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Extending Your Zion National Park Itinerary

Zion National Park is a magnificent red rock playground; but that’s no anomaly in Southern Utah. Greater Zion is home to world-class state parks, reservoirs, and vistas. Although it’s impossible to experience every facet of southern Utah’s glory in just one weekend, this itinerary will take you through the highlights, including Zion National Park and beyond.

pioneerpark stgeorge family hiking

Day 1: Arrive in St. George

Kick off the long weekend,  St. George and surrounding towns make a perfect basecamp for Greater Zion adventures. Visitors can either fly into St. George’s regional airport (serviced by Delta and America), make the 4.5-hour drive from Salt Lake City, or fly into Las Vegas and make the two-hour drive to St. George.

You’ll find familiar hotels in downtown St. George and Washington. Spanning beyond the bigger cities, you’ll find charming, local B&Bs, vacation rentals, and glamping accommodations. Campsites are also available in Zion National Park or the state parks.

Wilderness is a large part of Greater Zion, but this is no food desert. Chuck your bags and head out for some great eats that are uniquely Greater Zion.

Evening Activity

If you plan ahead, grab tickets to a Broadway-style show in the middle of Padre Canyon. It’s Tuacahn Amphitheatre, an outdoor facility that produces high-quality Disney and well-known musicals throughout the summer. Watch the stars on stage as well as above.

Bonus Activity

Anytime you have a minute, insert a stop at a historic site. You’ll find pioneer history around every turn.

Springdale Ad Photo

Day 2: Exploring Zion National Park

The secret to a great day at Zion National Park? Arrive early. The park entrance can be a one-hour drive from St. George. Start your day at the Visitor Center to check for weather, wildlife, and trail alerts and take this time to ensure you’re prepared for the adventures ahead.

Once you fill up your hydration pack and put on your sunblock, it’s time to hit the trails. Hiking in Zion is one of the park’s main attractions and trails range from family-friendly loops to grueling 12-mile treks. Permits are required on some of the more strenuous hikes, like Angels Landing, so check requirements ahead of time. There are also drivable viewpoints like Lava Point Overlook, where you can take in the scenery without the hike.

Where to Eat

Pack your lunch in (and out!) or stop for a bite in the nearby town of Springdale. For dinner, satiate your post-hike hunger in St. George or Springdale or stop by Balcony One in Virgin on your way back to home base.

Bonus Activity

Stay up late for some stargazing in Zion National Park. As an accredited Dark Sky Park, it is one of the best places to stargaze in the country.

Women in yoga pose on stand-up paddleboards.

Day 3: A Day on the Water

After yesterday’s activities in Zion National Park, even experienced hikers are sure to wake up sore. Get your body moving with an early morning yoga session and feel better during today’s activities (and trust us, you’ll want to!) Consider a paddleboard yoga session on the water, or visit one of the many studios in downtown St. George.

It’s no surprise that Southern Utah gets hot during the summer months. In-the-know visitors find places near St. George to cool off in the water. Sand Hollow and Quail Creek state parks are two of these glimmering oases:

Sand Hollow State Park

Sand Hollow State Park lies only 25 minutes from the center of St. George, near Hurricane, where crystal clear waters lap against the pebbly red shore. Although popular, you’ll see much smaller crowds here than at Zion National Park. Sunbathe on the red sand, cliff jump into and swim in the clear blue waters, or rent a boat and jet skis for the day. Extend the fun by tearing up the sand dunes on a guided UTV tour.

Quail Creek State Park

Or, relax and cool down at Quail Creek State Park, a smaller and lesser-known state park only 20 minutes from St. George. Primarily a fishing destination, this scenic reservoir also encourages swimming, kayaking, paddleboarding, and boating with onsite rentals.

Couple standing atop the Cinder Cone with view of Snow Canyon State Park

Day 4: Departure

Start the last day of the trip the right way: by fueling up at one of Greater Zion’s best breakfast restaurants. Afterward, here are two options to make the most of your last day in St. George.

Take a Morning Hike

Sneak in one more hike before you head out. The nearby Snow Canyon State Park, Zion’s “little brother,” has trails that wind through soaring cliffs, petrified sandstone dunes, and petroglyph sites. Another favorite is the Veyo Volcano – technically, a cinder cone – which does not have an established trail but is open to hikers nonetheless.

Treat Yourself to a Slow Morning

If you prefer to spend your remaining hours of vacation relaxing and exploring the culture and arts, St. George delivers. There are 16 art galleries and museums in the area, and if you’re lucky, you may catch one of the town’s annual art festivals. Or, you might opt for a morning ride on rental bikes before grabbing sweets at Veyo pies – a local favorite.

The bluffs and plateaus just outside of Zion National Park are covered in family-friendly trails, photo opportunities, and adventurous scrambles. With a willingness to explore, you might just find your new favorite trail.

