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Off-roading 101

sand hollow resort atv utv private 016

Off-highway vehicles (OHVs) might be off the beaten path for many, but all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), utility task vehicles (UTVs) and everything in between provide an exhilarating way for everyone to explore the outdoors in places that hiking and mountain biking trails can’t take you – especially in an off-roading haven like Greater Zion.

Don’t be intimidated by the heavy machinery or a lack of experience in the mechanical department; off-roading is open to all who are willing to learn basic definitions, skills, best practices and take a 15-minute OHV education course. Or, you can ditch the course and just tag along for the ride. Local adventure outfitters have plenty of options for you to ride as a passenger – same thrilling experience, less pressure. 

Wait, what even is an ATV? What is a UTV? What is the difference between an ATV, UTV and OHV? There are lots of acronyms and interchangeable terms at play here, so before we dive in, let’s establish some important definitions:

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  • ATV: All-terrain vehicles are also known as “quads” or “four-wheelers.” They typically seat one passenger, take tighter turns, fit into smaller spaces and have an open-air design – meaning it’s just you and the open road on this one. Their light design makes them perfect for speedy, solo adventuring.
  • UTV: Utility task vehicles are also known as “side-by-sides”, or “SXS” to abbreviate it further. This name comes from their ability to seat multiple passengers. The subsequent size increase means that they don’t turn as tightly or fit into smaller spaces like their ATV counterparts, but they do have bigger, more powerful engines and a slightly more covered design.
  • OHV: ‘Off-highway vehicle’ is an all-encompassing term that includes both ATVs and UTVs, along with Jeeps, customized lifted vehicles and any other vehicle that can travel off the highway and handle off-road conditions. Pretty self-explanatory! 

Preparing for your ride

Mechanics Matter.

First thing’s first, you have to make sure you’re riding a reliable, road-ready machine. Any maintenance like oil changes, tire repairs, structural adjustments etc. should be taken care of before your adventure so you can cruise confidently. Having your vehicle inspected and registered as required by your state will help you to know what needs your attention. Make sure to pack a few tools like straps and towing gear in case you ride until the wheels fall off (we hope not literally, but you get the point).

Your body is also an important machine, so treat it as such.

Go all out with the gear. Helmets, goggles, nose and mouth covers, gloves, long sleeves, long pants and riding boots are useful and highly recommended for riding in sandy Greater Zion – where a lot of roost is always tossed up. As an added bonus, you’ll definitely look the part of a cool, experienced rider. T-shirts, shorts and open-toed shoes scream amateur when it comes to off-road adventuring. 

Off-road riding is fair weather fun.

We believe you when you say you can weather any storm, but your vehicle can’t. Neither can the unpaved roads, for that matter. That said, check the weather and road conditions before you take off. Accidents happen and people get stuck, and it’s a real mood-killer. You don’t want to end up on Matt’s Off Road Recovery. 😉

While you’re riding

Know your machine’s limits and your personal limits.

Each ATV and UTV is different, so make sure you know the ins and outs of your machine. Where is the emergency brake? Is the clutch more on the sensitive side? Do I need to choke the engine before taking off, or does this vehicle do that automatically? Is this vehicle built for climbing or cruising? These are just a few examples of things to consider.

When it comes to your personal limits, know that off-roading is a blast regardless of your skill level. Even the easiest off-road experiences in Greater Zion are sure to satisfy your need for speed and get your adrenaline pumping, so there is no need to bite off more than you can chew. Beginners, in particular, should get familiar with the machine and practice the basics in a forgiving area before attempting anything too advanced. 

Remember: If you’re going for leisure and this seems like too much learning, you can always sign up through our local adventure sports outfitters to ride along and let the professionals drive. You’ll still have a front-row seat to all the action (literally).

Keep physics in mind.

We didn’t pay much attention in that class either, but let’s review some important, off-roading specific takeaways:

  • Stop at the top of a sandy hill = roll to the bottom. We get it. The best views are at the top of the hill and you want to take a moment to soak them in, but you have to resist the temptation. If you lose your momentum on an unstable surface, like the sand found in Greater Zion, gravity will take over – not in a good, fun way. There are plenty of designated, stable spots from which to admire the scenery.
  • Brake with intention. It’s human nature to slam on the brakes when in doubt, especially when you’re hitting high speeds and quick turns, but do so with caution. Stopping too hard too fast can cause your vehicle to lock up, so make sure you’re easing into things.
  • Keep your balance by riding actively. This is easier said than done when your center of gravity is always changing as you move through the environment, so we simplified it:
    • Going uphill → Lean forward.
    • Going downhill → Lean backward.
    • Traversing a slope → Lean the uphill direction.
    • Turning → Lean into the turn on flat surfaces, and don’t perform any sharp turns on uneven surfaces when avoidable.

