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St. George, Utah: Discovering Canyons and Parks Near the City

January 27, 2021 /
things to do in St. George Utah

Warning: Due to COVID 19 some information in this article (e.g. operating hours) may not be up-to-date.

St. George, Utah is a great strategic point for all those who begin their trip in Las Vegas to visit the parks in Utah and Arizona, but also for those who are planning a visit to northern Utah. Where is St. George? This pleasant city is located on the I-15, the road that connects Las Vegas to Salt Lake City and then continues through Idaho to Montana, on the border with Canada. From this point of view, St. George can also prove to be a useful stop for those returning from Yellowstone and need to find a place to stay before reaching Nevada or Arizona.

However, I want to emphasize that it would be a shame just to make a quick stop in this small Mormon town known as Utah’s Dixie (we’ll see why later!), since there are is so much natural beauty that surrounds it. If you have some time available, I recommend staying two nights in St. George to explore the area and you will be amazed by the bright red color of the strange rock formation around the town. In this article, I will talk about the best things to do in St. George and near the city. Some parks are so well known that they don’t need an introduction, but others are hidden gems that only local people know about!

st george utah

Map of St. George

Things to do near St. George: parks and hikes

From Zion National Park to Snow Canyon State Park, passing through hidden gems, here are the most interesting trips from St. George to Utah and Nevada.

UT-9, Zion and Bryce Canyon

things to see in st george utah

Let’s start from UT-9, one of the most beautiful scenic roads in the United States. This road starts just a few miles from St. George (8 miles north, to be exact, although the most interesting stretch begins in La Verkin, 12 miles northeast), where you will get off of I-15 at Exit 16. This road leads to Springdale, the main gateway to Zion National Park, but it doesn’t end there.

Taking UT-9 is also the most scenic (but not the fastest) way to cover the entire distance between St. George and Bryce Canyon. There are many things to see along this road, from Grafton, a ghost town, to Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway (you must pay a fee to drive on Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, unless you have national park annual pass) that crosses a secondary section of Zion along the North Fork of the Virgin River, which has incredible landscapes. One of them is the Checkerboard Mesa. To find out more, read our article about the road trip along UT-9.

Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway then joins US-89 N which passes through Red Canyon and takes you to Bryce Canyon. If you want to save some time, you can get on I-15 in St. George and head to Cedar City and then reach Bryce Canyon via UT-14. However, it’s not worth it to give up the beauty of UT-9 to save just half an hour. Wake up a little earlier and hit the road!

  • Distance from St. George
    • Beginning of UT-9: 25 minutes
    • Zion National Park (Springdale and beginning of Zion-Mt. Carmel Hwy): 1 hour
    • Bryce Canyon: 2 hours and 45 minutes via UT-9; 2 hours and 20 minutes via I-15 N and UT-14 E

Valley of Fire

things to see near st george utah

Valley of Fire is another park that needs no introduction. You can access it by taking a short detour from I-15 and it is a natural choice for a tour from Las Vegas. The distance from St. George is 90 miles, which may encourage you to choose the town as an intermediate stop to rest after your visit. Valley of Fire is a state park and therefore requires a small entrance fee, but I assure you it’s worth every dollar. Driving on Valley of Fire Highway is a unique experience that allows you to cross landscapes with unusual rock formations that suddenly emerge in a scorching red rock desert. There are also some fairly short trails that lead to some very impressive viewpoints. One of them is the Fire Wave, an expanse of undulating rock reminiscent of Vermilion Cliffs‘ famous The Wave, which is much more remote and difficult to reach. To plan your visit, read our article dedicated to Valley of Fire.

  • Distance from St. George: About 1.5 hours

Snow Canyon State Park

st george utah national parks

Snow Canyon State Park is not as famous as Valley of Fire, but it’s practically the best-known natural attraction in St. George, where both hikers and local bikers love to exercise – how can you argue with that? It’s not every day you get to work out on the trails of a red rock canyon! There are two entrances to the park. The south entrance can be reached directly from the city along the Snow Canyon Road. The north entrance is easily accessed by taking Bluff Street and UT-18 N and after 11 miles you’ll find a sign indicating the park entrance. I also recommend you to reach the Snow Canyon Scenic Overlook, which is also on UT-18, about a mile before the left turn towards the park.

