For outdoor adventurers, visiting Utah is like being a kid in a candy shop. The state has endless recreational opportunities for enthusiasts of just about any kind. You might make for Salt Lake City if you love climbing, Moab for world-class mountain biking, and the national parks for hiking. But there’s one magical place in Utah where worlds collide and you can do just about any outdoor activity imaginable: St. George.
Deep in the desert of southwestern Utah, St. George offers access to some of the best recreation, (including climbing, biking, canyoneering, and so much more) not only in Utah, but in all of the American West. Once you’ve seen what’s on the St. George roster, you won’t need much convincing to start planning your visit.
But in case you’re not yet convinced, here are the promised seven reasons:
1. World-Class Mountain Biking at Gooseberry Mesa
Just a handful of miles west of Zion National Park, Gooseberry Mesa is practically one giant playground. Don’t come expecting the technical ramps and big sand traps you’ll find farther north and east in Utah; this is soft, flowy singletrack at its finest. Which is a good thing, because you’ll likely be distracted by the incredible views of Zion’s otherworldly sandstone formations and towering canyons. With nearly 30 miles of trails and difficulty levels ranging from confident, beginner-friendly to expert-only, Gooseberry Mesa has something for mountain bikers of all stripes.
2. Renowned Bouldering at Moe's Valley
If you’re a boulderer, chances are you’ve heard of Joe’s Valley, just a few hours from Salt Lake City. Joe’s is incredible, but you don’t have a complete picture of Utah bouldering until you’ve made a pilgrimage to Moe’s, which is still being developed. The access road was once suitable for high clearance vehicles only, but it’s been improved, and the bouldering has grown along with it. Moe’s now features more than 150 problems in the V2 to V10 range, so there’s something for new boulderers and hardcore climbers alike.
3. Incredible Road Cycling
Mountain biking isn’t the only way to explore the desert on two wheels. St. George is also a major destination for road cycling, and there are tons of inspirational rides in the area. You’ll find better road quality and quieter roads than in many other cycling destinations, and the possibilities are endless. There’s a great 20-mile loop in Snow Canyon State Park, and the scenic Veyo Loop provides endless views of Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (plus way less traffic than you’ll find closer to the national park).
4. Easy Access to Zion National Park
Zion National Park covers nearly 150,000 acres and is home to some of the most iconic hikes in the country, like the Narrows, Kolob Arch, and Angels Landing. The park is less than an hour away from St. George, which means the town is a perfect base camp to rest up between Zion forays. In addition to the hiking and canyoneering opportunities, Zion is a great spot for a scenic drive, and numerous pull-outs along the main road with interpretive signs mean you’re guaranteed to learn something fascinating about the park’s natural and human history.
5. Paddle to Your Heart’s Content
Thanks to its decidedly desert landscape, it might seem like St. George isn’t the best destination for paddling. But there’s still plenty of water recreation going on in and around St. George. Gorgeous Sand Hollow Reservoir is a local favorite for stand-up paddleboarding, and Gunlock Reservoir has little boat traffic and several great cliff-jumping spots. Three outfitters, Outdoor Rush, Dig, and BASH, serve the St. George area’s paddle sport rental needs, so whether you like to stand up or sit in a kayak, you’ll never be without a vessel.
6. Infinite Canyons to Explore
Hiking and rock climbing aren’t the only ways to explore the narrow slot canyons you’ll find all over St. George. Combine those two activities and throw in a little spelunking and possibly some swimming, and you’ve got canyoneering. Zion is a major canyoneering destination, but there are tons of slot canyons to rappel into and hike, swim, and scramble out of just minutes from St. George, too. If you’re excited about the prospect of getting deep into a canyon, but don’t have the gear or technical knowledge, you’re still in luck. St. George is also home to several reputable guides and outfitters who can (literally) show you the ropes.
7. Test Your Endurance
Endurance athletes (from amateurs to professionals) travel to St. George from far and wide to test their mettle in the heart of the desert because this town is serious about its endurance events. The town hosts an Ironman 70.3, in which participants take on a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and run a 13.1-mile half marathon. There’s also the Tour de St. George, offered twice a year (in the spring and fall), which includes distances ranging from 35 to 100 miles. The St. George Marathon attracts runners from across the country for this scenic point-to-point race that features a net 2,600-foot descent. (Hint: If you’re looking to qualify for Boston, this is the place to do it.) The Salt to Saint Relay challenges teams of cyclists to cover the 420 miles between Salt Lake City and St. George, while the True Grit Epic mountain bike race features distances from 15 miles to 100 over some of the area’s best trails.
Written by Emma Walker for Matcha in partnership with St. George Tourism.
Featured image provided by Alta Expedition