FEATURE — It’s just under two weeks into summer for Southern Utah school children. Are your kids bored yet? Are you pulling out your hair wondering what to do all summer to keep them entertained and happy without putting them in front of a screen?
The following list can help. It’s a tour guide of sorts of things you can do with your children in southwestern Utah to make this a summer you and your children won’t forget.
Go on a ‘park tour’
Are you tired of the going to the parks near your house? Expand your horizons and go on a “park tour” and discover other parks in the county. Below are a few suggestions of parks your kids (and you) might enjoy:
- Highland Park, Washington City. This park, sitting atop a small mesa in Coral Canyon, provides expansive views into Zion on the east, the Pine Valley Mountains to the north and Washington City and St. George to the west. It features a large play area with a climbing wall, tire swings and an area geared toward toddlers.
- Cottonwood Cove Park, St. George. Located on Dixie Drive north of Tonaquint Park (another good choice with its nature trail, pond and botanical garden) and Southgate Golf Course, this park boasts nontypical playground elements and an artificial rock wall just begging to be climbed.
- Hidden Valley Park, St. George. Nestled in an Ivory Homes development near Desert Hills High School, Hidden Valley Park boasts a large play area, splash pad and a trail surrounding it, among other amenities.
- Springdale Town Park, Springdale. This park is worth the drive just for the view surrounding it. Nestled away from the main touristy area of Springdale up Lion Boulevard next to the Springdale town offices and Community Center, this park makes you and your children feel as if you are playing on a playground in Zion National Park itself with the towering monoliths surrounding it.
Dive into a ‘pool tour’
If you’re tired of always going to the pool closest to your home, try a pool a little farther away, which will have different features and different people, including the Sand Hollow Aquatics Center, the St. George City Pool, the Washington Community Center Pool, the Hurricane City Pool and the Cedar City Aquatic Center.
Also, don’t forget the Veyo Pool, located just 17 miles north of St. George on state Route 18. Built in the 1920s, the recently renovated pool tucked away in a small basalt canyon also offers climbing and camping in Crawdad Canyon.
Enjoy water recreation on a ‘reservoir (lake) tour’
You don’t have to own a boat to go to the lake. You can enjoy time on a beach or rent some watercraft. Check out the following rental locations:
- Dig Paddlesports at Quail Creek rents paddleboards, kayaks and water carpets.
- The Beach at Sand Hollow has all kinds of rentals, from jet skis to canoes.
- Navajo Lake Marina has hydro-bikes, kayaks, paddleboards and pedal boats.
- Panguitch Lake has pontoon boats and fishing boats.
Explore natural wonders with a ‘swimming hole tour’
Sometimes it’s nice to swim and play in natural, free-flowing waters instead of a man-made, chlorine-filled swimming pool. A few fun local swimming holes include Toquerville Falls, Sheep’s Bridge in Virgin, Lower Pine Creek in Zion (which is away from the crowds of Zion National Park) as well as an ideal red-rock swimming hole just below the Gunlock Reservoir Dam.
Venture out on a ‘local museum tour’
Let your children discover and learn about the area’s history, as well as find out how things were done in the past with artifacts such as a chamber pot (they might blush when they find out its purpose), a flat iron or a butter churn.
To a child, the thought of going to a museum might seem boring at first, but you’d be surprised at how eye-opening it can be, especially when kids come to the realization of how good they have it in our day and age by learning about the struggles that earlier settlers endured.
All of these museums have docents that will be happy to show you and your children around, answer questions and hopefully spark some interest in history. Here is a listing of a few of the area’s major museums:
- Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum (aka McQuarrie Memorial Museum).This museum is especially good for children as it provides them with scavenger hunt when they walk in the door – a sheet listing items they’ve got to find and cross off, and if they complete it, they get a prize. It is full of artifacts from yesteryear, from clothing to chamber pots.
Hurricane Valley Pioneer Heritage Museum. There are actually two museums in this complex, one in the old library building and one in the old Ira Bradshaw home kitty-corner across the street. Both locations boast a vast collection of items chronicling the city’s history, including an extensive photo collection of founding families, canal riders, etc., as well as some one-of-a-kind artifacts such as a fruitcake baked in 1907. The “Bradshaw Hotel,” which is kitty corner across the street, is an ideal location for photo ops with old farm implements, wagons and outbuildings on its premises. One reason this museum is ideal for kids is because a splash pad and park are right next door.
- Red Cliffs Desert Reserve Visitor Center/Museum. An excellent place to learn about our red rock desert surroundings and the wildlife that inhabit them, the visitor center is located right in downtown St. George. Kids will love seeing a live desert tortoise, kingsnake and Gila monster, and the visitor center might give you some more ideas on what you can do for fun this summer.
