The Southwest corner of Utah is one of the most beautiful areas of the United States. We’ve visited the area around Zion National Park several times, including a trip in the spring and one to Zion National Park in the winter. With unique landscapes around every turn, this part of Utah is also incredibly popular with tourists. Zion National Park has been known to close the gates during high-traffic weekends. That’s why I wanted to share some options for things to do while staying near Zion, as well as some lesser-known areas of Zion National Park.
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Snow Canyon State Park
Located in Ivins, Utah, which is just outside of St. George, Snow Canyon State Park is a great place to explore when you are staying near Zion. There are 16 miles of hiking trails, plus rock climbing routes, mountain biking, and horseback riding. The hike to Johnson Arch is a nice warmup hike, at only 1.8 miles round-trip. (This trail is closed from mid-March through mid-September for wildlife habitat.) A great spot to watch a spectacular Utah sunset is in the area known as the lava fields. A short hike from the parking lot near the campground leads you up to fossilized lava fields. You’ll feel like you are hiking on Mars!
The Red Cliffs Conservation Area also has some really nice, uncrowded hiking trails near St. George!
Slot canyons are unique to the Southwest. Thanks to porous sandstone and fast-moving water, you can find slot canyons throughout Utah and Arizona. Antelope Canyon and the Zion Narrows are two of the most famous slot canyons. Kanarraville Falls is another great spot to experience a slot canyon. They limit permits to 150 per day, so you’ll hike with far fewer people than Antelope Canyon or the Narrows. The town of Kanarra is just south of Cedar City on I-15, and the hike to Kanarraville Falls is only 4.4 miles round-trip. Make sure to purchase your Kanarraville Falls permit online in advance!
Quail Creek State Park
Water can be sparse in this part of the country, so if you’re looking for a place to go swimming or boating in Southern Utah, check out Quail Creek State Park. Located near the town of Hurricane off I-15, Quail Creek State Park features a 600-acre reservoir for recreation. Quail Creek is popular with boaters and fishermen but for a more serene experience, you can rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards for a spin around the lake.
Tip: If you plan to spend more than seven days per year in a Utah State Park, it makes sense to pay $75 for the Utah Annual State Parks Pass.
Sand Hollow State Park
Another state park near Hurricane is Sand Hollow State Park. Surrounded by red sandstone formations, this 1,300-acre reservoir is perfect for water adventures. The park is super popular with off-road ATV’s as there are miles of trails to explore. The Beach at Sand Hollow rents ATV’s, UTV’s, kayaks, and paddleboards. There’s also a dive shack here if you are looking to get SCUBA certified in a unique spot! There are some pretty interesting relics hiding below the surface of Sand Hollow Reservoir.
Zion National Park
You can’t come to the area without visiting Zion National Park. As I mentioned, it can get super crowded at times. Fortunately, Zion has a shuttle bus system in the busy season, so you can just hop on a shuttle and get on and off where you’d like. Most visitors to Zion National Park spend their time in Zion Canyon, where you’ll find the most popular hikes like Angel’s Landing and the Virgin River Narrows. Other parts of Zion National Park see far fewer visitors, so it is possible to enjoy Zion National Park without the crowds. You just have to pick the right place and time.
Located in the northwest corner of the park, Kolob Canyons are accessed from I-15, south of Kanarraville. There is a five-mile scenic drive through the canyon and several hikes along the way. Kolob Canyons Road does close at times for weather or rock falls, so be sure to stop at the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center for the latest road conditions.
Kolob Terrace Road
Another scenic area in Zion National Park is along Kolob Terrace Road. This route begins in the town of Virgin and skirts the western edge of Zion National Park. The 14-mile route leads to Kolob Reservoir, with several scenic overlooks and trailheads along the way. The road reaches as high as 8,000 feet and the upper half is not plowed in winter, so stay abreast of road conditions.
Where to Stay Near Zion National Park
There are several towns in the area of Zion National Park where you can spend the night. You’ll find campgrounds, budget motels, chain hotels, and luxury wellness resorts, so there’s really something for every type of traveler.
- Springdale, Utah is the gateway to Zion National Park. You can actually walk to Zion National Park from some Springdale hotels. This cute town has several accommodation options and a town shuttle that will bring you to the entrance of Zion National Park. We spent two nights at the Desert Pearl Inn on our Southwest road trip in 2012. The rustic rooms offer a gorgeous canyon view, perfect for a sunset glass of wine. For dinner, Casa de Amigos has great Mexican food!
- With a population near 90,000, George, Utah is the largest “city” near Zion National Park. There are many hotels and restaurants, as well as local recreation areas. If you are flying in from Vegas, St. George is a great place to stay near Zion National Park.
- Hurricane, Utah is the next-closest town after Springdale. There are a few budget-friendly hotels here, so it’s a great option if you want to be close to Zion without paying Springdale prices. While RVing, we stayed for 2 weeks at the WillowWind RV Park.
- Cedar City, Utah is a great place to stay if your plans include Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. Cedar City is one hour from Zion and 90 minutes from Bryce, and it’s a sizable tourist town with plenty of hotel and restaurant options.
- Kanab, Utah is a good option if you are also exploring Northern Arizona on this trip. Kanab is about an hour southeast of Springdale and is the gateway to Arizona attractions like the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. There are many great reasons to visit Kanab, Utah!
How about you? Have you been to Zion National Park? Did you visit other spots nearby? Do share!
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