Zoomin’ in Greater Zion

Three unique ecosystems – the Mojave Desert, Great Basin, and Colorado Plateau – converge in Greater Zion, allowing you to experience all the different flavors of OHV trails in a conveniently small radius. Ranging from mountain forests to desert lowlands, and rocky overlooks to rolling sand dunes, everything you need to roam free at high speeds is right here in Washington County. 

Some of Greater Zion’s hidden gems are out of reach for the average car owner due to intense road conditions, but obstacles are part of the fun for OHV riders. You can conquer a challenging trail and experience sights unseen by most, like the dinosaur tracks at the bottom of Warner Valley or the breathtaking views from the Top of the World.

A strong OHV community has sprouted alongside our iconic off-roading trails, and these guides and outfitters are more than happy to guide you through their favorite spots. Whether you’re driving or just riding, see for yourself why Greater Zion is the Land of Exhilaration. 

What is via ferrata, you ask? It’s an up-and-coming outdoor climbing adventure. Imagine a long, reinforced steel cable secured to the mountainside, iron rungs, two carabiners, helmets, harnesses, some breathtaking views, a willing climber, and voila – you’ve got via ferrata. 

Expectation: I can’t do that! I don’t know the first thing about climbing!

Reality: You don’t have to know anything about rock climbing to do via ferrata. In fact, it was designed to allow beginners to experience nature in a way that was once only accessible to seasoned climbers. If you can climb a ladder and hike two miles, you can do via ferrata like a pro.

Though the history of the sport can be traced back to World War I when soldiers were traversing the European mountainside, the popularity of via ferrata in the United States began to take off less than a decade ago. Even today, only a select few sites are in operation, and Greater Zion is home to two of them. 

As such, we feel a responsibility to clear the air of some common misconceptions so you can live your best life on the edge. Welcome to expectations vs. reality: via ferrata edition.

Expectation: Via ferrata is an extreme sport.

Reality: Via ferrata is accessible for all skill levels.

We understand the confusion here. Dangling from a mountainside does meet most people’s definition of extreme. However, past participants include everyone from 8-year-olds to 80-year-olds – not your typical extreme athletes. If they can do it, you can do it. 

The most physically strenuous part of via ferrata is actually the less dangly part: hiking with your two feet on the ground. When transitioning between pathways, you’ll encounter some brief, fairly steep treks that add up to about two miles. Aside from that, the only other strain you will encounter is exclusively psychological.

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Expectation: Via ferrata is scary.

Reality: Via ferrata is only scary if you are (deeply) afraid of heights.

A fear of heights is not uncommon, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. The important part is being self-aware and understanding how much that fear affects you. Ask yourself: ‘to what extent does this fear dictate my actions?’ and note that via ferrata is one of the safest possible environments for you to face a fear of heights. That’s thanks to the abundant safety equipment and knowledgeable guides, who are experts at coaching folks through stressful experiences. 

Part of what makes via ferrata so thrilling is the unique bird’s eye view. Given that, you will be very high up the side of a mountain – we are talking several stories here. Luckily, the top-of-the-line equipment and your guides ensure that you are never unsecured at such heights, which brings us to our next point.

Expectation: Via ferrata is risky.

Reality: You would have to try really, really hard to get injured doing via ferrata.

Before you embark on your via ferrata journey, your guide will give you a tutorial (with demonstrations) about how to traverse the route safely and deck you out with every piece of safety equipment you need to stay clipped in and secure.

Key components of your safety equipment are the carabiners attached to your harness. A single carabiner easily sustains the weight of one heavy human – you get two, so make that double the security. It is almost physically impossible to fall off the cable in the unlikely event that you take a tumble. 

Staying secured as you move along the via ferrata route only requires a simple pattern: unclip, clip, unclip, clip. Doing so at the designated transition points ensures that you are clipped to the metal cable at all times and leaves absolutely no room for any unsecured movement. 

In case you need any more security, we would note that the via ferrata guides have a variety of relevant medical backgrounds in nursing, firefighting and military service. The adventure companies in Greater Zion prefer guides with medical backgrounds and appropriate medical certifications. In short, they’re great folks to have around in the event of any emergency. But we’re not anticipating any.

No matter your expectations going in, via ferrata is a sure way to pump your reality with adrenaline and unforgettable memories. Experience Greater Zion from a whole new perspective, and climb to new heights of adventure in the Land of Exhilaration.

