St. George Fun and Activities

When you come to St. George you should have no problem finding fun things to do but just in case you need a little nudge in the right direction here is a list of some stuff we have written about. You can find great ideas here to stay busy while you’re in St. George. There is a lot more to southwest Utah than just Zion and this list proves it.

Cycling Hub: St. George

Studded with sprawling mesas and red sandstone cliffs, the countryside surrounding St. George is straight out of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” literally. The classic Western, shot near St. George in 1969, isn’t St. George’s only claim to fame; the town of over 80,000 is just 30 miles from Zion National Park. It’s also adjacent to a half a dozen other adventure destinations, including Snow Canyon State Park, Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, and Gooseberry Mesa. Time to grab your bike, there’s a lot to see.

Road biking Snow Canyon State ParkFor a pleasant warm-up, head into Snow Canyon State Park for a 20-mile loop. From downtown St. George, jump on your bike and head north on S.R. 18 to the junction with Snow Canyon Parkway, and hang a left. Stay in the narrow shoulder for just over four miles. This will take you towards the entrance to the park on Snow Canyon Drive.

You gain just over 1,300 feet of vertical in the first 11 miles of this loop, but don’t worry, the downhill cruise begins when you meet back up with S.R. 18 at mile 11.5. As a bonus, the shoulder widens considerably as you head back into town. It’s good to have the extra room — the views of Snow Canyon’s vermilion cliffs may drive you to distraction.

If you are looking for a challenge, follow the century-length course of the annual Spring Tour de St. George, which skirts the western edge of Snow Canyon State Park, swoops down to the Utah-Arizona border, passes through Sand Hollow and Quail Creek state parks, and finishes alongside Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.

Boasting an average 300 days of annual sunshine, it’s no surprise that St. George trends significantly warmer than the rest of the state. Its arid desert climate is emblematic of the desert southwest, averaging in the high nineties and hotter in the summer months. Wherever you’re riding, plan to bring plenty of water, and consider acclimating to the dry heat with shorter loops before taking on a big day.

Accommodations and Bike Shops

Thanks to its proximity to outstanding road and mountain biking, St. George is home to many bike shops, plus an all-around outdoor gear supplier, the Desert Rat. The town is supremely bikeable, too: its easy-to-navigate bike routes and trails system will get you nearly anywhere in St. George, including lodging and the myriad restaurants on Main Street. There are dozens of budget-friendly accommodations in town; those looking for a luxury getaway should head north from town toward Snow Canyon State Park for a stay at the upscale Inn at Entrada.

Extend the Adventure

When you’re ready for a break from saddle time, you won’t need to look far for rest day activities: In addition to the aforementioned state parks and monuments, visitors can check out one of St. George’s five museums, including a children’s museum. For an adventurous, family-friendly outdoor alternative, head to the Warner Valley Dinosaur Track Site trail, just 15 miles southeast of St. George proper, where over 400 perfectly preserved dinosaur tracks have been discovered. Complete the dinosaur diversion with a visit to an excellent museum, the Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm.

Want to check out St. George’s other outdoorsy offerings? There’s plenty of rock climbing (mostly sport) and canyoneering on the sandstone in the surrounding cliffs, not to mention a lifetime’s worth of singletrack — often favorably compared to the mountain biking scene near Moab.

Written by Utah Office of Tourism.

Featured image provided by Dave Becker

Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm

Looking out across the floodplain of the Virgin River in southwestern Utah, I imagine that I’m looking at a great lake. It’s the late Triassic and the water is beginning to dry out. Turning west, I imagine an ancient shoreline of a Paleozoic ocean — now I’ve gone back too far in time, but it’s important to consider eras of dramatic changes that have culminated to this moment. Hundreds of millions of years all leading to this. The city of St. George spirals out in almost every direction from the red rock outpost, laying its grid over the desert to tame it in a way certain predecessors of this land never could. Dinosaurs weren’t exactly “civilized,” by our definition of the word.

First, a little background for the geology buffs.

