So we’ve learned over the course of several weeks that as a family, we’re not super fond of really crowded parks, and prefer to head off the beaten track sometimes to smaller state parks with the kids.

Zion is unquestionably beautiful with much to offer the adventurous, but it also has a huge swell of tourists, not too thrilling kid friendly hikes and a shorter ones with a pay off are higher climbs, which isn’t so fun with a grouchy three year old.

We turned to @hikingmyway for some advice and discovered a couple of real gems nearby which deserve your attention.

Red Cliffs Recreation Area – Red Reef Trail 37°13’27.8″N 113°24’22.6″W

So I’m almost reluctant to give this one up. It’s an incredible family friendly hike, about 25 minutes drive from Hurricane. Google it, and I’m sure you’ll find the location. Called the Red Reef trail because that’s what they call this vein of rock.

One of the lower waterfalls, bring your kids boots

What was incredible about this 3 mile leisurely hike was the combination of incredible Utah rock faces with brilliant reds and browns contrasting in different strata down the rocks, combined with a leisurely stream, sometimes river which you’ll walk alongside.

The rope climb for braver souls, or at least those not carrying two kids, packs and camera

The braver souls are rewarded with a short rock climb to a small waterfall, and a slightly longer rope assisted climb to a second waterfall. All confessions made, we did not go to the second waterfall, climbing with a frame pack and a toddler up a rope wall climb on our own was a step too far for us that day, but the lower waterfall was beautiful and S felt so accomplished to climb the first rock face.

There’s lots of beautiful wildlife and flowers along the way, both birds and lizards alongside flowers, bushes and cacti. There’s lots of boulders for kids to climb, and little streams to throw sticks in too.

It’s a beautiful low trafficked hike, and if you’re really lucky, there’s first come first served camping at the trailhead also.

Children’s Forest at the Kiln – 37°16’58.9″N 113°23’42.4″W

Another one to find near to Silver Reef ghost town. The drive up to the hike is breathtaking, with views across the mesas in Southern Utah and almost no traffic.

The hike itself is found with a small carpark at the entrance, enough for three cars, but it’s in the middle of nowhere, so we had no problems parking.

The reward at the end of the hike

The hike is about a mile in total (a there and back) and along the trail are guides as to the plants you see and how to identify them, and what they’re used for. Apparently it was created by local school children with help from the State Parks service.

At the end of the hike, you’ll cross a small river to reach a Silver Kiln, which used to be used to smelt silver from the nearby silver mines (it looks like a giant old school beehive). It’s fun to hang out inside, and when it’s hot, it’s about 25 degrees cooler than the outdoors, so a great spot to have a drink and a snack before heading back to the car.

I will say that I will never again misidentify a juniper bush after this walk, and S will continue to tell people that they should drink gin…

Snow Canyon – Butterfly trail 37°12’56.4″N 113°38’37.9″W

Snow Canyon is a Utah state park (your national interagency pass won’t work here). Entrance is a bargain $8 and will get you day access to this beautiful park with multiple trails and fun things to do.

We did the butterfly trail, so called for the rock formation which looks like a butterfly. It’s approximately 2 miles of rolling terrain with incredible views over the park and surrounding mountain ranges.

S on petrified sand dunes

It starts at some large petrified sand dunes, which so far as I can interpret are sand dunes which have gone rock hard. They’re fun to run up and down and have great views from the top.

Wind around the trail, and about 1 mile in, you’ll find the butterfly wings. You can head back from here for a shorter hike, or extend as we did to take in the lava tubes.

Rock formation butterfly wings

We took the route past two lava tubes (big holes in the ground where volcanos previously erupted). The first was not so exciting, a big blast hole in the ground dropping about forty feet below ground level. Slightly cramped and not much to see, but the second was a little more exciting.

The second was a large underground cavern, accessible from the top by most able bodied hikers. Monique and S braved the climb down (I had E on my back in a frame carrier which wouldn’t fit). It’s a great experience to see the caves up close and S kept talking about his climbing prowess for some time afterwards. See the gallery below for shots of them both climbing down.

Snow Canyon – Jenny’s Canyon 37°11’17.6″N 113°38’39.8″W

S and Monique entering Jenny’s canyon

Finally, a super short and easy hike with a nice payoff to end your day. Jenny’s canyon is a box canyon about 1/3 mile from the main road. Follow the signposted path to reach a gentle incline into the canyon cut into the sandstone rocks.

We weren’t able to get the kids onto any of the slot canyon tours in Page (late booking and only 2 company’s will allow infants so no availability), so finding a mini slot canyon of our own was wonderful.

Whilst it’s a little busy, the close proximity to the road means people don’t really hang around long, so if you’re patient, you can get the place to yourself for a few minutes and enjoy some beautiful rock formations, or just enjoy the silence. Such a great way to round of a trip to this park with kids given the short distance and fun ending.

Sample Gallery

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