“I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name/ It felt good to be out of the rain”

  America, “A Horse With No Name”

We don’t know the specific desert this iconic song is referencing, but in our completely unbiased opinion, it was probably in Greater Zion. In our slightly more experience-based opinion, we know that deserts aren’t always rainbows and butterflies and classic throwback sing-along songs. They can be intensely hot, especially in the heat of a summer day. Here’s how you can beat Greater Zion desert heat before you can’t remember your name.

Trek to higher elevations

With the air as crisp as the scent of the pines, you’ll breathe easy as you escape that scorching lowland temperatures.

Greater Zion is well-known for the famed natural wonderland, Zion National Park (as you might have gathered from our name.) However, there is a lesser known but equally wondrous national treasure nearby. Enter: Pine Valley.

In stark contrast to the sprawling desert landscape that dominates most of Washington County, Pine Valley marks the beginning of Dixie National Forest, the largest National Forest in Utah and yet another item on the state’s long list of iconic outdoor country. With its lush woodlands, rushing rivers and mountain peaks reaching just beyond 10,000 feet in elevation, you will feel like you are in an entirely different state, or perhaps even on another planet, only a convenient 45-minute trip from the home base city of St. George.

Pine Valley is known for its serene recreation area, beautiful campsites, scenic hiking trails and, perhaps most importantly during summer months, temperatures averaging 16 degrees cooler than St. George’s summertime highs due to the increased elevation. With the air as crisp as the scent of the pines, you’ll breathe easy as you escape that scorching lowland temperatures.

Take a dip

For outdoor water recreation, consider exploring local state parks like Sand Hollow, Quail Creek, or Gunlock.

When it’s so hot that it feels like everything is on fire, water is the best thing to put it out with. Luckily, Greater Zion has plenty of options to choose from.

For outdoor water recreation, consider exploring local state parks like Sand Hollow, Quail Creek, or Gunlock. All three are home to beautiful reservoirs with scenic views and several water-friendly activities like boating, kayaking, paddleboarding, beaching and more. (Pro tip: although Gunlock State Park has a smaller lake, it also has the coolest water temperatures due to altitude.) 

If man-made swimming options are more your speed, you can find almost anything you can think of in Greater Zion, including indoor pools, outdoor pools, recreational swimming, competitive swimming, indoor water parks and sun decks.

Treat yourself

Taking good care of yourself will prevent the heat from catching up with you. Hydrate, apply sun protection, and while you’re on a roll with the self-care, why not make a whole spa day out of it? As the saying goes: you can’t pour from an empty cup.

There are several day spas and destination spas in Greater Zion, offering everything from massages to facials to therapy sessions. Making space for self-care allows you to relax and reconnect with yourself, your loved ones, and your surroundings from the comfort of the shade and air conditioning. You will leave feeling rejuvenated, and your cup will runneth over – in a metaphorical and literal sense, as we’re serious about staying hydrated!

Think nocturnally

Sunset on the Temple
Zion National Park is a certified Dark Sky Park. With little to no light pollution, you can see some of the clearest views of the night sky in the world.

Long, hot desert days are usually followed by mild, refreshing desert nights. So, a day spent hiding from the heat isn’t necessarily a day wasted. Rather, it is the perfect opportunity to look at Greater Zion in a different light (or, sometimes, no light at all).

Zion National Park is a certified Dark Sky Park. With little to no light pollution, you can see some of the clearest views of the night sky in the world. Taking in the crystal-clear views of the galaxy while surrounded by the majesty of Zion National Park elevates stargazing to an entirely new level.

The nighttime activities don’t stop at Zion National Park, though. Local restaurants, bars, and breweries create more social evening ventures. Combined with the musicals, concerts, and musicals hosted by the Tuacahn Center for the Arts throughout the year, this makes for the perfect night out on the town. Rich in art, culture, and natural beauty, Greater Zion’s nightlife resonates with everyone from the social butterflies to the quiet wanderers.

No matter which category you fall into or what weather conditions are like, there is adventure to be had year-round in Greater Zion, the Land of Discovery.

A unique celestial event will be observable in southwest Utah in the upcoming months, adding to Greater Zion’s extensive portfolio of opportunities to view the sky in ways you have never seen before. An annular solar eclipse will be visible near Greater Zion on Oct. 14, 2023 from 9:08 to 11:56 a.m. MDT, and a partial solar eclipse will be visible directly in Greater Zion at the same time.

Visual showcase of the eclipse viewing sites
Photo courtesy of Michael Zeiler,

What is going on?

You’re likely to find a beautiful observation spot in many of our open spaces here in Greater Zion.

So, what exactly is an annular solar eclipse? An annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon obstructs our view of the sun partially, but a small ring of the sun is still visible. This phenomenon is informally referred to as a “ring of fire.” 

