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Hiking, swimming, skiing and more of the best things to do with kids in Utah

With five fabulous national parks, roads that encircle mountains and navigate red-rock deserts, and miles of slopes for skiing and hiking, Utah is an outdoor playground.

For families, it’s one of the best destinations for exploring only-in-Utah natural wonders that are sure to dazzle visitors of all ages. Whether you’re looking to dip your toe into a canyon river or hike to a remote stone arch, these top Utah experiences are perfect for families.


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Is Utah good for kids?

Utah has one of the youngest populations in the nation and more kids per family than any other state. As such, local communities take great pride in accommodating children at nearly every turn.

While there are certainly areas of the backcountry that are probably too rugged for younglings – such as the Maze, one of the most remote and road-free areas in the Lower 48 – the majority of the state is easily accessible to adventuring families.

To get the most from your visit, you’ll need a car to get around. To really have some fun, you might want to splurge on renting an all-wheel-drive or 4×4 to see more of the southeastern and southwestern parts of the state or to access the best winter resorts. Either way, you’re sure to have a good time among some of the friendliest locals in the nation, with plenty of comfort-food options to keep hanger at bay.

Mother helping son climb down rocks
With tons of outdoor activities, kids of all ages will love Utah © Mike Tauber / Getty Images

The best things to do in Utah with kids

When traveling to the Beehive State with families, you’d do well to focus on five of its biggest draws: canyons, skiing, national landmarks, water sports and sacred lands. 

Play in world-class canyons

Although not quite as famous as the big one in Arizona, Southern Utah’s “grand canyons” are more geographically diverse and come in more shapes and sizes – from wide-open spaces and the narrowest of slot canyons to hanging gardens and a bevy of arches to canyoneer through. Many of them can be enjoyed on foot, by bike or off-road.

Any Utah visitor will certainly want to zero in on the state’s many national parks. But you should also widen your scope to include family-friendly national monuments and state parks, too. For example, Little Wild Horse Canyon and nearby Goblin Valley State Park are wonderful starting points, as they’re easily accessed and great for kids of all ages.

The Peekaboo Loop Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park and Grand Staircase–Escalante’s Lower Calf Creek Falls are a bit more strenuous for capable kiddos. Be sure to get there early to beat the heat and crowds.

An adult walks through a slot canyon with two kids
Utah’s canyons are perfect for all-day exploring © Blake Snow / Lonely Planet

Take them skiing

Why is Utah so world-renowned for its skiing? Two reasons. Every year, over 500 inches of some of the fluffiest and driest snowflakes in the world blanket the state. On ideal powder days, it feels like skiing on clouds. Secondly, unlike other famed resorts, the best terrain – and nearly a dozen resorts – are less than an hour from Salt Lake Airport, which is especially excellent for skiiers traveling with kids.

So which of Utah’s 13 resorts is best for your family? In terms of the best value with excellent and varied terrain, Brighton Resort is affordable and fun for all skier types.

For the best amenities and nightlife, however, you’ll want to splurge at massive Park City Mountain Resort or upscale Deer Valley, home to some of the best-groomed runs and nicest hotels in the nation. That said, you can’t go wrong with any of the central resorts – they’re all good.

Parent and child skiing
With some of the fluffiest snow on Earth, Utah is great for skiers of every ability © Erik Isakson / Getty Images

Road-trip the “Mighty 5”

While Utah (especially Moab) is known for its off-roading, the state is equally well known for its paved roadways in, around and between some of the most surreal landscapes on Earth. And since Utah’s five national parks are all located within (relative!) vicinity of one another in the southern half of the state, you can combine several or even all of them in one fell swoop.

The best place to start? Arches National Park, where you can see the namesake formations and towering spires right from the road or from a simple turnoff. Scenic Byway 12 is also highly recommended and connects Zion, Bryce and Capitol Reef.

If you hit Capitol Reef in summer, take time to pick fruit with the kids: the orchards near Fruita are the descendants of the trees originally planted by settlers in 1880. And if you don’t have a rugged 4×4 vehicle to take you to the innermost parts of Canyonlands, consider the Green River Overlook, Shafer Trail and Dead Horse Point, which are easily accessed by most cars.

Zion or Bryce Canyon? How to choose between Utah’s top national parks

A family jumps on the banks of a canyon river
Although it’s an arid state, there are plenty of ways to get in the water in Utah © Blake Snow / Lonely Planet

Get in the water

Kids love the water – and despite being a desert, Utah has plenty of it that runs off the mountains and into strategically and beautifully set reservoirs. This means there are many options for a refreshing dip in the high desert.

None is better or more beautiful than Lake Powell, which in addition to water sports, allows you to “boat hike” to Rainbow Bridge, often described as the world’s highest naturally occurring bridge. You can also raft and fish in the state’s many rivers, or canyoneer through the world-famous Narrows or unassuming Sulphur Creek, two of the most spectacularly refreshing hikes in this dry state.

Other highlights include kid-friendly cliff-jumping at Dinosaur Trackway, and even underrated Lagoon and Splash Summit theme parks if you need to cool off near Ogden or Provo, respectively.

Visit sacred lands

Utah is the center of the largest homegrown church in America: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka the Mormons), with 17 million adherents worldwide. In Salt Lake City, wander among the faith’s neo-Gothic landmarks in Temple Square.

Down south, explore Native American history in the Anasazi cliff dwellings of Cedar Mesa, or at iconic Monument Valley, an important site for the Navajo a famous backdrop for many Hollywood Westerns.

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