  • Distance from St. George: 20 min.

What is there to see in Snow Canyon State Park in 2 or 3 hours? Here are some fairly easy trails:

  • Petrified Dunes: The park’s best-known hike involves climbing these petrified and polished red sandstone dunes. You can wander around, looking among unusual rock formations to see which one is the most beautiful. These mountains can be reached via the Butterfly Trail, a remarkable panoramic trail that starts at the parking area and leads to the dunes.
  • Jenny’s Canyon: It’s a short and very easy trail through a narrow slot canyon. Along the way, you will also reach an observation point above the dunes.
  • Lava Tubes: A 2.5-mile trail that passes near some lava tunnels that can only be explored if you have a torch.
  • White Rock Amphitheater: Although it can be reached from the main road (UT-18), this beautiful landscape of smooth white rocks (accessible via a short trail) is part of Snow Canyon and requires you to pay admission.

st george utah attractions

Council
Although it is close to Snow Canyon, you won’t have to pay anything to see the Cinder Cone, a volcanic cone that is part of the nearby Santa Clara Volcano that causes lava to flow abundantly, which has affected the area. The trail starts at the parking lot on the side of UT-18 (just one mile after the north entrance to the park) and is about 1.5 miles long. The ascent is difficult and requires shoes with traction so that you do not slip on the rocks.

Snow Canyon Overlook

hikes in st george utah

Just under 3 miles after the volcanic cone, approaching Dammeron Valley, you’ll find a turn on your left that leads to a large parking lot. That is where the Red Mountain Trail starts. After about two miles of walking briskly (there are some parts of the trail on sand), you will reach the connection with another trail that leads to the most beautiful views of Snow Canyon I have ever seen. The route is well-marked, but you should make note of the name of the trail so you don’t risk missing it. It’s called Snow Canyon Overlook Trail. It takes another half-mile to reach the overlook.

  • Distance from St. George: 25 min

Sand Hollow State Park

distance from st george utah to zion national park

Though the price of admission is a bit high, Sand Hollow State Park can be called a distant cousin to the more spectacular Lake Powell. There are no sinuous bends like those found in Lake Powell in Page, but at sunset, the blue waters of the lake create a beautiful contrast to the delicate orange of the sand and the warm colors of the sunlit red rocks. The motorboats may cause a little disturbance as you admire the view, but it still a great place to cool off (you are allowed to swim in the lake) and have a picnic in the middle of nature. The park is located in Hurricane, 18 miles from St. George. Take Exit 16, the same that will take you on UT-9 towards Zion.

  • Distance from St. George: about 25 minutes

Kanarraville Falls

what to do in st george utah

Finally, there is Kanarraville Falls, a treat for those who love hiking and trekking in the most remote canyons. The falls are located 40 miles north of St. George, on I-15, in Kanarraville, near the section of Zion called Kolob Canyons. The trail is in the canyon along a torrent and some sections are in the water (it is impossible to get out of it dry). You will also encounter waterfalls that make the hike more adventurous. Be sure to wear clothes and shoes suitable for the water, a bit like in The Narrows (Zion). A paid permit is required and can be purchased here. The itinerary takes about 3 hours and is recommended for those who are experienced hikers and it is not suitable for small children.

  • Distance from St. George: About 1 hour

What to do in St. George?

Here are things to do in St. George that you can easily visit as you drive around the city.

St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site

st george utah what to do

Let’s go back to St. George to talk about what is perhaps the most interesting attraction besides the nature parks. The St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site is a small museum that exhibits some dinosaur tracks preserved in excellent condition. There is a price to pay for admission to the museum, but if you have children I advise you not to raise their expectations because they might be a bit disappointed by what is offered.

St. George Utah Temple

st george utah temple

As mentioned earlier, St. George is home to a large community of Mormons. There is a temple here, just as there is one in Salt Lake City, and it may be interesting to observe from the outside the majesty of the temple, but the interior is accessible only to those participating in religious ceremonies. The temple is located at 250 E 400 S.

