With more than 300 days of sunshine a year, the charming city of St. George is the perfect basecamp for accessing some of Southwest Utah’s most stunning and undiscovered landscapes. Though nearby Zion National Park is world famous for its unique natural beauty, the state parks and areas surrounding St. George offer equally beautiful landscapes with fewer crowds and even more comfortable amenities. Think endless hiking, biking, climbing, golfing, and everything in between (even luxurious spas), making this Greater Zion region the ultimate destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers looking for a more intimate outdoor experience. The following lesser-traveled spots deliver countless activities set among red sandstone cliffs, black lava flows, and desert landscapes, all within easy reach of a number of nearby towns, including St. George, Hurricane and Springdale.
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Snow Canyon State Park
Located less than a dozen miles from the heart of St. George, Snow Canyon State Park is both incredibly accessible and unbelievably beautiful. Even with its close proximity to town, Snow Canyon is largely considered southwestern Utah’s best-kept secret. The 7,400-acre park features canyon cliffs that are the petrified remains of 180-million-year-old sand dunes. Desert tortoises, Gila monsters and peregrine falcons all call this place home. With 38 miles of hiking trails, over 180 climbing routes, 15 miles of equestrian trails, and a three-mile paved bike path, this “mini Zion” offers something for everyone. For the most immersive experience, book a stay at Red Mountain Resort, nestled into the vibrant landscape at the entrance to the park.
Red Cliffs National Conservation Area
Just 14 miles northeast of St. George lies the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, situated on the edge of the Mojave Desert and set against a backdrop of towering Pine Valley Mountains and Dixie National Forest. Over 130 miles of non-motorized trails offer unparalleled access to protected wildlife habitat. Thanks to its protected nature, the area offers far fewer crowds among an abundance of wildlife and uniquely distinct landforms. In other words, it’s a nature lover’s secret refuge hiding in plain sight.
Yant Flat and the Candy Cliffs
Thanks to Instagram, you’re surely familiar with Arizona’s Wave (#thewavearizona). But few have heard of the Candy Cliffs at Yant Flat, though the two were carved by hands of Mother Nature with equal consideration. Located just within the boundaries of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, in the Cottonwood Canyon Wilderness, the mind-melting Candy Cliffs is a place that words and photos can’t accurately describe. From this vantage, hikers can see many of Greater Zion’s most iconic landmarks, from the white cliffs of Zion and Sand Hollow Reservoir to nearby Cottonwood Canyon, and even the city lights of St. George.
Quail Creek State Park
A dream destination for the aquatic among us, Quail Creek State Park is home to 600-acre Quail Lake, which holds some of Greater Zion’s most inviting water. Fishing, boating, standup paddleboarding, and kayaking are all popular activities here. Mountain biking, hiking, and camping too. Even if all you want to do is lay lakeside and soak up the sun—and the views—Quail Creek is an oasis among sandstone reefs, flat-topped mesas, and soaring Pine Valley Mountains.
Sand Hollow State Park
There’s no better way to cool off on a warm day than diving into the turquoise waters of Sand Hollow State Park. The 20,611-acre park features a lake twice the size of Quail Lake, surrounded by soaring red sand dunes, orange sandstone formations and red sand beaches that beckon you to lounge. Explore its coves and round its sandstone islands by kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard. The lake is a prime spot for water skiing and wakeboarding, too. In addition to drawing cliff divers, Sand Hollow Reservoir is a treasure trove for scuba divers, thanks to the fascinating “wrecks” at its depths. Those with open dive certification cards can check out a Volkswagen bus about 40 feet below, a Cessna twin-engine plane that crashed on St. George Boulevard years ago and other intriguing artifacts. Navigate the surrounding land by bike, on foot or 4×4 vehicle—whichever way, the expansive park is sure to feel like your own little piece of desert paradise for the day. Then wind down at the Sand Hollow Resort, where world-class golf and adventure tours make your visit to Greater Zion even more memorable.
Pine Valley Recreation Area
Surrounded by the Pine Valley Mountains and nestled within Utah’s largest national forest, the 2-million-acre Dixie National Forest, Pine Valley Recreation Area offers some of the country’s most enchanting pockets of protected wilderness. Hike the trails while glimpsing resident wildlife like falcons, mule deer, yellow-bellied marmots and chipmunks, bike miles of forest roads or kick it into slow gear at a tranquil fishing or picnic spot. Pine Valley Recreation Area caters to campers of all kinds, with ample options for those who prefer tents, cabins and RV. This haven is still on few mainstream radars, so you’ll be free to take in sunrises and sunsets among a number of distinct landscapes in pure solitude. What’s not to love about that?