How to Make the Most of a Weekend at Red Cliffs National Conservation Area

Tucked in the far southwestern corner of Utah, the expansive desert landscape of Red Cliffs National Conservation Area marks the zone where three ecosystems merge: the Mojave Desert, Great Basin, and Colorado Plateau. Covering roughly 45,000 acres of public land with 130 miles of non-motorized trails, the preserve offers a rugged environment ripe for adventure. We’ve hand-picked some of the area’s best hikes, mountain bike trails, and one-of-a-kind outdoor experiences to create the ultimate guide for a weekend spent exploring the quiet beauty of Red Cliffs.

Must-Do Hikes

With so many miles of trail to explore, narrowing it down to the best hiking adventures in Red Cliffs proves no easy task. For a well-rounded look at the best this desert landscape has to offer, check out these must-do trails.

Babylon Arch Trail

Gaze out in any direction from this trail and you’ll see the impressive sandstone formations that typify southern Utah. Swirling layers of red and orange rock form narrow canyons and hollowed out chambers line the cliff walls. This 3-mile out-and-back route winds through sandstone gulches and up a few short, but sandy, hills on the way to the namesake Babylon Arch, shortly before the trail’s turn-around point at the Virgin River. Hiking through the sand and few trail markers along the way can make the path tough to follow, but the solitude and scenery are worth the effort.

Yellow Knolls Trail

Situated eight miles north of downtown St. George, this 4-mile out-and-back trail takes you into a world of slickrock dunes with a fascinating checkerboard pattern. The trek starts with relatively easy hiking in a meadow of sagebrush and desert grasses before the moderate uphill section takes you right through the Yellow Knolls for which the trail is named. For a longer excursion, connect the Yellow Knolls hike with the Winchester and Black Gulch trails for a strenuous, 6-mile loop.

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The Red Cliffs Nature Trail is an easy way to explore one of Utah’s red rock canyons.

Bureau of Land Management

Red Cliffs Nature Trail

Also known as the Red Reef Trail, this hike showcases many of the quintessential charms that draw visitors to southern Utah. Glorious red rock canyons complete with waterfalls and pools, a pristine creek lined with vibrant cottonwood trees, and caverns painted with ancient petroglyphs all combine to make this hike a classic. Suitable for all ages, this easy 2-mile trail starts at the Red Cliffs Campground about 15 miles northeast of St. George.

Mountain Biking Adventures

Whether on your own or as part of a guided excursion, mountain biking is the perfect way to explore the unparalleled beauty and solitude of Red Cliffs. St. George and several smaller towns in Washington County—like Springdale, Virgin, La Verkin and Hurricane—offer everything you need to set tire to dirt, from bike rentals to gear shops to qualified guides. Here are a couple of the best rides you’ll find in the conservation area.

Dino Cliffs and Church Rock Loop

If you’ve only got time for one trail here, go for this one. An excellent introduction to slickrock singletrack riding, this intermediate, 9.5-mile loop serves up incredible views of sandstone bluffs, snow-capped peaks on the horizon, and a few dinosaur tracks thrown in for good measure. For a longer ride, add on the easy to intermediate, 7-mile (one-way) Prospector Trail.

Broken Mesa Rim Trail

Strong riders comfortable with rocky climbs and descents will get their kicks on the 4.6-mile (one-way) Broken Mesa Rim Trail. Located 10 miles north of St. George in Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, this heart-pumping ride can be linked up with some dirt road and singletrack climbing for an adventurous 15.5-mile loop, known as the Broken Mesa Loop Trail.

Icehouse Trail

Also located in the quiet beauty of Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, this upper-intermediate ride features 6.8 miles of sustained downhill, descending nearly 2,000 feet. Technical terrain toward the end will challenge your skills on rock-strewn singletrack. Run a shuttle with two vehicles, or ride back up the dirt Cottonwood Road back to the trailhead for an 18-mile loop.

A Few Other Unique Outdoor Adventures

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There is plenty to do during a weekend at Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.