In 2000, a local optometrist Dr. Sheldon Johnson was leveling a hill on his property in St. George when he found a thick level of sandstone as he removed layers of sedimentary rock. As he removed large blocks of rocks, Dr. Johnson discovered a fully preserved, three-dimensional dinosaur track that was visible in both the brittle clay below and also on the bottom of the sandstone block. The track was just one of the thousands made by dinosaurs and other animals almost 200 million years ago on the shores of an ancient lake near St. George and within the broader Colorado Plateau and surrounding areas that are world-renowned for the high concentration of Triassic-Jurassic fossil resources.

Experts converged on the site to verify and reveal an extensive “trackway” found on the farm. Realizing that these dinosaur tracks would be best served if they were maintained for scientific and educational purposes, Dr. Johnson and his wife LaVerna donated the found tracks and arranged for the land to be cared for by the City of St. George. This is now the museum found here today at the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm.

But it’s not just the in situ dinosaur tracks that draw local and international geology enthusiasts year after year. Many other fossils have been found in the area (like fish bones, dinosaur bones, leaves and plant seeds, and aquatic animal shells) that have allowed paleontologists to reconstruct the approximately 200-million-year-old ecosystem, with a clarity that some call “unprecedented” and a “rarity for rocks of any time period.”

The museum isn’t just for geologists. Families and children will have a great time here following dinosaur tracks along the ground, making tracks on their own, uncovering replica fossils or putting together dinosaur puzzles.

The Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm is also great for solo travelers with a copy of “Roadside Geology of Utah” who are looking to deepen their appreciation of a place whose red rock splendor is so visible it begs a closer look.

 

Plan Your Trip

St. George is the largest city in southwestern Utah and is home to a wide range of great restaurants, shopping, and other city amenities. The city is a gateway to some of Utah’s most famous parks and destinations. Many visitors travel to the area for Zion National Park, but full vacation itineraries are easily created by including state parks such as Snow CanyonSand Hollow and Gunlock, and vast outdoor landscapes like Red Cliffs Desert Reserve.

 

To find events at the museum during your visit, check out the museum website.

The St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm is located at 2180 East Riverside Drive, St. George, UT 84790.

Hours Open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The museum is open for all summer holidays, including Memorial Day, July 4th, Pioneer Day (July 24th), and Labor Day. Closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas and New Year’s Day; and shortened hours on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, $4 for children ages 4-16, and children 3 and under are free.

GPS Coordinates: 37.101096, -113.5369087

Written by Utah Office of Tourism

Featured image provided by Courtesy of Utah Office of Tourism

The Desert Southwest Tour: St. George to Zion

Why should Moab have all the two-wheeled fun? Southwestern Utah boasts some of the best desert cycling in the state, and it’s all just a stone’s throw from some of America’s most dramatic national parks. For this tour, stock up on supplies in the road cycling hub of St. George — the town of 80,000 is home to plenty of grocery stores and three bike shops.

The desert southwest isn’t all sandy washes and red cliffs: the St. George area is colloquially known as “Color Country” for good reason. Snow Canyon State Park, just 11 miles from St. George and the start of a phenomenal 65.3-mile tour of the area, features red and white Navajo sandstone formations, black lava rock, and countless species of vibrant flora and fauna.

The Tour

Situated at the intersection of the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin, and the Colorado Plateau, Snow Canyon was originally inhabited by Ancestral Puebloans, who hunted and gathered in the canyon thousands of years ago. Begin your desert southwest journey by camping at one of the park’s tent sites ($20/night) — in the morning, you can explore the area where classic Westerns like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Jeremiah Johnson were filmed and, if you’re lucky, spot a Gila monster. Several concessioners also offer guided climbs and horseback tours of the park.

From Snow Canyon, head through nearby Ivins and St. George and onto the Virgin River Trail. This paved, well-maintained bike route winds along the Virgin River and provides access to Sand Hollow State Park, 27 miles from Snow Canyon. There are several campground options at Sand Hollow, but cyclists looking for a quieter experience should head to the primitive camping area ($15/night), where no motorized vehicles are allowed. To cool off after a long ride in the desert heat, head to the beach at Sand Hollow Reservoir to swim or rent a kayak.