Sure, Angels Landing and The Narrows rank most popular for Zion National Park hikes — and for good reason; they’re sensational — but if you miss a permit deadline or just want to explore a quieter path, Greater Zion is filled to the brim with hiking trails inside and outside our 4 state parks — Snow Canyon State Park, Gunlock State Park, Quail Creek State Park and Sand Hollow State Park.

Many areas in Greater Zion are unbridled, which means you have plenty of room to explore. Still, it takes a bit of extra precaution and preparation. Wear shoes or boots with good tread and comfortable, protective clothing. You may find yourself scrambling on sandstone rocks or exploring the mouth of a cave on some of these trails. While exploring is always encouraged, please stay on the trails for your own safety and to protect the natural landscape.

Great Hikes for Families

Make family memories with a hike through the Greater Zion landscape. Spot native desert plants and wildlife along the way. Take in the views of majestic red rock cliffs and the expansive blue sky. Above all, be prepared to hit up our trails with your family. Bring plenty of water, wear protection from the sun that won’t cause you to get too hot, and hike at your own pace. Finally, be aware of your surroundings and stay on the trail – getting turned around in some areas is surprisingly easy


Petrified Dunes Trail

Distance: 0.60 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Elevation Gain: 196 feet

Estimated Time: 20 minutes

Dog Policy: Allowed on leash

Nearest Basecamp: St. George

Best Time to Hike: Year-round

Best Elements: Scrambling, family, views

In the heart of Snow Canyon State Park, you’ll find the Petrified Dunes Trail. Once flowing sand mountains, these mounds of petrified Navajo sandstone are a family favorite for scrambling. A short trail leads to the dunes, but once you arrive, there’s no established trail, leaving you to explore responsibly. It’s only a half-mile, but the dunes rise more than 300 feet above the canyon floor. Climb the natural stairs to the top or venture out to an overlook to enjoy the views below and beyond.

Consider planning your hike early in the morning or later in the evening, as there is little to no shade, and bring plenty of water and sun protection.

Cycling Hub: St. George

Temple Quarry Trail

Distance: 2.3 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Elevation Gain: 131 feet

Estimated Time: 1 hour

Dog Policy: Allowed on leash

Nearest Basecamp: St. George

Best Time to Hike: Year-round

Best Elements: Accessibility, city views

Temple Quarry Trail is a short, relatively easy, historical, out-and-back trail suitable for all ages. The trail is mostly flat, with a few stairs at the beginning. It’s a great option if you don’t have much time or you’re hiking with children but still want to take in spectacular views. 

This hike takes about an hour to complete and is best hiked during spring, fall, and winter to avoid the high heat of the desert.

Incredible sandstone arch

Babylon Arch Trail

Distance: 1.5 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation Gain: 259 feet

Estimated Time: 1 hour

Dog Policy: Allowed on leash

Nearest Basecamp: Hurricane

Best Time to Hike: Year-round

Best Elements: Arch, family

The sandy Babylon Arch Trail is in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. This moderately challenging hike has a few steep, sandy descents and one steep climb, but the views are worth it. Set amongst other red rock formations, you can walk through the arch and explore the beautiful area. Continue a bit farther for views of the Virgin River winding through the desert landscape. 

If hiking in summer, get started early and bring water, sunscreen, and sun-protective clothing because temperatures can rise well above 100 in the afternoon.

Lava Flow Trail

Lava Flow Trail

Distance: 2.5 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Elevation Gain: 416 feet

Estimated Time: 1-2 hours

Dog Policy: Allowed on leash

Nearest Basecamp: St. George

Best Time to Hike: Year-round

Best Elements: Lava tubes, views, geology

Lava Flow Trail is an easy trail that takes you through a black lava field and past a couple of lava tubes to an overlook with incredible views of the whole area. The trail is 2.5 miles roundtrip and takes 1 to 2 hours to complete depending on how long you spend exploring the lava tubes. Many consider this one of the best hikes in Snow Canyon State Park with a hard-packed path and multiple lava tubes to explore.

It’s possible to travel 50 feet into the lava tubes, but if you’re going to, be sure you have a powerful headlamp and explore safely. The trail ends with a 100-foot-high, pyramid-shaped slickrock hill, and from this mini-summit, you’ll get a fantastic view of the whole park.

The trail is quite rocky, so wear hiking shoes with closed toes and good traction.

Hikes With Unforgettable Views

It’s important to document your adventures. We’d love you to have plenty of great photos on which to reflect and relive your Greater Zion experience. However, we ask that you be considerate of others on the trail and take only photos with you. Hiking is one of the greatest disconnects from day-to-day life, and it’s up to all of us to foster that environment. Respect your fellow hikers; leave the trail better than you found it, so we can enjoy this Land of Forever.

