Written by Amy Whitley from RootsRated Media
Family Friendly Adventures in Greater Zion
Best known as a gateway city to Zion National Park, St. George in southwestern Utah is a year-round playground for outdoor enthusiasts. With its red rock canyons, sandy rolling landscapes, and the Virgin River just awaiting your next adventure, St. George is a great place to try out a new sport. There are also plenty of cultural and indoor entertainment options to keep you busy when the occasional thunderstorm rolls through. Here are five things to try on your next family vacation here—or at least your first one, as you’ll never get to all of this in one trip!
1. Hike in Washington County
Zion National Park is right there for the taking, and it’s definitely one of the country’s top hiking destinations, but the park gets crowded. Very crowded. Like so many aspects of travel and outdoor adventure, with just a little outside-the-box thinking, you can easily find a workaround. While hiking in and around St. George, you can get a similar experience to Zion without the crowds. Instead of the national park, consider one of the following:
Red Cliffs Desert Reserve
In this preserve, try the Babylon Arch Trail, where the sandy, open terrain transports you to another planet. It’s only a mile and some change, but as long as you time your hike to avoid the peak heat of the day, it’s very manageable for all but the youngest members of the family. Elephant Arch offers a longer, sandier hike of almost four miles. If the kids want to dabble in a little of Southern Utah’s famed canyoneering on a path that’s still just over a mile long, head to the Red Reef Trail, where they can do some scrambling as you hike. If you want to make a day of it and really get your hike on, the Red Reef Trail is part of the Cottonwood Canyon Wilderness System (allowing you to do an almost six-mile loop).
Snow Canyon State Park
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One of the most intriguing hikes in Snow Canyon is the Pioneer Names Trail, where, yes, you can observe the names etched into the rock by early Mormon pioneers. (If graffiti is old enough, it becomes historic. But don’t add your own.) The north trailhead to the site provides the closest access, but it’s a short trail either way. You can also hike to the petrified dunes in Snow Canyon, which is located in the center of the park, offering amazing views of the cliffs.
If you want a taste of Zion National Park without the crowds, Eagle Crags is your go-to destination. (Note that you’ll need a vehicle with good clearance to get to the trailhead near Rockville.) At Eagle Crags, you not only get the panoramic views Zion delivers, but the variety of landscapes, too, as the trail ascends from desert to juniper groves to the top the canyon.
If you’d prefer to stay closer to town where you can easily haul your picnic and gear, head to Pioneer Park, sitting directly above St. George. Climbers love the place, but the hiking is easily accessible, too, with the added bonus of BBQ pits, picnic tables, bathrooms and a shade pavilion.
2. Go Cycling and Mountain Biking
Greater Zion has more than 60 miles of bike paths and literally hundreds of miles of off-road singletrack and slickrock trails. Beginner mountain bikers should head to Barrel Roll, which is as fun as it sounds. Located in the Santa Clara River Reserve, Barrel Roll delivers views and twists and turns without being too steep to handle. From there, advance to the Wire Mesa Trail, located just outside Zion. This singletrack is more mountainous (with a bit of shade as a bonus) and offers incredible views.
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If your crew is filled with experts, you have a slew of picks. The most epic is undoubtedly Nephi’s Twist at Hurricane Cliffs, a steep, technical track that will test any serious rider. And don’t forget about the state parks for mountain biking bliss: Snow Canyon State Park is a good option (just double check to see on which trails mountain biking is permitted).
3. See World-Class Museums
Whether you have kids who are nuts for dinosaurs or are interested in paleontology and the natural world, the early Jurassic dinosaur tracks at St. George’s Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm will impress every member of the family. Walk where dinos have walked at the museum in St. George, then pair the experience with the Rosenbruch Wildlife Museum nearby. The somewhat eclectic collection here showcases more than 300 animal species from habitats as near as Southern Utah and as far as the African Savanna.
If you have kids in tow, the St. George Children’s Museum is your next stop, where they’ll have the run of 12 rooms of hands-on exhibits to lose themselves in imaginative play. Save this gem for a hot day or an afternoon activity after a morning hike or bike ride.
4. Enjoy the Water
It may come as a surprise, but there is actually plenty of water in Southern Utah! The Virgin River cuts through the red rock landscape, providing the perfect way to cool off. Yes, the river gets crowded with tourists tubing in Springdale and the Narrows draws a crowd in Zion each summer (for good reason—it’s epic) but to escape the masses, head to Falls Park, also known to the locals as Sheep Bridge. You’ll get a mile of riverfront property for your day, complete with sandy beaches and perfect jump-off rocks (always be sure to check depth before jumping). Families can find shallow pools for kids, and the more daring can find rapids to ride.
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Want more space to yourself? Hop in an SUV and bump your way along a dirt road to Toquerville Falls, where an easy hike lands you at the base of a desert oasis. You’ll want your camera ready for these cascading falls over the rock, but make sure you enjoy a dip, too.
5. Head Indoors
Southern Utah can get hot and sometimes, you’ll want to escape indoors. When you do, can keep your active vacation going at The Grip, the indoor gym operated by three past American Ninja Warrior contestants. Come for a class, or just pay for a few hours of open gym. (You know you want to try your hand at the salmon ladder and the warped wall!)
Not up for such a physical challenge? Head to Fiesta Fun, the family fun center that offers every game you could want, plus laser tag, mini golf, go karts and the like.
Whether you have young kids or adventurous teenagers, you’ll have no problem finding plenty of ways to enjoy a getaway to Greater Zion. Exploring this unique part of the country with the family will provide memories to last a lifetime.