It’s a little under 10 miles from Sand Hollow to Hurricane (insider tip: locals pronounce it “HUR-a-kin”). Here, cyclists can stock up on supplies before heading toward Zion National Park on Utah S.R. 9 — this scenic highway provides the first glimpse of Zion’s jaw-dropping rock formations. This 38-mile leg gains just over 1,200 feet of elevation.

The South and Watchman Campgrounds (both $20/night for tent-only sites) are the closest Zion campsites to the park’s Springdale Entrance. Camping within the park gives cyclists, who pay a discounted park entrance fee of just $12 per person, a head start to maximize time in Zion.

From the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, take the 1.4-mile paved Pa’rus Trail to Canyon Junction, where the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive begins. Beyond Canyon Junction, no private vehicles are allowed, which is great news for road cyclists: Aside from professional shuttle drivers, you’ll have the roadway to yourself. The nine-mile one-way ride to the end of Floor of the Valley Road, as it’s also known, is breathtaking. Plan to bring a bike lock and check out some of the area’s hiking trails, which vary in difficulty and exposure. Adventurous spirits won’t want to miss the hike to Angels Landing, one of the most iconic views in Zion National Park. Bring a change of shoes, too — the steep, rocky trail to the summit has sheer drop-offs and shouldn’t be attempted in clipless shoes.

Travelers can opt to spend another day in Zion, where there’s no shortage of hikes and scenic views. A ride up to the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel and back will mean negotiating heavy vehicle traffic, but views of the park are unparalleled. In any case, the ride back to St. George trends downhill and can be comfortably split into two easy days.

Pro Tips and Map

Regardless of the timing of your visit, the desert is a wild place. Temperatures can soar into the triple digits during the summer months, so plan to carry plenty of water. Thanks to its high desert status, though, the weather also turns quickly: It’s not uncommon to experience snow flurries in late August and beyond. The desert southwest is prone to wind, triggered by weather patterns making their way into Utah — dust storms kicked up by high winds can seriously reduce visibility, so avoid heavily trafficked areas and take shelter if there’s wind in the forecast.

Here is a map of the route for further details.

Written by Visit Utah for Utah Office of Tourism.

Featured image provided by Dave Becker

Start ‘em Early

Blue sky peeks through the clouds as I zoom down Utah’s Interstate 15 off the edge of the high country. Juliet looks up from her book to take in the bright red landscape spreading below.

But my mind is still stormy. I had planned a trip to the Uinta Mountains, to be my seven-year-old daughter’s first backpacking experience. When the forecast called for freezing temperatures and snow in the mountains, I turned south. I scanned the state for a sunny forecast, as well as a reasonable drive, a short trail and a rewarding destination. This specific combination required a little research. Capitol Reef National Park was too cold. The trails I was eyeing in Canyonlands National Park were too far for our limited time. The southwest bit of the state was a fast drive and showed sun and 70 degrees, but Zion National Park‘s reservable backcountry permits were all taken.

Then I thought of Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, a vast conservation and recreation area that encompasses the canyons above the St. George metro area. It was a place I had passed by dozens of times and not thought much about. But it seemed to be the perfect solution. I found a short, accessible canyon in a quiet corner of the reserve. And on this day, when the early fall blizzard had rendered most of our drive along I-15 a bleak gray, Utah’s Dixie proved to be dependably blue.

Yet recent dad fails are pulsing through my head. I pictured the time I had taken Juliet on her first double black diamond powder run at Solitude Mountain Resort, resulting in a head-first fall and lots of tears. Then there was the ill-fated boogie boarding session where a freak wave crashed on her head and drilled her into the ground. This trip needed to be not long, not cold and definitely not boring.

