St. George, Utah, base camp to Utah state, national parks and outdoor adventure!

Tuachan Center for the Arts is nesteled in the red rocks on north edge of St. George; concerts and Broadway shows make home here in summer and fall.

The Washington County Courthouse in downtown St. George dates to the 1860s and is open for tours.
Top, Washington County Courthouse in St. George dates to the 1860s; bottom, red rocks are a staple of a tour through Snow Canyon State Park.
Jenny’s Canyon is the reward for a short hike in Snow Canyon State Park, UT.
Brigham Young’s winter home, in the 1870s, in St. George, UT.

Mormon Tabernacle in St. George is the longest opertating Mormon temple in world.

Make St. George, Utah, your gate way to Utah national parks, north rim of the Grand Canyon:

Little did Mormon leader Brigham Young realize when he sent 300 Mormon families south from the Salt Lake area in 1861 to establish a cotton-growing empire – that he was establishing a beautiful town that would become gateway to southeast Utah’s stunning state and national parks.

St. George, Utah is all that and more. Located in the Mojave Desert next to the Colorado Plateau and Great Basin, it’s surrounded by red rock and yellow brown escarpments, cleaved by the Virgin and Santa Clara Rivers and is rich in outdoor activities, history, culture and family fun.

The town provides a gateway to bordering state parks like Snow Canyon, Sand Hollow and Coral Pink Sand Dunes parks and nearby national parks such is Zion, Bryce Canyon and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

It’s a town full of family activities, historical consequence and cultural diversions. The city offers a dozen golf courses, many of them located in challenging red and yellow rocky gorges and offers 70 miles of separated bike trails as well as a bike share program. Outdoor activities are a year-round focus, from beautiful city parks, reservoirs for swimming and boating, pickleball and tennis courts and hiking trails on the city edges.  St. George is home to many annual sporting events, like golf, softball tourneys and the Utah Senior Games in October.

Visit the downtown Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum to get a handle on early civilization, from the Anasazi and later the Paiute tribes of Native Americans, to the Mormon settlement beginning in 1861. The nearby Washington County Courthouse, built from 1866 to 1876, is also open to tours.

Make your next stop the beautiful Mormon Tabernacle; completed in 1876, it was originally constructed to serve as both church and courthouse. It is the oldest continuously active Mormon Temple in the world and is active with concerts and programs as well as Mormon services. Just blocks away, take a tour of the winter home of Brigham Young, which he acquired in the 1870s and lived in until his death in 1877. The home gives a good feel for what life was like in the early days of this picturesque desert town.

You need not travel far to find grand scenery. Snow Canyon State Park is just 8 miles north, providing a great tour of the Mojave Desert, split by red rock carapaces, yellow and brown rock formations and washes wet only in winter months.  The park offers 16 miles of hiking trails, rock climbing, horseback riding and you’re around camping as well as wildlife-viewing and photographic opportunities galore. Take the short hike into Jenny’s Canyon to find a dead-end slot canyon with red rock walls towering many stories over your head. Just across the road, a short hike takes you into the Sand Dunes area, where coral sand blankets the base of red rock cliffs. Additional state parks like Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Quail Creek, and Sand Hollow Parks make for an unending trove of family adventures.

In the next few days we will head east, first to the closest national park, Zion (just 45 miles distant) and then to Bryce Canyon (140 Miles) a few days later. We’ve been to both a few years ago, but we want to explore a few other nooks and crannies in those two superlative national treasures. Heading to the Southwest the north rim of the Grand Canyon lies just 145 miles away. More on those destinations in coming installments.

Saint George offers plenty of cultural opportunities. With a symphony orchestra, Children’s Museum, St. George Art Museum, a wealth of museums of varied history and several choices for theater. Next Tuesday evening, we’re headed to the Tuacahn Amphitheater, set into the red rocks on the south edge of Sand Canyon State Park, for the Tony award-winning production of Matilda the Musical.

St. George offers several score hotels and motels, and a wide variety of family-focused and more upscale restaurants. Don’t miss the Painted Pony Restaurant, on the edge of the downtown historical district, for a classy dining experience with food rated highly by gourmets.

How to get there: To reach St. George you have two choices. One is to cross the Sierra, either east on Highway 108 or Highway 120 (through Yosemite), a scenic 600 miles and 10.75 hours. A bit longer though a bit faster is to take the interstate route, down the San Joaquin Valley to Bakersfield, then east past Las Vegas and up to St. George, 635 miles and 9.5 hours.

For more information: Saint George, visitstgeorge.com; Zion National Park, nps.gov/zion; Snow Canyon State Park, stateparks.utah.gov.

Contact Tim Viall at tviall@msn.com; follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in the west!

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    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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