Silver Reef Museum. The well-preserved former Wells Fargo office of this 1870s-1880s mining boomtown is now a museum that showcases the bank’s old vault/safe and other artifacts pertaining to the ghost town’s history. In addition to the museum, there are other historic buildings, replicas and building ruins to explore. The old mining cars on display next to the museum make an excellent photo op. The museum also includes a scavenger hunt for kids.
- Washington City Museum. Located near the Washington City offices, this museum boasts one large room full of artifacts from the city’s history and is right next to a park with an old-school playground – a historical relic in and of itself.
- Frontier Homestead State Park Museum. Located in Cedar City, this park/museum affords the opportunity to view an extensive collection of wagons and antique farm equipment as well as historic buildings to explore, including a sheep-shearing shed and a replica of an old iron-ore blast furnace.
Cool off with a ‘scenic mountain tour’
Southern Utah has a lot to offer when it comes to mountain scenery. Below are some mountain locations worth exploring, including:
Brian Head’s summer activities.Brian Head isn’t just for downhill skiing. In the summer, there are a plethora of activities in which to take part, including “avalanche tubing,” rock climbing, disc golfing, mountain biking, zip lining and even jumping the “peak shot” trampoline.
Cedar Breaks/Cedar Mountain. Cedar Breaks’ Sunset Point and Alpine Pond trails are ideal for children, especially Sunset Point, which is paved and stroller friendly. The view of the amphitheater of hoodoos sits above 10,000 feet and is a nice respite from the summer heat.
Nearby on Cedar Mountain are the Bristlecone Pine Trail, a half-mile loop with stunning views into Zion, and the Cascade Falls Trail near Navajo Lake that displays the beginnings of the North Fork of the Virgin River. Besides these trails, there are many more trails from which to choose in Iron County.
Kolob Terrace/Lava Point. The drive along the Kolob Terrace Road that turns off from state Route 9 in Virgin is a tremendous scenic experience in and of itself, but it has two payoffs near the end of it. Lava Point, the highest point in Zion National Park, includes a six-site campground, picnic area and sweeping view of the park, and Kolob Reservoir offers a serene fishing spot where one will see no waterskiers or personal watercraft, like jet skis.
Leeds Canyon. This hidden gem above the town of Leeds is a beautiful treasure where red rock gives way to evergreen forests. Two places worth a stop are the Children’s Forest, which includes a historic kiln, and the Oak Grove Campground, a relic from the Civilian Conservation Corps that makes an ideal picnic spot and provides a different perspective of the mesas surrounding Hurricane and looking toward Zion.
Parowan Canyon.If you’re driving up state Route 143 between Parowan and Brian Head, make a left turn at First Left Hand Canyon, also known as Five-Mile Canyon. This side route offers unexpected scenery, including red rock outcroppings in the forest, Vermillion Castle and Noah’s Ark. Four fairly short hiking trails to explore the area include Vermillion Castle, Noah’s Ark, Hidden Haven Falls and Henderson Hill. There is a nice picnic area at the base of Vermilion Castle, and if you want to explore more, follow the road up to Yankee Meadow Reservoir.
Pine Valley – You can’t go wrong with a trip to Pine Valley to dabble in a little history with a tour of the historic Pine Valley Chapel, the oldest continuously used meeting house in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Then move to Pine Valley Reservoir and the picnic area nearby. Its an ideal place for kids to pal around in nature.
Take ‘scenic bike tours’ on paved trails or roads
While Southern Utah is known for its mountain biking on epic trails such as Gooseberry Mesa or the JEM trail, it also has some nice paved trails for biking that would make a wonderful early morning or evening ride in the summer, including the following:
- A combination of the Pa’rus Trail and Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which are perfect to ride in the summer because the road is practically empty since the shuttle is running. Just make sure you pull to the side and stop when one approaches, so it will pass you.
Head out for a ‘historic sites tour
The aforementioned Pine Valley Chapel and Silver Reef also fall into this category. Here are some others:
- Brigham Young Winter Home and Jacob Hamblin Home. Kids can get a glimpse of what early pioneer life was like in the area by taking a tour of these two well-preserved homes of early pioneer leaders.
Grafton. One of the most photographed ghost towns in the American West, Grafton is a testament to the hardships early pioneers faced (especially a losing battle with the Virgin River) and also a picturesque location used in the filming of western movies such as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “Red Fury.” The recently restored schoolhouse and Russell Home make for ideal photo ops.
- Hurricane Canal.This site features interpretive signs and a trail along the old canal, a pick-and-shovel-built engineering marvel that was the lifeblood of the Hurricane Valley for nearly a century. Kids will love walking across the flume bridge and exploring an old canal tunnel at the end of the trail. A trip to the canal trail, located at the very eastern end of 200 North in Hurricane, could be coupled with a trip to the Hurricane museums.