So the stakes are high. We are hiking two-and-a-half miles, and they had better be magic. ( Big Hollow trail guide below the article )

We exit I-15 at Leeds, turn past the Silver Reef ghost town, and rally down a Dixie National Forest road along the base of the Pine Valley Mountains to our destination, a pullout where the road curves around the head of the Big Hollow drainage in the upper reaches of Red Cliffs.

Even though I have most of our camping gear, Juliet will carry her own backpack, which she had meticulously packed. She went heavy on stuffed animals and books. The stuffed animals are fine as they compress nicely, I tell her, but you might want to rethink all the books, as they weigh a lot.

Backpacks on, I point out a cairn and we duck under some pine trees.

The canyon is shallow to start and we work our way down a slope of boulders. Big Hollow is an upper tributary of the larger Cottonwood Canyon system that spreads in wilderness through the core of the reserve. We can see Big Hollow deepen further down into sheer sandstone walls. The landscape here is a little different than other parts of red rock country due to the influence of the Hurricane Fault, which exposed the masses of bright sedimentary layers and led to cinder cones producing the igneous rocks scattered in the canyon.

As we stumble down to the canyon bottom, Juliet slips on some loose rocks. But I manage to catch her. She presses on, and in the wash, she picks up walking sticks for us both.

Even only hiking a little over a mile in, a solitary place like this is an adventure, with nothing certain about what we’ll encounter. When you’re backpacking, you always walk the line of the uneasiness and sublimity of solitude. This sense conflicts with my desire as a parent to be in control. At least until a certain age, our kids tend to think we as parents are omniscient. But I explain to Juliet what an adventure is, that I’ve never been here before. I don’t know what will happen.

Indeed, I find remnants of flash flooding — debris hugging the upstream side of the willows in the wash. And as we walk I see fresh tracks in the mud.

Juliet is now quite happy and engaging me in what she calls the “animal game,” wherein one of us thinks of an animal and the other asks “yes” or “no” questions to home in on and guess the animal.

“Daddy, are you thinking of an animal?” Juliet says.

The tracks become clear as pawed feet.

“Daddy?” she says when I don’t respond.

“Uh huh,” I say, scanning the canyon around us for any movement.

“Is it a mammal?”

The walls are sheer, no escape.

“Daddy!”

After a few distracted rounds of the animal game, we arrive at the junction of Yankee Doodle, a relatively popular technical slot canyon. We decide to run up, until the canyon narrows and a muddy pool blocks our path, and Juliet wants to get to camp.

The cat tracks have tailed off, and the canyon wall shadows have lengthened. After another half hour of walking down canyon, we arrive at the junction where Big Hollow meets Heath Wash. This is where we plan to camp.

Juliet wants to know if we’re camping right in the wash. She hopes so because she likes the sand and mud. I tell her we don’t really want to get washed away by a flood. In fact, finding a good spot to camp is tricky. You have to look for a lot of things: level ground and safety are vital but so are avoiding cryptobiotic soil, finding big rocks for furniture, and above else getting yourself a nice view.

We explore all parts of the canyon confluence, scampering up the loose rock of each escarpment before deciding on a spot. It’s at the nose of the plateau between Big Hollow and Heath Wash, on a flat area in a garden of lichen-covered boulders, juniper, and manzanita. We have views both down the canyon and up, through the folding layers of sandstone.

The area is beautiful, and part of the beauty is that it’s new to us and there’s no one else here. I-15 is just three miles away but the place feels remote. It’s one of the lessons I want to impart to Juliet on this trip, that if you go slowly and spend a night in a place, every landscape has its own value and presents opportunities to explore. Especially in Utah.

But what do you do with a 7-year-old during the downtime of backpacking? There’s plenty of daylight left in the long September day. Not to worry — Juliet goes right in the tent and gets comfy in her sleeping bag with her stuffed moose. This was her vision of the trip.

What the heck, I follow suit. One of the things she has in her backpack is a Bunco dice game we had bought on the way out of town. We play a few rounds of Bunco in the tent before we emerge to kick a soccer ball in an open field. She jumps some rope. Dinner is bean and cheese quesadillas. Juliet marvels that this entire place seems to be ours.