Hidden Gem: The Bowl

The Vortex (aka The Bowl)

Distance: 2.3 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation Gain: 400 feet

Estimated Time: 1 hour

Dog Policy: Allowed on leash

Nearest Basecamp: Gunlock

Best Time to Hike: Year-round

Best Elements: Landmarks, scrambling

This unique trail is a short, moderately difficult hike up a rolling formation of sandstone set among high-desert scrub. The views are enjoyable throughout, with plenty of intriguing rock formations. The trail’s main feature is a large sunken hole/pit set high on the rock formation. Once you see it, you’ll understand the name. It looks exactly like a perfect bowl or swirling vortex. Take in Gunlock State Park and Reservoir views and the surrounding landscape from this spot.

snow canyon state park 006

Snow Canyon Overlook

Distance: 4.8 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation Gain: 356 feet

Estimated Time: 2 hours

Dog Policy: Allowed on leash

Nearest Basecamp: Veyo

Best Time to Hike: Year-round

Best Elements: Views, geological variety, elevation

Snow Canyon Overlook spurs off Red Mountain Trail and leads you to one of Southern Utah’s best viewpoints. It’s a moderate hike up high desert terrain that starts rocky, but smooths out about a half-mile up. While there isn’t much to the trail, once you reach the destination (a drop-off of nearly 1,000 feet to the bottom of Snow Canyon), the hike will be well worth it. You can see the vast scope of the Utah desert from the overlook. Set up a picnic, take photos, and enjoy the incredible scenery.

Hidden Gem: Yant Flat

Yant Flat (aka Candy Cliffs)

Distance: 2.46 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Elevation Gain: 182 feet

Estimated Time: 1.5 hours

Dog Policy: Allowed on leash

Nearest Basecamp: Leeds

Best Time to Hike: Summer, Fall

Best Elements: Views, scrambling, family

Yant Flat, or Candy Cliffs, has views of geological formations you won’t find anywhere else. You’ll see candy-like sandstone formations, the white cliffs of Zion, Sand Hollow Reservoir, and rolling acres of red-marbled sandstone. It’s truly one of the best trails near St. George. The trail is anywhere from 2.5 to 7 miles long, depending on how much you want to explore, and takes around two to five hours to complete. 

This lightly used out-and-back trail is best explored between October and April.

Scout Cave Trail

Scout Cave

Distance: 2.8 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Elevation Gain: 231 feet

Estimated Time: 2 hours

Dog Policy: Allowed on leash

Nearest Basecamp: Ivins

Best Time to Hike: Year-round

Best Elements: Cave, family

Looking for a fun hike that the whole family will enjoy? Check out Scout Cave via the Johnson Canyon Trail or Chuckwalla Trailhead. This huge, red cave is a crowd pleaser for hikers of any age. Both trails are well-marked but relatively rocky, so ensure everyone wears hiking shoes or boots. 

If you take Johnson Canyon Trail, you’ll pass through a wash beneath two caves farther up the hillside. At this point, you’ll climb at least four flights of stairs and then find the path that goes directly to the caves. Scout Cave is the cave on the left and offers views back into Snow Canyon.

For more of a challenge, take the route via Chuckwalla Trailhead – using North Crossing, Paradise Rim, and onto the Scout Cave Trail. This is moderately strenuous due to the steep and rocky descent. Make sure to pack plenty of water and sun protection, as there is little shade on this hike.

Elephant-shaped rock formation in Red Cliffs National Conservation Area

Elephant Arch

Distance: 3.8 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation Gain: 200 feet

Estimated Time: 2 hours

Dog Policy: Allowed on leash

Nearest Basecamp: Washington

Best Time to Hike: Year-round

Best Elements: Arch, family

Elephant Arch is a beautiful arch high in the red rocks of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. The trail is located north of Washington City and is used by hikers and horses to reach the arch that looks like an elephant’s head and trunk. It can be hard to find from the trailhead, so be prepared with a map. 

The first half of the 3.8-mile trail is on a dirt road, but the rest is extremely sandy, which can be more physically taxing. Enjoy views of beautiful wildflowers and Navajo sandstone hills as you climb every sandy step!

Although the desert seems like rugged, tough terrain, many fragile ecosystems exist here. As you enjoy these trails, please do your best to stay on the trail. The surrounding foliage and cryptobiotic soil are crucial to keeping these landscapes healthy.


Water Canyon

Distance: 3.2 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation Gain: 2,029 feet

Estimated Time: 3 hours

Dog Policy: Allowed

Nearest Basecamp: Hurricane

Best Time to Hike: Summer, Fall

Best Elements: Water, views

This hike offers incredible views and scenery that will leave you feeling like you’re at Zion National Park rather than just in its backyard. It starts as a sandy trail along the creek, going up a vast canyon.

