Like many others, we had to put our travels on hold for the past year. By April 2021, we were finally ready to get back on the road. Renting an RV and traveling through Utah to visit the Utah “Mighty 5” National Parks had always been on the travel bucket list for our family. Now was the perfect time for a road trip through Utah with a toddler.
Traveling through Utah visiting the 5 Utah National Parks with kids was our dream vacation. It was also ideal since we would be outdoors, staying in our own RV and getting some much needed exercise. Given that we were road tripping through Utah with a toddler and school aged child, we decided to add Dinosaur National monument to our itinerary as well. There’s is nothing more magical or majestic to toddlers than dinosaurs!
Road Trip in Utah with Toddler
- Getting to the Utah Parks
- Road Trip Through the Utah National Parks
- Utah Road Trip with a Toddler
- Where to Camp in Utah with Kids
- RV Camping with Toddlers
- Pin It For Later!
This post contains compensated links.
Getting to the Utah Parks
We are from the east coast and due to limited vacation time from work, it made the most sense to fly. The two cities most visitors to the Utah National Parks start from are Las Vegas or Salt Lake City. We chose to make Las Vegas the starting point for our Utah road trip with a toddler.
We rented our RV from Cruise America in Henderson, NV. As Cruise America did not have car seats available for rent, we traveled with our own car seats. For flying with our toddler’s car seat, we used a car seat travel bag. It was large enough to fit not only our toddler’s car seat but also our 5 year old’s booster seat.
We also chose to fly with our hiking backpack carrier so we would have it for hiking in Utah with our toddler.
Car seats in RV.
When planning RV travel with toddlers, there is more research to do concerning cars seats in RVs. Take the time to learn about the seats in the RV and if you can safely accommodate the car seats. While RVing with toddlers sounds like the perfect holiday, it may not be the best choice for your family.
We at Baby Can Travel recognize that while many parents choose to go RV camping with toddlers, it’s not always the safest choice with regards to car seat installation in the RV. We aren’t experts on this topic, so if you’d like to read more on RV travel with toddlers and using child car seats in an RV, we recommend reading more here and here (the comments offer plenty of info as well).
Flying with Toddlers
While every toddler is different, here are our tips for flying with a toddler:
1. Be strategic in picking your flight time.
If possible, try to fly during nap time and use these tips for getting toddlers to sleep on airplanes. It is not guaranteed but getting your baby or toddler to fall asleep on the flight will make it so much easier.
2. Bring a tablet
Pack a tablet with a few of your child’s favorite movies and other fun toddler airplane activities loaded onto it. We have an Amazon Fire Kids edition, which we pair with LilGadgets Untangled Pro headphones.
These Bluetooth headphones are one of the best toddler travel essentials. They are perfect due to the lack of cord, durable build and volume limits to ensure the volume does not get too loud for little ears.
3. Stock up on mess free activities
Before the trip I also stocked up on mess free activities at the dollar store, many of which are found in these screen free travel toys for toddlers.
4. Bring plenty of snacks
Finally, bring snacks. Plenty of snacks in a spill-proof snack cup. Not sure how many snacks to bring for flying with toddlers? Pack however many snacks you think you need, then add a few more and bring a variety.
Road Trip Through the Utah National Parks
Planning your route through Utah National Parks
Most people who take this road trip will visit the parks in the following order:
- Zion National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Capitol Reef National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Arches National Park
While the above order for visiting the 5 Utah National Parks makes the most sense geographically, it makes for a very long day of driving back to Las Vegas. Driving to Las Vegas from Arches National Park would be 7+ hours of driving. With our planned stop at Dinosaur National Monument we were faced with an even further drive back to Las Vegas at 8.5+ hours.
Anyone having done a road trip with a toddler knows that it’s best to avoid extra-long travel days. We adjusted our driving route in Utah and decided to skip around a bit so that we had no more than a 4.5 hour drive on any given day.
Another option for families traveling with a toddler in Utah would be to start at Las Vegas and end the trip at Salt Lake City (or vice versa). Due to the disparity in flight prices, we did not pursue this option.
