If you’ve been following my journey, then you would know I go to the Southwest a lot and always pass through St. George, Utah, but this year was the first time I’ve spent some time in the city and discovered so much more the surrounding area has to offer besides Zion National Park!
Did you know there are four state parks in the area in addition to Zion National Park… because I didn’t?! We all know Zion can get a bit crowded but with all these parks within an hour from St. George, this makes it the perfect city centered for your home base of adventures!
State Parks surrounding St. George, UT:
- GUNLOCK STATE PARK (15 miles northwest) – unfortunately, the famous falls here hasn’t flowed in a while but there’s a huge reservoir surrounded by rustic red rocks and extinct black lava cinder cones which made for a beautiful day-trip to relax on the “beach”, swim and I even saw quite a few boaters and jet-skiers!
**UPDATE MAY 2019** Gunlock Falls is flowing strong right now! This Winter/Spring season brought a ton of rainfall so as I passed through on my way to Grand Staircase Escalante, I had to stop by to see it for myself.
There are two parking lots – the actual state park lot and the other is like a huge turnout just down the road of the main entrance on Gunlock Drive. This is where we parked and there is still an envelope collection fee so be a decent human being and don’t skip that.
You’ll see the Gunlock waterfall from your car and have to hike down a steep but short dirt trail to get to the bottom of the falls, and then you can hike up to the top. It’s only 5-10 mins.
- QUAIL CREEK STATE PARK (14 miles north) – I’ve spent the least amount of time here, but I remember the water to glisten in a bright, deep blue color and the reservoir is actually sourced from the nearby Virgin River! Plus, it’s supposed to be a great spot for fishing!
- SAND HOLLOW STATE PARK (15 miles east) – this one is doubly special
- This was the first time I ever did stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) in the desert and I had no idea the desert could have such vibrant turquoise water with beautiful sandstone backdrops!! It was like an oasis in the middle of nowhere.
- Then there are sand dunes on the other side! You can rent ATVs and go for a ride, but I just hiked around and explored the dunes.
- SNOW CANYON STATE PARK (9 miles) – I did my first outdoor rock climbing here! I’m a newbie when it comes to climbing but I hear Fall/Winter is a great time for climbs as the desert gets too hot in the summer. This park is surrounded by colorful sandstone cliffs that make up a canyon with twisted layers of rocks and numerous hiking trails.
& then… there’s the famous Zion National Park: this is one of my favorite national parks and my first couple of visits were in the Fall which was the perfect camping weather! Right now is a great time to go with cooler temps. The water at the Narrows hike (Virgin River Walk) can be a bit cold right now (at least for me), but get some neoprene socks and water shoes and you’ll be good to go!
* honorable mentions around St. George that aren’t state parks*
Yant Flat (Candy Cliffs)
Dixie National Forest: this is one of my favorite local hiking spots and I’ve heard people compare it to the coveted Wave in AZ. It has unique layers of swirls in the landscape and Is only about 1.5 miles one way. I was lucky to see it at sunset which added even more colors to the rocks!
You can drive right up to the falls (with a 4wd) or I think there’s an option to hike in, but this stacked waterfall is a nice little gem to cool off and even cliff jump!
**updated May 2019**
Red Cliffs Recreation Area
The Red Reef trail is currently flowing as of May 2019 – it was completely dry last summer. It’s a very short trail, only about 1 mile one way and there are foot holes in the wall and a rope near the end to help you climb over the top here. The trail doesn’t go much further in the canyon without getting fully wet, at least with current conditions.
Fall is one of the best times to visit the desert because the days have cooled down a lot, it’s still warm for daytime adventures outdoors, and although the nights get a lot cooler for camping, there are many affordable options to stay in St. George. I stayed at the Best Western Plus which was very spacious and clean. Campsites are available at all the parks above and given the opportunity, I’d love to explore more trails and campsites around Snow Canyon State Park! & if you time your visit right, you’ll even get to see some fall foliage! If you’re too late for that, the desert is breathtaking with some fresh snow atop the sandstone colors! Which park would you visit?