As you head up the trail and climb higher, the canyon walls will quickly start to narrow in and tower above you. As you get closer to the canyon’s end, you’ll see a sandstone arch forming on the cliff’s top edge. Shady trees and a small, beautiful waterfall are at the canyon’s end. It’s a great place to have a snack and relax at the end of your journey! Canyoneering options exist to go farther into and up the canyon for those with proper equipment and know-how.

Hikes for the Adventurous

Woman standing at the edge of a bluff.

Gooseberry Mesa

Distance: 11.5 miles

Difficulty: Difficult

Elevation Gain: 725 feet

Estimated Time: 4 hours

Dog Policy: Allowed on leash

Nearest Basecamp: Hurricane

Best Time to Hike: Spring, Fall

Best Elements: Views, mountain biking

Popular for mountain biking, hiking, and birding, Gooseberry Mesa Trail is a difficult 11.4-mile loop with lots of short and steep sections throughout. It takes four to five hours to complete, depending on how you use the trail. This is one of the most popular mountain biking trails in the world. Reach the views on the backside of the loop, and you’ll know why. 

Visit any time of year, but avoid the hottest summer months for the best experience. Sturdy footwear is especially important here, as the punchy climbs and descents along the way add to the difficulty of an already lengthy trail.

pine valley utah

Whipple Trail

Distance: 10.5 miles

Difficulty: Difficult

Elevation Gain: 2,800 feet

Estimated Time: 5.5 hours

Dog Policy: Allowed on leash

Nearest Basecamp: Pine Valley, Veyo

Best Time to Hike: Summer

Best Elements: Forest, rivers, views

Enjoy a moderately challenging 10.6-mile, out-and-back trail near Pine Valley that’s full of wildlife viewing opportunities and stunning vistas. This hike takes around six hours to complete, and is best visited from March to October.

It’s a popular trail, but you can enjoy more tranquility early in the morning, late in the evening, or on weekdays. Be sure to pay close attention to follow the trail as there are quite a few switchbacks on the climb.

In 2021, Zion National Park was certified as an International Dark Sky Park by The National Park Service and the International Dark Sky Association. It joins the other parks of Utah’s Mighty Five to crown the state as the one with more dark sky parks than other location in the world.

Zion National Park is already chalked full of reasons to visit – it’s 229 square miles with awe in every direction, 35 diverse hiking trails, cliffs towering more than 2,000 feet above the canyon floor and more species of plants than the Hawaiian Islands. But one must not forget the park at night is also simply awe-inspiring and magical.

Temples and Towers taken from Museum Patio NPS Avery Sloss 1
Photo provided by

Although most people would agree that Zion was already a top destination for stargazing before it received the certification, having it just verifies the exceptional quality of the park’s night skies, which provides casual and professional astronomers and photographers alike views of the stars, planets and galaxies that rival the red cliffs and towering sandstone walls.

Zion’s picturesque backdrops and vibrant colors have made it a place where photographers can be seen practicing their craft around every corner. If you’ve visited before, chances are you’ve either brought your own camera or you’ve stopped and waited patiently for someone who has, allowing them to capture the perfect shot. In fact, the park offers so many awe-inspiring photo ops that the average picture of Zion most likely averages more hearts and thumb-ups than just about any baby photo on social media. (Fact checking not required here.)

Watchman from Parus NPS Avery Sloss 1
Photo provided by

With a tripod and a shutter release remote, capturing a star-filled night sky in Zion is as easy as pressing a button. Let’s be honest, the Mother Nature does most of the work anyways and you’re just there to capture it. However, make sure you’re planning your photoshoot around The Sun and The Moon as moonlight can diminish starry skies. The moonlight sure looks pretty when it hits the canyon walls, but there’s just something about that perfect dark-sky photo that brings an overwhelming feeling of excitement and accomplishment. It’s truly a once in a lifetime view.

So, whether you’re capturing it on camera or simply in your memory, the treasures of the park extend to the night sky. If you’re on the lookout for the perfect viewing location, make sure to find an area with a low horizon and away from ambient light. The Pa’Rus Trail and Human History Museum patio are two highly recommended options, due to the fact that they are in the widest part of the canyon and you won’t find any headlights nearby.

Get an early start and take in the sunset with a picnic, but plan to stay for a while because total darkness won’t occur until 90 minutes after the sun goes down. Just remember to pack-in and pack-out, and leave no trace. Then marvel at the older-than-time show like you won’t see outside of this dark, dark sky.

A Little History

The International Dark Sky Places Program (by the International Dark-Sky Association) was founded in 2001 as a non-regulatory and voluntary program to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting polices and public education. It’s goal is to encourage communities, parks, and protected areas around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting polices and public education. Each International Dark Sky Place follows a rigorous application process that demonstrates robust community support for dark sky certification.

The first National Park Service unit to receive the certification was Utah’s own Natural Bridges National Monument in 2007.

