Do you always “color inside the lines” on vacation? You know, the regular touristy things like sightseeing and shopping? Maybe a little hiking if you’re feeling adventurous?
Well, the red rock country around St. George, Utah is full of color, but there’s no need to stay within the lines while enjoying it. And with high temperatures typically in the 50s and 60s, winter is the perfect time to “color outside the lines” in this outdoor playground.
A singular form of adventure found here is canyoneering. This term applies to the exploration of slot canyons — those extremely narrow features carved by water through solid rock. From the top, they may not look like much, with gaps as narrow as 3 feet, but those limited openings often conceal profound depths, some plunging as much as 100 feet to the canyon floor. That’s why canyoneering is more than just a simple hike through a typical, scenic canyon.
Yes, there is hiking in canyoneering, but it also might include a little rappelling and possibly some scrambling or climbing. And the water that carved these canyons? It’s not necessarily gone. Adventurers may find themselves wandering through waist-deep pools or even swimming.
Slot canyons can be found throughout the St. George and Zion National Park areas. Some are hidden gems that require precise directions to locate in the backcountry while others, like the famous Subway, are in the midst of one of the nation’s most popular national parks.
If you’re not comfortable with canyoneering on your own, a number of local businesses offer guiding services to the most popular slot canyons in the region. Many of these companies offer other outdoor activities like mountain biking and rock climbing.
With the sheer vertical walls of Zion National Park as well as smaller, entry-level experiences and everything in between, this area is a growing rock climbing destination. In fact, it’s even beginning to attract international attention.
Diversity of rock type is part of what makes it so attractive to climbers. Sandstone in Snow Canyon State Park and the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve offers climbing in spots like the Chuckwalla Wall, located within the city limits of St. George. Meanwhile, Utah Hill and Woodbury Road, both west of the city, deliver limestone routes while the Pine Valley Mountains boast granite climbs – wait for summer to check out those Pine Valley Mountain, which is in higher elevations.
If you’re not quite ready to scale Zion’s monumental sandstone cliffs, the region is also home to the Moe’s Valley bouldering area, with more than a dozen bouldering routes near St. George. The nearby Green Valley Gap is another popular climbing area with its sport and traditional routes.
For those who would rather keep their feet firmly planted on the ground, there is no shortage of hiking destinations around St. George and Zion. Of course, the park is known for its world-class hikes like Angels Landing, Observation Point, Hidden Canyon, Kolob Arch and the infamous Narrows. These aren’t riverside strolls; they’re serious hiking!
Much like the canyoneering routes mentioned above, the Narrows requires trekking through water — in this case it’s the Virgin River, and most of the 9.4-mile route requires you to hike in the river itself because it fills the narrow canyon from wall to wall. Meanwhile, routes like Angels Landing and Hidden Canyon take you far above Zion Canyon as the steep ascents provide breathtaking panoramas and precipitous drops, where it’s a good idea to grab the chains provided along the way.
Outside of Zion, challenging hikes can be found in places like Snow Canyon State Park. Most of the trails in Snow Canyon are on the shorter side but some do stretch out in the 6-8-mile range while others, like the shorter 3.5-mile Red Sands Trail and the 1.5-mile Cinder Cone Trail can be challenging due to deep sand and elevation changes, respectively.
Meanwhile, the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve has dozens of trails, from tiny connectors to epic journeys. The reserve sprawls to the north of the St. George metro area, with many trailheads at the edge of the city. Some routes are better for mountain biking or horseback riding, but a number of trails are perfect for hiking. Among them is the Padre Canyon Trail, which scales the side of a red rock canyon above Tuacahn Center for the Arts in Ivins, topping out at a saddle between Padre Canyon and Snow Canyon to offer spectacular views of both.
Whether you’re hiking, climbing or canyoneering, southwest Utah is the perfect place to get outside the lines this winter and spring.
St. George is conveniently located along Interstate 15, four hours south of Salt Lake City and only an hour-and-a-half north of Las Vegas. St. George has daily jet service on American, Delta and United Airlines.