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On the Edge of Zion: 9 Quintessential Utah Adventures to Have in St. George

Written by Emma Walker from RootsRated Media

Explore the Greatness Outside of Zion National Park

The St. George area is often touted as the gateway to Zion National Park, and that’s true—it’s quick and easy to get to this iconic national park from St. George. But there’s so much more to southwestern Utah than its proximity to Zion. This slice of Utah is filled with adventure possibilities, ranging from mountain biking and hiking to sports you may not have tried, like spelunking, rock climbing, and stand-up paddleboarding.

Next time you’re headed to St. George, sure, plan to spend some time exploring Zion. But add these must-do adventures to your list for thinner crowds and plenty of bang for your buck.

1. Mountain Biking at Gooseberry Mesa

Bikes aren’t allowed on any of the dirt trails inside the national park (you can ride on the paved Pa’rus Trail), but you can definitely get your fill of off-road riding at nearby Gooseberry Mesa, just west of Zion. The singletrack trails here are world-class, and best suited for adventurous intermediate and advanced riders (beginners can head out the main dirt road on the mesa, but will end up doing some hike-a-biking on the actual trails). Gooseberry doesn’t have much sustained climbing on its 13-ish miles of trail—it’s more like short bursts—but boasts flowy singletrack, roller slickrock, and wide-open views for days.

mountain biking on the edge gooseberry jaydash
mountain biking on the edge gooseberry jaydash

2. Horseback Riding in Snow Canyon

Snow Canyon State Park’s name might sound odd for a park in the middle of the desert, but it rarely sees much snow; instead, it’s named for Mormon pioneers Lorenzo and Erastus Snow. One of the best ways to see the park’s towering Navajo sandstone cliffs and ancient lava flows is on horseback. It doesn’t hurt that this landscape was the backdrop for classic Western films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, making it extra-enticing to take in the views as the cowboys did. Several outfitters offer equestrian tours of the park, making it easy to see Snow Canyon from a saddle.

Group on horseback riding tour.

3. Rock Climbing at Black Rocks

Utah’s next door neighbor, Colorado, gets lots of attention for its 300 annual days of sunshine, but southwestern Utah boasts the same statistic. With all those bluebird days, there are plenty of opportunities to climb rocks in and around St. George, and the area delivers, whether you’re looking for sport climbing, bouldering, or trad.

Black Rocks is an ideal destination to get your feet wet with St. George-area climbing since it’s got a handful of each route type. There’s also the Chuckawalla Wall, which is all sport climbing (and with routes that go at 5.10 and above, it’s a destination for once you’ve gotten a feel for the area’s grades). Climbing here is best done in the shoulder seasons and winter months when it’s cooler—both crags get plenty of winter sunshine.

4. Spelunking at Bloomington Cave

This limestone tectonic cave system is considered one of the best caves to explore in Utah, and it’s the only BLM-managed cave in the St. George area that’s open to the public. Bloomington Cave also has the distinction of being an ambient 58 degrees Fahrenheit year round, so it’s a great place to escape the desert heat during the warmer months. There are five routes to choose from, and each will require some tight squeezes and climbing on slippery surfaces. Don’t forget your headlamp and you’ll need to obtain a free permit from the BLM Field Office in St. George before you visit.

5. Road Cycling the Snow Canyon Loop

Southwestern Utah is a beloved road cycling destination, and you’ll hear a lot about the cycling tours of Zion National Park. But there’s plenty of cycling to be had on roads outside the park, too, including the paved loop in Snow Canyon, which is accessible right from St. George.

The doubletrack paved loop covers a total of 18 miles, though there are numerous spur roads and side trails to explore if you’re so inclined. You’ll also get a fair amount of climbing in: expect a little over 1,000 vertical feet, mostly in a series of steep, rolling pitches.

Woman cycling, training in the desert

6. Hike to Lava Flow and Petrified Dunes

Trekking out to a lava flow sounds like something you could only do on an island in the Pacific, but landlocked Utah has some tricks up its sleeve, too. Snow Canyon State Park boasts both ancient lava tubes and petrified sand dunes, and you can explore both in a 4.3-mile mind-blowing hike.

Begin on the Lava Flow Trail, which starts off Snow Canyon Road. The trail meanders past a handful of lava tubes, which you can scramble into and check out, and eventually spits hikers out on West Canyon Road, which intersects with the Petrified Dunes Trail.

Ripples in red rock formations.

