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

5 Fun Things to Do with Your Family in St. George

Best known as a gateway city to Zion National Park, St. George in southwestern Utah is a year-round playground for outdoor enthusiasts. With its red rock canyons, sandy rolling landscapes, and the Virgin River just awaiting your next adventure, St. George is a great place to try out a new sport. There are also plenty of cultural and indoor entertainment options to keep you busy when the occasional thunderstorm rolls through. Here are five things to try on your next family vacation here—or at least your first one, as you’ll never get to all of this in one trip!

1. Hike in Washington County

Zion National Park is right there for the taking, and it’s definitely one of the country’s top hiking destinations, but the park gets crowded. Very crowded. Like so many aspects of travel and outdoor adventure, with just a little outside-the-box thinking you can easily find a workaround. While hiking in and around St. George you can get a similar experience to Zion without the crowds. Instead of the national park, consider one of the following:

  • Red Cliffs Desert Reserve
    In this preserve, try the Babylon Arch Trail, where the sandy, open terrain transports you to another planet. It’s only a mile and some change, but as long as you time your hike to avoid the peak heat of the day, it’s very manageable for all but the youngest members of the family. Elephant Arch offers a longer, sandier hike of almost four miles. If the kids want to dabble in a little of Southern Utah’s famed canyoneering on a path that’s still just over a mile long, head to the Red Reef Trail, where they can do some scrambling as you hike. If you want to make a day of it and really get your hike on, the Red Reef Trail is part of the Cottonwood Canyon Wilderness System (allowing you to do an almost 6-mile loop).
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Discover the red rocks of Snow Canyon State Park without the crowds found in Zion.

Dan
  • Snow Canyon State Park
    One of the most intriguing hikes in Snow Canyon is the Pioneer Names Trail, where, yes, you can observe the names etched into the rock by early Mormon pioneers. (If graffiti is old enough, it becomes historic.) The north trailhead to the site provides the closest access, but it’s a short trail either way. You can also hike to the petrified dunes in Snow Canyon, which is located in the center of the park, offering amazing views of the cliffs.

If you want a taste of Zion National Park without the crowds, Eagle Crags is your go-to destination. (Note that you’ll need a vehicle with good clearance to get to the trailhead near Rockville.) At Eagle Crags, you not only get the panoramic views Zion delivers, but the variety of landscapes, too, as the trail ascends from desert to juniper groves to the top the canyon.

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Dixie Red Rock, also known as Pioneer Park, features impressive views of St. George.

Murray Foubister
  • Dixie Red Rock
    If you’d prefer to stay closer to town where you can easily haul your picnic and gear, head to Dixie Red Rock, a.k.a. Pioneer Park, overshadowing St. George. Climbers love the place, but the hiking is easily accessible, too, with the added bonus of BBQ pits, picnic tables, and a shade pavilion.

2. Go Cycling and Mountain Biking

The greater St. George area has more than 60 miles of bike paths and literally hundreds of miles of off-road singletrack and slickrock trails. Beginner mountain bikers should head to Barrel Roll, which is as fun as it sounds. Located in the Santa Clara River Reserve, Barrel Roll delivers views and twists and turns without being too steep to handle. From there, advance to the Wire Mesa Trail, located just outside Zion. This singletrack is more mountainous (with a bit of shade as a bonus) and offers incredible views.

If your crew is filled with experts, you have a slew of picks. The most epic is undoubtedly Nephi’s Twist at Hurricane Cliffs, a steep, technical track that will test any serious rider. And don’t forget about the state parks for mountain biking bliss: Snow Canyon State Park is a good option (just double check to see on which trails mountain biking is permitted).

3. See World-Class Museums

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St. George’s Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm offers visitors a glimpse into prehistoric times.

Alan Cressler

Whether you have kids who are nuts for dinosaurs or are interested in paleontology and the natural world, the early Jurassic dinosaur tracks at St. George’s Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm will impress every member of the family. Walk where dinos have walked at the museum in St. George, then pair the experience with the Rosenbruch Wildlife Museum nearby. The somewhat eclectic collection here showcases more than 300 animal species from habitats as near as Southern Utah and as far as the African Savannah.

