Southern Utah is high on my list of places to get outside. With endless red-rock vistas and deep, scenic canyons, all under a deep blue sky, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else with such beautiful terrain. There are so many stunning outdoor landscapes to see in Utah that it almost makes the rest of the 49 states seem like underachievers. And much of the wonder is in the southern portion of the state.
We found quite a few towns that had more than their share of gorgeous scenery and fun things to do. A road trip spent driving the highways of southern Utah is a road trip you’ll remember; just as much for the landscape as for the towns and people you’ll come across. This area is unspoiled, and much of it off the beaten path, so unless you’re going at the height of tourist season, you won’t find places crawling with people.
Southern Utah is almost a year-round destination, although, because I’m not a heat-lover, I don’t think I’d go in July or August. In winter, the temperatures were moderate and the crowds non-existent. Just keep an eye on the snow forecast. Spring and fall are also great times to visit. Here are some of our favorite southern Utah small towns, in no particular order.
Some of this information was obtained during a press trip. All opinions are my own.
1. St. George
St. George is stunning. This city of about 85,000 may not technically be a small town but has a small-town feel. It’s convenient as a home base to some of Utah’s best national parks and has its own quite fabulous state park. This area of southern Utah is some of the prettiest country I’ve seen in the entire U.S.
If you’re into visiting national parks like I am, you’ll be pleased to know that St. George is only an hour south of Zion National Park and just a little farther from Bryce Canyon National Park.
Getting to St. George is fairly easy. Many people take advantage of the St. George Regional Airport, which offers service from major airlines like United, American, and Delta. We decided to fly into Las Vegas and make the 2-hour drive north for our visit. One of the highlights of this drive is passing through the incredible Virgin River Gorge.
My favorite way to spend time in St. George is outside. Pioneer Park has 52 acres of rock-climbing opportunities just waiting to be explored. After you’re done climbing, take a look around St. George’s historical features. Since the city was founded by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, you’ll be able to visit many church-related sites. Top of the list is the Brigham Young Winter Residence Historical Site, which is open 7 days a week. Also a must-see is the St. George Tabernacle.
I recently spent an incredible 2 days at Red Mountain Resort in Ivins. This serene wellness retreat has everything for your body, mind, and soul and is set amid a jaw-dropping location in gorgeous Ivins, Utah. Technically a suburb of St. George, Ivins is home to world-class spas and plenty of ways to have fun outdoors.
Snow Canyon State Park is a jewel and has accessibility right out the back doors of Red Mountain Resort. Snow Canyon easily competes with many of the national parks I’ve been to and might even be a national park itself were it not in a state that already has an incredible collection of five national parks. This 7,000+ acre state park offers miles of hiking trails, biking trails, and popular e-bike rentals located right on the outskirts of the park. Snow Canyon State Park is gloriously beautiful with sights seemingly around every corner. You’ll enjoy the almost 40 miles of hiking trails and 3 miles of paved walking and biking trails.
You may recognize Snow Canyon State Park as it’s been a favorite location for filmmakers. Westerns like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Electric Horseman, and Jeremiah Johnson were all shot at least partly on location here.
Pro Tip: If you book a stay at Red Moutain Resort, ask about the airport shuttle that will take you to the resort so you won’t need a rental car.
Right outside the west entrance of Zion National Park is the cute town of Springdale. With a population of less than 1,000, Springdale is a small town with a surprising number of good, local restaurants.
We enjoyed an excellent dinner al fresco at Oscar’s Cafe. With homemade Mexican specialties, indoor and outdoor seating, and a casual vibe, this homey spot is a winner. I tried the salmon filet served on a bed of rice. The simple salmon was cooked to perfection. I could eat the accompanying stuffed poblano pepper daily. The pepper, filled with delicious cheddar mashed potatoes, corn, cilantro, onion, and red pepper mixture, is incredible.
Another fun restaurant is the Bit and Spur. This restaurant and bar serves inventive southwestern cuisine and specialty margaritas, including my favorite prickly pear, as well as made-in-Utah spirits. Springdale is the perfect place to stay if you’re visiting Zion and the shuttle system in town lets you leave your car at the hotel and let them do the driving.
Pro Tip: The Sol Foods Supermarket has a great deli. Try their soups.
Kanab isn’t as well-known as some of the neighboring towns, and that’s a good thing. This town, home to about 5,000, is in the heart of some of the best outdoor adventures in the state. For starters, there are three national parks within a 3-hour drive: Zion, Bryce, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Plus, Kanab is known as the gateway to the super popular The Wave.
But the town also has its attractions including one of the most amazing animal sanctuaries in the U.S. — Best Friends. This organization works to save thousands of animals every year. At their Kanab location, you can participate in tours of the facility or take an adorable pup for a walk. They also have activities for the kids.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is an amazing place to explore on foot or by ATV. Almost 90 percent of the dunes are open for riding so you’re sure to find a thrilling area. Kanab is just an hour and a half from St. George Regional Airport or 3 hours from Las Vegas.
Two hours north of Kanab, tiny Escalante is home to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. If you’re looking for a vast, rugged, remote area where you can find solitude, this is your place. The monument is not nearly as popular as some of the nearby national parks, so you won’t see as many visitors and you might not see any people for hours, depending on when you go.
One of the most popular things to do here is to check out Peek-A-Boo Slot Canyon. If you’re into photography, the changing light here makes for incredible shots. The location of the canyon is off the beaten path, so many people prefer to go with a local guide. There are also plenty of hiking trails to explore as well as unique, otherworldly terrain.
Pro Tips: While there are roads through the park, most are not paved, and many aren’t suitable for two-wheel-drive vehicles or RVs. This is a very large, very remote area with few services and no cell service for the most part. Make sure you’re prepared and stocked up on essentials (and gas). And it’s always a good idea to share your itinerary with friends so someone knows your plan.