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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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The Veyo and Santa Clara Volcanoes are 10 Minutes Apart. Here’s How to Hike Them.

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Southern Utah’s “Volcano Country” Encompasses Extinct Natural Wonders — and Homemade Pie

The tiny town of Veyo, Utah — just 20 minutes northwest of St. George with a total population of 822 — sits nestled in the shadow of a volcano.

“Volcano country,” its welcome sign reads. A little over eight and a half miles south of Veyo, just south of picturesque Diamond Valley, is the Santa Clara Volcano.

No need to worry: Neither the Veyo Volcano nor the Santa Clara Volcano will erupt ever again.

That’s because they’re both cinder cones — also called scoria cones — said recently retired BYU geology professor Eric Christiansen.

And cinder cones are monogenetic, meaning they erupt only once, he said.

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Christiansen was part of a research team that, in 2013, discovered evidence that a supervolcano near Wah Wah Springs erupted 30 million years ago, burying a region that stretches from central Utah to central Nevada and from Fillmore in the north to Cedar City in the south.

The eruption lasted for a week and spewed more than 5,500 cubic kilometers of magma, making it about 5,000 times larger than the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption. Ash has been found as far away as Nebraska. In southern Utah, deposits from this eruption are 13,000 feet thick.

It collapsed into a caldera — the technical term for a volcano’s crater; essentially a giant hole in the ground — after its eruption, but this caldera was difficult to map because fault lines stretched it out over time.

“Imagine drawing a circle on a piece of paper and then cutting it with scissors in about four different places, and then stretching it apart,” Christiansen said, adding that his team worked across five different mountain ranges to determine where all the caldera’s pieces were.

He also said the Wah Wah Springs eruption happened too long ago to be responsible for southwest Utah’s current landscape.

But the tectonic stretching that broke up the supervolcano’s caldera is the same type of stretching which shaped the stunning natural beauty that southwest Utah is known for today, Christiansen said.

And while the Veyo Volcano and the Santa Clara Volcano are extinct, he said cinder cones group together, meaning the area has the potential for more volcanic activity.

“I think a lot of people believe we’re not in a volcanically active region,” Christiansen said. “And I would like to put forth that we are in a volcanically active region. It’s just [that eruptions] don’t happen very often.”

So while you’re not likely to see new volcanic action in southwest Utah any time soon, there’s still plenty of evidence that the Earth’s fire once blazed hot and furious above ground.

Here’s how to explore the Veyo Volcano and the Santa Clara Volcano.

Veyo Volcano

The Veyo Volcano doesn’t have an established trail, but it is open to visitors. Hikers should come prepared — and be mindful that the volcano is covered in loose, rocky terrain that could quickly cause someone to lose their footing on the steep incline.

To explore the Veyo Volcano, look for a pullout on the west side of Highway 18 about a mile south of downtown Veyo. Here you’ll see a gate with a yellow sign asking visitors to close the gate behind them. The gate is held shut with a simple chain and swivel snap; there is no lock.

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When you’ve gone through the gate, you can walk or drive along a bumpy dirt road that runs towards and then alongside the volcano. A muddy stream creates a striking slash of green on the landscape, while the nearby town spills out below.

Once you’re close enough to the volcano, you can begin climbing at any time, though the west side seems to have a gentler upwards slope.

The ground will become increasingly covered with loose pieces of black and red rock as you get closer to the volcano. Pale green stalks with hardy orange blossoms burst out of the charred terrain.

When you’ve had your fill of exploring the Veyo Volcano, there’s more volcano-themed fun to be had in Veyo itself. Swing by Veyo Pies for a slice — Or three. Or eight. We’re not judging! — of their signature Veyo Volcano pie: layers of cream cheese, chocolate and butterscotch, ensconced in a graham cracker crust and topped with whipped cream. (And yes, it’s every bit as guiltily delicious as it sounds.)

You can also sample any of their other 24 pies, which include a variety of fruit, cream and specialty pies, or from their pastry selection which includes turnovers, cookies and doughnuts. Pies can be purchased whole or by the slice.

And if you’re hungry for more than dessert, just across the street from Veyo Pies is the Slice of Veyo pizzeria.

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In addition to traditional pizzas, pastas and paninis, their menu features the Veyo Volcano pizza (pepperoni, Italian sausage, jalapenos) and the Maui Volcano pizza (Canadian bacon, pineapple, jalapenos), both of which are made with the restaurant’s spicy “lava sauce.”

Santa Clara Volcano

If you’re looking to check more than one volcano off your list, hit up the Santa Clara Volcano as you drive back to St. George along Highway 18, located just past the turn-in to Diamond Valley (total drive time is about 10 minutes).

Unlike the Veyo Volcano, the Santa Clara Volcano has an established hiking trail. As you pass Diamond Valley, keep an eye out for the easy-to-miss trailhead marker for the Cinder Cone Trail.

The Hike St. George website ranks the 1.9 miles roundtrip hike as moderately difficult due to the trail’s steepness and slipperiness.

Still, if you can handle the hike’s 500 feet of elevation, the top offers beautiful views of Snow Canyon and Dameron Valley, the website states.

Once at the top, visitors can also hike down into a crater and check out a small rock fort and rock wall.

View the story on The Salt Lake Tribune

Adrenaline-Filled Activities in Greater Zion

When you’re in Greater Zion, the adventures call to you. The adventures are plentiful, and provide a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the land, geology and history – to whatever extent you wish.

With the adventures below, fill up your agenda. Plop one excursion on each day, or get creative and try to squeeze multiple in a 24-hour slot. You’ll be taking home memories that last a lifetime.

