Content Produced in Partnership with Visit St. George

Spending a few days in nature hiking trails, racing across rocks and getting dirty in general helps children build self confidence and strengthen their independence. But, parents, let’s face it: letting go is hard. I want my daughter to have freedom, but I need her to be safe while she tests her boundaries. This is where St. George really shines as a young family destination.

Since my first visit to St. George, I’ve become an annual visitor. While my daughter has joined me on a couple trips, this last trip was the first one where she really got the chance to do things her way. It turns out that at 2.5 years old, she's at the perfect age for exploring the desert. All I had to do was plan in a bit more detail than I usually do, pack a more than enough snacks and make sure I gave her enough time to be her own Marco Polo.

With a variety of landscapes offering varying levels of difficulty, the St. George area gives kids the chance to grow and explore in age appropriate settings. For the parents, with easy access to an abundance of bucket list worthy views, moving at a child’s pace doesn’t mean giving up the sights and experiences that make Southeast Utah such a worldwide attraction. Follow these tips to maximize your child’s independence while still giving yourself the iconic desert escape of your dreams.

Photo by Bobby Christian

Let the Kids Feel Themselves Out

Snow Canyon State Park’s Petrified Dunes Hike is a great place to figure out your kid’s boundaries. With its easy inclines, timid toddlers won’t feel overwhelmed, and its subtly rugged terrain let’s more adventurous kids test their limits. At the same time, the gentle roll of the dunes provides a safer terrain for families with fewer large drop-offs than your typical Utah hikes.

Photo by Bobby Christian

Schedule Variety

Plan your trip so that each event is totally different from the last, so plan to alternate open hiking with canyons and even some creekside hikes. Most parents are excited to visit St. George because of the rocky desert landscape, so start there. Snow Canyon State Park is a great spot, while The Bowl/The Vortex Hike offers similar terrain if you want to get a bit more off the grid. Next, do a 180 and hit up a nearby reservoirs, like Gunlock State Park for some solitude and easy kayaking.

Photo by Bobby Christian

Think Outside the National Park

In season, thousands and thousands of people descend on Zion National Park. Because the park system runs primarily by shuttle bus that can lead to a rather long line. Home to four state parks, numerous local parks and an unbelievable number of BLM Land hikes, St. George is more than just Zion. Instead of spending multiple days reentering the shuttle queue, find similar terrain on nearby less-traveled hikes like Water Canyon or Kolob Canyon.

Photo by Bobby Christian

Consider a Kid Carrier or Backpack

With toddlers especially, being prepared for a sudden change of heart with a back-up option like a backpack or kid carrier means the trip can continue. A kid-carrier/backpack adds hours of comfortable carry time beyond what the average person can do with their arms alone. Also, while it may seem unbelievable, many backpacks let children sneak in a nap while the parent continues hiking. If you are using a backpack for the first time, use it at a home to let your child and yourself get used to it first.

Photo by Bobby Christian

Family Photos

The best time for taking photos when you're traveling with kids is usually right when you get to the park, during the first few hikes or at sunset. It's a rookie mistake to put off snapping pictures until after the first couple of hikes because everyone will be tired and no one will want to pose. Don't forget to have the camera at the ready while the kids are exploring on their own — you'll cherish those memories for a long time.