ABC4: St. George in running to host 2021 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship; decision coming in few weeks

By Katie Karalis |

St. George was recently chosen as a finalist to host the 2021 Ironman 70.3 World Championship. City officials say the final decision between St. George and Chattanooga, TN will be made in the next few weeks.

“This opportunity for a world championship is just really kind of the pinnacle,” said St. George tourism director Kevin Lewis.

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Seven Convincing Reasons to Visit St. George if You Love the Outdoors

For outdoor adventurers, visiting Utah is like being a kid in a candy shop. The state has endless recreational opportunities for enthusiasts of just about any kind. You might make for Salt Lake City if you love climbing, Moab for world-class mountain biking, and the national parks for hiking. But there’s one magical place in Utah where worlds collide and you can do just about any outdoor activity imaginable: St. George.

Deep in the desert of southwestern Utah, St. George offers access to some of the best recreation, (including climbing, biking, canyoneering, and so much more) not only in Utah, but in all of the American West. Once you’ve seen what’s on the St. George roster, you won’t need much convincing to start planning your visit.

But in case you’re not yet convinced, here are the promised seven reasons:

1. World-Class Mountain Biking at Gooseberry Mesa

Just a handful of miles west of Zion National Park, Gooseberry Mesa is practically one giant playground. Don’t come expecting the technical ramps and big sand traps you’ll find farther north and east in Utah; this is soft, flowy singletrack at its finest. Which is a good thing, because you’ll likely be distracted by the incredible views of Zion’s otherworldly sandstone formations and towering canyons. With nearly 30 miles of trails and difficulty levels ranging from confident, beginner-friendly to expert-only, Gooseberry Mesa has something for mountain bikers of all stripes.

2. Renowned Bouldering at Moe's Valley

Moe’s Valley is quickly becoming a top destination for bouldering.

Anna Papuga

If you’re a boulderer, chances are you’ve heard of Joe’s Valley, just a few hours from Salt Lake City. Joe’s is incredible, but you don’t have a complete picture of Utah bouldering until you’ve made a pilgrimage to Moe’s, which is still being developed. The access road was once suitable for high clearance vehicles only, but it’s been improved, and the bouldering has grown along with it. Moe’s now features more than 150 problems in the V2 to V10 range, so there’s something for new boulderers and hardcore climbers alike.

3. Incredible Road Cycling

Mountain biking isn’t the only way to explore the desert on two wheels. St. George is also a major destination for road cycling, and there are tons of inspirational rides in the area. You’ll find better road quality and quieter roads than in many other cycling destinations, and the possibilities are endless. There’s a great 20-mile loop in Snow Canyon State Park, and the scenic Veyo Loop provides endless views of Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (plus way less traffic than you’ll find closer to the national park).

4. Easy Access to Zion National Park

Zion National Park is less than an hour from St. George, and it offers some of the best hiking and canyoneering in the country.

Alexander C. Kafka

Zion National Park covers nearly 150,000 acres and is home to some of the most iconic hikes in the country, like the Narrows, Kolob Arch, and Angels Landing. The park is less than an hour away from St. George, which means the town is a perfect base camp to rest up between Zion forays. In addition to the hiking and canyoneering opportunities, Zion is a great spot for a scenic drive, and numerous pull-outs along the main road with interpretive signs mean you’re guaranteed to learn something fascinating about the park’s natural and human history.

5. Paddle to Your Heart’s Content

Thanks to its decidedly desert landscape, it might seem like St. George isn’t the best destination for paddling. But there’s still plenty of water recreation going on in and around St. George. Gorgeous Sand Hollow Reservoir is a local favorite for stand-up paddleboarding, and Gunlock Reservoir has little boat traffic and several great cliff-jumping spots. Three outfitters, Outdoor Rush, Dig, and BASH, serve the St. George area’s paddle sport rental needs, so whether you like to stand up or sit in a kayak, you’ll never be without a vessel.

6. Infinite Canyons to Explore

Use those rappelling skills to drop into one of Southwest Utah’s slot canyons.

Intermountain Forest Service

Hiking and rock climbing aren’t the only ways to explore the narrow slot canyons you’ll find all over St. George. Combine those two activities and throw in a little spelunking and possibly some swimming, and you’ve got canyoneering. Zion is a major canyoneering destination, but there are tons of slot canyons to rappel into and hike, swim, and scramble out of just minutes from St. George, too. If you’re excited about the prospect of getting deep into a canyon, but don’t have the gear or technical knowledge, you’re still in luck. St. George is also home to several reputable guides and outfitters who can (literally) show you the ropes.

7. Test Your Endurance

Endurance athletes (from amateurs to professionals) travel to St. George from far and wide to test their mettle in the heart of the desert because this town is serious about its endurance events. The town hosts an Ironman 70.3, in which participants take on a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and run a 13.1-mile half marathon. There’s also the Tour de St. George, offered twice a year (in the spring and fall), which includes distances ranging from 35 to 100 miles. The St. George Marathon attracts runners from across the country for this scenic point-to-point race that features a net 2,600-foot descent. (Hint: If you’re looking to qualify for Boston, this is the place to do it.) The Salt to Saint Relay challenges teams of cyclists to cover the 420 miles between Salt Lake City and St. George, while the True Grit Epic mountain bike race features distances from 15 miles to 100 over some of the area’s best trails.