The moon will not obstruct the entirety of the sun like in a total solar eclipse because it will be too far away from Earth at that point in its revolution, so you can expect the sky to become dimmer, but not outright dark. We all know it’s best practice to never stare directly at the sun, but remember, that rule still applies during an eclipse despite the sun being partially covered. Wear eye protection the entire time you observe the eclipse, per experts’ recommendation.
An important eye safety disclaimer, in the words of NASA: “When watching an annular solar eclipse directly with your eyes, you must look through safe solar viewing glasses (“eclipse glasses”) or a safe handheld solar viewer at all times. Eclipse glasses are NOT regular sunglasses; regular sunglasses, no matter how dark, are not safe for viewing the Sun.”

Where can I watch?

After you have purchased proper eye protection, the next thing you will need to do is find a good observation spot. 

Seasoned eclipse chasers like to point out that if you wait for an eclipse to come to you, you might be waiting for the rest of your life. The upcoming annular eclipse is no exception, but luckily, the direct path is only a few hours away from Greater Zion. To observe the eclipse in its full annular position (the complete “ring of fire” position that we mentioned earlier), you will need to travel directly into the eclipse’s path. Here are a few locations for prime annular views:

  • Bryce Canyon National Park (~2 hours away from St. George)
  • Canyonlands National Park (~5 hours away from St. George)
  • Capitol Reef National Park (~3.5 hours away from St. George)
  • Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (~2.5 hours away from St. George)

If you’re feeling more partial to a partial eclipse (and less travel), there are plenty more local observation spots within Greater Zion. We recommend these gorgeous destinations year-round, but an eclipse will make the experience all the more wondrous:

You’re likely to find a beautiful observation spot in many of our open spaces here in Greater Zion, and the coming eclipse will enhance the ever-present sense of beauty and wonder. Dedicated groups plan trips years in advance to observe these cosmic coincidences, and many ancient cultures interpreted eclipses as a signal of rebirth. We invite you to experience this renewal for yourself in the Land of Forever.

Many locals here have deep roots. Some venture away, but most come back. One thing they all have in common? A deep connection to this terrain paired with a sense of ownership.

Ask any Greater Zion local what their land embodies to them and you’ll get as many answers as there are stars in its celestial night sky. Harmony and wonder dance on these horizons, where the sun illuminates a flawless, blue sky and blazes over a sculptural landscape. No one understands the emotional attachment to Greater Zion — a Land of Reverence — better than the ones who live, work and raise families here. 

One multi-generational native recalls childhood memories of St. George as a little highway town. A teacher-turned-adventure-guide churns out facts about volcano calderas and homogenous sandstone. And a Greater Zion boomerang describes his triumphant return home after 20 years away. 

All testify to a collective reverence of Greater Zion. Beyond its geographic anomaly, the land houses a proud community driven by hospitality and kindness. The residents welcome all visitors to do what locals do best: Shop and eat locally, seek out safe adventures, volunteer for events, and practice trail etiquette. There’s no better guidebook to why this Land of Reverence is worth preserving than their stories here. 

Hospitality Steeped in Pioneer Roots

“I’m as local as they come and never want to leave.” Shayne Wittwer owes plenty to his pioneer ancestors. Long before the Wittwers became hoteliers, the family’s heritage was etched in stone using wagon axle grease — still viewable today along Snow Canyon State Park’s Pioneer Names Trail.

Shayne’s Greater Zion story dates back to the 1860s. “We’ve been here forever, primarily as farmers and ranchers,” he states. Not long after a short stint in Las Vegas where his family opened their first hotel, they returned to Santa Clara in the 1950s and opened their first Utah hotel on St. George Boulevard. 

Shayne Wittwer

“Come and fully experience and enjoy it. But leave it so others can experience the same thing 100 years from now.”

Shayne Wittwer, Wittwer Hospitality

The Wittwer Hospitality CEO has had a front-row seat to Greater Zion’s growth, first as a child and today as an entrepreneur, avid mountain biker, family man, and community spokesperson. “Instead of being a stopover, we’ve become a destination from both directions. I’m amazed at how much business we see from markets like California and Arizona … and even Washington, Oregon, and Texas.”

It’s no wonder travelers seek out Greater Zion. “There’s something here for everyone,” he says. “You can do 20 different things in a day that are so dissimilar from each other yet and all are enjoyable.” 

That variety is what makes Greater Zion a place to preserve for future generations of locals and explorers. “I’m of the mindset that the land was meant to be seen and used. That’s why we all live here. And that’s why people come to visit. Come and fully experience and enjoy it. But leave it so others can experience the same thing 100 years from now.” 

Getting Schooled in the Great Outdoors 

Rick Praetzel takes adventure to the next level. “When I see somebody come back from an experience and they have that look in their eyes, that shining light, and they try to put it into words. I just say, ‘It’s fine. You don’t need to explain.’” 