Insider tips: if these adventures require a guide, book before you arrive. Many guides and outfitters fill up weeks in advance. Be prepared too.

Via Feratta

Attention adrenaline junkies! This adventure brings a day packed with scaling vertical mountain walls using iron rungs and safety cables. Greater Zion is one of the few areas in America where you can experience this adventure and the best part … there’s relatively no experience required. The guides and outfitters of Greater Zion will educate you on the technical and physical requirements and provide you with the necessary safety equipment. When finished with the climb, be sure to refuel at the nearest restaurant and put a check on that ol’ bucket list.

Greater Zion Via Ferrata

Visit Zion National Park

One day in one of America’s top-visited National Parks is doable with the right planning. Start your morning with sunrise at the Zion Human History Museum, watching the cliffs light up to a fiery red hue. Next, venture to the Visitor Center to catch the Zion Canyon Shuttle onto Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Once inside the canyon, you’ll have your choice of trails. Thrill seekers will gravitate toward Angels Landing, one of the world’s most epic hikes with unforgettable views and steep drop-offs. Hikers will enjoy The Narrows, which guides you through towering canyon walls, hiking the cool waters of the Virgin River. Or, take one of two trails beginning from the Visitor Center, The Pa’rus or The Watchman Trails. The Pa’rus is a paved, easy hike, running along the Virgin River. The Watchman, often overlooked by visitors, takes you along desert greenery and evergreen trees to a beautiful valley overlook. Head up the switchbacks along Mount Carmel Highway and take in the views on your way to the distinctly different East side of the park. On your way, do the Canyon Overlook Trail for a quick out-and-back that looks back on canyon you were exploring earlier. Stay past dark and take in the magical night sky of this International Dark Sky Park.

Bike the Hurricane Cliffs Trail System

The ten trails comprising the Hurricane Cliffs Trail system traverse 31 miles of plateaus, drop-offs and sweeping desert views. Found between Gooseberry Mesa, the Virgin River and Hurricane Cliffs, this trail system includes a variety of trails with varying levels of difficulty. Generally, the trails are flowy with technical sections that are short and easily traversed. Smack dab in the middle of Greater Zion, it’s easy to jet into Hurricane or La Verkin for a bite to eat and get back to the trails. And, of course, finish the day with a hearty meal at a local steakhouse or rib shack.

Mountain biking man dropping into canyon

Escape the Heat on Higher Ground

Many visitors to Greater Zion make a stop in Zion’s scenic canyon and its Kolob Canyon, but most never explore the Kolob Terrace area. This hidden gem begins at the Kolob Terrace Road turn-off in Virgin, and continues up a winding canyon road, to around 8,100 feet in elevation. The cooler temperatures bring a scenic array of pine trees, rolling meadows, natural wildlife, classic Zion Canyon walls and a sparkling reservoir. Spend the day kayaking, paddle boarding and fishing or hike along one of the lesser explored local trails like the Hop Valley, West Rim and Lambs Knoll trails. Oh! And be sure to stop into the Kolob Marketplace and Grill for a delicious meal or snacks.

Explore Greater Zion on Four Legs

Giddy up! Seeing Greater Zion via horseback offers a unique opportunity to bond with nature the way cowboys and pioneers did. Experienced guides will pair you with a horse that reflects your riding ability and personality, allowing you the chance at spectacular views of red slick rock, dramatic expanses of towering sandstone cliffs and fields of black basalt lava flows. A handful of outfitters will take you to various destinations often not seen on two legs.

Hike to Kolob Arch

One of the lesser-visited and more amazing viewpoints in Zion National Park, Kolob Arch flaunts its curves above the park, high on an exposed cliff. It’s the second longest arch in the world, but its remoteness makes it a little less traversed. The trail is an out-and-back trail encompassing around 15 miles. The arch itself is off-limits to hikers, but the views along the trail and of the arch are spectacular. Heft those water- and snack-filled backpacks for a day trip that will leave you inspired.

Schedule a Canyoneering Trip

A hidden gem canyon located in Hildale, Water Canyon makes a great beginner technical canyoneering adventure. The hike up has visitors weaving into tall canyon walls along a cool running stream to a waterfall and slot canyon where canyoneering outfitters will guide you up and into beautiful canyon rappels. The canyon sits just outside of Zion National Park, so no permit is needed, but it’s a Zion-like experience. Start early to see the sun rise over the gorgeous canyon walls. Guides across Greater Zion will assist with instruction and gear for this canyoneering adventure and/or many others.

Man dropping down into canyon with climbing gear on.

Take an OHV Ride

Knowledgeable guides know Greater Zion better than the locals! Take advantage of this intelligence and go to places many don’t get to see. Book an off-road, backcountry adventure tour to experience dinosaur tracks, Native American petroglyphs and glittery gypsum mines, all within the valleys, mountains and dry washes of Greater Zion.  You can even opt to pilot your own ATV or side-by-side. Many of the guides and outfitters offer add-ons and customizations, like a rappelling and zip line experiences, meals, a helicopter tour and more. All the options are perfect option for families and groups. Thrills shared are thrills multiplied.

These adventures are just a start. Explore more things to see and do as you plan out your time in Greater Zion. Work in something more relaxing like a visit to an art gallery or spa treatment or take in a leisurely round of golf. Everything pairs great with adventure.

The Land of adventure is calling … rise to it.

As you’ve made your basecamp in Greater Zion, a quick day trip can lead to all kinds of additional discoveries and experiences. Here are a few options to consider.

