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There’s something otherworldly about red rock formations across the globe. From the towering mountains of Jordan’s Wadi Rum rising above the desert to the canyon of Zion’s fiery pinnacles, we’re drawn to spend time among the red rocks. I feel the call – and I don’t generally consider myself the kind of person to whom the mountains are calling.
I had the chance to spend a weekend in Southwest Utah, including a visit to Zion National Park. My friend Marissa from Postcards to Seattle and I based ourselves in St. George, Utah. St. George is the county seat and largest city near Zion – but it’s an hour away. That meant we had a chance to spend time in the park as well as exploring the Greater Zion area.
Based on our weekend in St. George and the surrounding region, I’ve put together a three-day itinerary for you. There are plenty of outdoorsy activities, and a few others that might surprise you. Here’s how to spend a weekend in St. George, Utah.
Travel Tips for St. George & Greater Zion
I always like to start with a short section of travel tips for these itineraries. Here are my top tips to help you plan your trip to St. George.
- It’s a two-hour drive from Las Vegas to St. George, or four hours from Salt Lake City. If you’re flying in, Las Vegas is the better choice – or you can fly directly into St. George Regional Airport once it reopens in September 2019.
- St. George, Utah is a four-season destination. St. George receives about 255 days of sunshine per year, and only about 2 inches (5cm) of snowfall per year. Even on a snowy day, you should still be able to do most of the top things to do in St. George and trails should be open. Be sure to check state/national park websites to confirm the trails you want to hike are safe and open.
- There are plenty of options for hotels in St. George. While I was visiting, I was a guest at the Staybridge Inn & Suites, but almost all of the major budget hotel chains have hotels here (since I-15 passes right through). Think Hyatt Place, Hampton Inn, and Days Inn. There are also some beautiful resorts including Amira Resort and Red Mountain Resort.
- Vacation rentals are limited, but also available. This four-person condo (from $70/night) is technically in Santa Clara next to St. George, but super close; this six-person house (from $80/night) is perfect for a larger group or family.
- Prepare for a desert climate. St. George is located in a very dry and hot part of the country, and you need to be prepared if you’re setting out for an adventure. Pack plenty of water – pack extra after that! Bring chapstick, sunscreen, and a hat, too.
With these things in mind, let’s dive into my recommendations for what to do in St. George.
The 8 Best Things to Do in St. George & Greater Zion
The primary theme for things to do in St. George? You better love the outdoors! Actually, even if you don’t (like me), you can have a great time. I’m no hiking buff and I don’t enjoy roughing it for long, so the easy access to day hiking trails at all levels of difficulty plus the creature comforts of St. George were an ideal combo. Read on for the best things to do in St. George – even if you’re not outdoorsy.
Snow Canyon State Park
If I could have any state park in my back yard, it might be Snow Canyon State Park. I was totally surprised to find natural wonders so close to St. George, especially with the same type of awe-inspiring red rock formations as in nearby Zion – though admittedly on a smaller scale. It’s about 15-20 minutes to drive from St. George to Snow Canyon, depending on which entrance you use.
Snow Canyon is open during the day for hiking, cycling, and general drive-through and stop-and-take-photos tourism. There are trails for hikers of all skills, and several camping areas if you want to stay a night in the canyon. As a state park, it’s $10 to drive your car in.
Pro tip: Snow Canyon Overlook is the best place in St. George to watch the sunset.
Red Cliffs National Conservation Area
Similar to Snow Canyon, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area is a little gem near St. George that most people overlook for the neighboring National Park.
While The Narrows in Zion was closed due to snow and rainfall, the slot canyon in Red Cliffs was open, and offers a nice hike for those who want to sample that kind of hiking. There are several short trails – and a few longer loops up into the red rocks if you want to escape the crowds. You can also camp at one of about a dozen spots in the area. Car admission is $5 per vehicle.
If you drive into St. George from Las Vegas, you’ll pass along the Virgin River for a period of time as you cross from Nevada through Arizona into Utah. You’ll also follow the Virgin River toward its headwaters in the Zion canyon at Zion National Park.
There are hiking trails all along the Virgin River, including a main one in the eastern part of St. George. Depending on the part of the river, you can also go tubing or kayaking, and the Virgin River Gorge (south of St. George) is a popular rock climbing spot above the river’s flowing current.
Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm
Those red rocks do more than look pretty – they mark the geologic history of the Greater Zion region. While you can find dinosaur tracks throughout the area, including at Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, the Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm is tops for dino fans.
The Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm is a natural history museum where you can see thousands of preserved Jurassic-era dinosaur tracks. There are also helpful exhibits to teach you (or your little wannabe-paleontologists) about the dinos that roamed this area 200 million years ago. Admission is $8 for adults and $4 for kids.
Silver Reef Ghost Town
Another chapter of geologic history concerns mining in southwest Utah. While Silver Reef, Utah is not technically a ghost town – it also kinda is. Neighboring sleek, modern homes you can explore the remnants of the Silver Reef ghost town with its wooden structures and crumbling stone foundations. At certain hours, the Silver Reef Museum offers a self-guided pamphlet (or guided tours) to help you navigate the gravel paths between ruins and explains the unique history of this particular mining town (hint: silver was an extremely rare find!).