Bureau of Land Managemt

A trip to Red Cliffs National Conservation Area is the perfect opportunity to try new outdoor experiences in a remarkable desert setting. Unique adventures like soaring above Snow Canyon’s multi-colored peaks in a hot air balloon or navigating scenic backcountry roads on a guided Jeep tour are just a few examples of the opportunities available in Red Cliffs.

Rock climbing and canyoneering top the list of thrilling excursions in the area, with options to explore with local guides or to go out on your own (if you have the experience!). Snow Canyon State Park—which lies just northwest of St. George and is mostly encompassed within Red Cliffs National Conservation Area—features the highest concentration of established rock climbing routes in the region as well as several intriguing canyoneering spots.

When to Go

Like most of southern Utah, spring and fall are the best times of year to explore Red Cliffs. Pleasant temperatures and few rainy days make these seasons ideal for hiking, biking, camping and other outdoor adventures. Note that the rivers, waterfalls, and canyon pools are most vibrant in the spring before the warm temperatures of summer start to dry things up.

High temperatures during the peak of summer usually reach into the upper 90s or low 100s, while winter in St. George and the surrounding area stays relatively mild with average highs in the mid-50s.

Where to Stay in and Around St. George

The city of St. George, with a population just over 80,000, makes the ideal base camp for a weekend of exploring Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. From full-amenity resorts to cozy villas to secluded campgrounds, there’s a fitting place to lay your head for every type of adventurer.

When looking for a hotel in St. George, you’ll find most of the familiar names in hospitality, like Courtyard Marriott, Best Western, Holiday Inn, and Hilton. Additionally, St. George has several boutique resorts and hotels that offer a distinctly local feel with enviable vacation packages, such as Amira Resort and Spa and Inn on the Cliff. Nearby Ivins, Utah, is home to Red Mountain Resort, another option for guests who seek luxury accommodations with spa and retreat packages in the area.

Condo and villa rentals around St. George strike a nice balance between indulgence and relaxed comfort for a weekend trip. Popular choices like Red Sands Vacation Properties, The Inn at Entrada, and Ledges Vacation Rentals make it easy to find your home away from home, southern Utah style.

In the heart of town, St. George RV Park and Campground is an ideal option for those who appreciate the convenience of a central location while still enjoying their evenings of chilling and grilling out beneath the trees. Sixteen miles northeast of St. George, the Red Cliffs Campground offers a small, simple place for tents or RVs set amongst impressive sandstone canyons and the peaceful Quail Creek. Campers who call this place home for the weekend will enjoy easy access to some of the area’s main attractions, including Red Cliffs Nature Trail, the Dinosaur Tracks hiking area, and the Red Cliffs Anasazi Site.

No matter where you stay, you’re just minutes away from some of the most beautiful country in southern Utah. It won’t take long to see why the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area is one of the state’s real gems.

Written by Jenna Herzog for RootsRated Media in partnership with St. George Tourism.

Featured image provided by Bureau of Land Management

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

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.

2. Horseback Riding in Snow Canyon

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Snow Canyon State Park is known for its ancient lava flows.

Joanna Poe

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.

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

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Bloomington Cave stays at a comfortable 58 degrees year round.

Bureau of Land Management

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.

6. Hike to Lava Flow and Petrified Dunes

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The impressive lava tubes at Snow Canyon State Park are an excellent hiking destination.

Mark Byzewski

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.

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

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Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park features 2,000 acres that are open to off-road vehicle use.

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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.

Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated Media in partnership with St. George Tourism.

Featured image provided by Bureau of Land Management

How to Train for an Endurance Event in the Desert

If you’re training for an endurance event, chances are you’ve spent a lot of time planning for every contingency: what you’ll wear, what you’ll eat, how long each leg of your race will take, and so forth. All those things are important, but when you’re competing in an endurance event in the high desert—whether it’s the True Grit Epic, the St. George Marathon, a half-Ironman, or a challenge of your own design—you’ve got a few added elements to consider.

Racing in the desert is incredibly rewarding, in part because the environment is so unlike any other. But this landscape comes with its own set of possibilities for which to prepare. The climate is, of course, hotter and drier, and weather changes quickly. Navigation can be challenging, and there’s the unpleasant feeling of sand in your shoes to contend with. If you’re considering signing on for an endurance event in St. George, plan ahead for these desert-specific concerns.

