As cheesy as it may sound, there are some places in the world that call to your soul. Utah’s national parks – Zion National Park particularly – are among the top of those places for me.
It has been so for as long as I can remember. At least from the time my mother moved my sister, brother and myself to St. George and made Southern Utah our home.
Though it wasn’t literally, Zion was practically my backyard growing up. I remember extended family coming from all over for camping trips in the Watchman Campground. We would spend all day hiking our favorite trails, playing ultimate frisbee on the lawn of the lodge, and tubing in the river. At night we would catch toads and gather around the fire to tell scary stories and sing folk tunes.
I knew well the sound of an evening breeze as it caught the leaves in the trees and when to watch for deer to migrate toward the campground. It is safe to say that Zion National Park felt like home.
So naturally when I became a parent I wanted the same experience for my kids.
Of course, Zion has changed. An influx of tourists over the last couple of decades created a need for a shuttle system, made many of my favorite swimming holes off limits and closed off places where we once would climb and explore for revegetation.
But Zion is still a magical place for kids and thanks to a program known as “Every Kid in a Park,” in many ways, it is more accessible than ever.
Created in 2015 by former President Barrack Obama and operated by the United States National Parks Service, the program allows students in the fourth grade or the home-school equivalent to receive a free pass for themselves and their family to all of the national parks.
Since I have a fourth-grader this year, and Zion was definitely calling, we decided to check out the program and put it to good use.
How it works
Go to www.everykidinapark.gov and click on “Fourth Graders.” Students will be asked a couple of questions about their interests and after completing the short quiz, they are able to print out the pass.
- The pass is for United States fourth-grade or home-school equivalent students.
- The pass is for the 2018-2019 school year (this year).
- Students can’t transfer the pass to anyone else.
- The parks cannot accept electronic versions of the pass for access or exchange for a pass. Be sure to print it out before you go.
- Educators can get one paper pass for each of their fourth-grade students.
- The pass admits all children under 16 and up to three adults for free.
- Show the pass at the entrance gate or leave it on the dashboard of your car if there is no attendant.
- If you arrive at the site on a bicycle, the pass admits all children under 16 and up to three adults.
- The pass does not cover things like parking fees, camping fees, boats, and special tours. Some sites are managed by private owners who may not honor the pass. Check with the site before arriving.
- The pass does not cover fees for local, city, or state parks unless they specify that they accept the pass.
- Paper passes can be exchanged for plastic passes at some sites.
The program is easy to participate in and allows more children and their families access to what has been called “America’s best idea” … our national Parks. Total win.
Though we have been to the park many times, this time, watching my children fall in love with Zion National Park as they hiked across its sandstone, viewed its wildlife, and stared in awe at the enormity of its towering cliffs – just as I did when I was their age – was decidedly of my greatest joys as a parent.