When the stars come out, it’s unlike anything she’s seen. Despite the snow up north, there is no rain in the forecast here so we leave the rainfly off, and the glittering black sky seems right on top of us as we drift off to sleep.

The morning brings a simple directive to finish the journey. A different light shines on the trail we walked the afternoon before. I feel good. I realize that after Juliet had taken her licks on the double black diamond and in the ocean, it wasn’t long before she was asking to go back. This time, we’ve barely returned to the car before she’s talking about the next backpacking trip.


TRAIL GUIDE

Big Hollow and Heath Wash are two drainages in the Cottonwood Canyon area of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. This Upland Zone is a wilderness-focused part of the reserve where off-trail canyon and plateau hiking and backcountry camping are allowed. The key philosophy of this area is to use your judgment — for route-finding, safety, and preservation of the environment.

Difficulty: Moderate — relatively flat but some route-finding, a lack of amenities, and an overall wilderness experience. For a more challenging hike, consider longer and cross-country, off-trail routes.

Route, distance and elevation gain: Hiking from the head of Big Hollow at Danish Ranch Road (Forest Road 31) to its confluence with Heath Wash is about 1.2 miles. In another 2.4 miles is the confluence with Cottonwood Canyon, and then another 3.2 miles to the Cottonwood Canyon trailhead along I-15. Loops could be made by returning to Danish Ranch Road up Heath Wash, Cottonwood Canyon or cross country on Yant Flat. Also consider exploring Yankee Doodle, a technical slot canyon that is also accessed via Danish Ranch Road and joins Big Hollow.

Trail type: Unimproved washes and cross-country route-finding in and out of the canyons.

Multi-use: In the Upland Zone of the reserve, where the Cottonwood Canyon area is located, hikers and equestrians can use trails or travel cross-country where the terrain permits.

Dogs: All pets must be on a leash to prevent wildlife disturbance, protect the pets from predators and avoid conflicts with other people. Hunting dogs are allowed to travel off-leash with a licensed hunter in the act of hunting during the official hunting seasons.

Fees: None, for this part of the reserve.

Seasonality: Year-round; hot in summer.

Bathroom: None; nearest restrooms are at the White Reef trailhead near Harrisburg.

Access: Turn north off Interstate 15 at Exit 23 onto Silver Reef Road; Turn left on Forest Road 32; Turn left on Forest Road 31; take Forest Road 31 to where the road wraps around Big Hollow.

Written by Tim Sullivan for Utah Office of Tourism.

Featured image provided by Tim Sullivan

How to Experience the Thriving Arts & Culture of St. George

Arriving near sunset, my partner and I take our seats facing the 1,500-foot red rock cliffs at Southern Utah’s Tuacahn Amphitheater, the rocks glowing in the magic hour light. We’ve just driven in from Salt Lake City, but the bustling energy of the city quickly fades, and we find ourselves enchanted as a tale as old as time unfolds on stage. The classic story of Beauty and the Beast comes to life as actors dressed as candlesticks and clocks sing and dance to “Be Our Guest,” their voices echoing against the canyon walls.

One of three Broadway-caliber live shows that Tuacahn hosts each year, the dramatic desert setting breathes new magic into this old fairytale. The Little Mermaid, When You Wish and The Sound of Music will soon grace this stage, and no performance disappoints in this spectacular space.

From the freeway, it’s easy to mistake this hamlet for a strip mall-filled border town, but visitors discover that St. George, Utah, boasts a flourishing art and culture scene that beckons exploration. From theater to galleries to a thriving music scene, this red rock utopia is more alive than ever.

And the secret is out. St. George’s booming population has made it the fastest-growing metro area in the nation, with retirees and young adventurers alike relocating to this desert paradise that’s a short drive from Zion National Park, vast red rock wilderness and conservation areas and a cluster of Utah’s best state parks. But you don’t have to move here to get in on the action. St. George’s spectacular landscapes, small town charm, and big city amenities make it an incredible place for an artistic escape.

