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

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