Written by Jennifer Broome

Avoiding the crowds in Zion National Park

A National Park road trip makes for a memorable summer vacation. But you need a timed-entry reservation to visit some of the most popular parks this summer. Travel journalist Jennifer Broome joins us from Greater Zion with five tips to visiting popular national parks and avoiding crowds.

While spending several days exploring Greater Zion, I wanted to share my 5 tips to visiting popular national parks and avoiding crowds. Zion Canyon is the most popular area in Zion National Park. The majority of visitors only go there. But there’s so much more to see and that’s the case with other popular national parks. Here’s what you need to know before you go if you’re planning a summer road trip to a popular national park.

Zion National Park

TIP 1: Plan Ahead, Reservations Required in Advance

Start planning your trip by visiting the website of the national park you’re going to. It’s your go-to spot for information including any alerts that are in effect such as trail closures. For popular parks like Zion, Rocky Mountain and Yosemite, reservations are required in advance. Each timed entry reservation is a little different. In Zion, you need a reservation for the shuttle in Zion Canyon. You don’t need one for the rest of the park. In Rocky Mountain National Park, there’s a two-entry reservation system. If you want to visit the Bear Lake Corridor including Moraine Park, you need a specific reservation for that area. For the rest of the park a timed entry reservation is required 9a-3p daily starting Memorial Weekend. In Yosemite, your timed entry reservation is good for three days. Two parks are using a vehicle registration reservation system this summer. In Glacier National Park you need a timed entry reservation for Going-to-the-Sun Road. Acadia National Park has a timed entry reservation system sunrise on Cadillac Mountain. Each park offers advanced tickets differently. For example, at Zion National Park, tickets are release twice a month at 9 a.m. and if there are any unreserved slots, last minute tickets are released at 5 p.m. the day before. You have to make reservation in advance on This is also where you go for campsite reservations and any ranger-led activities such as walks, talks and educational programs that may require reservations. If you miss out on reservations, private shuttles and guided adventures are ways you can get into parks without making your own timed entry reservation.

TIP 2: Book Unique Stays and Excursions in Advance

If you snooze, you lose on accommodations from luxury resorts to glamping accommodations to even campsites. Book lodging, excursions and even dinners ahead of time. Glamping and RVing are super-hot again this summer. Sites like can help you get a campsite or even an RV rental. Double check cancellation policies just in case your plans change. For last minute accommodations, I use, Airbnb, and Hotel Tonight apps. and are great sites to snag a site at sold-out campgrounds. Adventure guide companies are booking a month or more in advance. I went on a sunset ATVing tour with Mad Moose Rentals at Sand Hollow Resort and loved every second of my guided adventure. Book early for unique adventure experiences. If you’re staying at a resort, take advantage of the activities they offer. At Red Mountain Resort, I spend some time wandering along hiking trails, walking the labyrinth and taking a wellness MELT class.

Under Canvas Zion
Under Canvas Zion

TIP 3: Trade Popular Park Places for Lesser-Known Gems

If you go where the crowds don’t go that means less waiting in line and more time enjoying nature. In Zion National Park, the Narrows and Angels Landing in Zion Canyon are extremely popular. Trade Zion Canyon for Kolob Canyons or Kolob Terrace. Both areas offer scenic drives and miles of trails with far less people on them than the trails in Zion Canyon. Do your research with a guidebook, on the national park’s website or even call or email the national park you’re going to and ask questions. When I go to a national park for the first time, I always ask rangers for their favorite hikes, scenic spots and lesser-known gems. While visiting Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park in April, I used the new National Park Service app for the first time and loved it. I also used it in Bryce and Zion National Parks this month. You can save the guide for the national park you’re going to for offline use. It’s a wonderful tool filled with a wealth of information. It’s worth the download and saving parks for offline use before you enter a park.

Huge red rock arch with blue sky above

TIP 4: Timing is Everything

July and August are the busiest months for popular national parks. Summer and early fall weekends are busiest. If you can visit mid-week, you’ll have less crowds in summer as Tuesday through Thursday is less busy than Friday through Monday. I also suggest either getting up early or enjoying the park in late afternoon or early evening. The early bird gets the worm for parking spots, plus beat the heat and crowds. You can also be a sunset chaser as park crowds dwindle in the evenings. Dawn and dusk are magical times in national parks.

TIP 5: Take Your Turn in the Park Then Explore the Region

State parks, national forests and other federal lands are next to or near popular parks. These are often mountain biking meccas, off-roading havens and lesser hiked trails. Adrenaline junkies can do activities like rock climbing, canyoneering and ATVing. Soft adventure enthusiasts can enjoy activities like kayaking, paddleboarding, or hiking. While in Greater Zion, I went kayaking at Quail Creek State Park, enjoyed a walk along part of the 32 acres of beach at Sand Hollow State Park and got a great geology lesson at Snow Canyon State Park as I wandered across lava flow fields and petrified dunes. I also visited Grafton Ghost Town for a history lesson and did a late day hike in Water Canyon, a remote and lesser visited canyon in the region.

