I Took a Multi-family Road Trip With 4 Adults and 5 Kids — Here's How We Pulled It Off

How two families made it from Los Angeles to Utah's Zion National Park and back, unscathed.

Two related families on a group trip to Zion National Park

Courtesy of Chelsee Lowe

When flight prices hit unprecedented highs last year, my dreams of a multi-family winter vacation in Paris were dashed. It was a disappointment, of course – no parent wants to see their preteen slouch in dramatic despair after learning she won’t be eating croissants in Montmartre anytime soon – but I knew our crew of nine could weather it. The destination might change but the goal remained the same: to travel with two families, getting four adults and five kids, ages three to 11, out of town and on an adventure to remember.

From our Los Angeles home base, we set our sights on the red rocks and meandering trails of Utah's Zion National Park. It was appealing because it was fairly simple: the two families could drive the 430 miles (seven to eight hours) caravan-style, and we’d be enveloped in restorative natural beauty upon our arrival. 

When we returned to L.A., plenty of adults pulled me aside and whispered some version of, “How the hell did you do that?” In the spirit of lifting fellow parents up — and encouraging you to hit the road, even if it feels like too much — here’s how we made a multi-family road trip work, without tears from the young people or the grown-ups.

5 children who are related and age between toddler and pre-teen age standing in front of the Paris Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas on family vacation

Courtesy of Chelsee Lowe

Break It Up

You and your friends might drive eight hours straight, stopping only for restroom breaks, but us parents checked speed (and ease) at the door when we had kids. Going from Los Angeles to Utah in one swoop was unreasonable, especially for my three-year-old and her bestie, who’s four, so we planned an overnight stay in Las Vegas on our way to Zion.

Vegas with kids is something I never imagined doing, but it worked because we kept it simple and short, checking into adjoining suites at The Venetian in the late afternoon, then walking to see the Bellagio fountain show before ordering room service and putting on a movie for the kids. The adults took turns escaping to the casino floor for dinner, cocktails, and craps. Then, it was time for bed and back in the car at sunup. We repeated this stopover on the return leg of our trip, but at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino (a joke that didn’t land with the kids, much to my dismay). For the kids, it was a trip to the mini arcade and creperie, and the adults did drinks at Vanderpump à Paris and dinner at Nobu. And that's how you keep everyone happy.

Have Your Own Space

Exterior view of Star Seeker Tent at Open Sky near Zion

Courtesy of Chelsee Lowe

Traveling with five kids means traveling with incongruous needs and energy levels — it’s like shooting five marbles into a pinball machine and seeing how long it takes for all of them to fall in the gully. To that end, our two families made sure we had separate places to retire to and settle down, while still being close enough that the kids could connect and play.

Open Sky Zion, a glamping resort set 20 minutes from the national park entrance, gave us just that. We each booked our own safari-style tent at the canyon property – heated bathroom floors were a true luxury in December – and after long days in the park, we’d gather for games, wine, s’mores, and stargazing on one of our patios. And each morning, we’d bombard the lobby tent to partake in continental breakfasts of muffins, teas, and homemade frittata. 

Mind the Weather, and Pack All the Things

December in the high desert is bound to be cold, but the forecast for our trip was downright frigid. I borrowed snow boots from friends and neighbors (because nothing is more frustrating than buying a pricey pair of shoes your child will outgrow almost immediately), then went to REI for thermals and thick socks for all. On the food front, we packed fruits, trail mixes, popcorn, pb-and-j fixings, and easy-to-prep items like instant noodle soups.

Two toddlers on a hike and a larger group photo of the family on the Watchman Trail in Zion National Park

Courtesy of Chelsee Lowe

We knew we’d prepared well enough when we were still smiling at the end of our first day in the park. Rain from the previous day had dirt trails a mucky mess, including Watchman Trail, which we opted to try because of its easy accessibility from Zion’s Visitor Center. We slipped and slid through squelching red mud, laughing as we went, and admired the striated canyon walls as we switchbacked toward the lookout. When dark clouds brought in a hail storm, our L.A. babies were more entertained than perturbed, and more importantly, they were cozy and dry in the right gear.

Three young children hike along path way to the Emerald Pools in Zion National Park

Courtesy of Chelsee Lowe

On day two in the park, we boarded the shuttle to the trailhead for Emerald Pools, a 2.5-mile loop dotted with three natural pools along the way. The weather again became part of the experience, snowing the whole second half of our trek. The snow made things magical, and there was nary a whine from the group; the tweens tried to catch snowflakes on their tongues, or they chatted and made Cat’s Cradle formations while walking. The toddlers were absolute troopers, making it to the top pool before asking for any assistance. Turns out that time in the great outdoors may be the greatest way to tamper pinball energy.  

Choose the Right Family to Travel With

This was the first thing my husband said when I told him I was putting together advice from our trip for an article. And he’s right. When you set out on a double- (or, bless you, a triple- or quadruple-) family adventure, you want to be with folks who run the same way you do: fast, slow, aimless, with purpose, whatever it may be. We are lucky to have friends who like spontaneity and action as much as we do on a vacation; they like wine over Yahtzee in a glamping tent, too.

Next year, hopefully, this band of nine will be off to Paris.

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