The St. George Town Square provides a great history tour with the Tabernacle and Children’s Museum but couple that with its splashpad and carousel. While there, you can cross the street to the Judd Store for a little bit more history and nostalgic treats.
Enjoy some ‘alternative Zion tours’
Zion Canyon can be a madhouse in the summer, but there is much more to Zion than its most-visited section.
East Zion. When you exit the east end of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel it’s almost like you’re in a different park, with white sandstone knolls like Checkerboard Mesa, different vegetation and different wildlife, including herds of bighorn sheep. A couple of lesser-known trails in this area include Many Pools and Gifford Canyon.
Kolob Canyons. Easily accessible from Interstate 15 Exit 40, an interpretive sign at the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center describes it as a “park within a park.” It boasts two fairly level hiking trails, Taylor Creek and Timber Creek Overlook, as well as a 5-mile scenic drive with different-looking monoliths than Zion Canyon.
Kolob Terrace Road. The road leading to Kolob Reservoir travels in and out of the park boundaries and provides a whole new perspective on the park. One fun stop could be the hoodoos near the Hop Valley trailhead or the Northgate Peaks Trail. For a scenic drive outside the park but with a good view of the park, explore Smith Mesa.
Visit in the evening or at a slower pace. If you want to visit Zion Canyon in the summer, visit after 6 p.m. for smaller crowds and cooler temperatures.
Attend a ranger program at the South Campground Amphitheater. Most of the time the crowds aren’t very large at these educational events.
Go on day trips for ‘farther-flung scenic and cultural attraction tours’
There are many scenic and cultural gems within a two-hour drive, such as the following:
- Bryce Canyon National Park/Red Canyon
Cool off at higher elevation and to see breathtaking vistas of natural amphitheaters and a canyon full of red-rock hoodoos. The Rim Trail and Navajo Loop Trail in Bryce Canyon, as well as the paved trail up Red Canyon, are ideal for children.
- Cedar City
Cedar City itself boasts two parks with top-of-the-line play areas, Park Discovery and Main Street Park.
Stick around in the evening if you go to Cedar City from late June to early September for the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s Green Show on the campus of Southern Utah University.
Grand Canyon’s North Rim
Another way to cool off at a higher elevation is to day trip to one of the world’s seven natural wonders, the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. The views are spectacular wherever you go, but one trail that is particularly good for children, especially if you have a stroller, is the Bright Angel Trail. En route, you can stop for treats or souvenirs at Jacob Lake and climb the nearby fire lookout tower.
This once-popular location for filming Hollywood westerns has a lot to offer. To learn about filming westerns, see former western sets and put on western costume items for fun do-it-yourself portraits, head over to the Little Hollywood Museum.
Make your animal-loving children ecstatic by taking a tour or volunteering at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. You’ll see a wide variety of animals there, everything from parrots to horses.
As part of your park and pool tours, you can visit the Kanab Pool and Jacob Hamblin Park, located right next to each other.
Discover the heavens on a ‘night sky tour’
Attending an astronomy program in a national park is an unforgettable experience – and a great way to cool off. Without light pollution, one can see many more stars and even the Milky Way.
“Dark Rangers” provide instruction, pointing out various stars and constellations and also giving visitors the chance to look through telescopes for true up-close viewing.
The closest opportunity to enjoy the night sky in this way is to attend a Cedar Breaks Star Party held every Saturday night in June, July and August. Cedar Breaks is the highest elevation National Park Service astronomy program there is.
Other park service astronomy programs available in the region are at Bryce Canyon National Park, which also hosts an annual Astronomy Festival in June. The Grand Canyon’s North Rim holds star parties in June as well. Only a three-hour drive from Washington County, Great Basin National Park is another excellent spot to take in an astronomy program.
Exploring your own backyard
Hold a backyard movie night. For a minimal investment, you can hold an outdoor movie night in your own backyard.
There are decent projectors out there for under $100. Couple that with a set of speakers and some type of screen, such as a sheet or the side of your house on the cheap end or an inflatable screen if you’re willing to make an investment, and you’ll have an unforgettable movie experience during the coolest time of day.
Play lawn games. Fun for the whole family can be had using your backyard as a venue for games such as badminton, bocce, croquet or horseshoes. If your backyard is lighted, playing them at night would be ideal.
Play childhood games. Playing kick the can, capture the flag or even tag doesn’t ever get old. The bigger the yard, the bigger the fun.
Doing the things on this list should keep you busy for a while and result in fabulous photos and unforgettable memories.
One of the things you might consider doing is putting items from this list (and other things you want to do this summer) on slips of paper, put them in a summer fun jar and draw a few of those slips of paper from the jar each week as your itinerary.
Have fun, keep cool. A wonderful Southern Utah summer awaits you … the tour starts now.
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