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YOUR ZION + SOUTHERN UTAH ADVENTURE

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10 Must-See State Parks in Southern Utah (Plus a Few Other Local Gems)

If you’re planning a visit to the incredible landscape of Southern Utah, you probably have national parks like Zion and Bryce on your must-see list…for good reason!


But if those are the only places you visit, you’ll be missing out on some of the truly stunning spaces that you’ll find in the state parks in Southern Utah (and nearby Nevada).


From sand dunes to sandstone spires to waterfalls, the Southern Utah state parks have so much to offer, as do the state parks just across the border in Nevada. Plus, these state parks tend to be less crowded than the more famous national parks. 


The 10 Best Southern Utah State Parks

While a visit to Zion and Bryce Canyon might be what attracted you to southern Utah, there are so many other cool places to explore in the area! Here are my favorite southern Utah state parks, plus a few other nearby parks and recreation areas that are worth a visit:


  1. Snow Canyon State Park

  2. Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

  3. Sand Hollow State Park

  4. Kodachrome Basin State Park

  5. Gunlock State Park

  6. Quail Creek State Park

  7. Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada)

  8. Cathedral Gorge State Park (Nevada)

  9. Cedar Breaks National Monument

  10. Lake Powell/Glen Canyon National Recreation Area


When planning your southern Utah itinerary, be sure to include some of these southern Utah state parks and other local gems.


1. Snow Canyon State Park

Snow Canyon State Park is a fantastic place to visit because it’s close to Zion, but without the crowds. At Snow Canyon, you’ll discover incredible views featuring unique sandstone and basalt rock formations while soaking in the solitude.


LOCATION

Located just north of St. George, Snow Canyon State Park is about an hour drive to the west of Springdale, so it’s just a quick trip from Zion.


FUN HIKES & ACTIVITIES

  • You definitely have to explore the Petrified Sand Dunes when you visit Snow Canyon State Park. The short trail is just over a mile out & back, but you can choose your own adventure and just wander wherever you want around the Navajo sandstone hills. Kiddos especially love the freedom to run around here!

  • Another must see in Snow Canyon is Jenny’s Canyon. Take a short, sandy walk through this easy slot canyon, which is fun for the whole family.

  • And don’t miss the Lava Tube Trail which offers both panoramic desert views as well as several different caves you can go in and explore. (Be sure to bring a headlamp or flashlight to check out the caves.)

  • Rent e-bikes at Rampage e-bikes, right outside the entrance of the park, and bike the 11.4 mile Snow Canyon Look trail. This is one of my favorite things to do with my kiddos!


2. Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

The red mounds of sand at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park will draw you in, practically begging you to take off your shoes and play in the sand. Luckily, you are allowed to play here, from hiking up the hills with your toes in the sand to sledding down them on boards.


Read more about sledding at Coral Pink Sand Dunes in my blog post about our family adventure trip to Kanab!


LOCATION

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is located in Kanab, UT, and is about an hour away from the west entrance of Zion in Springdale. If you’re staying in East Zion, it’s just a half hour drive.


FUN HIKES & ACTIVITIES

  • Sand sledding is THE thing to do at Coral Pink Sand Dunes! You can rent sleds and sand boards at the park visitor center for $25 each, then slide down the sand dunes to your heart’s content. It’s so much fun!

  • The sand dunes are also an awesome spot for ATVing, and you can book a scenic ride with Coral Pink ATV Tours to ride around and explore.

  • For a different perspective on the sand dunes, try a guided rappelling experience with All Ways Adventures. You’ll get a chance to hang off a cliff edge with a panoramic view of the beautiful red sand dunes around you.


3. Sand Hollow State Park

For an oasis in the desert of southern Utah, head to Sand Hollow State Park where the reservoir is the main attraction. The two sides of the lake have different vibes…younger kiddos will love the soft sand and shallow water on the south side, while older kids and adults will get a thrill out of scrambling and cliff jumping on the north side.


LOCATION

Sand Hollow State Park is located about 45 minutes east of the Springdale entrance to Zion, southwest of the town of Hurricane, UT.