Bryce National Park

One of the most beautiful day trips outside of Greater Zion is Bryce Canyon National Park. Located about 2.5 hours from St George, Bryce is nothing short of breathtaking. It is one of the most unique places on the planet, as it houses the largest concentration of hoodoos (irregular columns of rock) found anywhere on Earth. Situated about the Grand Staircase, it covers 36,000 acres. Easy

pull-offs along the main park road, provide canyon views, access to hikes, and miles of awe-inspiring sandstone hoodoo spires.

Bryce

Grand Canyon North Rim

Located about a three-hour drive from St. George, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon will allow you to stare down the heart of the canyon, spanning over 277 miles with wonder, awe and amazement. The Grand Canyon is also the home to many Native Americas who for thousands of years, built settlements throughout the canyons and inside many of its caves. While visiting, be sure to stop at the Jacob Lake Inn for a cookie and shake!

grand canyon north rim

Valley of Fire State Park

Known for its bright red Aztec sandstone crops and twisted, taffy-like domes, Valley of Fire State Park is a hidden gem among the desolate Nevada desert. Drive through and hit the main lookouts or spend the day hiking trails like Fire Wave with white and red sandstone, Elephant Rock, Seven Sisters, and Mouse’s Tank or Atlatl Rock, where you can see petroglyphs. Don’t skip Rainbow Vista. This state park is approximately 90 minutes from St. George.

Las Vegas

Whether you’re a high roller, show-goer or a sightseer, Las Vegas is the perfect one-day getaway. By day or night, try your luck at a casino, see a dazzling performance or take a gondola ride through the Venetian Hotel, see the Bellagio Fountain Show, dine at the Tournament of Kings (a live-action medieval dinner show) and tour the famous Fremont Street. If you want more natural experiences, explore Red Rock Canyon. Or travel a little farther and see the modern marvel of human engineering, Hoover Dam, or play in Lake Mead.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Located East of Zion National Park, the Coral Pink Sand Dunes offer roller-coaster style cruises over shifting dunes via OHV and coastal-like surfboarding down the slopes of pink hills. Pack a lunch and rent an OHV or sandboard for the perfect day of sailing the sands. Downtown Kanab offers a handful of restaurants for a meal on your way there or back. Kanab is also home to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, the nation’s largest sanctuary for homeless animals, that offers free tours.

Pine Valley Recreation Area

Pine Valley Recreation Area offers a great escape from the heat of the Southern Utah desert, located just 40 minutes north of St. George. Enjoy fishing from the serene Pine Valley Reservoir and explore the forest via trails like the Santa Clara River Trail, where the smells of pine are inescapable. Plan a stop for dinner at dessert at the Brandin’ Iron Steakhouse.

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Cedar Breaks

Bryce Canyon’s lesser-known and less-crowded little sister, Cedar Breaks National Monument, features unusual limestone formations and beautiful hiking trails surrounded by a natural amphitheater. Spend the day hiking and picnicking amid quiet meadows and view the local wildlife from incredible canyon overlooks. Then, stay after dark for close encounters of the Milky Way and the starry night sky.

Shakespeare Festival

Embark one hour north on I-15 and air a visit to I/G Winery in downtown Cedar City with a theatrical experience like no other at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. The festival is a Tony Award-winning, professional theater on the campus of Southern Utah University, presenting plays by The Bard and other playwrights every June through October in three theaters. Magic, backstage, orientation and costume and props seminars also offer you some theater insights. Don’t forget the wine – IG offers locally made, blended and vented wines in a fantastic tasting room. Grab a flight and try many of their offerings.

Use the Itineraries Below to Plan Your Dream Vacation

Greater Zion is made for adventure. If you have simply a half a day or want to build your extended stay, consider these half-day adventures. And, if you really like something, feel free to make it a whole day!

Visit Zion National Park

Get up early and hit the Canyon Overlook Trail to take in the sunrise overlooking Zion Canyon. The trail is only one-mile round-trip, so easy to get to the lookout before the sun appears over the towers below. If you don’t make it up before the sun, Zion, as the nation’s third-most-visit park, is still a must-do. Take in the iconic hikes such as The Narrows or Angels Landing, or try one or more of the lesser known trails for a less crowded experience.

Go Canyoneering

Do what? Yep, try a guide-led canyoneering expedition. Desert slot canyons are an irresistible lure to visitors of Greater Zion. The narrow, banded rock caverns with twisty bends and corners create an experience only accessible via rope and harness. See secluded labyrinth passages in Zion National Park and the surrounding area. Canyoneering adventures are available in half or full-day options.

Golf a Round

Greater Zion is home to 13 top-notch golf courses. Take a half day and tee it up among the green fairways in red rock surroundings. Keep your eye on the ball, but take some good time to concentrate on your beautiful surroundings. Many courses will have rental clubs available and have onsite dining for that before- or after-the-round meal.

Experience via Ferrata

Greater Zion is one of the few places in America where you can experience this combination of scaling steep faces of gorgeous canyon walls with the security of iron-rung ladders and safety cables. This adrenaline-filled adventure will definitely earn you some bragging points. No experience required, as your guides and outfitters will education you on technique and you’ll soon be a pro. Make sure to bring your camera. You’ll be seeing things very few others ever get to experience

Explore via Two Wheels

Rent a bike or ebike and take a ride along the Virgin River Trail, a popular favorite among biking enthusiasts because of its easy accessibility, beautiful scenery and diverse landscape, winding through St. George and Washington cities. The area offers hundreds of miles of paved trails, so explore beyond the Virgin River too. Or simply ride through a state park or let a bike take you to the many downtown shops.