If you have kids in tow, the St. George Children’s Museum is your next stop, where they’ll have the run of 12 rooms of hands-on exhibits to lose themselves in imaginative play. Save this gem for a hot day or an afternoon activity after a morning hike or bike ride.

4. Enjoy the Water

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The Virgin River is a great spot for cooling off on a hot day.

Ken Lund

It may come as a surprise, but there is actually plenty of water in Southern Utah! The Virgin River cuts through the red rock landscape, providing the perfect way to cool off. Yes, the river gets crowded with tourists tubing in Springdale and the Narrows draws a crowd in Zion each summer (for good reason—it’s epic) but to escape the masses, head to Falls Park, also known to the locals as Sheep Bridge. You’ll get a mile of riverfront property for your day, complete with sandy beaches and perfect jump-off rocks (always be sure to check depth before jumping). Families can find shallow pools for kids, and the more daring can find rapids to ride.

Want more space to yourself? Hop in an SUV and bump your way along a dirt road to Toquerville Falls, where an easy hike lands you at the base of a desert oasis. You’ll want your camera ready for these cascading falls over the rock, but make sure you enjoy a dip, too.

5. Head Indoors

Southern Utah can get hot and sometimes, you’ll want to escape indoors. When you do, can keep your active vacation going at The Grip, the indoor gym operated by three past American Ninja Warrior contestants. Come for a class, or just pay for a few hours of open gym. (You know you want to try your hand at the salmon ladder and the warped wall!)

Not up for such a physical challenge? Head to Fiesta Fun, the family fun center that offers every game you could want, plus laser tag, mini golf, go karts and the like.

Whether you have young kids or adventurous teenagers, you’ll have no problem finding plenty of ways to enjoy a getaway to St. George. Exploring this unique part of the country with the family will provide memories to last a lifetime.

Written by Amy Whitley for RootsRated Media in partnership with St. George Tourism.

Featured image provided by Bureau of Land Management

7 Adventures to Get Your Heart Pumping in St. George

Whether you’re a seasoned adrenaline junkie or enjoying a newfound appreciation for the great outdoors, the town of St. George, Utah, will deliver a memorable adventure. Its northeast neighbor, Zion National Park, is a beloved destination for the hiking and mountain biking set, but St. George boasts plenty of epic, outdoorsy draws of its own. From rock walls begging to be climbed to flowy singletrack begging for a mountain bike to the iconic red vistas in every direction, whatever your pursuit or skill level, you’ll find something to push your limits.

Here are seven awesome adventures guaranteed to get your heart pumping in St. George, Utah.

1. Mountain Biking on Gooseberry Mesa

Move over, Moab: The mountain biking trails of Gooseberry Mesa more than hold their own, from rip-roaring singletrack to adventurous slickrock to flowy stretches alongside pine and juniper trees. Plenty of technically challenging terrain keeps MTB veterans stoked, while a spot known by locals as God’s Skateboard Park offers a divine place to hone your trick skills. And of course, this is all under an open, sunny sky with expansive views of the stunning red and white cliffs of southern Utah and Zion National Park.

2. Skydiving

How did you spend your Saturday? I went skydiving! #skydivezion

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Imagine flying through the air at 120 miles per hour, rolling, turning and flipping as you please with the brilliant red desert landscape of St. George and Zion National Park below. You yank the parachute ripcord and float down to terra firma, swaying in the breeze and feeling the warmth of the Utah sun. Just ask anyone who has jumped: Skydiving in southern Utah is an out-of-this-world experience that will stick with you for life. Book with a reputable outfitter like Skydive Zion, whose experienced staff have jumped thousands of times with no injuries or issues, and the adrenaline rush you feel when your feet touch the ground just may tempt you to book another dive.