But Rick is not driven solely by the adrenaline rush. For him and his Zion Adventure Company team, experiencing Greater Zion is all about the human experience — one that should be gifted to the next generation. 

Rick never lost his ability to teach or connect with students, even though he launched an adventure company in 1996. The former math and physics teacher enthusiastically imparts his wisdom to today’s students of the great outdoors. 

Rick Praetzel 1

“It’s within everybody’s grasp. Just bridle yourself a little bit so that everybody can access this amazing place.”

Rick Praetzel, Zion Adventure Company

The geographic phenomenon of Zion — owning the thickest layer of homogenous sandstone, the largest super volcano caldera, dinosaur tracks, and three major geographic zones (Great Basin, Colorado Plateau and the Mojave Desert) — continues to impress him daily. “When you put sandstone with water and gravity inside a slot canyon, it’s beyond anything. Its beauty consumes every human attribute. You can’t help but be happy or experience joy and wonder. Living in Greater Zion for me is a never-ending supply of those moments.”

Cultivating these moments for future explorers to enjoy is key. That’s why sustainability bleeds into Rick’s curriculum of science and sport. Along the way, guides point out cryptobiotic soil or sandstone fins and explain the importance of bringing an extra trash bag to pack it out. “When you take on a sense of responsibility, not a sense of obligation, but a sense that it’s yours, on behalf of your children and grandchildren and everybody else, then there’s really no loss of joy or experience in factoring those actions into everything you do. It’s within everybody’s grasp. Just bridle yourself a little bit so that everybody can access this amazing place.”

The Native Returns Home 

“Love it or lose it. It’s as simple as that.” If there is one thing Hank Van Orden wants travelers and locals to know about protecting Greater Zion, it’s this.

“The desert is so beautifully rugged, yet so delicate at the same time. When we don’t respect the terrain, we will lose access to it,” Hank says. “One of the things that make Greater Zion so great is the level of access we have to these beautiful lands. That access could easily be stripped from us if our actions are not respectful to the terrain. Protection of the lands should first and foremost come from those that use them.”

Hank takes pride in Greater Zion for a number of reasons, but two attributes stand out most: community and scenery. The people and the landscape, plus a chance to manage a new luxury hotel and restaurant in his hometown, are why he returned to Greater Zion recently after 20 years away. 

Hank VanOrden

“Love it or lose it. It’s as simple as that.”

Hank Van Orden, The Advenire Autograph Collection

“I moved around between six different states [after high school], only to realize that everywhere I moved never stacked up to Greater Zion. When the opportunity to move home and manage such a great property as The Advenire, Autograph Collection, I did not hesitate for one second. It was a drop-everything-and-run-as-fast-as-you-can scenario!” 

In his line of work, Hank frequently hears visitors recount their stays. “We recently hosted a Red Bull-sponsored pro mountain biker from New Zealand for a month. This world traveler said that the Greater Zion terrain is unlike anything he had ever seen in all his travels. The dirt, mountains, and mesas were the best he had ever ridden. But he also said that he had never experienced this level of hospitality before. Everyone he met was just so friendly and helpful throughout his whole trip. That really stuck with me and is something the whole community should be proud of.” 

How to Visit the Land of Reverence Responsibly 

Rick Praetzel best sums up a Greater Zion day like this: It’s about “creating intimate experiences, like finding a quiet corner of the park where you can watch the light change over the course of the day and see some very small special part of a big, general area.” He likes to sprinkle this “human experience” into each of his journeys. “This gives a visitor the same slice of the life that a local has here.”

This holistic human experience is simple to attain while paying it forward to the next season of visitors. All it takes is a little reading and preparation. Sustainability actions are a simple add-on benefit to enjoying the action. Refer to our Land of Forever checklist for all you need to know about how to visit Greater Zion responsibly, with reverence. 

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.

Preparation is everything when it comes to desert exploration. While many explore Greater Zion to get out of their comfort zone — from climbing to new heights or setting a personal best to meeting new people or going off-grid — all successful wilderness experiences stem from smart planning. 

Safety is first on the prep list. Backcountry experts and novice recreationists alike should start any planning with the end goal of getting home safe. When responsible travel precautions are taken in advance, two things happen: (1) you focus on the fun, the views, and the magic of the Land of Exploration, and (2) you protect Greater Zion’s ecosystem and infrastructure for the next season of visitors.

Before You Go

Greater Zion is grand, majestic, and unparalleled. It’s an intricate destination where three unique landscapes converge — the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau. This geological convergence provides striking colors, rough terrain, changing elevations and thousands of species of plants and wildlife. 