Hike and Explore Snow Canyon State Park

Within just a few hours, you can tackle many easy to moderate trails in this gem of a state park, and you won’t believe the variety of things to see. The Pioneer Names trail is a fairly easy, crescent-shaped trail passing a canyon wall that was signed by early settlers. Jenny’s Canyon Trail is a short walk into a slot canyon. The Whiterocks Amphitheatre Trail leads hikers to impressive sandstone mountains and beautiful views. The Petrified Dunes are a playground of ancient-formed steps that lead to a different view every few feet.

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

Catch an ATV/UTV Tour

For the perfect combination of discovery and adrenaline, take a tour on four-wheels on a UTV or ATV perfectly made for exploring the rocky overlooks and rolling sand dunes. As one of the most diverse landscapes anywhere, let a guide show you all the secrets including petroglyphs, slot canyons and even the best place to catch a sunset. No experience needed here either, as you can opt to be driven or let the guides show you how to maneuver these machines. Your heart is going to want to escape to see what your eyes are experiencing. The land of adrenaline is calling.

Hit the Water

In the middle of our desert landscapes, you’ll find a number of reservoirs that can provide hours of wet fun and relaxation. Soak in the sun on a sandy beach, rent a paddleboard or stand-up paddleboard. Or lease something a little faster, like a jet ski or motorboat and go skiing. Or plunge from a cliff into the beautiful blue waters below. Or do all the things. Outfitters are found at Quail Creek, Sand Hollow, Kolob and Gunlock reservoirs.

Two girls sun bathing at Sand Hollow

Walk with the Dinosaurs

Greater Zion is rich with prehistoric and culture wonders. Visit a museum like the Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm and glimpse into the past with evidence of these creatures that inhabited our land long before we did. Come face-to-face to these unique species and then go hunting for signs of them “in the wild” on the Dino Cliffs Trail or in Warner Valley.

See Greater Zion as the Crow Flies

Helicopter rides combine thrills and chills with scenic beauty in a view of Greater Zion that many will never experience. You’ll gain a bird’s eye view over jutting mesas, green valleys, lava flows, rural towns and deep canyons. Or book a hot air balloon ride for a leisurely float across these scenic landscapes.

See the History

Create a tour of historic sites for yourself. Several ghost towns have provided backdrops to movies such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Stroll historic downtown St. George that is dotted with pioneer homes, including Brigham Young’s Winter Home, and much more Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints history. The St. George Temple’s Visitors Center offers further insights into the people that settled this area originally.

End the Day with a Song

Musical theater abounds and is the perfect cap on a day of exploring. Take in dinner at a nearby restaurant and then relax for a theatrical show that’s not to be missed. Tuacahn Amphitheatre brings Broadway to the desert and the St. George Musical Theatre and Kayenta Center for the Arts showcase a variety of musical, comedic and dramatic productions.

To learn more about activities and attractions across Greater Zion, see all our things to see and do. There’s plenty to fill a half day, full day or entire week.

Tuacahn Center For the Arts 01

Add These Short Excursions to your Itinerary

If you have a couple hours to spare between IRONMAN festivities and activities, try squeezing in one or more of these quick adventures. It’ll leave you wanting more, but you’ll get a taste of this Land of Exploration.

Hike the Red Reef Trail in the Red Cliffs Recreation Area

This out-and-back trail is rated “easy” with a round-trip length of about 2.2 miles. The trail takes hikers through a hidden canyon and dried river bed to a beautiful water oasis surrounded by high canyon walls.

Cruise the Veyo Loop for Views and Pie

Get a glimpse of the diverse landscapes of Greater Zion on this 47-mile route. In this one-hour drive, you’ll experience Joshua Trees, two State Parks, quaint rural towns, red-rock mountains, white-domed hill tops, dormant volcanos and the best darn pie shop Greater Zion has to offer, Veyo Pies.

Explore Pioneer Park and the Red Hills Desert Garden

Positioned directly above St. George, Pioneer Park offers dune-like rock formations, boulders to scramble and a slot canyon called the “St. George Narrows.” Wander to the east side of the park and you’ll find Red Hills Desert Garden. This beautiful garden, designed with paved pathways that showcase the local flora and fauna, is a delightful oasis amidst city lights and desert skies.

Red Hills Desert Garden

Tour the Historic Downtown St. George

Downtown St. George is clean and bright, full of art, restaurants, shops and history. The self-guided Historic Walking Tour is a favorite for those wanting a relaxing stroll around town while learning about the area’s rich heritage. Along the tour, you’ll encounter vintage shops, historic buildings, and art galleries.

Dive into a Reservoir

The deep blue waters of Greater Zion’s reservoirs – Gunlock, Quail Creek and Sand Hollow – offer adventurers and respite from the desert heat. Swim or relax in the red sand. Renting a paddleboard or kayak delivers a unique opportunity to explore cliff-jumping rocks and tree-covered hideaways. Outfitters at each water destination have equipment for rent. To help with your planning, check out this article on the 7 best water activities in Greater Zion.

Hike the Petrified Dunes Trail

Found right, smack-dab in the middle of Snow Canyon State Park, this trail takes hikers over rolling mounds of petrified sandstone hills with incredible views of the canyon. Climb high or find the perfect viewpoint and relax for as long as you have.

Mountain Bike the Paradise Rim

The name certainly fits considering the views and experience you’ll have here, it really is a paradise. This quick mountain biking trail, located close to downtown St. George, offers biking enthusiasts a chance to showcase technical skills on the famous red rock terrain that is Greater Zion. With steep jump-offs and amazing views of the Santa Clara and Snow Canyon areas, it’s a perfect taste of all the mountain biking opportunities in Greater Zion.