3. ATVing in Sand Hollow State Park

Zip up and over sand dunes and down into valleys in one of Utah’s best ATV playgrounds. There’s never a dull moment while ATVing in Sand Hollow State Park, whose varied terrain invites exploration over rocks and dirt and dunes. Ride as fast or slow as you want, enjoying technical challenges or the simple thrill of zooming through the desert. Go during late afternoon or evening, and prepare to be awed by the sky lit up with the same brilliant red and pink hues as the desert rocks. It’s an ideal family experience, bringing everyone together in the middle of the stunning St. George desert chasing the adrenaline rush of ATV travel. Book an ATV tour for one-on-one instruction with an expert; by the end, you just might be so amped on your new wheels that you’ll want to rent an ATV and head out on your own desert adventure.

4. Ziplining Green Valley Gap

Views of the state’s spectacular desert scenery are elevated to new heights while soaring along one of the longest zip lines in Utah. Green Valley Gap offers a thrilling ride some 800 feet long, zipping from one canyon wall to another. Hike a few hundred feet up to Green Valley Gap just southeast of St. George, and sail across the valley, watching the scenery rush by. It’s a shot of adrenaline that’s safe for everyone and will leave you wanting more. Get your sense of adventure stoked on Green Valley Gap, then add to your zip list with other thrilling backcountry ziplines, like the Mojave Canyon Tour with Paragon Adventures.

5. Rock Climbing Southern Utah

Take a closer look at almost any rocky desert landscape in Southern Utah, and you’re almost guaranteed to see a climber clinging to the rock. Indeed, the St. George area is chock full of world-class climbing spots, where rock jocks show off their Spiderman (and woman) skills as they work their way up the iconic sandstone cliffs. Rock climbing offers a workout and an unforgettable adventure all rolled into one, with the breathtaking views as a fitting reward for the effort of reaching the summit. The vast variety of terrain means there are plenty of places to climb no matter what your skill level, and newbies can sign up for a guided course to learn the basics of gear, belaying, proper safety measures, and climbing techniques. After that, head out to start sending some pitches of your own.

6. Canyoneerin

Supe Lillywhite rappelling into the amazing rock canyon

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Beneath the sand and sun of southern Utah’s deserts, more adventure awaits in the network of canyons weathered by wind and water. Explore this sandstone labyrinth that extends above and below ground, with narrow slot canyons and vast gorges. Wade through water, rappel down into caves, or scale rock walls to find out what awaits around the next twist of the smooth red-and-orange canyon walls. Some canyons are accessible via simple but spectacular hiking trails; other, more challenging options require advanced wilderness techniques and a guide. Outfitters like Paragon Adventures offer canyon tours that teach guests the basics of canyoneering during a whirlwind adventure through some of the least explored canyons in the region.

7. Rappel Down Cougar Cliffs

It’s a two-fer adventure you’ll be talking about for a while: Hike to the top of the red rocks of the Cougar Cliffs, with miles of stunning desert landscape stretching below, and then, ratchet up the return trip by rappelling down the cliff face instead of hiking back down the trail. Using nothing but rope and a few pieces of gear, you’ll take your first thrilling step over the lip of the cliff—the hardest part of the adventure—and it’s a cinch from there, as you control the speed of your descent. Go with a guide service, who will teach you all about anchors and how to set up a rappel—and then take the leap of faith and try a few rappels on your own. As part of Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Cougar Cliffs is a great place to learn, with a few low-angle rappelling options, as well as some vertical, not-for-the-faint-of-heart, 75-foot-long rappels guaranteed to get your heart pumping. Whichever option you choose, you’re guaranteed a great story to tell.

Written by Jacqui Levy for RootsRated Media in partnership with St. George Tourism.

Featured image provided by Bureau of Land Management

The 7 Best Water Adventures in the Southwest Utah Desert

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. Washington County 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 Washington County.

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.

2. Stand-up Paddleboarding

IRONMAN 70.3 SUP Lifeguard support

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Stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP, is a peaceful way to experience Washington County’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 Lake 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.

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.

4. Sand Hollow State Park

Can it be summer already!!! Hurry up!!!

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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.

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.

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.

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

Featured image provided by Willem van Valkenburg