Travel Tips for a Utah Vacation with a Toddler
1. Consider purchasing the America the Beautiful annual pass.
Each Utah National Park has an entrance fee of up to $35. It is most cost effective for anyone visiting the 5 Utah National Parks to purchase the annual pass for $80. It can be purchased online in advance of the trip or at the park entrance.
2. Check the weather for each location in advance of the trip.
The national parks in Utah are at different elevations and Dinosaur National Monument is much further north. Also, these parks are in a desert environment that can be chilly at night, even if the weather is warm and sunny during the day. We brought several layers for this trip and even used our winter coats at Bryce and Dinosaur.
3. Stop at the Visitor Centers
For families not overly familiar with the Utah parks, there are park rangers stationed at each visitor center. The park rangers are typically there 8 am – 5 pm each day. Maps with trail descriptions are provided and the rangers can answer any questions you may have.
4. Keep a close eye on toddlers
In all of the Utah parks, any parent with a mobile baby or toddler needs to be aware that there are a number of trails with sheer drop offs and no railings. We managed this by keeping our toddler in a stroller or hiking carrier for the majority of our trip.
5. Plan for diaper changes on-the-go
Another important point to make to parents traveling with a toddler in diapers is that most of the restroom facilities in these parks are similar to outhouses. There is no running water and no changing tables. The only changing tables we found at any of the parks were at the visitor centers.
We utilized a backpack diaper bag by Bag Nation (see more of the best backpack diaper bags here) so we could easily carry the supplies we needed and had a quality changing pad to use which was essential when a changing table was not available.
For travel with a potty training toddler, the OXO 2-in-1 travel potty would be the best option from these best toddler travel potties. The OXO 2-in-1 can be used on it’s own or on a regular toilet making it a good option for RV camping.
6. Don’t forget to look up at the stars at night.
These national parks are devoid of light pollution and offer spectacular views of the night sky.
7. Plan ahead for water, food and other toddler essentials
There was a Wal-Mart less than a mile from the Cruise America rental office, so we scheduled a grocery pick up for 1 hour after the RV rental appointment. With plenty of storage space in the RV, we stocked up on all the diapers, snacks and puree pouches I would need during our 8 night trip in Utah.
We also stocked up on water and food items that would be easy to cook in an RV. Pasta was an easy choice, given the RV had a 2 burner cook top and microwave. We traveled with a few MREs (Meals Ready-to-Eat) for convenience. We knew the trip would be a lot of driving along desert roads that would have few services, so it was important for us to be prepared and fully stocked.
Utah Road Trip with a Toddler
Bryce Canyon with Toddlers
Our first stop on our Utah Road Trip with kids was Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce Canyon is smaller and less crowded as far as national parks go. Keep in mind the elevation of almost 8,000 feet. For people who live at sea level like we do, this was an adjustment.
RVs are not permitted to drive around Bryce Canyon, so we parked at the oversize lot near the visitor center and hopped on the park shuttle.
Since we were visiting Bryce Canyon with a toddler, we just took our stroller with us on and off the bus. We took the kids in the stroller along the Rim Trail, which is a paved trail with amazing panoramic views of the hoodoos (tall, thin spire of rock that protrudes from the bottom of an arid basin).
We also visited a number of scenic points which had gravel trails that we were able to manage with our Bob jogging stroller.
The town nearest Bryce Canyon National Park is on the small side. While there were a few food options, we opted to just utilize the RV and cook our meals. There we no food options within Bryce Canyon National Park.
Traveling with older kids, see this detailed post on spending a couple of days in Bryce Canyon with kids.
Canyonlands National Park with a Toddler
Our next stop on our Utah road trip was Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands is home to the iconic Mesa Arch. For anyone who is an early riser, as most parents traveling with toddlers are, there is the perfect picture opportunity to capture an image of the sun’s morning rays peeking through the arch at sunup.
The hike to Mesa Arch was a toddler friendly hike in Canyonlands. The Mesa Arch hike is only a half mile walk and was easy enough for hiking with a toddler. The arch is at the edge of a steep drop off, so keep a close eye on toddlers at all times!
Canyonlands National Park has a 34 mile roundtrip scenic drive which was an easy and relaxing way for us to see the remainder of the park.