051 MountainBiking JoeNewman

Shop a range of options

The Shoppes at Zion provide famous name-brand selections while the Red Cliffs Mall offers a more traditional experience. Find unique, one-of-a-kind gifts at the Shops at Green Gate Village or at any of the local antique and curio shops in the downtown area. And don’t forget about all the art galleries.

Southwestern style paintings and pottery on display in art gallery.

Tee It Up

The Dixie Red Hills Golf Course is a nine-hole, par-34 layout that can be fit into any itinerary. This course was the area’s first and features red rocks, sandstone cliffs and sweeping green fairways, all nestled within the heart of St. George.

Explore with Wonder and Respect

Public lands offer a treasure trove of places to see and enjoy. And they are full of untapped, unbelievable adventures and scenery.

National Conversation Areas (NCAs) are public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management that have been designated by Congress to be managed for the conservation and protection of their resource values.  Greater Zion is home to the only two NCA’s in Utah.

The 45,000 acre Red Cliffs NCA is located in central Washington County, Utah and includes spectacular scenery, diverse wildlife, and miles of designated mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding trails to explore. That’s not to mention the sandstone arches, rock climbing routes, canyons and petroglyph sites. The NCA also provides critical habitat for threatened Mojave desert tortoise and the endangered Shivwits milkvetch.

As good stewards, visitors to the NCA should do their best to minimize their impacts on the land and its resources. Some of the trails and areas in these NCA are dog friendly, but they have to be on a leash and you must clean up after them. Practice Leave No Trace, don’t build cairns, stay on designated trails, and leave with only pictures and memories.

Where You Should Go

When you come to Greater Zion, find a spot that inspires a sense of wonder and is fun to explore, and you can start your search in the NCA.

For example, Arch Trail is a true hidden gem that will inspire, provoke wonder, and provide a true adventure. The hike is a short one-and-half-mile round trip with interesting rock features and a valley of Lego-like blocks stretching out to the east. The ultimate destination of this hike is a free-standing sandstone arch. Further along the trail, past the arch, is the Virgin River where you can cool off on a hot day.

Details of this trail location and access can be found on the Greater Zion trails website, which is also a great resource for exploring and discovering more NCA locations and adventures in Greater Zion.

Other trails in the Red Cliffs NCA of Greater Zion include the Prospector Trail, Brackens Loop,  and the White Reef Trail system.

Wherever you choose to adventure in Greater Zion, there is a rewarding experience to be had.

Insider Tip

Like the national parks, the trails and trailheads of the NCA can get busy as well. The small campground and day use areas of the Red Cliffs Recreation Area, located in the Red Cliffs NCA, are heavily visited during the spring, fall, and winter months. (After all, they are close to I-15 and quality facilities!) But that’s only a small portion of the NCA; there’s still plenty of room and opportunity to explore. Avoiding holiday weekends always helps too!

Gooseberry Mesa is not loud and has no crowds

Hurricane, Utah — I sat still in an Adirondack chair as I listened to the solitude of Gooseberry Mesa in southwestern Utah. Insects buzzed and birdsong drifted in the warm air. In the distance, the towering rocks of Zion National Park stood like sentinels.

Earlier that day, I had hiked an unmapped trail that meandered east and south along the mesa. I did not see another person in the eight miles of my out-and-back journey other than a couple who looked to be in their 50s. They sat in folding chairs overlooking the rim, books in hand and a truck-camping site set up behind them.

We greeted one another with a head nod. Silence prevailed.

Now back at my yurt, one of three for rent here, I watched shadows and light move across Zion’s walls. Bruise-colored clouds added a tinge of drama to the early evening sky as I pondered naturalist writer Terry Tempest Williams’ premise that wilderness is a human necessity.

Recent snow showers had cloaked the Pine Valley Mountains in bright white, which contrasted sharply with the red dirt of the foothills. Two jays squawked in the juniper tree, then flitted away.

A human necessity for sure.

A spider web of trails

Gooseberry Mesa National Recreation Trail, which gained national trail status in 2006, is a spider web of paths draped across a red rock mesa, with more than 20 miles of trails at an altitude of 5,200 feet.

In contrast to Zion, whose visitor center is about 45 miles by car, Gooseberry is lesser known and largely crowd-free, especially during on week days. If you are willing to share trails with mountain bikers, hiking the Goose affords sweeping vistas from its rims. There is no lodging on the mesa other than the three yurts. Camping is permitted and is free.

On the second day, I walked from the yurt onto the Windmill trail, which can be accessed a couple of hundred feet from the steps of the deck. Without a clock dictating my every step, I was free to meander, taking in views of the desert floor and the snowy mountains. When I returned to the yurt, I settled in for a day of leisure and reading.

On Day 3, I drove to the White Trail head (five minutes by car) on the other side of the mesa and hiked the South Rim trail, about six miles to the point on the mesa’s western edge. I marveled at the intricacy and resilience of the flowering cactus. Bikers and walkers seemed to be enjoying themselves, as evidenced by the many smiles and nods.

Lunch was an apple and a granola bar, and as I munched a breeze kicked up and there was a chill in the air despite the sunshine. Somewhat replenished, I began the long hike back to the car.

Twelve miles or so of hiking across the mesa made for great sleeping that night. I awakened and realized I wasn’t quite zipped into my sleeping bag, and the stove needed more wood. I arose and decided to step outside for a look.

On this cloudless night, a billion stars blazed, and the Milky Way was a cloudy haze against a squid-ink background.