Broadway in the Desert: Tuacahn Center for the Arts

Built in the shadow of tall red rock sandstone cliffs, Tuacahn puts on Broadway productions in a dramatic outdoor amphitheater near Snow Canyon State Park. The word “Tuacahn” means “Canyon of the Gods,” and its stunning rugged backdrop enhances any production. Catch musical performances by leading local and national acts on the outdoor stage through November, long after northern Utah’s temperatures have gone cold.

Return to Tuacahn on Saturday mornings for a weekly market featuring local art, crafts, food, and free live entertainment. An ever-changing set of painters and artisans sell their wares alongside Tuacahn Canyon, and musical acts play until afternoon.

Art Enclave: Kayenta and Coyote Gulch Art Village

To discover the essence of St. George’s authentic art scene, make a beeline for the artist enclave of Kayenta. Creative types have long touted the inspirational benefits of living amidst these soaring cliffs and dazzling panoramas, illustrated by Kayenta’s popularity. Built against stunning varicolored rock walls just seven miles from St. George, Kayenta bustles with galleries, studios, festivals, retail shops, gourmet food, a yoga studio and even a spa — just in case you need a vacation from your vacation.

Venture into Juniper Sky Gallery to see wind sculptures and Mystic Canyon Light for outdoor landscape photography. Find impressive ceramic works at Zia Pottery Studio.

Refuel and caffeinate amidst a xeriscaped desert (one that needs very little irrigation) at Xetava Gardens Café, a Kayenta coffee shop and kitchen surrounded by lava fields. Then catch a brilliant sunset in the sculpture garden or stroll around the meditative Desert Rose Labyrinth built by Kayenta locals.

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The Desert Rose Labyrinth was built by Kayenta locals. Photo by Anna Papuga

 

Art Events: Center for the Arts and Festivals

Catch performances by musicians, comedians, artists and actors at the new, multifunctional Center for the Arts in Kayenta Art Village. Completed in 2017, the spacious center encompasses 11,000 square feet along with an outdoor plaza.

Stay for one of the region’s signature art festivals and gallery walks. High temperatures mean summers are slower here, making the art-strolling season a reason to visit during the cooler months of March (St. George Art Festival), April (Street Painting Festival) and October (Art in Kayenta Festival).

Classic & Contemporary Art: St. George Art Museum and Sears Art Museum Gallery

St. George is home to 16 museums and galleries, and one of its best served as a simple sugar-beet-seed storage facility before being transformed into an art museum. Through the work of the community, St. George Art Museum opened in 1997 in this restored space. Today, the museum boasts a collection of regional and local art exhibits as well as rotating collections and events like date nights and book clubs.

For relaxation amidst classic and contemporary art, visit Dixie State University’s Sears Art Museum. The museum features six exhibits each year and an outdoor sculpture garden where you can meditate and meander among reflecting pools and bronze sculptures. Admission to both is always free.

Outdoor Tunes: Concerts in the Park

Casual and free is the name of the game at this outdoor Monday music series. Make it a long weekend and pack a picnic for these family-friendly Concerts in the Park that run from April to September in Vernon Worthen Park. Pick up some picnic fixings and then lounge on a blanket and soak up jazz, rock and roll and R&B under the stars.

Musical Theatre: Brigham’s Playhouse and St. George Musical Theater

Performing arts are popular in this community, and there’s room for more than one theater in town. Beyond the red rocks of Tuacahn, find Brigham’s Playhouse, a family-friendly theater focusing on fun, affordable performances. Its location inside a saloon-styled structure in Washington, just outside St. George, adds to the ambiance, and you can enjoy an old-fashioned root beer or dessert during any performance.

Popular St. George Musical Theatre closed for nearly five years when it lost access to its performance venue, but the company’s return to the old St. George Opera House has been met with enthusiasm. See classics like Annie, The Music Man and Guys and Dolls performed here by talented singing and dancing casts.