Hydrate Early and Often

Conventional wisdom has it that if you’re exerting yourself in the desert in the more moderate temperatures of spring and fall, you’ll need to consume three to five quarts of water per day. That’s if you’re hiking or backpacking—if you’re running a marathon or otherwise pushing your body to its limits, you’ll need more water.

“One element that often gets overlooked in the desert is the wind,” says Tiffany Gust of Utah-based TG Triathlon and Fitness Coaching. Gust holds a master’s degree in Applied Exercise Science/Sports Nutrition. “Gusting up to 30-plus miles per hour isn't uncommon during the spring and summer months.”

That’s part of the reason you’ll need to carry more water than you might think. Consider using a bladder and hose, which make it easier to drink frequently than stopping to pull out a water bottle.

Most organized endurance events have aid stations where you can refill and refuel, but don’t count on those to be the only time you’re eating and drinking. Arrive a few days before your event to give your body time to acclimate to the dry climate, and spend those days drinking enough fluids so you’re hydrated well in advance (no need to overdo it, however, as you can go too far with this strategy where it actually hurts you). On race day, carry enough water to get you from one aid station to the next without bonking.

Drink More Than Just Water

In order to stay hydrated, Gust says, you’ll need more than plain old H2O to stay hydrated. The amount of salt your body loses over the course of a day in a hot, dry climate means it’s essential to replace electrolytes as you exercise, too. There are a number of ways to replenish electrolytes, which are essential to some of your body’s most basic automatic processes.

“Monitor urine color and aim for a light yellow color, similar to a yellow post-it note,” she suggests. “Pay attention to thirst and realize that when you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated.”

Salty foods like chips and pretzels, which are frequent long-distance aid-station fare, are great for replacing those salts. There are also tons of mixes, powders, and tablets on the market—each have qualities to recommend them, but the most important thing is making sure a specific supplement works for you. Play around with timing and amounts before you arrive for your event, and know that you may need to increase frequency when you’re actually in the desert. Bring your chosen electrolyte replacement with you so you’re guaranteed to have what you need out on the course, even if aid stations aren’t stocked with your preferred brand or flavor.

Be Sun-Savvy

When you spend as much time outside as it takes to train for a long-distance or multi-day event, it’s more important than ever to take care of your skin. Even a short day out without high-enough SPF can have brutal consequences, and that phenomenon only increases in the desert, where the sun will likely be beating down on you all day with little shade for cover.

For an 8-plus-hour day in the desert, sunscreen alone simply won’t cut it. You should reapply often, especially vulnerable areas like your face, the back of your neck, and your hands as often as is feasible (at every aid station, if you can) and use SPF-50 or greater.

You should also cover as much of your skin as possible, says Gust. “UPF clothing and sunscreen is a must when dealing with the heat in the desert,” she explains, adding that “arm sleeves that can be dipped in cool water can be very beneficial.” A hat with a wide brim will keep your eyes and face from bearing the brunt of harmful UV rays.

Take Care of Your Feet

You may not think you have particularly sweaty feet, but when they’ve been carrying you through the desert all day, things may look a little different. When sun bounces off sand, it can easily heat up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter during the warmest parts of the day, not to mention that it’ll likely make an appearance in your shoes.

With this in mind, you may want to consider running gaiters or something similar to keep sand out of your shoes and be prepared to deal with blisters early and often. Think about carrying a pared-down blister-repair kit (even if it’s just some duct tape on your trekking poles) and stop to fix address hotspots as soon as you notice them. Problems with your feet can escalate quickly in the heat.

Expect Unexpected Weather

Weather in the desert often changes quickly and without much prior warning, and it doesn’t help matters that you’re unlikely to find anywhere safe to take shelter in the event of a storm. With that in mind, check the weather forecast carefully not only for possible storm events in the immediate vicinity, but also in the area surrounding your destination, since a storm upstream can easily cause flash flooding miles downstream. Always avoid camping in washes, and if you’ll be traveling in narrow canyons or washes are unavoidable, plan your escape route well in advance.