Perfection then and again at dawn, as the sun rose behind Zion’s sentinels, smearing the morning sky in soft pastels.

I offered a thank you for the wilderness, grateful for its presence and its power.

If you go

THE BEST WAY TO GOOSEBERY MESA, UTAH
From LAX, Air Dialog offers nonstop service to Cedar City, Utah, and Delta and Air Dialog offer connecting service (change of planes). Restricted round-trip airfare from $300, including taxes and fees. Cedar City is about 55 miles from Kanab, Utah. Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport is about a three-hour drive.

WHERE TO STAY
Gooseberry Mesa is on Bureau of Land Management land. You do not need a permit to camp, so you can stay anywhere on the mesa unless “no camping” signs are posted. There are no amenities other than pit toilets at the Gooseberry trail head.

Gooseberry Yurts, which sleep six or seven, can be reserved for $125 a night, excluding tax, Sundays through Thursdays, and $150 a night, excluding tax, Fridays and Saturdays. The yurts have pit toilets that are for yurt guests only. (801) 318-6280, gooseberryyurts.com

You’ll need to bring food, water, firewood, etc. to your campsite or yurt, and you must be prepared to pack in and pack out. You’ll find a small general store/gas station/cafe on Utah 59 as you drive from Hurricane to the mesa turnoff.

TO LEARN MORE
BLM websitebit.ly/BLMgooseberry

PDF of trail mapbit.ly/gooseberrymap


Written for the Utah Office of Tourism

Experience Limitless Riding Opportunities

Studded with sprawling mesas and red sandstone cliffs, the countryside surrounding St. George is straight out of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” literally. The classic Western, shot near St. George in 1969, isn’t St. George’s only claim to fame; the town of over 80,000 is just 30 miles from Zion National Park. It’s also adjacent to a half a dozen other adventure destinations, including Snow Canyon State Park, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, and Gooseberry Mesa. Time to grab your bike, there’s a lot to see.

mountain biking on the edge gooseberry jaydash

For a pleasant warm-up, head into Snow Canyon State Park for a 20-mile loop. From downtown St. George, jump on your bike and head north on S.R. 18 to the junction with Snow Canyon Parkway, and hang a left. Stay in the narrow shoulder for just over four miles. This will take you towards the entrance to the park on Snow Canyon Drive.

Couple mountain biking over rugged, red terrain.

You gain just over 1,300 feet of vertical in the first 11 miles of this loop, but don’t worry, the downhill cruise begins when you meet back up with S.R. 18 at mile 11.5. As a bonus, the shoulder widens considerably as you head back into town. It’s good to have the extra room — the views of Snow Canyon’s vermilion cliffs may drive you to distraction.

If you are looking for a challenge, follow the century-length course of the annual Spring Tour de St. George, which skirts the western edge of Snow Canyon State Park, swoops down to the Utah-Arizona border, passes through Sand Hollow and Quail Creek state parks, and finishes alongside Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.

Boasting an average 300 days of annual sunshine, it’s no surprise that St. George trends significantly warmer than the rest of the state. Its arid desert climate is emblematic of the desert southwest, averaging in the high nineties and hotter in the summer months. Wherever you’re riding, plan to bring plenty of water, and consider acclimating to the dry heat with shorter loops before taking on a big day.

Accommodations and Bike Shops

Thanks to its proximity to outstanding road and mountain biking, St. George is home to many bike shops, plus an all-around outdoor gear supplier, the Desert Rat. The town is supremely bike-able, too: its easy-to-navigate bike routes and trails system will get you nearly anywhere in St. George, including lodging and the myriad restaurants on Main Street. There are dozens of budget-friendly accommodations in town; those looking for a luxury getaway should head north from town toward Snow Canyon State Park for a stay at the upscale Inn at Entrada.

mountain biking our favorite path wire jaydash

Extend the Adventure

When you’re ready for a break from saddle time, you won’t need to look far for rest day activities: In addition to the aforementioned state parks and monuments, visitors can check out one of St. George’s five museums, including a children’s museum. For an adventurous, family-friendly outdoor alternative, head to the Warner Valley Dinosaur Track Site trail, just 15 miles southeast of St. George proper, where over 400 perfectly preserved dinosaur tracks have been discovered. Complete the dinosaur diversion with a visit to an excellent museum, the Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm.

Young girl at Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm

Want to check out St. George’s other outdoorsy offerings? There’s plenty of rock climbing (mostly sport) and canyoneering on the sandstone in the surrounding cliffs, not to mention a lifetime’s worth of singletrack — often favorably compared to the mountain biking scene near Moab.

Written for the Utah Office of Tourism

Why should Moab have all the two-wheeled fun?

Southwestern Utah boasts some of the best desert cycling in the state, and it’s all just a stone’s throw from some of America’s most dramatic national parks. For this tour, stock up on supplies in the road cycling hub of St. George — the town of 80,000 is home to plenty of grocery stores and three bike shops.

The desert southwest isn’t all sandy washes and red cliffs: the St. George area is colloquially known as “Color Country” for good reason. Snow Canyon State Park, just 11 miles from St. George and the start of a phenomenal 65.3-mile tour of the area, features red and white Navajo sandstone formations, black lava rock, and countless species of vibrant flora and fauna.

Rainwater pooled on red rock formation with black bluffs in the distance.