Red cliffs jutting up into a blue sky.

A Couple of Extras:

Don’t Overpack Your Itinerary: Leave some open space in your schedule to explore something you find out about during your trip. Ask locals for their favorites.

Three things I have in my car: Extra water and snacks, flip flops or sandals, and a towel or wipes.

Click here to read the article on

Written by Stewart Green at RootsRated Media

Experience the Beauty and Diversity of Greater Zion

Zion National Park is one of Utah’s Mighty Five national parks and (for good reason) many people travel to the state to see its natural wonders, but southwestern Utah offers so much more for outdoor enthusiasts. Surrounding St. George are four superb state parks—Quail Creek, Sand Hollow, Gunlock, and Snow Canyon—all offering gorgeous scenery and plenty of ways to enjoy nature, including hiking, camping, fishing, boating, photography, cliff diving, and swimming.

These parks are great alternatives to the busier national park, particularly on weekends and during Zion’s high season. Expect low entrance fees, uncrowded trails, plenty of wet and wild water sports, starlit campgrounds, and breathtaking scenery. Here’s just a taste of what you can expect.

Snow Canyon State Park

Panoramic view of petrified sand dunes.

Snow Canyon State Park is southwestern Utah’s best-kept secret. The park’s magnificent landscape features a 5-mile-long canyon flanked by soaring cliffs. You’ll find national-park quality views on the 38 miles of hiking trails, plus a visitor center, campground, and diverse wildlife including desert tortoises, Gila monsters, and peregrine falcons. Snow Canyon, named for pioneers Lorenzo and Erastus Snow, offers a natural beauty that’s just as gorgeous as Zion 50 miles to the east, but without the crowds. The 7,400-acre park, lying north of St. George, is easy to visit and the entrance fee is far less than Zion.

Snow Canyon is, like Zion and Bryce Canyon, a textbook in geologic history. The canyon cliffs, composed of burnt red and cream sandstone, are the petrified remains of 180-million-year-old sand dunes, while more recent volcanic cinder cones and lava fields scatter across the higher elevations. The park also hides rock art panels created by the ancient inhabitants, including petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock and Sinking Ship boulder.

Get acquainted with Snow Canyon by driving the canyon road from Highway 18, passing scenic overlooks and the visitor center. To really see Snow Canyon’s wonders, head out on a park trail to explore the sandy canyon floor, cliff-lined side canyons, and stone mountains like Island in the Sky.

Hikes range from short strolls to hardy backcountry adventures. Best easy hikes are the 0.5-mile Jenny’s Canyon to a sculptured canyon and the 0.5-mile Pioneer Names Trail which climbs to an alcove filled with pioneer names written in axle grease. Longer hikes include the 3.5-mile Three Ponds Trail and 4-mile White Rocks Trail to Lava Flow Overlook. For big adventure, take on Arch Canyon, a canyoneering trek down slot canyons, or climb technical routes on the vertical Circus Wall. There are also equestrian trails and a paved 3-mile walk and bike trail. Get an early start on hot days and always bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat.

After a day of hiking across swirling sandstone slabs, discovering petroglyphs, and photographing Snow Canyon’s dramatic scenery, head to the park campground for a quiet night under starry skies. The 35-site campground offers tent and RV sites, accommodating trailers and RVs up to 40 feet, and modern restrooms with showers.

Entrance sign reading Quail Creek State Park in front of blue lake.

Quail Creek State Park

Quail Lake, a sprawling 600-acre lake in the Quail Creek State Park, fills a valley northeast of St. George. Filled from the Virgin River, the lake is home to some of Utah’s warmest water, making it a paradise for water lovers and fishermen. Surface temperatures climb well above 70 degrees in the summer, but the lake reaches depths of 120 feet so rainbow trout thrive in its deeper water. Quail Lake is also surrounded by reefs of tilted sandstone, flat-topped mesas, and the towering Pine Valley Mountains. You’ll have breathtaking views in every direction.

Powerboats and jet skis zoom across the water, making waves and pulling water skiers. The lake is a perfect destination for paddle craft with kayakers and stand-up paddlers gliding across the glassy water in early morning. If you want to get in on the fun, you can rent a paddleboard or kayak at the park. Swimmers find coarse sand beaches along the lake’s edge, but don’t forget water shoes or sandals for beach walking.

Fishermen hope to catch big rainbows lurking in the depths or haul in 5-pound largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, sunfish, and catfish.

There are also a few solid mountain biking trails south of the lake, including Rhythm and Blues, a 2.5-mile roller coaster, or the Boy Scout Loops.

