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Stop by our Tourism Office & Visitor Center for information on St. George, Zion National Park, and other attractions. It’s the perfect first stop for visitors to the area to discover something new, ask questions and pick up materials.

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Dark in the Park: Zion Offers a Glimpse at the Marvelous Night Sky

Photo provided by nps.com

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 nps.com

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 nps.com

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 recreation.gov. 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 ReserveAmerica.com 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 Booking.com, Airbnb, and Hotel Tonight apps. Campnab.com and YesYouCamp.com 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 sweptawaytoday.com

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 site. Gunlock 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.

Location

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

Beauty

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 certaintly 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 exilerating cliff jumping as well.

Of all the wild and fun adventures you’ll have this summer, this one is guranteed 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 over looks 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.