Classic Sounds: Southwest Symphony Orchestra

Hear the sounds of Handel’s Messiah and masters like Beethoven and Brahms at performances by the Southwest Symphony Orchestra. This 75-member orchestra calls the Cox Performing Arts Center on the campus of Dixie State University home and is celebrating 36 years of inspiring the community with classic symphonic performances.

Whether you come to St. George for the professional theater, dazzling landscapes, or abundant art galleries, this booming southern Utah destination just four hours from Salt Lake City makes the perfect place for a cultural getaway.

Written by Jenny Willden for RootsRated Media in partnership with Utah Office of Tourism.

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Featured image provided by Anna Papuga

Mission to Mars: Riding Gooseberry Mesa

We may as well have been on Mars. Far away from any semblance of civilization and surrounded by a seemingly endless horizon of dramatic desert landscape, we had the place to ourselves. Is there anything so liberating as escaping the masses to quietly commune with nature in a vast expanse of stunningly beautiful desolate terrain? Granted, it was a Wednesday afternoon in the middle of July with temperatures soaring into the triple digits, but still. We were there to take a tour of the legendary Gooseberry Mesa mountain biking trail system near Hurricane, Utah.

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View from the North Rim Trail.

Sandra Salva

Let's set our stage: Massive exposed shelves reveal 240 million years of erosion and a departed ocean that left shoreline deposits and formed the hardened Shinarump conglomerate, which formed the cap of Gooseberry Mesa. Rising further, the bygone forest left behind petrified wood, which can be found lying on the mesa surface. Wavy bands of red sandstone mold the Moenkopi Formation that experienced riders familiarly know as slickrock. Swirls of piñons and junipers pepper the trails, while California condors circle above. A cottontail rabbit darts across the path. We peer closely at the rock as we spin by to see the sunbathing lizards. Stop for a quiet rest, a deer might make an appearance. Mind the cacti. Crashing is even less fun if you land in the prickly Claret Cup Cactus.

Crashing? It's possible. These trails are not for everyone, as most are considered intermediate to advanced level riding.

Far away from any semblance of civilization and surrounded by a seemingly endless horizon of dramatic desert landscape …

This is a first-rate, looping trail system that allows for a variety of course options. If you ride the entire Big Loop Trail counterclockwise, you'll complete just over 13 miles of intermediate and advanced technical riding connecting both the North Rim and South Rim sections. Alternatively, you can choose your own adventure by riding a combination of the trails to customize your mileage and difficulty preferences. Although both the Point and Overlook vantage points are out-and-back trails, they are absolutely worth the extra effort.

The trails are marked fairly well and easy to follow in most places, but cairns can always be missed. Some of the routes are marked with white paint spots to designate the trail. However, because you can ride in either direction, it's important to use your navigational skills because it's too easy to get turned around and the trailscapes can start to look homogenous real quick if you get lost.

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View from the point, start of the South Rim trail.

Sandra Salvas

The summer's mid-day heat made each pedal rotation a little more work, but the cache of Gooseberry Mesa is that it features roller coaster slickrock singletrack grandeur in lieu of lengthy ascents and descents, allowing riders to whistle while they work. The South Rim and Hidden Canyon loop is considered advanced technical and inspires a few come-to-Jesus moments along the way. Good thing it's always an option to hop off your bike and walk the iffy sections that are close to the cliff side. The 1.8-mile North Rim is more suitable for intermediate riders and features short, steep climbs with no shortage of jaw-dropping vistas.

If you're unsure of your ability, have a go at the moderate Practice Trail. It will give you a good idea of what's in store. It's also a great warm-up for the longer trails. Overall, no matter which trail you choose, Gooseberry Mesa is a classic trail that will reward you with epic views and darn good fun. Add it to your itinerary if you plan to ride in the area!

Written by Melissa McGibbon for Utah Office of Tourism.