After a fun day, settle into the park’s campground on the western shore. It offers 23 campsites with shaded tables, modern restrooms, tent sites, and pull-through and back-in sites for RVs up to 35 feet long.

Trio of UTVs at Sand Mountain

Sand Hollow State Park

Sand Hollow Reservoir, the centerpiece of 20,611-acre Sand Hollow State Park, offers a mini-Lake Powell experience with a 1,322-acre, turquoise-colored lake surrounded by red sandstone formations. It’s only 15 miles east of St. George and is a veritable playground for outdoor adventurers. Boaters, anglers, swimmers, and paddlers enjoy watery fun on the lake while off-highway vehicles (OHVs) explore 6,000 acres of windswept sand dunes and technical trails on Sand Mountain.

Sand Hollow offers year-round excitement, but it is most popular for water sports in the summer thanks to the lake’s warm surface temperatures. Off-road riders will have better weather in the off-season when temperatures cool (summer heat on the dunes reaches over 100 degrees).

Most visitors spend time on the lake, twice the size of nearby Quail Lake, to explore its sandstone islands, red sand beaches, quiet coves, and open water. Fishermen cast lines from the shoreline and boats for catfish, crappie, bluegill, and trophy bass. The lake is perfect for boating, with motorboats towing water skiers, wakeboarding, sailing, and calm water for paddling. Kayakers, canoeists, and stand-up paddlers enjoy exploring the shallow water around a rock island or dipping oars in the shallows along the south shoreline. A red beach on the lake’s southwest corner has warm water for swimming and fine sand for building castles. Sand Hollow Reservoir is the best place for cliff diving, with daredevil jumpers plunging off cliffs into deep water on the northwest shore.

Besides offering outdoor adventure, Sand Hollow State Park makes an ideal basecamp for exploring the nearby state parks as well as Zion National Park’s wonders, which lies 45 minutes away. The park’s two campgrounds—Sandpit and Westside—offer 75 campsites, many with full hook-ups, as well as tent and group sites, restrooms, and showers.

Gunlock State Park

Gunlock State Park is a compact 548-acre parkland nestled in a scenic valley northwest of St. George. Gunlock Reservoir, fed by the Santa Clara River, is a 266-acre lake surrounded by dusty mesas rimmed with cliffs and eroded sandstone bluffs. The park, less visited than Quail Lake and Sand Hollow parks, offers a quick getaway with a small campground, fine fishing, water sports, and waterfalls, a unique sight in the desert. Don’t expect Gunlock, named for settler Will “Gunlock” Hamblin, to have the same facilities as the bigger state parks. Instead, the park is primitive with a small campground, a single boat ramp, and a beach.

Gunlock’s best attraction is the overflow channel below the dam. Clear lake water dashes down salmon-colored sandstone cliffs, forming a whitewater cascade and several waterfalls that empty into deep pools in late spring. The calm, warm-water lake is ideal for paddle sports, with rocky coves to explore in kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards. Walk across the dam to the swimming beach and to explore natural caves hollowed in sandstone cliffs. Swimmers also dunk in the emerald pools below the waterfalls, while anglers find good fishing for crappie, bluegill, and bass in the lake. It’s best to fish from a dory rather than the shoreline, which is steep and hard to access. The state park offers a five-site campground for overnight guests to park an RV or pitch a tent. Expect peace and quiet in the primitive campsites—and bring your own water.

A Unique, Family Friendly Day Trip to Gunlock State Park

This reservoir is far from hidden, but for some reason, it is severely underutilized. It’s a gem of a location hiding in plain sight. Gunlock State Park has the looks and the moves to impress, but still flies under the majority of Greater Zion’s visitors’ radar. That covers the hidden part, now let’s take a look at why it’s a gem.


Gunlock Reservoir is a short 20 minutes from St. George, which makes it closer than both Sand Hollow and Quail Creek. There isn’t a lot of anything but wilderness around Gunlock, but when it comes to Gunlock, that’s a positive because a day at the lake is more than enough.

Two young girls kayaking on blue mountain lake
Smiling mother and young daughters kayaking


Soft orange sand and blue water are complimenting colors and a winning combination when it comes to landscape. In the distance you have the mountains forming a truly impressive backdrop. Looks sure aren’t everything in life, but they are certainly nice, and Gunlock has some great looks.

Two young girls posing in life-jackets at lake
Girl in life-vest jumping off rocks into water

Unique features

As you reach the far shore on your open kayaks, you’ll feel like a kid again. That genuine sense of exploration and discovery is great. If you park your kayak up on a rock, there will be plenty of room to climb around. If you bring along any kids, they’ll love exploring the little holes and caves within the rock. It’s almost like a pirate’s hideout. These rocks offer more than just discovery and climbing—they are made for some exhilarating cliff jumping as well.

