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Greater Zion: The Side of Zion That Most People Miss

Unbeknownst to many travelers, Zion National Park is part of a much larger group of communities that makes up the 2,400 square miles often referred to as the Greater Zion region. Springdale, the town closest to the national park, is just one of many areas worth a visit if you’re headed to Southern Utah.

There’s so much to discover in Greater Zion—from the national park’s hidden corners to nearby towns such as St. George and beyond, to nearby state parks, hidden artist communities, and beautiful golf courses—that a trip to the area can easily fill a week.

The Distinctive Areas of Greater Zion

During my stay in the Greater Zion area, I spent a few nights in Springdale and was able to experience a spectacular day in the national park. But it really was exploring the surrounding communities that left me wanting to return.

The region is best known by avid IRONMAN athletes and mountain bikers for its exceptional trails, competitions, and training environment. But there’s plenty to  appeal less extreme outdoor enthusiasts and adventure tourists as well.

Four main towns and areas make up the Greater Zion communities:

The town of St. George is 37 miles from the park’s entrance, and is an idea hub for exploring Greater Zion. The joke here is that everything is “20 minutes” away, and during my exploration of the region, that proved pretty much true (although the drive to the national park takes just under an hour).

St. George is home to the region’s most convenient airport, which offers nonstop flights from Dallas, Denver, Salt Lake City, and other cities. Shops, an old-time theater, and mom-and-pop restaurants dot the streets of St. George’s downtown area. You’ll also find the second outpost of the region’s first microbrewery, Zion Brewery, which is set in an old firehouse with a patio area ideal for basking in the sun.

Veyo Pies
Zion Brewery, Station II

It’s no surprise that artists and galleries have found inspiration here, and there are plenty of places to explore local art. Make time for a visit to the local artist community of Kayenta, where you’ll find dozens of galleries, a day spa, a labyrinth garden, and a garden cafe. The area is also home to a red-rock amphitheater, Tuacahn, which hosts family-friendly musicals and bands, including well-known Disney productions. 

National and State Parks

When you’re at Zion National Park, you’ll likely encounter lines of tourists waiting to board the park’s shuttle busses along the main canyon road, and you’ll be lucky to get a parking spot. As the fourth-most-visited national park in the country, Zion sees more than its fair share of tourists.  But there’s a lot more to see: I recommend also exploring the Kolob Canyons and Kolob Terrace areas (note that some permits are required for Wilderness-designated land). Check out the Timber Creek Overlook Trail and the North Fork or South Fork of Taylor Creek trails in the canyon area. In the Kolob plateaus, you’ll find fewer tourists at Hop Valley Trail, Grapevine Trail, and Northgate Peaks Trail.

Furthermore, don’t discount the region’s four state parks: Snow Canyon (which really could be a national park), Quail Creek (home to a massive reservoir for boating), Gunlock (if you get lucky, you’ll experience rare waterfall features – they only happen about once every 10 years), and Sand Hollow (one of the best spots for ATVing).

Getting Outside the National Park

When you’re ready to leave St. George, most attractions are just, you guessed it, a 20-minute drive away. Whether it’s playing a round at one of the area’s 13 golf courses, tasting a Mountain Berry pie from Veyo Pies (trust me on this one, and send me an email if you go), mountain biking on Gooseberry Mesa, hiking through other-worldly Snow Canyon State Park, or canyoneering relatively unexplored BLM land (hit up Paragon Adventures for a unique experience), there’s plenty to do in the area beyond the boundaries of the national park.

Where to Stay in Greater Zion

The newly opened The Advenire, an Autograph Collection Hotel, has impeccably decorated rooms, a rooftop hot tub and lounge, as well as a fantastic on-site restaurant and bar, Wood. Ash. Rye. It’s centrally located right in downtown St. George.

If you’re looking for a boutique-like experience in Springdale, the Cliffrose Springdale, Curio Collection by Hilton, is just steps away from the Zion’s entrance as well as the Virgin River. It’s newly renovated and has plenty of outdoor hangout areas along the riverbank perfect for families and groups of friends to enjoy.

For a health and wellness experience in the Greater Zion area, book a package at Red Mountain Resort in the community of Ivins, just outside of St. George. Located next to Snow Canyon, you’ll get plenty of time to hike, and lounge by the pool or at the spa.

If you’re after a more immersive experience, the area has two glamping sites in addition to the national and state park’s camping areas. The first is Under Canvas Zion, which is located close to the Kolob entrance of the park. The second nearby site, Wildflower, is currently under development and set to open soon. 

There are plenty of budget-friendly and hotel chain options scattered throughout the region if you’re looking for affordable accommodations outside of camping.

Welcome to Virtual Vacations, our series of meditative audio travel tours of both popular and off-the-beaten-path destinations around the world.

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Ashley Rossi is always ready for her next trip. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

By Ashley Rossi

Ashley Rossi is always ready for her next trip. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

After interning at SmarterTravel, Ashley joined the team full time in 2015. She's lived on three continents, but still never knows where her next adventure will take her. She's always searching for upcoming destination hotspots, secluded retreats, and hidden gems to share with the world.

Ashley's stories have been featured online on USA Today, Business Insider, TripAdvisor, Huffington Post, Jetsetter, and Yahoo! Travel, as well as other publications.

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Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "A week in a bamboo beach hut on India's Andaman Islands."

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