The Tour

Situated at the intersection of the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin, and the Colorado Plateau, Snow Canyon was originally inhabited by Ancestral Puebloans, who hunted and gathered in the canyon thousands of years ago. Begin your desert southwest journey by camping at one of the park’s tent sites ($20/night) — in the morning, you can explore the area where classic Westerns like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Jeremiah Johnson were filmed and, if you’re lucky, spot a Gila monster. Several concessioners also offer guided climbs and horseback tours of the park.

From Snow Canyon, head through nearby Ivins and St. George and onto the Virgin River Trail. This paved, well-maintained bike route winds along the Virgin River and provides access to Sand Hollow State Park, 27 miles from Snow Canyon. There are several campground options at Sand Hollow, but cyclists looking for a quieter experience should head to the primitive camping area ($15/night), where no motorized vehicles are allowed. To cool off after a long ride in the desert heat, head to the beach at Sand Hollow Reservoir to swim or rent a kayak.

It’s a little under 10 miles from Sand Hollow to Hurricane (insider tip: locals pronounce it “HUR-a-kin”). Here, cyclists can stock up on supplies before heading toward Zion National Park on Utah S.R. 9 — this scenic highway provides the first glimpse of Zion’s jaw-dropping rock formations. This 38-mile leg gains just over 1,200 feet of elevation.

The South and Watchman Campgrounds (both $20/night for tent-only sites) are the closest Zion campsites to the park’s Springdale Entrance. Camping within the park gives cyclists, who pay a discounted park entrance fee of just $12 per person, a head start to maximize time in Zion.

Group of smiling cyclists

From the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, take the 1.4-mile paved Pa’rus Trail to Canyon Junction, where the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive begins. Beyond Canyon Junction, no private vehicles are allowed, which is great news for road cyclists: Aside from professional shuttle drivers, you’ll have the roadway to yourself. The nine-mile one-way ride to the end of Floor of the Valley Road, as it’s also known, is breathtaking. Plan to bring a bike lock and check out some of the area’s hiking trails, which vary in difficulty and exposure. Adventurous spirits won’t want to miss the hike to Angels Landing, one of the most iconic views in Zion National Park. Bring a change of shoes, too — the steep, rocky trail to the summit has sheer drop-offs and shouldn’t be attempted in clipless shoes.

Travelers can opt to spend another day in Zion, where there’s no shortage of hikes and scenic views. A ride up to the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel and back will mean negotiating heavy vehicle traffic, but views of the park are unparalleled. In any case, the ride back to St. George trends downhill and can be comfortably split into two easy days.

Zion National Park

Pro Tips and Map

Regardless of the timing of your visit, the desert is a wild place. Temperatures can soar into the triple digits during the summer months, so plan to carry plenty of water. Thanks to its high desert status, though, the weather also turns quickly: It’s not uncommon to experience snow flurries in late August and beyond. The desert southwest is prone to wind, triggered by weather patterns making their way into Utah — dust storms kicked up by high winds can seriously reduce visibility, so avoid heavily trafficked areas and take shelter if there’s wind in the forecast.

Map & Directions

To view a map and get directions click the button below.

View Map & Directions

Written by Tim Sullivan from the Utah Office of Tourism

A Night Spent Under the Stars

Blue sky peeks through the clouds as I zoom down Utah’s Interstate 15 off the edge of the high country. Juliet looks up from her book to take in the bright red landscape spreading below.

But my mind is still stormy. I had planned a trip to the Uinta Mountains, to be my seven-year-old daughter’s first backpacking experience. When the forecast called for freezing temperatures and snow in the mountains, I turned south. I scanned the state for a sunny forecast, as well as a reasonable drive, a short trail and a rewarding destination. This specific combination required a little research. Capitol Reef National Park was too cold. The trails I was eyeing in Canyonlands National Park were too far for our limited time. The southwest bit of the state was a fast drive and showed sun and 70 degrees, but Zion National Park‘s reservable backcountry permits were all taken.

Then I thought of Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, a vast conservation and recreation area that encompasses the canyons above the St. George metro area. It was a place I had passed by dozens of times and not thought much about. But it seemed to be the perfect solution. I found a short, accessible canyon in a quiet corner of the reserve. And on this day, when the early fall blizzard had rendered most of our drive along I-15 a bleak gray, Utah’s Dixie proved to be dependably blue.

Man preparing to take a photograph of red rock formations under blue sky.

Yet recent dad fails are pulsing through my head. I pictured the time I had taken Juliet on her first double black diamond powder run at Solitude Mountain Resort, resulting in a head-first fall and lots of tears. Then there was the ill-fated boogie boarding session where a freak wave crashed on her head and drilled her into the ground. This trip needed to be not long, not cold and definitely not boring.

So the stakes are high. We are hiking two-and-a-half miles, and they had better be magic. ( Big Hollow trail guide below the article )

We exit I-15 at Leeds, turn past the Silver Reef ghost town, and rally down a Dixie National Forest road along the base of the Pine Valley Mountains to our destination, a pullout where the road curves around the head of the Big Hollow drainage in the upper reaches of Red Cliffs.

Even though I have most of our camping gear, Juliet will carry her own backpack, which she had meticulously packed. She went heavy on stuffed animals and books. The stuffed animals are fine as they compress nicely, I tell her, but you might want to rethink all the books, as they weigh a lot.

Backpacks on, I point out a cairn and we duck under some pine trees.

The canyon is shallow to start and we work our way down a slope of boulders. Big Hollow is an upper tributary of the larger Cottonwood Canyon system that spreads in wilderness through the core of the reserve. We can see Big Hollow deepen further down into sheer sandstone walls. The landscape here is a little different than other parts of red rock country due to the influence of the Hurricane Fault, which exposed the masses of bright sedimentary layers and led to cinder cones producing the igneous rocks scattered in the canyon.