Learn to Deal with Sand

It won’t take much time in the desert to discover one of its universal truths: Sand gets in everything. It finds its way through the mesh in your shoes, under your hat, into your teeth. Some of this is preventable, like using running gaiters to prevent tons of sand from seeping into your shoes, wearing shoes with more Gore-tex material and less mesh, and choosing sunglasses that wrap around your face rather than leaving the sides open to blowing sand.

But some blowing sand is simply a reality of desert travel. There’s not much to do in terms of preventing it from happening, but you can head in prepared by mimicking conditions during training as much as possible. That goes for training in the heat, too, says Gust. “Athletes enjoy training early in the morning to escape the excessive heat,” she says. “But if they plan on racing in the heat, some of their training needs to be in the heat—so they’ll be able to tolerate it, both physically and mentally.”

Yes, an endurance event in the desert adds another layer of complexity. But that’s also what makes the challenge fun. With a little preparation, that medal hanging around your neck at the finish line will feel all the sweeter.

Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated Media in partnership with St. George Tourism.

Featured image provided by Nate Grigg

Why You Should Visit These State Parks That Rival Zion

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

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

Snow Canyon State Park

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Snow Canyon’s dramatic scenery offers a rugged hiking experience.

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Snow Canyon State Park is southwestern Utah’s best-kept secret. The park’s magnificent landscape features a 5-mile-long canyon flanked by soaring cliffs. You'll find national-park quality views on the 38 miles of hiking trails, plus a visitor center, campground, and diverse wildlife including desert tortoises, Gila monsters, and peregrine falcons. Snow Canyon, named for pioneers Lorenzo and Erastus Snow, offers a natural beauty that’s just as gorgeous as Zion 50 miles to the east, but without the crowds. The 4,700-acre park, lying north of St. George, is easy to visit and the entrance fee is far less than Zion.

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

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

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

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

Quail Creek State Park

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Blue Quail Lake is the main attraction at Quail Creek State Park.

Willem van Valkenburg

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

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

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

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

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

Sand Hollow State Park

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ATV riders flock to the 6,000 acres of terrain at Sand Hollow State Park.

Dylan Duvergé

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

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

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

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

Gunlock State Park

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

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

Written by Stewart Green for RootsRated Media in partnership with St. George Tourism.

Featured image provided by Anna Papuga

8 Challenging Endurance Events That Take Place in St. George, Utah

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect base camp for exploring southwest Utah than the scenic town of St. George. It may be just a short drive to Las Vegas and only about 300 miles from Salt Lake City, but St. George’s immediate surroundings are what make it really special. Vibrant red rocks and steep canyons—including the spots where parts of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were filmed—beckon with enough recreational opportunities for a lifetime, and you’re just a few minutes from landmarks like Snow Canyon and Quail Creek State Parks, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, and, of course Zion National Park.

These stunning landscapes are the ideal place for endurance events, and St. George has plenty to pick from: from a silly, family-friendly mud run to a half-IRONMAN and just about everything in between. Here are our 8 favorite picks when you’re ready to really get after it.

1. Hurricane Mud Run

The Hurricane Mud Run is the ultimate challenge-by-choice endurance event: the ambitious 5K course is packed with 25 obstacles, including the infamous mud pit. Participants do have the option to skip obstacles they’re not comfortable taking on—although race directors caution that a consequence for this is your friends may give you a hard time. This is a seriously muddy race, so it’s recommended that competitors wear an old pair of shoes and clothes they’re not worried about keeping in pristine condition since they’ll likely be ruined at the end of the 3.1-mile course.

2. IRONMAN 70.3 St. George

An IRONMAN 70.3 triathlon (also known as a “Half-IRONMAN”) is the among the world’s ultimate endurance challenges. The event consists of a 1.2-mile swim, followed by a 56-mile road bike ride, topped off with a 13.1-mile half marathon. In other words, there’s no such thing as an easy IRONMAN. Competitors consider the St. George IRONMAN 70.3 to be among the best, and the city itself comes to life for the big race. St. George is well-known for having awesome, encouraging spectators. It’s also a North American Pro Championship, which means you’ll be bumping elbows with some of the best athletes in the world.