Don’t be surprised if all of your pictures have random houses in the background though – the modern homes are literally right next to the historic ones.
St. George Temple
My knowledge of the Church of Latter-day Saints is limited, but if you are a member, visiting the St. George Temple may be an appealing option. This temple was finished in 1877 and was actually the LDS church’s first temple in Utah. I believe that only LDS members can enter the temple, but the rest of us can admire the architecture from the outside, or step into the Temple Visitors’ Center.
Please note that this temple is due to be closed for renovation and additional construction starting in November 2019. Keep an eye on the temple website if you want to visit, to know whether it’s open.
Historic Walking Tour
Swing by the Greater Zion “Greater Zion Visitors Center in ‘downtown’ St. George (using that term loosely) to pick up a brochure for a self-guided walking tour through the city’s historic sites (not using the term historic loosely).
History in St. George dates back millennia to the Virgin River Anasazi. Modern (white) settlers arrived in the 18th century; the LDS church arrived in the mid-19th Century. The History Walking Tour won’t take you to Anasazi sites (those are located a bit outside of town on the west side) but will guide you past some of the historic homes and buildings, including the Brigham Young Winter Home and Historic Courthouse.
Zion National Park
I’ve already mentioned it a few times, but obviously the crown jewel of tourism to St. George is Zion National Park. It’s an hour drive from St. George to the park entrance in Springdale – which can take up a fair amount of time if you make the multiple times during a weekend in St. George. However, close access to the park with all the amenities and options in St. George is a pretty sweet combo.
If you’re planning a trip to Zion National Park, I’ve got a guide on how to make the most of just one day in the park. It’s easy to extend the suggestions there for a multi-day visit. (Happy trails!)
How to Spend 3 Days in St. George & Greater Zion
How do you fit all of these top attractions and activities into a three-day trip to St. George or weekend in Greater Zion? Here are my suggestions on how to pull it together.
Day 1: Arrive & Explore
Depending on where you’re arriving from, you’ll likely arrive around midday on the first day. For example, I took an early morning flight from San Francisco to Las Vegas. We then drove the two hours to St. George, and had a few hours to settle in before our adventures began.
I recommend starting with a visit to the Greater Zion Chamber of Commerce. There you can get oriented and grab a walking tour brochure and set out to explore the core area of the city on foot. This can include photo stops at the St. George Temple and Brigham Young Winter Home if those interest you.
In the later afternoon, hop in the car and drive out to Snow Canyon State Park. You can go for a short hike, drive the length of the canyon, and/or just set up on the Snow Canyon Overlook to watch the sunset. End the day with dinner at Cliffside Restaurant, which looks out over the city of St. George from a neighboring red rock bluff. (Pro tip: Order the lemonade to drink!)
Day 2: The Great Outdoors
Rise and shine! Be sure to prep for a day outdoors – even us non-outdoorsy folks are going to get some fresh air on this day.
I recommend starting the day to try and catch sunrise; this could be hella early depending on the time of year you visit. Both Zion National Park and Red Cliffs National Conservation Area have good spots to watch the sun’s first rays light the red rocks on fire (figuratively). Once the sun is up, set out on a hike in either of the canyons; don’t underestimate the heat, be sure to wear sunscreen, and pack lots of water.
For specific hikes, I’d do:
- The Emerald Pools Trail in Zion – up to 3.0 miles, ranging from easy to moderate
- The Red Reef Trail in Red Cliffs – up to 2.0 miles, ranging from easy to moderate
Another option is to split the day: start in Zion for a morning hike and lunch, then drive back to Red Cliffs in the afternoon (the Red Reef Trailhead is on the way back to St. George near the Red Cliffs campground).
Freshen up and set out for dinner in St. George. George’s Corner is a historic spot with plenty of craft beer on tap and locals fill it up so you know it’s good. Expect a wait and possibly live music depending on the night you visit.
If you’re not totally exhausted, one of the main draws in Southwestern Utah is the night sky. You can go stargazing from Snow Canyon Overlook or drive down into the canyon if you’ve paid for an access pass. (I recommend the latter because the canyon walls help cut down light pollution from nearby St. George.)
Day 3: Step Back in Time
For your final day in St. George, step back in time (after you have a bit of a lie-in since it was a long day yesterday). Both the Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm and Silver Reef Museum open at 10am, so spend 1-2 hours at each with lunch in between. If you’re a history or geology buff, there’s plenty to experience.
For lunch, Even Stevens Sandwiches is a great option – I had a delightful grilled cheese while sitting on their patio watching the world go by. After you’re done sightseeing, you can depart or spend another night before setting out in the morning. (This really depends on your travel plans for this last day.)
Have other questions about visiting St. George or Greater Zion? Let me know in the comments!
This post was produced in partnership with Greater Zion; my visit was hosted in part the Greater Zion Chamber of Commerce and the Staybridge Inn & Suites in exchange for this post. However, all businesses and activities I recommend are included at my own discretion.