7. SUP at Pine Valley Reservoir

Thanks to its high elevation of nearly 7,000 feet, Pine Valley Reservoir is an ideal spot to beat the heat. Its namesake pine trees mean there’s plenty of shade, and when you’re actually out on the reservoir, calm waters make for excellent stand-up paddleboard conditions. (If you don’t have your own SUP, you can rent one in St. George.)

Half a dozen campgrounds in Dixie National Forest make it easy to extend a day trip into a whole weekend, and if your core needs a break from all that paddling, you can take advantage of the reservoir’s hatchery-fed fishing.

8. ATVing at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

The spectacular pink-colored dunes of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park were formed by the erosion of the surrounding sandstone cliffs, and though there’s an interesting geology lesson there, they make for an even better (and much faster-paced) adventure. The dunes can move as much as 50 feet each year, making for ever-changing conditions. About 2,000 acres of the park are open to off-road vehicle use, and if you don’t own your own ATV, you can sign on with an experienced outfitter who will get you on four wheels. You’ll also have a chance to see slot canyons, petrified dinosaur tracks, and other desert wonders along the way.

9. Fishing at Quail Creek State Park

Quail Creek Reservoir is fed both by Quail Creek and the Virgin River, and it’s easily accessible from St. George. Quail Creek State Park is home to some of the warmest waters in Utah, making it a top-notch spot for anglers to fish for rainbow trout and bass, along with catfish, bluegill, and crappie.

Save time by purchasing your Utah state fishing license online before you head out to the park. Ready for a break from the fishing? Rent a SUP or other craft right there at the state park, then retire to a gorgeous campsite with red rock views at the end of your day on the water.

Aerial view of couple paddleboarding on lake

Written by Stewart Green at RootsRated Media

Getting Out of the Heat is Easy in Greater Zion

Nothing feels more refreshing on a scorching day than a cool dip in a swimming hole, lake, or—if you’re in southeastern Utah—even a slot canyon. Greater Zion is famous not only for soaring cliffs and sandstone landscapes—it is the driest part of the state, after all—but also for its diverse water adventures. Indeed, on hot days, lakes and swimming holes near St. George are the perfect spots to cool down. Families paddle tandem kayaks in rocky coves, boaters pull water skiers across broad lakes, kids build sandcastles on red sand beaches, and stand-up paddleboarders skim over calm waters, while anglers cast lines from boats and shorelines for rainbow trout and trophy-sized bass.

And the adventure isn’t, well, watered down, either: Outdoor enthusiasts can hike to sparkling waterfalls tucked into dramatic canyons, where a refreshing dip rewards the effort, while hardy adventurers rappel and squeeze down slot canyons sprinkled with creeks and waterfalls. Check out these unique-to-Utah, water-fueled adventures to keep cool, escape the desert heat, and add a whole new element of adventure to your visit to Greater Zion.

1. Swimming Holes and Waterfalls

What better—or more nostalgic—way to beat the summer heat than jumping into a swimming hole? Most of southwestern Utah’s best outdoor pools lie below frothy waterfalls reached by short hikes. One of the best swimming holes is below Toquerville Falls northeast of St. George, an oasis whose waterfalls plunge dramatically into a deep pool. At Sand Hollow State Park, colorful cliffs set the backdrop for sandy beaches edged with shallow water perfect for kids to splash around in, while advanced swimmers can venture out to deeper areas. Hikers who trek an easy route up a cliff-lined canyon in Red Cliffs Recreation Area are rewarded with a small waterfall that tumbles into a natural swimming pool; slide down the waterfall’s slippery chute for the “wow” factor. And for a few weeks in late spring, the overflow channel below Gunlock Reservoir forms a spectacular cascade after the lake fills behind a dam. The clear water plummets down sandstone cliffs, forming numerous falls and emerald green swimming pools. Whichever swimming spot you choose, avoid diving headfirst into pools.

Toquerville Falls

2. Stand-up Paddleboarding

Stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP, is a peaceful way to experience Greater Zion’s lakes as you glide across water reflecting puffy white clouds or navigate cliff-lined coves. The county offers spots ideal for paddlers of all skill levels, including Quail Lake, spacious Sand Hollow Reservoir, Kolob Reservoir, and Gunlock Reservoir. At Quail Creek State Park, you can rent boards by the hour from Dig Paddlesports and take paddleboard lessons. Other recommended beginner spots are Ivins Reservoir at Fire Lake Park and small Grandpa’s Pond in Hurricane. Whichever you choose, you can count on stunning red rock scenery and a surprisingly intense core workout.