It’s undeniably easy to access a wilderness experience from the comfort of nearby cities and towns, but don’t let the ease fool you. On that short drive to off-grid life, you may lose cell coverage, run out of water, or not have access to a restroom when needed. Here’s how to avoid surprises so you can focus on fun.

1. Pack for extreme weather.

Being prepared for any adventure in Greater Zion means preparing for climate curveballs. One hour it’s 100 degrees and sunny, then the next hour could bring a monsoon. Pine Valley Recreation Area and Zion National Park can be 20 degrees cooler than St. George. Bring quick-dry layers and sun protection for all weather conditions and invest in a hydration pack or easy-to-haul water bottles.

2. Go analog. 

Opt for print maps to identify trails, trailheads, ranger stations, and restroom locations. Smart phones are not so intelligent when out of batteries or cell service. Also, not all trails are obviously marked. In the case of more rugged. out-of-bounds exploration, bring along a compass, as well as flashlights (or headlamps) and first aid gear.

3. Build out a loose schedule.

Constructing a rough itinerary will identify where, when, and how long an activity will take. Consider plenty of time to eat, hydrate, prep your day pack, drive, wander, explore a visitor station, enjoy the sites, take photographs and visit local boutiques and restaurants.

4. Visit off-season or mid-week. 

Lessen your chance of crowds by visiting mid-week, during the winter, or outside of major holidays. Extend a weekend trip to at least three or four days so allow ample time to explore. 

5. Book early.

Lodging fills quickly, especially during holiday weekends in the fall and springtime. Book early for the best selection. Want to hike Angels Landing? In an effort to relieve congestion, the National Park Service initiated a reservation-only permit to enjoy the popular trail. 

5. Think about your pets.

Are pets allowed? It depends. Make it a priority to check if pets are allowed at your first choice of hotel, on shuttles, in restaurants, on trails, in parks, and on or around lakes. If you do bring them, always dispose of their waste. If they can’t tag along, seek out a local doggy daycare.

Once You’re Here

Sure, you’re in the wild, but rules still apply. Trail etiquette provides simple-to-follow guidelines to better the experience for you and the travelers that follow you, even years later.

1. Check for travel alerts often.

National Park Service, Utah State Parks and Greater Zion Travel Alerts regularly update their pages and social media to announce closures, construction, flood watches, shuttle information, and water health. 

2. Leave it as you find it.

Don’t pick flowers, disrupt wildlife, move rocks, damage artifacts or litter. The practice of Leave No Trace focuses on educating people on land protection, instead of relegating the land to costly restoration programs or restricting access altogether.

3. Stay on the trail.

Read all signage when available. While not all paths will be well-marked, stay within the confines of the area and avoid stepping on dark-crusted cryptobiotic soil at all costs.

4. Pass it on to the next generation.

Empower your kids with education in responsible and safe travel. Teach them how to pack for a day in the desert, respect wildlife, check the weather, and hydrate frequently. Teach them to honor Greater Zion’s history and respect the surrounding community.

Written by Susan Lacke

Kona? Out. St. George? In. Instead of a big island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, triathlon’s Big Show will take place in southwestern Utah—the story behind what brought it there.

Like many triathletes, Julie Dunkle had big race goals for 2021. After early-season qualifying races for both the Ironman and 70.3 World Championships, she plotted out an ambitious plan to do both races, one month apart:

“My original idea was to have a solid day at 70.3 Worlds,” said the Encinitas, California native, “then go for a PR and podium at the Ironman World Championship in Kona.”

Dunkle trained with this goal in mind, only to have it all fall apart with an email from Ironman: Kona was postponed to February due to tightened COVID-19 restrictions in Hawaii. Suddenly, her plans changed. 70.3 Worlds was no longer a tune-up race, but the main event.

For the past two seasons, athletes have gotten used to pivoting in response to race cancellations and reorganizations. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has meant that every race registration is a gamble; athletes simply sign up and hope the host city doesn’t shut down the event due to an active or imminent outbreak, or that there are no travel restrictions imposed by the destination.

Athletes aren’t the only ones impacted by this uncertainty. After a hiatus in 2020, the Ironman organization fully expected to be able to put on its world championship events this year. In mid-July, race organizers traveled to Kona and the 70.3 Worlds host city of St. George, Utah to finalize plans with local officials:

IM 70.3 WC 2021 MCM12

“At the time, COVID case numbers and hospitalizations in the area were at a manageable level and race details were moving forward as originally planned,” said Kevin Lewis, president of the Greater Zion Convention & Tourism Office in St. George. “There were positive indicators that the travel restrictions for international visitors to the U.S. would be reduced. Two weeks later, the situation had changed significantly.” 