FUN HIKES & ACTIVITIES

  • Have a chill beach day on the south side of the lake, where the sand is perfect for sandcastle building. The water here is shallow so the kids can splash around, and there are picnic tables so you can basically set up for the whole day here.

  • On the north side of the lake, you can scramble around on the red rocks, and it’s so fun to explore. Look for my favorite spot where the water runs over the rocks into the lake like a mini waterfall…it’s just gorgeous!

  • The most adventurous souls in your group can chase that adrenaline rush by cliff jumping on the far northeast section of the lake. The cliffs range from shorter heights suitable for beginners to really tall ones for more advanced jumpers, so there’s something for everyone. (But, of course, gotta add the disclaimer that cliff jumping is a risky activity and may result in injury or death.)


Check out my full blog post on fun in the sun at Sand Hollow State Park here!


4. Kodachrome Basin State Park

Kodachrome Basin State Park is often overshadowed by all the other amazing places in southern Utah, but it’s absolutely a hidden gem of a southern Utah state park.  Kodachrome Basin is home to 67 stunning sedimentary pipes or stone spires formed from multicolored sandstone. The natural colors you’ll see in Kodachrome Basin are actually what led the area to be named after the Kodak color film in 1948.


LOCATION

Kodachrome Basin State Park is only half an hour east of Bryce Canyon National Park, so it’s a great addition to a trip there. It’s just over a 2 hour drive through Zion if you’re coming from Springdale.


FUN HIKES & ACTIVITIES

  • For a great easy hike that showcases the awesome landscape of Kodachrome Basin, take the 1.5-mile Angel’s Palace loop. This is the perfect family-friendly way to see the park.

  • If you’re looking for a longer adventure, hit the Panorama Trail, a double loop of almost 6 miles which takes you to the scenic Panorama Point and several of the park’s signature sandstone spires.

  • And for those that prefer pedal power,  three of the trails in Kodachrome Basin - Panorama Trail, Big Bear Geyser Trail, and Grand Parade Loop - are open to mountain biking.


5. Gunlock State Park

Gunlock State Park is home to one of the most amazing waterfalls in southern Utah, where water cascades down tiers of red rocks. Gunlock Falls runs in the spring, but not every year, so it draws crowds when it does. Even when the falls aren’t flowing, enjoying the water at Gunlock Reservoir is a fun way to spend a day in a southern Utah state park.


LOCATION

Gunlock State Park is around a half hour northwest of the town of St. George, UT or a little over an hour if you’re coming from Springdale.


FUN HIKES & ACTIVITIES

  • Gunlock Falls is the main attraction here when it’s running, which only happens in the spring after a heavy snowfall. The falls are absolutely stunning and worth a visit if you’re lucky enough to catch them running.

  • Gunlock State Park is always a great destination for playing on the water in Gunlock Reservoir. You can go swimming, boating, or SUPing in the warm water, and make a day of it with a picnic on the beach.

  • Anglers also will appreciate the chance to fish in Gunlock Reservoir, where you might catch  largemouth bass, crappie bluegill, rainbow trout, or channel catfish.


6. Quail Creek State Park

Another one of the state parks in southern Utah with a spectacular reservoir to splash around in is Quail Creek State Park. The scenery of red rocks against the water here is beautiful, and there are activities for everyone, ranging from hiking to biking to swimming to boating.


LOCATION

Quail Creek State Park is located just east of Hurricane, UT, about 45 minutes away from the Springdale entrance of Zion.


FUN HIKES & ACTIVITIES

  • The water at Quail Creek State Park is warm and great for swimming along the rocky shoreline. You can also paddleboard or kayak on the reservoir.

  • Quail Creek also offers several trails for hikers and mountain bikers to explore more of this southern Utah state park. Quail Creek Overlook Trail is a nice moderate 5-mile out & back trail with great views.

  • You can also go boating or fishing (or both!) on Quail Creek Reservoir. There are two boat ramps, and the lake is stocked with fish, including largemouth bass, bluegill, and rainbow trout.


7. Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada)

The desert southwest is full of stunning landscapes, but Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada still manages to stand out with its red sandstone formations which contrast with lighter colored rocks. Throughout the park, you’ll also spot petrified trees and petroglyphs.


LOCATION

Valley of Fire State Park is across the state border in Nevada, so it’s a perfect pit stop if you’re traveling to Zion from Las Vegas. It’s about a 2-hour drive from Springdale.


FUN HIKES & ACTIVITIES

  • Don’t miss the Fire Wave, a unique formation of red and white striped rock that will take your breath away. The trail is just over a mile round trip, but be aware that it’s closed in summer due to extreme heat.

  • You also should hike to the White Domes, cool-looking formations which stand out from the orange and red sandstone that dominates the landscape. The mile-long loop trail also goes through some slot canyons and caves.

  • Be sure to check out Atlatl Rock as well, which features petroglyphs carved into the sandstone by ancient Puebloans.


8. Cathedral Gorge State Park (Nevada)

At Cathedral Gorge State Park in Nevada, you’ll find tons of cool clay spires that are quite different from the typical red sandstone towers of the desert. The cream-colored spires in the park were formed from a volcanic eruption that took place over a million years ago. Each time it rains, the spires erode and reshape so the landscape of Cathedral Gorge will never be exactly the same.


LOCATION

Cathedral Gorge State Park is just over a 2-hour drive northwest from Springdale, across the state border in Nevada.


FUN HIKES & ACTIVITIES

  • One of the best places to explore in Cathedral Gorge is right near the parking area. By the water tower here,  you’ll discover a maze of caves, slot canyons, and spires which are really fun for the whole family to wander around.

  • For an actual hike that’s family-friendly, head out on Miller Point Trail, which is about 2 miles round trip. You’ll get an excellent view back down the whole canyon from Miller Point Overlook.


9. Cedar Breaks National Monument

While it’s not technically a southern Utah state park, Cedar Breaks National Monument is a local gem in the area. The monument, sometimes called the “Circle of the Painted Cliffs,” is a naturally-formed rock coliseum with colorful arches, hoodoos, and canyons. Ancient bristlecone pine trees also dot the spectacular landscape.


LOCATION

Cedar Breaks National Monument is located near the town of Brian Head, UT, which is about a 1.5 hour drive north of Springdale.


FUN HIKES & ACTIVITIES

  • The hike to Alpine Pond showcases the varied terrain in Cedar Breaks. It’s a 2-mile loop trail which runs through forest and meadows and features lots of excellent views of the incredible rock formations. After reaching the pond, the trail passes by some ancient bristlecone pine groves on the way back.

  • Since Cedar Breaks National Monument sits at a higher elevation than the Zion area – around 10,000 feet – it’s a great place to escape the heat in summer or find the snow in winter. You can snowshoe or cross-country ski on the trails at Cedar Breaks, or go snowmobiling on a trail that runs along Utah Highway 148.


10. Lake Powell/Glen Canyon Recreation Area

Created by the Glen Canyon Dam, Lake Powell is a massive reservoir consisting of a chain of flooded canyons that is an absolute blast to explore! The recreation area straddles the state border of Utah and Arizona, and although it’s not actually a southern Utah state park, it’s a must-visit in the area.


LOCATION

Lake Powell is located across the state border in Arizona south of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It’s about a 2-hour drive west of Zion National Park. 


FUN HIKES & ACTIVITIES

  • My favorite spot to play at Lake Powell is The Chains area. While lots of places on Lake Powell require a boat to explore, you don’t need one to have fun here. You can swim and splash in the water, go cliff jumping, or hike and scramble around the red rocks.

  • If you do want to see more of Lake Powell, you can take a boat tour to explore further into the canyon. You can also rent kayaks and SUPs at many areas around the lake.

  • One of the coolest places to explore by boat or kayak is Cathedral in the Desert. This unique site was once hidden underwater but has since emerged.


I hope this post inspires you to add at least one of these awesome state parks in Southern Utah to your itinerary when you’re visiting the Zion area!



Happy Adventuring,

Arika




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