The town of Moab, Utah is approximately 2 miles from Canyonlands and has a number of dining options for families to choose from.
Shop everything we mentioned in this post in our convenient Utah with a Toddler Amazon Shopping List.
Arches National Park with a Toddler
Arches National Park, the red-rock wonderland, is only a 30-minute drive from Canyonlands.
The hike to Delicate Arch, Utah’s most famous arch, was on our Utah trip bucket list. The Delicate Arch hike is 3 miles roundtrip and gains 480 feet in elevation. The final 200 feet of the hike is on a narrow ledge, overlooking a steep drop off.
Any parents attempting this hike in Arches National Park with a toddler or young kids should keep this in mind. We carried our toddler in an Osprey Poco Plus child carrier and kept him in there the entire time for safety.
The Osprey Poco Plus is one of the best hiking carriers to use in Utah. We particularly like using this Osprey hiking carrier because of the canopy which provides shade. Most of the trails we hiked had little to no natural shade.
Arches National Park has a 36 miles scenic drive through the park with a number of stops at famous arches such as Double Arch, the Windows, and Sand Dunes Arch to name a few. Each of these easy hikes in Arches National Park is easily accessible from the scenic drive.
There is space for kids to run around and play if they are tired of being cooped up in the RV. Balanced Rock is another iconic formation that is an easy toddler hike in Arches National Park. It is also great background for family pictures.
We ended up devoting a day and a half of our tight 8 day Utah itinerary to Arches National Park, as there was so many things to do in Arches with toddlers or kids.
Arches is even closer to Moab than Canyonlands if families are looking for somewhere to eat or gas up the vehicle.
Dinosaur National Monument with a Toddler
From Moab we drove to Dinosaur National Monument. We had the option of driving north through the mountains in Colorado or Utah. We chose the Colorado route in order to see a different state. A word of caution to any families attempting this drive, there are no services for hundreds of miles and a good portion of this drive was hairpin turns on the edge of a mountain. This drive would make me nervous in my own car, and it made me even more so in an RV.
Dinosaur National Monument spans both Utah and Colorado. The visitor center on the Utah side is right next to the Quarry Exhibit Hall, which is an easy place to navigate with a stroller. Here children can view an entire wall of dinosaur bones and even touch some of these million year old fossils. This was one of the best things to do in Utah with toddlers and it certainly was the highlight of the trip for my toddler.
The Dinosaur National Monument is near Vernal, Utah which is a small town with a few restaurants and fast food options.
Capitol Reef National Park with a Toddler
As we continued our trip through the Utah parks, we opted to drive through Utah rather than Colorado on the return from Dinosaur National Monument to Capitol Reef National Park. This route did not seem quite as treacherous, however do watch out for cattle in the road. We had a near miss with a baby calf that decided to dart right in front of us. RVs do not stop quickly.
Capitol Reef National Park had plenty of fun activities for our family. There is a 7.9 mile paved scenic drive with multiple unpaved dirt roads for visitors to explore. In the 1880s this park was the site of a Mormon settlement. The orchards and a number of the historical buildings still exist currently and are a great stopping point where toddlers can run around, and parents do not have to worry about cliff edges or drop offs as this area is in a valley within the park.
We explored the Capitol Gorge Trail which was a flat sandy trail and an easy hiking trail for toddlers in Capitol Reef. The Capitol Gorge Trail was like a giant sandbox, perfect for a toddler to play in. The Capitol Gorge trail is not stroller friendly so anyone with a baby should use a baby carrier for hiking. Just keep in mind there is little to no shade in this area.
Our final stop on the scenic drive was an area with multiple petroglyphs (ancient rock carvings). The carvings are along flat boardwalks which can easily be navigated with a stroller. A toddler can also easily walk on these boardwalks.
Torrey, Utah is the closest town to the Capitol Reef National Park and has a few dining options for families.
Zion National Park with a Toddler
Our final stop was Zion National Park, the most famous of Utah’s national parks. Zion is one of the most visited parks out of the entire national park system with approximately 3.6 million visitors annually. As this park is so heavily visited, there are a few things families should consider.