With the development of the Delta variant, COVID case numbers rose rapidly in Utah and Hawaii. In other parts of the world, they were even more pronounced. U.S. leaders announced they would not be making changes to international travel restrictions, which limited nearly half of all athletes who qualified for Ironman’s world championship events. It was a flurry of activity at the Ironman organization as they worked with local officials in Hawaii and Utah to find ways to still put on a world-class event. 

The two states have had vastly differing approaches to the pandemic. Hawaii has exercised extreme caution, requiring quarantines for non-vaccinated travelers and only accepting vaccination records from a small list of approved countries. With limited hospital beds and medical facilities, a surge of the COVID virus would overwhelm the tiny island community. Back in 2020, the Ironman World Championship was first postponed to February 2021, then canceled. It wasn’t surprising, then, when Ironman announced the 2021 World Championship would be postponed as well:

“The resurgence of the virus and new Delta strain has had significant impact on the island community of Hawaii,” Ironman CEO Andrew Messick said in a press statement on Aug. 19. “Combined with substantial border closures and travel restrictions for qualified athletes, there is not a viable pathway in October to host the Ironman World Championship.”

Utah, on the other hand, has adopted a “return to normal” approach, hosting large events throughout the year, including the Ironman 70.3 North American Championship race back in May.

IMWC Swim 41

“This isn’t our first large format event during COVID. We’ve been hosting events with enhanced safety protocols for several months,” said commissioner Gil Almquist, chairman of the Washington County Commission in Utah. “We have stayed open in Washington County while exercising all precautions at large events. With the Ironman 70.3 North American Championship, we showed our health department, citizen volunteers, spectators, and participants that an outdoor race can be held with minimal health risk.”

The conversation in Utah was much different than in Hawaii. In addition to more relaxed rules surrounding COVID, St. George has access to more hospital beds and medical facilities than Kona. Instead of looking at if the race could be held, race organizers and local officials began discussing how to hold a world championship event with a reduced global turnout. As many as half of qualified athletes for the 70.3 World Championship race were from outside of the United States, and many would not be able to travel into the country. Instead of 5,000 athletes from around the world, the race would be less than 3,000 mostly Americans. (Ironman estimates 70% of the 2021 70.3 World Championship field will be from the United States). 

“In August, when it became increasingly clear that travel and border restrictions would not be relaxed in time for all athletes to attend the 70.3 World Championship event, we formulated an alternative plan,” said Ironman spokesman Dan Berglund. That plan included condensing the two-day race format, where men and women raced on separate days, into one day.

“With the smaller athlete field size, and bringing a two-day event back to St. George in 2022, we looked at how we could lessen the strain on the local community this year,” he said. “We collectively decided to move this to a one-day weekend event, removing the weekday component, which has the natural ability to cause increased impact on the local community.”

The one-day format also makes it easier to recruit volunteers for the event. “Even as a one-day event, the volunteer requirements of the World Championship are almost twice what we normally provide at our annual race,” explains Lewis. “To put on an event of this magnitude is a significant commitment.” 

ironman 2016 run 002

Changes to the race in St. George have not been completely without criticism. Athletes who made travel plans based on the original two-day format had to scramble to change their flights or lodging reservations, some at great cost. Others have noted that merging the men’s and women’s races puts women at a competitive disadvantage, as the women’s pro race has historically been hindered by interference from pro and elite age-group men. And, of course, there is the criticism that the 2021 Ironman 70.3 World Championship will not be a true world championship, but more of an American one. Still, athletes and race organizers alike are happy just to have a race.

“With all the obstacles in the world today, the fact that we are putting on an event like this, in a place like this, at a time like this is a testament to the Ironman mantra that ‘anything is possible,” Almquist said.

With Kona out of the picture for 2021, all eyes are now on St. George. The sole Ironman world championship race of the year has attracted deep fields in both the pro and age-group categories, looking to test their mettle against an elite group of athletes. And for the first time since 2019, new champions will be crowned.

Written by Heather Wurtele

Hosting the Ironman World Championships in Utah might threaten our triathlete sensibilities, but it’ll make for new, exciting, and better racing.

For the first time since my retirement from professional triathlon in 2019, I have a serious fear of missing out.

It began when I saw an Instagram image of Snow Canyon in St. George, Utah. In the photo, the beautiful red rock scenery had an Ironman brand race sign slapped on top. I scrolled right past, assuming it was a photo related to the recent 70.3 World Championship race. Only when I saw some pros posting about the change (and all the arguments in the comments) did I realize it was something new. Ironman had announced the 2021 Ironman World Championships will take place in St. George, Utah on May 7, 2022.

The full Ironman World Championships. Not in Kona, but St. George.