Couple paddleboarding on teal water with red rock formations

3. Quail Creek State Park

Quail Creek State Park, a dozen miles northeast of St. George, is a quick getaway with Utah’s warmest water in glassy Quail Lake and offers fun for every water lover. Powerboaters cut waves across the big lake, while kayakers and stand-up paddlers stroke across still waters. Swimming beaches are on Quail Lake’s west side (but bring sandals to spare your feet from the coarse sand). Fishermen also frequent the lake, regularly catching five-pound largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, and sunfish, but it really shines as the area’s premier rainbow trout fishery. The stocked trout love the cold water in the 185-foot-deep lake.

Aerial view of couple paddleboarding on lake

4. Sand Hollow State Park

One of Utah’s most popular lakes, Sand Hollow Reservoir is an adventure playground for boaters, swimmers, and paddlers. The huge lake, part of sprawling Sand Hollow State Park, is also popular with campers, equestrians, and hikers. Twice the size of nearby Quail Lake, the reservoir boasts spacious red sand beaches, sandstone islands, and plenty of water for motorboats and paddle craft. Hit the beach on the south shore to swim with the kids or bask on a shoreline boulder. Stand-up paddlers and kayakers cruise quiet waters among rock outcrops, while cliff divers plunge into deep water from airy perches. In the summer, the lake is a hotspot for waterskier-towing powerboats towing and jet skis, and it’s a perennial favorite among fishermen for its trophy-sized largemouth bass, crappie, and bluegill. If you’re having too much fun to call it a day, make it an overnight adventure at one of the park’s two campgrounds and rest up for another day of adventure on the water.

Two girls sun bathing at Sand Hollow

5. Gunlock State Park

Gunlock Reservoir is a gorgeous lake that fills a scenic valley surrounded by sandstone cliffs and volcanic cinder cones. The lake, centerpiece of a 248-acre Gunlock State Park, is a quiet setting for water sports and fishing. Bring a kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard to explore calm water in narrow coves, or walk across the dike to take a swim and then sunbathe on a sandy beach. In late spring, swimmers take advantage of the waterfalls and deep pools below the dam’s natural spillway. Fishermen cast lines for bass, bluegill, and crappie from both the shoreline and boats. After fun in the sun, stay in the small campground with a sea of stars overhead.

6. Kolob Reservoir

To escape the lowland summer heat, head up to Kolob Reservoir at a cool 8,107 feet above sea level on the western edge of Zion National Park. The lake, located in the headwaters of the Virgin River, is a blue-ribbon fishing area for hardy anglers looking to hook rainbow, brook, and cutthroat trout, some over 18 inches long. Surrounded by groves of quaking aspen, the reservoir is a quiet getaway with lakeside campsites and plenty of options for kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddling. The steep drive up Kolob Terrace Road to the lake is simply spectacular, with wide views of Zion’s sandstone peaks and deep canyons.

Man fishing in the Kolob Reservoir

7. Slot Canyon Adventures

Exploring a slot canyon is the ultimate wet adventure in southwestern Utah. Canyoneering, the art of descending narrow canyons sliced into bedrock, combines elements of climbing, hiking, and swimming to explore these dramatic destinations. The Zion area features stunning canyons that range from difficult hiking to technical challenges. If you’re a canyoneering newbie or don’t have the skills and equipment to navigate slot canyons, your best bet is to hire a local guiding service like Zion Adventure Company. Yankee Doodle Hollow, the best slot near St. George, has a big rappel and gorgeous narrow passages. Nearby is Bitter Creek, a short beginner canyon. Off I-17 north of St. George is the narrows of Kanarra Creek, a deep gorge with waterfalls, a tumbling creek, and colorful cliffs. Other good slots outside Zion National Park include the Middle Fork of Taylor Creek, Spring Creek, and Water Canyon. Wherever you go, be sure to wear sandals or water shoes—and prepare to get wet.

Here Are Just a Few Reasons Why Your Next Trip Should be to Greater Zion

Los Angeles now has a direct flight opening to St. George, Utah! Cue confetti cannons! If you just read that and immediately thought, “Why would I care?”, let me give you 7 reasons why this is huge news for southern Californians looking for a beautiful and exciting getaway.