Hiker standing atop cliff gazing out over rugged, red rock formations.

As we stumble down to the canyon bottom, Juliet slips on some loose rocks. But I manage to catch her. She presses on, and in the wash, she picks up walking sticks for us both.

Even only hiking a little over a mile in, a solitary place like this is an adventure, with nothing certain about what we’ll encounter. When you’re backpacking, you always walk the line of the uneasiness and sublimity of solitude. This sense conflicts with my desire as a parent to be in control. At least until a certain age, our kids tend to think we as parents are omniscient. But I explain to Juliet what an adventure is, that I’ve never been here before. I don’t know what will happen.

Indeed, I find remnants of flash flooding — debris hugging the upstream side of the willows in the wash. And as we walk I see fresh tracks in the mud.

Juliet is now quite happy and engaging me in what she calls the “animal game,” wherein one of us thinks of an animal and the other asks “yes” or “no” questions to home in on and guess the animal.

“Daddy, are you thinking of an animal?” Juliet says.

The tracks become clear as pawed feet.

“Daddy?” she says when I don’t respond.

“Uh huh,” I say, scanning the canyon around us for any movement.

“Is it a mammal?”

The walls are sheer, no escape.

“Daddy!”

After a few distracted rounds of the animal game, we arrive at the junction of Yankee Doodle, a relatively popular technical slot canyon. We decide to run up, until the canyon narrows and a muddy pool blocks our path, and Juliet wants to get to camp.

Water-filled slot canyon

The cat tracks have tailed off, and the canyon wall shadows have lengthened. After another half hour of walking down canyon, we arrive at the junction where Big Hollow meets Heath Wash. This is where we plan to camp.

Juliet wants to know if we’re camping right in the wash. She hopes so because she likes the sand and mud. I tell her we don’t really want to get washed away by a flood. In fact, finding a good spot to camp is tricky. You have to look for a lot of things: level ground and safety are vital but so are avoiding cryptobiotic soil, finding big rocks for furniture, and above else getting yourself a nice view.

We explore all parts of the canyon confluence, scampering up the loose rock of each escarpment before deciding on a spot. It’s at the nose of the plateau between Big Hollow and Heath Wash, on a flat area in a garden of lichen-covered boulders, juniper, and manzanita. We have views both down the canyon and up, through the folding layers of sandstone.

The area is beautiful, and part of the beauty is that it’s new to us and there’s no one else here. I-15 is just three miles away but the place feels remote. It’s one of the lessons I want to impart to Juliet on this trip, that if you go slowly and spend a night in a place, every landscape has its own value and presents opportunities to explore. Especially in Utah.

But what do you do with a 7-year-old during the downtime of backpacking? There’s plenty of daylight left in the long September day. Not to worry — Juliet goes right in the tent and gets comfy in her sleeping bag with her stuffed moose. This was her vision of the trip.

What the heck, I follow suit. One of the things she has in her backpack is a Bunco dice game we had bought on the way out of town. We play a few rounds of Bunco in the tent before we emerge to kick a soccer ball in an open field. She jumps some rope. Dinner is bean and cheese quesadillas. Juliet marvels that this entire place seems to be ours.

When the stars come out, it’s unlike anything she’s seen. Despite the snow up north, there is no rain in the forecast here so we leave the rainfly off, and the glittering black sky seems right on top of us as we drift off to sleep.

The morning brings a simple directive to finish the journey. A different light shines on the trail we walked the afternoon before. I feel good. I realize that after Juliet had taken her licks on the double black diamond and in the ocean, it wasn’t long before she was asking to go back. This time, we’ve barely returned to the car before she’s talking about the next backpacking trip.

Trail Guide

Big Hollow and Heath Wash are two drainages in the Cottonwood Canyon area of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. This Upland Zone is a wilderness-focused part of the reserve where off-trail canyon and plateau hiking and backcountry camping are allowed. The key philosophy of this area is to use your judgment — for route-finding, safety, and preservation of the environment.

Difficulty: Moderate — relatively flat but some route-finding, a lack of amenities, and an overall wilderness experience. For a more challenging hike, consider longer and cross-country, off-trail routes.

Route, distance and elevation gain: Hiking from the head of Big Hollow at Danish Ranch Road (Forest Road 31) to its confluence with Heath Wash is about 1.2 miles. In another 2.4 miles is the confluence with Cottonwood Canyon, and then another 3.2 miles to the Cottonwood Canyon trailhead along I-15. Loops could be made by returning to Danish Ranch Road up Heath Wash, Cottonwood Canyon or cross country on Yant Flat. Also consider exploring Yankee Doodle, a technical slot canyon that is also accessed via Danish Ranch Road and joins Big Hollow.

Trail type: Unimproved washes and cross-country route-finding in and out of the canyons.

Multi-use: In the Upland Zone of the reserve, where the Cottonwood Canyon area is located, hikers and equestrians can use trails or travel cross-country where the terrain permits.

Dogs: All pets must be on a leash to prevent wildlife disturbance, protect the pets from predators and avoid conflicts with other people. Hunting dogs are allowed to travel off-leash with a licensed hunter in the act of hunting during the official hunting seasons.

Fees: None, for this part of the reserve.

Seasonality: Year-round; hot in summer.

Bathroom: None; nearest restrooms are at the White Reef trailhead near Harrisburg.

Access: Turn north off Interstate 15 at Exit 23 onto Silver Reef Road; Turn left on Forest Road 32; Turn left on Forest Road 31; take Forest Road 31 to where the road wraps around Big Hollow.