It took a moment to sink in. When it did, I felt a pang of heartache. This was the first real yearning for triathlon that I’ve had since I retired. St. George is one of my favorite hard, hilly courses. My husband, Trevor, and I loved it so much that we lived there in our RV for four months out of the year, simply because it was the ideal training environment. 

Just when I had zero longing for anything triathlon-related anymore, they had to go and taunt me like that. Man, I would have loved to race an Ironman World Championship in St. George. 

IMWC Swim 4

The die-hard Kona crowd will argue that Hawaii is the spiritual home of Ironman. They claim the race history makes it the only place that athletes will ever want to go for the world championships, and they shake their head at the folly of this change.

Meanwhile, others think it would be great if the venue moved around the world. The world champion could be decided by different races in different conditions on different courses, allowing athletes to test their mettle in a variety of circumstances, not just the hot and windy one on Kona. When St. George was announced, these folks gave a cheer (but not too loud, so as not to offend Pele) for the silver linings of COVID cancellations. I’m cheering, too.

I get it: a race-vacation to Hawaii sounds more appealing than a trip to Utah. But once you get past the initial romantic idea of sandy beaches and poke bowls, you’ll soon realize Kona is a costly, difficult place to get to for many in the world. If we’re talking about ideal places to actually race a global triathlon event, Utah wins in my book.

No, there’s nothing quite like swimming in the ocean in Kona. The speedo-clad posturing and people-watching at Dig Me Beach during race week is pretty spectacular, but look away from the people in the water, and you’ll see understandably grumpy locals rolling their eyes as thousands of triathletes descend on their small community. At the single tiny local pool, triathletes can be found deck-changing, jumping in sweaty after running or riding, and generally making a nuisance of themselves. For pros, race week is often a special exercise in timing training sessions to avoid people—hard to do in a village of only 15,000.

There’s room to spread out in Utah. In addition to the swim venue at Sand Hollow Reservoir (and Quail Creek, if you really want to avoid crowds) there are four pools to choose from in the St. George area, including a spectacular new 50m pool that’s part of the Human Performance Center at Utah Tech University. It really is nice to have so many options for so many athletes. 

IM 70.3 WC 2021 MCM21

The same goes for biking and running. If endless hot laps of Ali’i Drive and the Queen K float your boat, that’s cool, but for pre-race training safety, St. George is going to be amazing. Since the first edition of Ironman St. George in 2010, the county has built an impressive network of paved trail systems, bike lanes, and parkways with big shoulders. If you prefer to run on dirt there are endless options in the state parks and BLM land all around. (The West Canyon Trail in Snow Canyon is one of my all-time favorite training run locations.)

And if a black lava background shot is a must for the ‘gram, you only need to cruise the Lava Flow Trail off of Pioneer Parkway through St. George and Ivins. In southern Utah, you get Kona-esque black lava rocks and orange sandstone.

One of the more frustrating things about racing the Ironman World Championship in Kona was the logistics. It’s hard for people to get out and spectate portions of the bike and run beyond Ali’i Drive and the Hot Corner in town. In St. George, there will be so many more chances for friends, family, supporters, sponsors, photographers, and your personal social media entourage to actually get to see the race and cheer you on. What’s more, the locals turn out to cheer, too. They love the race, and many volunteer to help athletes have the best race experience possible.

Of course, the main performance difference between Kona and St. George is the climate. To date, winning the Ironman World Championship has meant solving the very particular physiological problem of performing well in oppressive heat and humidity. I, for one, would have really liked the humid-heat element to be less of a deciding factor. Trying desperately to get enough fluids to survive that particular war of attrition keeps competitors from going out and racing as hard as they want to (or could under a different set of conditions). It’s kind of a bummer when you know that the World Championships is always going to be like that, and it simply doesn’t suit you. 

Rotating through multiple locations gives athletes a true world championship challenge in proving they can adapt to any environment, not just one particular corner of the globe. Dealing with terrain, climate and race conditions is all part of the game, and I think it’s good when those conditions change. Race dynamics change. Different athletes with different strengths can take different risks. It will be new and interesting. The cream will still rise to the top, it won’t just be curdled.

In 2013, Ironman announced it would shorten what had been a full distance race in St. George to a 70.3, because the full distance, with its challenging terrain, had gained a reputation for being “too hard.” I say the hard is what makes it so great. I’m excited to see the race return in 2021, and to see the world’s top triathletes take on a new and exciting and equally tough challenge.

And to answer the obvious question: No, I won’t be one of those athletes. Coming out of retirement is tempting, but it’s not going to happen. However, I will be cheering on the athletes who do take on what I feel is truly a world-class course for a world-class event.