1. Parking is very limited in Zion National Park.
To ensure you are able to find a parking spot, be in the park no later than 9 am. After that time, parking is scarce and the competition to find a spot is cutthroat. Once your vehicle is parked, do not move from that spot until you are ready to leave the park for the day. There is an oversize vehicle parking area near the visitor’s center.
2. Prebook your shuttle tickets for Zion
The northern part of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible only by a shuttle bus from early March through November. Due to the Covid pandemic, seats on these buses are extremely limited. Currently, passengers ages 3 and up must have an advance, timed ticket to ride the bus. These tickets cost $1 each and are available on the recreation.gov website. Tickets are released at 5pm for the next day and sell out within minutes. We were lucky to obtain tickets for our 2 days in Zion.
An alternative to the tickets is to hire a private shuttle company to take you up the scenic drive or rent bikes in town and bike up the drive to the various points of interest.
Our first activity was an easy hike in Zion with kids: the Pa’Rus Trail. The toddler friendly Pa’Rus trail is a 3.5 mile paved trail that follows the Virgin River in the lower section of Zion Canyon. It’s an easy stroller friendly trail in Zion that can be reached from the Zion visitors center and is perfect for anyone visiting Zion National Park with toddlers.
With afternoon shuttle tickets, we rode the shuttle to the Zion Lodge and hiked the Emerald Pool trails. These trails, although only 3 miles, were a bit technical and heavily trafficked. We carried our toddler in the hiking carrier for this part.
Near the trailhead was the Zion Lodge. There is a rest room and small café here as well as a wide lawn perfect for a family picnic. Pay attention to the time as the last bus back to the visitor center and parking lots leaves at 7:15 pm.
After we were done hiking, we got back in the RV and drove along the Mt. Carmel Highway Scenic Drive. This is a 10 mile stretch along twisting switchbacks that offers a scenic and fun cruise through the park. One thing to note is the Mt Carmel Tunnel, built is the late 1920s, can easily accommodate passenger cars, but an RV cannot safely pass through the tunnel while traffic is oncoming. For this reason, any large vehicles must purchase a permit for $15 dollars to pass through the tunnel.
The park rangers will temporarily close the tunnel to oncoming traffic so large vehicles can safely pass through the tunnel. If anyone is attempting this drive in an RV, please note these permits can only be purchased from the rangers at the park’s entrance.
For our second day in Zion National Park, we had bus tickets for the 7 am – 8 am timeframe. We took the Zion shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava, the final shuttle stop in Zion Canyon and hiked along the Riverside Walk Trail. The Riverside Walk is a toddler friendly hike in Zion National Park and is a 1.9 mile path on a paved trail offering scenic views of the Virgin River.
Although paved, this trail is heavily trafficked and a bit narrow in places, so we used the hiking backpack carrier again rather than the stroller. The Riverside Walk trail leads to the Narrows, the most popular hike in Zion. This hike requires hiking in the river and is not recommended for small children, so we opted to save this part of the hike for a future trip to Zion.
In the afternoon, we hiked up to Scout’s Lookout with kids. This is a 2 mile hike each way up an endless cascade of switchbacks. The gain in elevation is 1,000 feet. This hike is not for the faint of heart and is also the start of the famous Angels Landing hike in Zion National Park.
There was little to no shade on the trail. In hindsight, we should have attempted this hike in the morning, rather than in the hot afternoon sun. As the switchbacks are steep and there are a number of sheer edges and drop offs, a carrier for our son was a must. The view of the entire canyon at the lookout was well worth it, and this was a fun, yet challenging way to end our trip.
There are numerous dining options right outside the park. We opted to eat dinner at Zion Canyon Brew Pub. This was a family friendly restaurant with pub grub and a children’s menu.
Where to Camp in Utah with Kids
During our trip we alternated between dispersed camping and staying at RV parks. Dispersed camping means camping outside of a designated campground and there are no services for the RV. Dispersed camping is permitted on Utah Bureau of Land Management ground subject to certain rules and regulations.
We found several sites easily within close distance to the parks. Anyone attempting this should keep in mind that RV resources are limited. The water tanks can be easily depleted with just a 5-minute shower. The propane tank and battery can support the heater for only 2 hours. Another option is the run the generator, but this is extremely noisy and considered poor etiquette if you have any neighbors camping near you.