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

Featured image provided by Alta Expedition

Your Guide to Canyoneering in the Mecca of Canyoneering

Take a drive through southern Utah, and you’ll see some of the most incredible landscapes anywhere in the American West (or anywhere else, for that matter). Those red-rock walls and wide-open desert scenes are something to write home about. But if you’re impressed by the views, just wait until you see what lies beneath them!

Canyoneering requires some of the technical skills and systems used for rock climbing and caving: setting up rappels, squeezing through narrow openings, and always knowing your way out. But ropes, harnesses, and helmets aren’t the only equipment you’ll need. Like the scrambling required for many mountaineering outings, canyoneering uses hands and feet, plus elbows, shoulders, and sometimes a bit of creative contorting.

Rock climbing routes are graded on the Yosemite Decimal System, and canyoneering routes have a similar (but more complex) rating system. They’re rated on the basis of technicality—from pure hiking to technical canyoneering—as well as how much and what type of water you’ll encounter, how long and committing the trip is, and, in more advanced canyons, the additional risk involved. Read more about the actual ratings and what they mean here.

Looking for a memorable canyoneering experience? St. George, Utah, is the place to be. Whether you’re a novice canyoneer on your first adventure or an expert eager to tackle a new challenge, St. George is widely considered to be home to some of the best canyon exploration opportunities anywhere. Here’s where to go:

Lambs Knoll

Just outside the border of Zion National Park, Lambs Knoll is beloved not only for its relatively beginner friendly canyoneering but also for its abundance of sport climbing at the same location. It’s easy to spend a whole day here. There’s limited hiking between rappels, but those trips will take you between 60 and 70 feet down, so you’ll definitely have to do some work. When you’re not enveloped by sweeping red sandstone walls, you’ll be swept off your feet by breathtaking views of Zion and its surroundings.

Yankee Doodle Canyon

Thanks to its super short approach and more straightforward route finding than you’ll experience on many advanced canyoneering routes, Yankee Doodle Canyon is a popular trip for those ready to take on more technical canyoneering challenges. The route includes two mandatory rappels, one of which is a 30-foot, free-hanging rappel right off the bat, as well as some scrambling and wedging one’s way through the narrow slot. Natural and bolted anchors mean you’ve got some built-in protection for the big drops. There’s also some wading, which means this is a no-go if there’s rain in the forecast.

Island in the Sky

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This was a tricky crack!

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Not to be confused with the Canyonlands National Park district of the same name just outside Moab, Island in the Sky is a steep-walled butte and technical route in Snow Canyon State Park. Ascending the butte, which rises above the landscape on all sides, requires some traditional climbing gear placement and some easy, but unprotectable, climbing. It also requires some mental fortitude and comfort with exposure, plus excellent navigational and route-finding skills. Like its neighbor, Arch Canyon, it requires a permit).

Zion National Park Canyons

The canyoneering opportunities within Zion National Park are virtually endless. There’s the Narrows, one of the best known and most iconic canyoneering routes in the country, which requires adventurers to hike downriver — literally in the river — for miles.

Or check out the Subway, which includes several mandatory rappels and swims. Keyhole Canyon makes for a quick morning outing, while dramatic Englestead Hollow takes a full day.

It’s a smorgasbord for experienced canyoneers, but there’s no commercial guiding allowed in the Zion Wilderness, which means it’s not where you’ll be headed if you hire a guide. Still, when you’re ready to strike out on your own (and you’ve gotten the requisite National Park Service permit), this is the place to be.

Excited to start rappelling into canyons and finding your way out, but not quite ready to take on the challenge alone? Fortunately, there are several trusted guides and outfitters in the St. George area. Paragon Adventures is a well-known service with knowledgeable guides and tons of information on the area, and Red Desert Adventure offers guided tours, as well as instruction for beginner, intermediate, and advanced canyoneers.

While the idea of climbing and rappelling can be intimidating for beginners, most people simply find it a lot of fun, particularly if you get proper instruction from the start. It doesn’t take long to realize that canyoneering is one of the best ways to explore this incredibly scenic part of the country. You owe it to yourself to give it a try.

Arch Canyon

Arch Canyon’s proximity to St. George — it’s practically right in town! — and its half-day length makes it a great intro trip for new canyoneers. Still, it’s not just a hike. The approach typically takes about 40 minutes, at which point many parties opt for wetsuits since a few of the rappels end in pools, and a very chilly wade out is required. You’ll need a permit for Snow Canyon State Park for this one, as the relatively urban location has prompted the park to institute daily quotas to avoid too much traffic. The only downside to this canyon is its relatively short window of availability — it is closed from March 15 to September 14 to protect a population of nesting birds. Plan accordingly.

Note: Because there are numerous Arch Canyons in Utah, this one is sometimes referred to more specifically as Johnson Arch Canyon.

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

Featured image provided by Anna Papuga