For America’s birthday, it only seems right to give a proper tribute to her almighty land. And though there are a dozen national parks that I think every traveler should prioritize—among them, the Smokies, Glacier, Yellowstone, Arches, Badlands and Yosemite, to name a few—there’s no denying that Zion National Park has been at the top of my list since I first visited 15 years ago.
Zion is a highly convenient park to visit, as its jumping off point is just two hours north of one heavily trafficked airport: Las Vegas. And if there’s anything that prohibits folks from seeing America’s national parks, it’s time in transit and also cost. I get it, you don’t have a lot of PTO (one of the downsides of being American) and you have to spend it wisely (upside: you have so many choices!).
But the great thing about the St. George region is that it is accessible over a long week (versus somewhere like Yellowstone that’s a bit harder to reach).
With that said, I think we often parachute into a place like St. George that’s known as being the gateway to Zion and forget to explore the areas around it. And St. George is home to some absolute beauts of state parks and recreation areas, too. So next time you head out to Zion, promise me you’ll check out some of my other favorite area parks, too.
Sand Hollow State Park
I sang the praises of Sand Hollow on my last visit in 2016 and still think it’s one of the most diverse spots in all of Utah. Sand Hollow is the perfect place for families, adventure seekers and water sports enthusiasts alike—it’s got a little bit of everything! You can boat, fish, camp, ATV or even hook up your RV at this slick reservoir.
This change of scenery is dramatically different than what you see in Zion, too, thanks to the state park’s shimmering turquoise waters that contrast against the red rock landscape.
Getting there: Sand Hollow is about 25 minutes due east from St. George, though you’ll take I-15 up to Highway 9 (the Hurricane exit) to get there. It’s pretty well marked, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it.
Pro tip: Definitely pack a swimsuit. If you want to do any water activities like kayak or SUP, there are rentals on site at the marina. There’s also a rock outcropping that’s popular for jumping off—try it if you dare (I wasn’t brave enough … on that visit at least).
Red Cliffs Desert Reserve
On my most recent trip to St. George, I visited a new-to-me spot: the Red Cliff area. The desert terrain also has so much of what I love about the rest of Utah: lookouts, cool rock formations, petroglyphs, slot canyons and even an arch.
photo by Laura Lawson Visconti
Our group got split up while hiking this area and went every which way before finding the trail we were actually looking for (if it was marked, it wasn’t overly visible), so I definitely suggest picking up a print map from one of the area visitor’s centers before you try to venture out to Babylon Arch, lest you get lost!
Getting there: The Red Cliffs National Conservation Area is mostly to the left (west) of I-15, but where you want to go is that small patch of greenery on Google Maps just to the right (east) of the interstate. The 1.5-mile trail to Babylon Arch can be accessed from the Sand Cove trailhead parking area just off off 900 N Road , which is almost four miles south of its intersection with Main Street in Leeds. There are some signs for Sand Cove once you get off of I-15, but again, they’re small so know where you’re going (GPS coordinates: 37.201971, -113.336474).
Pro tip: We got lost on the way home when the desert was cloaked in a veil of darkness, so plot those GPS coordinates and know where you’re going before you get out into the wilderness and have no phone service. It’s not super far from civilization, but it sure feels like it when you’re driving around at night with no street signs for help.
Snow Canyon State Park
This park is right smack in the middle of St. George—well, eight miles by car on major highway, so virtually—and is a treat and a half. The paved road cuts through the center of it and is popular among bikers (as well as other crazy fitness types; see below).
Last year, I only had a quick half hour to pop into Snow Canyon and take some photos. This time, we went on a sunset hike and settled in for awhile as the terrain changed from yellow to pink to twilight.
Getting there: Take Highway 18 from town. There are two entrances into Snow Canyon: the southern route right past Red Mountain Spa or the northern entrance near White Rock Amphitheater. It will only take you 20 minutes, tops, from downtown.