Plan accordingly, be aware of the low temperature for the evening, and check the water and propane levels before you camp for the night.
BLM.gov is a good resource for finding out more information on dispersed camping.
Every other night we stayed in a KOA (Kampgrounds of America). These RV sites were affordable and provided full hooks for water, electric and sewer. These campgrounds also had laundry, a camp store with basic groceries and baby items such as a limited supply of diapers and wipes, playgrounds, external restrooms including shower facilities and other fun family activities such as mini gold and swimming pools.
Amenities can vary by site. There was a propane refill station as well since the use of the refrigerator had us burning through propane. Each KOA we stayed at was 45 minutes or less from the parks we visited.
RV Camping with Toddlers
This was our very first time renting an RV. For anyone who has never rented an RV before, as the customer service agent is explaining all the various aspects of the RV, such as how to empty the used water tank or hook up electric, take a video on your phone so you can go back and refer to these videos as you are performing the relative tasks.
Use of an RV is a bit complex and it took us a day or so to get used to it. I felt by the end of our trip we were RV experts, however, so do not be intimidated.
Here our our tips for RV camping with a toddler:
- Plan for extra driving time. Whatever estimated drive time your GPS tells you between parks, the drive will take longer than expected. RVs are large and heavy. The dessert winds can make it challenging to drive and we found we needed to go slower than we would in a passenger car. Don’t hesitate to make stops to give your toddler a break from the car seat.
- Be mindful of where you place heavy items and sharp utensils. Although the cabinets and drawers in the RV are fairly secure, they can possibly open due to a sudden stop or sharp turn. A child in a car seat in the RV cannot dodge items that spill out of an overhead cabinet.
- Plan for sleep. For RV camping, plan where you toddler will sleep. A small travel crib is a good option that can be used in an RV that has limited floor space. We also recommend a good toddler sleeping bag for those chilly nights. The three best options are (1) Morrison Outdoors Big Mo 20° Down Kids Sleeping Bag for 20-60 degF, (2) Morrison Outdoors Big Mo 40° Kids Sleeping Bag for 40-60 degF or (3) Baby deedee Sleep Nest Travel Sleeping Bag for 55-65 degF.
For our sleeping arrangements, the RV had a queen bed in the back that was surrounded by a wall on 3 and a half sides. So we had our toddler sleep there to minimize the risk of falling out. We were in a class C 25 foot RV.
- High chair & eating. The seats in the RV are 2 bench seats at a dinette table. Our son’s car seat was installed there at the dinette table therefore we just sat him in his car seat at the table to feed him. This was to minimize how much we had to bring on the plane with us.
If parents did prefer to bring a portable travel high chair, two good options would be either the hiccapop portable high chair or the ciao! baby portable chair. Another option would be a travel tray for the car seat.
- Camping toys. We brought a few of our son’s favorite toys from home, but hadn’t thought of bringing specific camping toys. The visitor’s centers at the parks offered an array of stuffed toys and picture books geared to a baby or toddler so we did allow our son to pick out a toy at both Zion and Dinosaur to give him something new to keep his attention.
Excellent camping toys for toddlers are a run bike (like this Strider bike and helmet), stacking cups, bubbles, or small cars for playing in the dirt.
- Fill up on gas early and often. There are long stretches, sometimes hundreds of miles between the parks where there are little to no services. Make sure you have enough gas to get where you are going and enough food as well.
- Stock up on water. The water in the RV’s internal water tank is not recommended for drinking so you will need to bring your own water.
Our road trip through Utah with a toddler and school aged child was a fun and memorable trip for our family. We made memories that will last a lifetime and took some great photos that will end up on this year’s holiday card. The prospect of camping in an RV was a fun adventure for my children and the novelty of the RV itself kept my toddler excited and occupied for the first few hours of our drive. A tour of the Utah parks by RV is the perfect family getaway.
This guest post was written by Heather Karpawich, who loves to travel with her husband and their two kids. Heather and her husband are both full time working parents to 2 year old Connor and 5 year old Hadley.