Reason #1: Zion National Park

You may not have realized that the main hub of southwest Utah is St. George, but you definitely know about Zion National Park, which is 45 minutes away. No more driving 6-8 hours for this incredible national park. You can fly direct and turn a long weekend into an epic one. The canyon walls of Zion sell themselves. But don’t be fooled, there is a whole lot more going on here than just Zion.

View of Zion Canyon from Observation Point

Reason #2: Canyoneering Adventures

The best way to describe canyoneering is with a quote from Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, “I dream with my eyes open.” Canyoneering is the sport of bouncing between rappelling down a slot canyon and hiking through the canyon to the next rappel. It might feel like you’re dreaming, but it’s the most alive you’ll ever feel.

Man dropping down into canyon with climbing gear on.

Reason #3: Tuacahn Outdoor Amphitheater

It’s called Broadway in the Canyon for good reason. Tuacahn has high quality shows being performed in a red rock amphitheater nestled into a canyon just outside of St. George. The canyon walls tower over you in every direction to create one of the most iconic settings, and the shows are amazing. This year they are performing Beauty and the Beast, Annie, and The Count of Monte Cristo!  

Panoramic view of outdoor amphitheatre.

Reason #4: Crazy Talented Artists & Galleries

The climate here must be just right for fostering creativity because we have some amazing artists in a variety of mediums. The first place you have to go is the Kayenta Art Village in Ivins. Here you can actually watch some of the artists at work throwing clay or painting. There are also some great landscape and wildlife photographers to visit as well. From there, head over to Springdale and visit a number of great galleries. Purchasing a print of the Narrows is a great way to remember your unbelievable trip.

Couple admiring photographic prints on the wall of an art gallery.
LaFave Art Gallery

Reason #5: World-Class Hiking

We have enough beautiful hiking photos to make a two-day slideshow, but don’t worry, we won’t put you through that. What we will do is tell you how incredible the hiking is here. You get to have breathtaking views, slot canyons filled with petroglyphs, alpine mountain meadows, orange sand dunes and much more. You’d better bring an extra SD card because you’ll be snapping pictures nonstop.

Man hiking on red and white striped rocks.

Reason #6: Rejuvenating Spas

Picture yourself getting a hot stone massage while you look out the window onto a red rock paradise. No stress or worries can reach you here. Later you can do some yoga or take a healthy cooking class. We’ve got some great traditional spas for relaxation and some pretty amazing ones focused on rejuvenation and healthy living as well.

Couple lounging at spa in front of large window with scenic view of mountains.

Reason #7: Mountain Biking Paradise

We literally have a mountain biking trail named Paradise Rim, and one look at it will tell you the name was appropriate. There are hundreds of miles of single track and slick rock to explore. In fact, St. George is the home of The Redbull Rampage. If you bring your bike, you’re in for an incredible time.

Smiling female mountain biker leading the pack.

Visit Red Cliffs Recreation Area for a Unique Adventure

It’s no secret that there is an amazing National Park in southern Utah. However, it’s not the only awesome place to experience down here, and Red Cliffs Recreation Area is one you probably haven’t heard of. It’s a hidden gem that has all the charms of Zion in a smaller package.

Desert Potholes and Waterfalls

In Spring and right after rainfall, this recreation area is blessed with some beautiful waterfalls that gush over its dry red-rock canyons. Since it’s pretty tough to plan a trip around rain, and rain also makes for less enjoyable camping, try planning a Spring trip, especially if you want to see the falls running. Even when the falls aren’t going, there are large potholes in the canyon that stay full of water year round and make for great pictures.

Petroglyphs

It’s super easy to miss, but as the canyon starts to tighten up and turn to the left, you can cross the dry stream bed, where a large alcove is cut out of the cliff face, and it is marked with some plastic posts. In this shallow cave, you can look up and find some ancient Native American drawings!

Slot Canyons

Nothing says desert adventure like slot canyons! They are hands down one of the best parts about hiking in southern Utah. Making your way between towering cliffs, sometimes only an arms’ width apart, you feel like you’re on another planet.

Drying river bed in red rock canyon.

Campsites in Red Cliff Recreation Area

These campsites are the icing on the cake. If you’ve ever tried to get a campsite in Zion, you know how hard it can be to score one without doing so almost a year in advance. Many of the popular national parks are this way now. Red Cliffs Recreation Area is only 45 minutes from Zion, but its campsites are really easy to get. In conclusion you are better off camping at Red Cliffs if you make a trip out here without a lot of advanced planning. Yet it’s not just how easy it is to get these camp sites that makes me recommend them. You will really enjoy these sites, as they have all the facilities you need, like tables, pavilion cover and restrooms. 

