weather the kids love searching for beach glass and interesting shells, so getting some time on the coast is perfect for us. In addition to the beach, there are lots of unique coastal experiences that are great for families. We made time to do fun activities we can’t do at home, including experiencing some of the natural phenomena of the Oregon Coast (see below).

Tips for balancing road trip activities

If you’ve done a road trip with small to medium age kids, you know that being in the car is a bummer. We try to break up longer drive times with fun. Here are our top tips for ensuring every part of the road trip experience is awesome.

  • bring entertainment for the car, both electronic and not
  • have snacks on hand that AREN’T high in sugar that will cause energy boosts and crashing
  • plan a short stop every two hours, even if nobody says they have to pee
  • work small hikes and points of interest into the driving plan

As long as you’re breaking up the monotony of long-distance driving, the whole family will enjoy the road trip experience and be more apt to have fun once you’re in your final destination.

Travel prep for a family road trip

We talk about it often that the reason we’re able to travel as much as we do and have the kids be as cooperative as they are is because we’re prepared. When we’re getting ready for any sort of travel, these are the steps we take to ensure maximum success and minimal stress.

  • inform everybody of the travel plan and ask for feedback and ideas
  • make sure kids’ backpacks/carry-ons have appropriate contents for travel type
  • get kids involved with packing their own suitcases and backpacks
  • review the weather report ten days out in your destination and pack appropriate clothes
  • if you’ll be going anywhere rural or remote, download the offline map of the area before you’re on the road

Between bringing the family along in the planning and giving the kids responsibility in their own packing, you’re able to make sure everybody on the road trip is partially invested in the fun. Even if you have a set travel plan, talking to the kids about it and setting some expectations for fun and interest is key to hitting the road with good attitudes and eager eyes.

Southern Oregon road trip itinerary

For us, heading to Southern Oregon means starting in Washington and driving south. This also means looping back up to eventually get home.  This Southern Oregon road trip itinerary includes some ideal sites from Cascadia to make the driving more fun and to not miss out on Oregon’s incredible nature. If you’re looking to start your trip through Oregon with something truly amazing, you should check out the Columbia Gorge Waterfall Area… and then start down our itinerary.

Silver Falls State Park

Located to the east of Salem, Oregon, Silver Falls State Park is really incredible. Silver Falls is home to 10 waterfalls and miles and miles of hiking trails. The highlights of the park include easy, accessible hikes to venture behind South Falls and more advanced hikes to go deep into the state park’s back woods for even more cascading streams. 

Tip:  don’t forget to pay your State Park fee so you don’t get a ticket.

Recommendation:  even though you’ll get wet, do the short South Falls hike to go behind the waterfall. It’s amazing.

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