Of all the wild and fun adventures you’ll have this summer, this one is guaranteed to rank up there as one of the best. So when it starts to warm up this summer, don’t hide away indoors, take our advice and give Gunlock Reservoir a chance.

How to Enjoy Zion National Park in the Middle of Summer

It can get hot here in Greater Zion, and even in Zion National Park. There’s no question about that. And as summer moseys on, it will probably get hotter. So how do you still enjoy yourself in the blazing heat? Here are a few simple ideas that offer you a chance to stay cool without losing out on the action.

Hit the Trails Early

It’s said that the early bird gets the worm. In the case of hiking, you are going to need to be the early bird, and the worm you’re after is temperatures 20-30 degrees cooler than the main heat of the day. Pretty tasty sounding worm, huh?

The shuttles in Zion National Park start running at 6:00 a.m. during the summer, and that’s when you should be waiting for them if you want to get a good hike in before the real heat wave. Once you’ve enjoyed a good hike in the morning, it’s time to treat yourself to some relaxation.

Most of the hotels in Springdale have pools, so don’t feel like you have to be on a trail the whole day. The wise man takes the afternoon off and enjoys the pool.

Aerial view of the town of Springdale, Utah

The Emerald Pools & The Narrows

Although heading up to the Emerald Pools isn’t 100 percent shaded, compared to a lot of the other popular trails in Zion, the Emerald Pools trail is a shady paradise. If you miss the early option or choose to spend the morning on some other trail, this route makes a nice escape from the sun in the mid to late afternoon, and even offers some refreshing waterfalls part of the year.

The Narrows can be done a few different ways, but if you just want a quick, easy taste of it and a chance to cool off, then taking the shuttle is the way for you. To access the Narrows this way, ride the shuttle to the very last stop on the canyon, The Temple of Sinawava. You’ll then head up the Narrows from the bottom. You can’t see all 16 miles of it this way, but you can still experience the majesty and wonder of the Narrows. And best of all, you’re spending 70 percent of your time in knee-deep (or less) water.

Water flowing over rocks in canyon

Outside the Park

A great vacation to Zion National Park is not cheapened by leaving the park and experiencing the other natural beauties of Greater Zion. It will enrich your experience to take a break to swim outside the park. There are two excellent reservoirs within state parks that are a 30-minute drive of Zion, named Quail Creek and Sand Hollow.

Sand Hollow is an unbelievably pretty reservoir surrounded by red rock and sand dunes. There is powder-soft sand along a good portion of the shore and a boat launch, in case you had more in mind than just swimming. Most importantly, you’ll find it full of cool, refreshing water.

Man wakeboarding behind a boat on turquoise water.

Making the most of your trip to Zion sometimes means managing the hours you spend under the sun. Be liberal with the sunscreen, drink twice as much water as you think you need, and know when you need to take a break. After all, it’s a vacation, so don’t over work yourself this summer in Greater Zion.

The Best Spots in Greater Zion to Watch a Sunset

Who isn’t a sucker for good sunset spots? Whether for romantic reasons, photography or just the awe of it all, Greater Zion delivers. Orange, yellow and red skies, filled with misty clouds close out our days more often than not. Check out these top spots for watching a sunset on your visit to the area.

Washington Fields

Find a spot that overlooks the fields in Washington, Utah. With the lush, green trees, soaring buttes and the flowing river reflecting a glowing sun, this is by far a local favorite.

Sun rising over mountains and reflecting off of winding river.

Sunbrook Golf Course

The golf course is a great way to unwind with some friends and take in the beauty of the outdoors. Sunbrook is a St. George City course that is worthy of praise, but especially at sunset. Grab your sticks and plan your next round of golf in the evening.

Sun rising over wooden bridge over pond at golf course.

Zion National Park

Zion, oh Zion! We could blog, post, share, and photograph Zion for years and never find an end to the beauty. This shot taken and titled “Sunset on the Temple” falls in line perfectly as one of the top jaw-dropping sunset spots. With a variety of hikes that take you deep inside the canyon walls of this stunning national park, make sure you plan accordingly and set yourself up towards the top of the park to catch the sunset at the end of the day.

Sunset over the Temple

Sand Hollow State Park

With enough color to make a rainbow jealous, Sand Hollow State Park couldn’t be left off the list!  Clear blue waters, stunning red sand, and vistas lend to a stunning sunset every time. Whether you are playing on a boat, recreating in the park or simply taking a walk on the soft beach, make sure you plan a trip that involves a sunset or two.

Silhouette of Wakeboarder at Sand Hollow Sunset
Sunsetting over wakeboarder at Sand Hollow.

Angels Landing

Last but not least, another Zion shot… we couldn’t help ourselves. Photographer Bill Ratcliffe nailed this one. No further words needed. Enjoy the sunset!

Sunset over canyon

Where do you like to watch the sunset each evening? Share your favorite spots with us on social media and use #GreaterZion.