Red Hill Desert Garden

what to do in st george

Near the center of town, at 375 Red Hills Pkwy, on the hill overlooking St. George, there is the Red Hill Desert Garden, an interesting free botanical garden. For those who do not have time for more demanding hikes, I absolutely recommend you spend half an hour observing the desert flora in the typical red rock setting. In addition to enjoying the thousands of colors of the desert flowers, you can also see a large number of aquatic plants and fish in the pond in the garden and a small underwater observatory. Here you can also see desert turtles!

  • Distance from St. George: 5 min

Pioneer Park

places to stay in st george utah

Practically adjacent to the St. George Botanical Gardens is Pioneer Park, an area of natural interest that is a bit like the “summa” of all the unique geological features of the area. If you are in St. George with your family, I suggest you visit it in combination with the botanical garden. You can easily take short walks among the rocks – where you will see small sandstone arches – and venture into short slot canyons in search of the best vista points to get a view of the city and Signal Peak in the distance. The various points in the park can be reached by car via a short loop and there are picnic tables (in the shade, of course!).

  • Distance from St. George: 5 min
Curiosities
After you walk the entire loop back to the road (Red Hills Parkway), you will see that one of the rocks on the roadway has a white “Dixie” sign. As you may know, this nickname is typically used to refer to the Southern states. The locals have affectionately renamed their town because of the high temperatures there (and I can testify to this…!). This kind of “sign” is not the only one. On another hill of St. George stands a big white D, also in reference to the nickname.

Chuckwalla Trail

chuckwalla trail st george

A hike on the Chuckwalla Trail is slightly more challenging than a walk in Pioneer Park, but is also a great family hike, so much so that it is one of the most popular hikes in the whole Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. It’s also popular among climbers, and it’s not uncommon to see them trying to climb one of the walls on the trail. Its strength lies in its location, because it is practically at the beginning of Bluff Street, on a hill just above the residential area of St. George.

The trail starts from the parking lot and cuts through the low vegetation and allows visitors to venture among the red rocks in search of large lizards that give the trail its name. The Chuckwalla Trail connects to other trails further away from the parking lot, which I recommend you only do if it is not particularly hot.

  • Distance from St. George: 5 min

Where to Eat

From personal experience, I can say I had a good meal for a reasonable price at the abundant buffet at Chuck-A-Rama (127 Red Cliffs Dr).

Where to Stay in St. George

As I said at the beginning of the article, St. George is often considered an important stop between Las Vegas and Zion or Bryce Canyon. For this reason, as in any small city, there is a concentration of motel chains and high-quality hotels in St. George.

Here are some recommended accommodations:

  • The Chalet: A traditional motel that specializes in its interior design. Allow me to describe my experience The Chalet. On one of our trips, we stopped here and we had a very good experience, and we were pleased with both the cleanliness and the rooms, which are very large and spacious. All around there are restaurants, cafes and supermarkets for anyone who wants to get some food after a long day of traveling!
  • Inn on the Cliff: A little outside the city center, this hotel has an exceptional panoramic view. Many rooms have a small balcony and windows overlooking the city framed by red rocks, which are common in this area. Breakfast is served in your room. There is a restaurant, but above all, there is a seasonal swimming pool and jacuzzi with a view… ideal for relaxing the evening before a well-deserved good night’s sleep.
  • Red Mountain Resort: Located practically at the foot of the Snow Canyon, the enchanting Red Mountain Resort is designed for those who are not satisfied with staying at a typical motel. The services offered by this structure with garden, swimming pool and jacuzzi are of a higher caliber. The rooms are well-furnished and come with a fireplace that is great for when it gets cold. It is in a great location. On the left of the resort, you’ll see the imposing Red Mountain.

The only additional advice I want to give is to give special consideration to accommodations with a swimming pool, because in summer the heat is really stifling.

All accommodations with a pool in St. George

Bernardo Pacini
Bernardo Pacini

I am an editor and copywriter and have published some poetry. Besides traveling, my interests include literature, experimental music and good food

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