By Jane Gendron

Dinos, rattlesnakes, slickrock Slides, knock-your-camelback-off views – That stuff of a memorable vacation. And so our family of five set off for St. George (aka St. Gorgeous) with a thirst for adventure and a hope of discovering lesser traveled trails. By circumventing the holiday weekend crowds of Zion National Park proper, we made three remarkable finds: Snow Canyon State Park, Red Cliffs Recreation Area and Kolob Canyons, the National Park’s less populated northwest section.

DAY 1:
Snow Canyon State Park, a 7,400-acre swath of lava flows and sandstone cliffs (approximately 10 miles north of the city).
We knew we were in rattlesnake country. Once we entered the park and spied its swirling sandstone formations, blackened volcanic remnants and the bleached out sandy riverbed below, we pushed that phobia aside. Our posse — ages two, five, nine, 40 and 42 — initially set off on a humble 1.5 mile trek on Hidden Pinyon Trail (recommended by the friendly park ranger, manning the small visitor’s center). However, as soon as we summited the overlook and saw our fellow hikers clambering up petrified dunes, the adventure bug kicked into full gear. Thanks to unusually overcast skies and temperatures in the low 70s, our small hike became a five-hour excursion filled with geologic phenomena, ancient lava flows, juniper, sage — and a brief encounter with a passing rattlesnake.

The takeaway: Bite off as much of an adventure in this park as you like (the heat may be a deciding factor as there is little shade). Th ere are short easy hikes and moderate hikes that can be pieced together — or not. Tread carefully and keep an eye out for slithering creatures as well as the rare desert tortoise.

DAY 2:
Red Cliff s Recreation Area, Red Reef Trail and Dinosaur Tracks Site (accessed via the Red Cliff Campground, which lies 14 miles northeast of St. George on I-15). Tipped off by a local, we stumbled across the unexpected riparian-meets-red rocks beauty of the Red Reef Trail. Our small clan climbed up a section of the challenging 5.74-mile trail, and the taste we had of this oasis-in-the-desert left us hankering for more. Th is narrow canyon of carved slickrock is transformed by a fl owing stream (in the spring), which fills some deceptively deep pools and provides natural slides for adventurous souls. Of note: we kept the littlest family member in a hiking pack for this one, but let the nine-year-old follow teenagers down the slides into pool aft er pool. Sections of the trail require some serious scrambling, and a few locals took harrowing leaps off of cliff s into pools of undetermined depths (not recommended).

The 0.16-mile Silver Reef Trail was a short clip to Jurassic-era dinosaur tracks (a slam-dunk when traveling with a fi ve year-old) as well as spectacular views of the soaring sandstone surroundings and valley below.

The takeaway: For a $5 day use fee, visitors have access to miles of spectacular red rock trails, dinosaur tracks and gorgeous vistas.
The big find here is water, which dries up in the heat of summer.

DAY 3:
Kolob Canyons, Zion National Park (located just off of I-15, 17 miles south of Cedar City).
In lieu of an hour-long pilgrimage to Zion Canyon, we began our homeward journey with a convenient stop at the relatively uncrowded northwest section of the park. Crimson cliff walls reaching 2,000 feet pierced the sky as the 5-mile Kolob Canyons Road wove its way upward, ultimately dead-ending into parking for the one-mile Timber Creek Trail. Th is well-traveled, easy jaunt delivered breathtaking views of the area’s box canyons and, for the eagle-eyed, a glimpse of Mt. Trumbull, marking the edge of the Grand Canyon (100 miles away).

Timber Creek is just the tiniest tiptoe into the hiking potential of this majestic, relatively uncrowded section of Zion. The five-mile Taylor Creek Trail to Double Arch Alcove is on our agenda for an encore visit.

Drive time from Park City to St. George: approximately 5 hours, usually no tr ffi c. Temperature: With highs typically reaching into the 70s and 80s in spring and fall, St. George is a terrifi c escape from Park City’s chilly shoulder seasons. Of note: summer can be sizzling.

RECOMMENDED FAMILY FRIENDLY WEEKEND BASECAMP: Courtyard Marriott. Of note: the outdoor pool (with waterfall) and hot tub could have occupied our clan for the entire three-day weekend.
For good eats (for all ages): George’s in the historic part of town.

Remember to bring plenty of water, sunscreen and snacks.
A word on Zion National Park: Zion Canyon, the park’s core section contains awe-inspiring and breathtaking landscapes as well as phenomenal hikes, such as Angel’s Landing and Th e Narrows.
A journey to this part of the park is highly recommended outside of peak visitor times.

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