Campsite pavilion in the desert.

A Unique, Family Friendly Day Trip to Gunlock State Park

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

Location

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

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

Beauty

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

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

Unique features

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

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

The Perfect Place to Cool Off in Greater Zion

It’s no secret that it can get hot here in Southern Utah. But if heat is the price we have to pay for the amount of sun we get year-round and the unimagainable beauty that this place offers, we’re willing to pay it. With that being said, when it does get hot, our beautiful reservoirs make it more than just tolerable.

Sand Hollow is an escape from the summer heat and will far exceeded your expectations. When you make your inevitable trip, here are some tips that will help you best enjoy the area.

Relax on the Water

Take a thrill ride out on the water by renting or bringing a boat and pulling some tubes, wakeboards and skis. It’s a great way to experience the reservoir. Or, go with something a little smaller and rent paddle boards from The Beach at Sand Hollow.

Young girls on paddelboards on turquoise water with red rock formations in background.

Snorkeling

While there may not be a beautiful coral filled with exotic fish, taking a dive into the reservoir and exploring what is under the water is a unique experience. If you want to explore even deeper under water, you can scuba dive, too. There’s even a bus and a plane sunken in the lake for you to explore.

Snorkeler swimming underwater

Cliff Jumping

If you love rock climbing and heights the cliff section of the shoreline is for you. This offers a great variety of heights ranging from the kid-friendly five feet to the more daring 35 feet. Extremely popular among locals, you’ll probably make some friends while exploring this area.

Kids cliff jumping at Sand Hollow State Park

Good Eats

To cap off all the adventure you’ve been having, head back to the rental shop and got some lunch at their cafe. Nothing says summer fun like a cheeseburger and onion rings. They also had a good selection of ice cream.

“Summer is the annual permission slip to be lazy. To do nothing and have it count for something. To lie in the grass and count the stars. To sit on a branch and study the clouds.”

-Regina Brett

We aren’t going to beat around the bush. It’s summer in Greater Zion and we love it. When the heat arrives, it makes some typical outdoor adventure activities less likely. So, here are some favorite ways to stay cool and have fun in the summer in this desert destination.

Boating

Ahhh. Boating. Who doesn’t love sitting back on a lake with friends and family. The boat is one of the most fun ways to enjoy your summer vacation! Kick up your feet, turn up the tunes, and pull out the tubes.

Greater Zion is the desert and you may wonder where you can find an oasis that’s big enough and good enough on which to boat, but the answer might surprise you! There are three. That’s right, THREE lakes!

Sand Hollow State Park, Gunlock State Park, and Quail Creek State Park — each one amazing in their own right.

Sand Hollow (the newest reservoir in southern Utah) seems to be the most popular. With soft, red sand beaches, rental gear, and a beach restaurant, Sand Hollow Reservoir is a great place to swim, play, and generally get sun soaked. Enjoy the playful atmosphere on the stunning clear blue waters, with 360 degree views.

Gunlock State Park, located Northwest of St. George, is more of a quiet getaway. A little higher elevation gives this lake a more mountainous feel and a little cooler water. Fishing, swimming, kayaking, and boating are all welcome here. The lake is a bit smaller, but its quaintness invites you to come and relax in the southern Utah desert.

Quail Creek is located just minutes away from Sand Hollow State Park. Great for fantastic fishing and boating with friends. Bring a cooler and kick up your feet at Quail Lake.

Pools

Pools, pools and more pools! Sunny Greater Zion has pools for everyone! Outdoor and indoor alike, there are sure to be fun times poolside!

Sand Hollow Aquatic Center (SHAC)
Not to be confused with the Sand Hollow Reservoir, SHAC is located in St. George, near the town of Santa Clara. This indoor pool is fun for all ages and provides lap pools, slides, competitive swimming, and more. Don’t forget to check the sand volleyball courts just outside!

St George City Pool
This outdoor pool is awesome! A giant tube slide, diving boards and a kiddie pool allow the whole family to enjoy some water time, and to soak up some rays on the outdoor decks.

Washington City Aquatic Center
The award of “largest aquatic center in Southern Utah” goes to this place. Crystal clear lap pools, a kids pool and deck parties are all possible, even accompanied by additional features of the surrounding Washington City Community Center, which include foam pits, and other activities. You’ll never want to leave.