Pro tip: This is by far the easiest park in St. George to explore due to its relatively easy hiking terrain and also its proximity to town. Don’t pass it up because of that! Sunset here is particularly pretty—even better than Dixie Rock in my opinion.
Yant Flat Cliffs
The swirling patterns of this remote area belong in Willy Wonka’s candy factory. The sandstone rock has been pushed and pulled in every which way, forming a mesmerizing tapestry of undulating pattern and white-and-yellow tones. We concluded our most recent InstaMeet to St. George with a group hike out here, and it couldn’t have been a more perfect end to a great weekend.
If you’ve always wanted to see the Wave, Arizona’s iconic rock formation, you can experience a very similar scene here—only without the crowds.
It’s a great place to bring your kids or simply to channel your inner child as you’re going to want to run, jump and frolic all over this tantalizing landscape. (I won’t judge; I did the same!)
Getting there: Yant Flat took us half an hour to reach from the Leeds post office. From there, you’ll take Oak Grove Road under the Interstate then the left fork for FR 031 after you pass under. It’s a good 25 minutes or more from there on an unpaved road, and I guarantee that you’ll think you’re lost at least once. Keep going, and almost seven miles from the time you turn onto the road, you’ll reach a small parking area on both your left and right that mark the trailhead. The flats are an easy mile walk out from there in sand.
Pro tip: You need 4WD to reach this point, so don’t try it unless you’re prepared–lest you get stuck in the middle of the bumpy gravel road miles from town (and without cell reception, too!).
There are a couple other spots in the area like Toquerville Falls and Kanarraville Falls that I’m still dying to visit. Maybe on my next trip to Utah!
In the meantime, what’s your favorite park in southern Utah?
Red Mountain Resort has been on my bucket list for years…hopefully I’ll finally make it happen this year!
I’ve still never stayed there, but I’d love to!
Wow what amazing pictures! I need to visit Utah one day! Thanks for sharing 🙂
You definitely do. It’s stunning in every direction!
The USA is so overwhelming. How could I ever plan a trip there, when there are so many gorgeous National Parks & cities to visit?
Guess you’ll just have to move here for a year or two 😉
WOW! You captured this trip so beautifully and it took me right back there 🙂 I LOVED THIS!! And we need to do more trips and acro together, no brainer!! Miss you!
No brainer indeed!
Yant Flat was such a treat!! I truly love Zion, but more the backside of it where there aren’t many people. Ditto backcountry Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands/Needles, and Kodachrome Basin. Basically, I like my red rock country with as few people as possible, lol.
Ha, me too! Will you take me to all those other places on my next trip out?
You know it! Give me another few months (of normal temperatures) and hopefully I’ll have some gems here in AZ to introduce you to! 🙂
Wow! Those pictures are breath-taking! Especially the pics of the open land, water, and sky! I’ll, definitely, have to add this to my list of places that I’d like to visit around the United States! 🙂
Thank you, Shannon!
Ah, Utah is on my bucket list! I want to see these gorgeous places in person, because although the pictures are beautiful, I know they probably don’t do it justice!
You’re right, they don’t. 360-degree views around every turn. It’s jaw-dropping!
Stunning images!! My mom has been, but I haven’t yet visited! This makes it rise to the top!
Definitely prioritize it, Amanda! Such an easy trip to make, too.
I LOVE the pictures of the scenery! I have never been to anywhere in Utah before, but these mountains look awesome! They are so picturesque, so big, so beautiful. I would like to visit there someday. I am glad that you had a good time there.
Everything about Utah just seems bigger! Bigger rocks, bigger sky—I love it =)
Wow, what an adventure ! I love the western United States ! It offers a variety of astonishing landscapes: rose coloured deserts, high snow-capped peaks, broken mesas, meadows and forests. If you get a chance to go to Arizona, do not miss the Coyote Butte South, White pocket, Yellow Rock and the Wahweap Hoodoos 🙂 These are amazing places to visit as well.
I used to work in Arizona (summers in college) but would you believe I didn’t make it to any of those spots?!