Featured image provided by Sandra Salvas

Winter in Southwestern Utah: Zion and the Mojave Desert

Warmer temperatures make Utah’s Dixie (named so because of ill-fated early Mormon Pioneer attempt to grow cotton in the desert) a year-round travel destination. You can golf pretty much throughout the year on St. George’s championship-level courses. But it’s a land of contrasts, it can be sunny and warm in St. George and snowing just an hour north in Cedar City. The world famous Zion National Park is the main attraction but Snow Canyon State Park, Red Cliffs, Sand Hollow and Quail Creek are all equally wondrous parks to add to your itinerary, even when the weather dial isn’t turned up to hot.

Zion National Park

Zion is Utah’s lowest park in both elevation and latitude, so its weather tends to be pretty fair year round. You can expect rain at times, but rarely snow, and cool temperatures especially in sunless canyon bottoms. You can also expect to have parts of the stunning canyon to yourself, ideal for solace seekers and nature photographers. Shorter daylight also brings sunrise, sunset and starry skies closer together — but bundle up for those chilly desert nights!

Temperatures can hover in a comfortable 50-60 degrees during the day but drop below freezing at night. Winter rains and periodic snow can build up on trails creating icy conditions in the morning, which often melts away in a few hours. Always exercise caution on wet and icy trails and turn back if conditions inhibit safe passage. Learn more about safe winter adventures, check location conditions and get the weather report at the visitor center, open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the winter.

 

Get the gear: Zion Outfitters One of the most amazing things to do in Zion National Park in the off-season is to hike into the Narrows, hike a few miles up the Virgin River below towering rock walls that close in on you as you ascend the river bed. But you ‘ll need a drysuit, an impenetrable rubbery suit that keeps the cold water out and you warm and dry. Zion Outfitters rents the suits and other resources, as well as a helpful orientation session to get hikers ready for their canyoneering adventure.
95 Zion Park Blvd, Springdale
(435)-772-5090

Base camp: Springdale

Where to stay: Located near the entrance to Zion National Park Cable Mountain Lodge is practically in the park. The lodge has standard hotel rooms as well as spacious family-sized suites with kitchens and plenty of room and the hot tub is open year round. The property also offers a handy, up-to-date list of restaurants that are open in the off-season at its front desk. Or, let Larry and Liz host you at the beautifully designed and comfortable Zion Canyon Bed & Breakfast. Some accommodations take the winter off, but Springdale continues to welcome travelers to the mouth of Zion National Park. See even more lodging options below.

Cable Mountain Lodge
147 Zion Park Boulevard, Springdale
(435)-772-3366

Zion Canyon Bed & Breakfast
101 Kokopelli Circle, Springdale
(435)-772-9466

More Springdale accommodations

Where to eat: Zion Canyon Brewing Company‘s brewpub has excellent pub grub and a good selection of beers, brewed onsite.
2400 Zion Park Boulevard, Springdale
(435)-772-0336

Base camp: St. George

While some of Springdale takes the winter off, St. George is a good size city on the main interstate full of great restaurants, year-round adventure and cultural attractions — a round of championship-caliber golf is frequently possible as well.

Where to stay: As a year-round destination and a winter getaway for Northern Utahns, hotels and motels abound in Southern Utah ‘s largest metro area, St. George. But for something out of the ordinary, check out the Inn on the Cliff, a boutique hotel set on a bluff high above the town. For a luxury experience try the Inn at Entrada, a golfing-getaway spot located in a gated community just an hour away from Zion National Park.

Inn at Entrada
2588 W. Sinagua Trail, St. George
(435)-634-7100

Inn on the Cliff
511 S. Airport Rd, St George
(435)-216-5864

Where to eat: The Painted Pony Serving upscale southwestern cuisine alongside a great cocktail menu and wine list, The Painted Pony is open seven days a week.
2 W. St George Blvd., St. George
(435)-634-1700

Explore more dining in St. George.

Written by Jeremy Pugh for Utah Office of Tourism.

Featured image provided by Courtesy of Utah Office of Tourism