3. Vision Relay: Moab to St. George

Formerly known as the Rockwell Relay, the 525-mile Vision Relay is perhaps the best way to experience southwestern Utah on two wheels. Teams of four cyclists take on a total of three legs each (averaging about 44 miles per leg), and spend the better part of two days taking in all there is to see between Moab and St. George. The race offers competitive and non-competitive divisions, depending on how speedy you and your team are feeling, and there are categories for male, female, and co-ed teams. There’s also a Vision Gran Fondo, which is run concurrently with and offers 23- and 64.5-mile routes.

4. Tour de St. George

The chip-timed Tour de St. George is run twice a year, in the spring and fall, so it’s both the ideal kickoff and a great way to wind down the Utah cycling season. Cyclists will get to experience many of southwestern Utah’s geological highlights on the ride, including the iconic red rocks, sandstone cliffs, and the surprisingly verdant, cottonwood-filled valleys created by the Santa Clara and Virgin Rivers. The race heads down to the Arizona border and takes cyclists through Sand Hollow and Quail Creek State Parks and past the mouth of gorgeous Snow Canyon. Participants can choose between the 35-, 75-, and 100-mile distances.

5. Salt to Saint Relay

The 400-odd-mile, 24-hour Salt to Saint cycling relay might just be one of the best ways to bring together a group of active-minded friends. Sign yourself and your pals up for an eight- or four-person relay (or, if you’re a real rock star, go for a solo endeavor), then get ready to spend a full day and night riding from Salt Lake City to St. George. Legs average around 17 miles, but they vary significantly in difficulty and distance, so you can choose which team member will take on which legs. This means you can safely bring newer cyclists along, while the more seasoned riders in the group can tackle the tougher legs. Best of all, by the end of the race, you and your team will have built up some serious camaraderie—as well as a deep appreciation for the stunning scenery around St. George.

6. 25 Hours in Frog Hollow

What kind of race doesn’t tell you how far you’ll be riding? With 25 Hours in Frog Hollow, the distance is based on how many laps you can complete on the 13-mile mountain bike course during the race’s 25-hour duration. But this epic event is more than just a race: It’s a chance for the mountain bike community to come together. There’s ample camping space for teams and support crews, which means when you’re not out on the course, there’s plenty of socializing. You can also use the time to rest up and get back some of your energy for the next lap on this no-nonsense course.

7. St. George Marathon

Run every October since 1977, the St. George Marathon is regularly mentioned in running-centric publications as among the best of the best—Runner’s World called it one of the top four marathons to build a vacation around, and the magazine has also rated it one of the 20 best marathons in the country. One of the best aspects of the St. George Marathon, though, is that it’s all downhill: It’s a 26.2-mile point-to-point race beginning in the Pine Valley Mountains and dropping to Worthen Park, almost 2,600 feet in elevation below. It’s also a Boston Marathon qualifier—and a great race to aim for a new PR, since its elevation loss means it’s among the fastest marathons in the country.

8. True Grit Epic Mountain Bike Race

Looking for one of the most intense mountain bike races in the Intermountain West? The True Grit Epic won’t disappoint. The race runs in March, just before temperatures start to really heat up, and offers 50- and 100-mile distances. The race’s tagline is “Long, Tough, and Technical,” and race directors are careful to remind participants that that’s no joke: “The first 20 miles,” they write, “are over rocky and steep terrain that requires excellent bike handling skills and upper body strength.” The rest of the course navigates boulders, sandy washes, and sandstone, and racers will ride through some of St. George’s best mountain bike zones: Red Bluff, Curly Hollow, and Boomer Hill.

Where to Stay

Nothing beats a good night’s sleep before a big race, and St. George offers plenty of options from hotels to B&Bs to camping. You will want to book well in advance when there’s a big event coming to town, though—accommodations fill up quickly!

Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated Media in partnership with St. George Tourism.

Featured image provided by Raniel Diaz