Oh my gosh! This place is breathtaking and I love the shots
Thank you, Aylin! One of the most stunning parts of the country, I think.
Utah has such beautiful parks, I’d love to be able to explore one day!
I absolutely loved the post and the photographs depicting the landscape are even more gorgeous. The Wave rock particularly intrigued me and i am google all about how and when it formed in detail.
Have you been to the actual Wave? One day, I hope to make it there, too!
Wow – I had only heard of Zion and not Sand Hollow, Red Cliffs or Snow Canyon before! The US National Parks look amazing and I hope to explore them one day!
We’re so lucky having so many amazing spots in the US. It’s no wonder that a lot of Americans never make it abroad; we have such a massive amount of things to see in our own country!
Great Photos! I had never even heard of all those Parks in Utah before this – so Ive saved it! 🙂 Also, love your blog layout! So user-friendly!
Thank you, Leigh! I appreciate that =)
Beautiful post! I have a trip planned to visit a bunch of the national parks and monuments in Utah, but I haven’t found time to do it yet. Now I have even more parks to add to that trip ha ha. The ones you mentioned look incredible. Utah has such otherworldly and gorgeous landscapes!
The problem with national parks is that they usually require much more time than most Americans have off from work! I love Arches and Canyonlands but they’re a bit further into Utah. Love that St. George is relatively compact and so easy to reach from Vegas.
Gosh I would love to go to utah. I used to have a coworker from there and all of her photos on her desk were amazing. Yours make me want to visit even more now.
It’s such an amazing state, full of plenty more parks than just these. You could easily spend a month there and not repeat anything!
oh wish we were there again! – although it’s probably SUPER hot right now!
Let’s go back in the winter and do the Narrows!
Wow, what wonderful photos! I never got to explore St George unfortunately, but definitely plan on heading back through Utah. I will make sure to bookmark so i don’t miss these parks. They look incredible!
This is a great list! I’ll admit I’m one of those who did Zion though I know Utah has so much more to offer. The natural beauty on the West Coast is unreal, your pictures are beautiful! I have to plan a follow up trip asap 🙂
You’re one of many, Jen—I didn’t know it myself until my first trip there in 2002! Zion is really the only park that gets a lot of press play in that area of Southern Utah.
Wow, this looks amazing! I love the pictures and will definitely go there if I ever visit Utah.
I think this is a great place for hiking.
I liked the pictures, can I ask what camera did you use to shoot them? Thanks.
Of course! This is my DSLR and lens:
This place is really wonderful. Everywhere just rock hill and rock. Their very interesting part is, that is a park I first time see this category park. I have a question. There you go with your family, team. just alone? I am also a traveler. I want to go there can you told me what is the very interesting part there?
These are some of the most amazing parks which i have read about. One must truly visit them.
I visit many park and read about unlimited park. But this park is different to all. There have many adventure place for traveling. I want to go there can you help me who to I go there and how many problem I face In there. I will waiting for your reply.
Palo Duro Canyon was formed by water erosion from the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. The water deepens the canyon by moving sediment downstream. Wind and water erosion gradually widen the canyon.
I moved to Hurricane from OH 2 yrs ago! Best thing I’ve ever done! Quail Creek State Park is small, beautiful, and has lots to offer! Camping, hiking, biking, reservoir is better than Sand Hollow for swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, and fishing. There are petroglyphs as well. Kannaraville Falls is a shorter alternative to The Narrows! Gorgeous, COLD, and less crowded, but not as long of a hike. $8pp
Lucky you! And I DID finally get to do the Narrows this February. It was totally worth the trek in the semi-cold. What a lovely spot!
I moved to Saint George recently and can’t wait to check out these recommendations. Thank you!
All of these are on my bucketlist! Which park is the picture from your first and last picture in this article?
The very top images above the headline is Yant Flat, and the very bottom one is Snow Canyon! Two of my favorite spots in the Southwest.
Thanks for the prompt response!!!
Any specific locations or hike on either one of those parks you mentioned? Is it on a specific hiking trail? We’re going in July. Thanks!