7 Unique and Exhilarating Ways to Experience the Red Rock Desert around Zion National ParkDec 14, 2018
Zion National Park is an awe-inspiring wonderland for hikers, climbers, and sightseers. But it’s not the only place for incredible adventures in the area. Take your pick of exciting and exhilarating activities in the region, from taking a flight over the canyons, mesas, and mountains of Zion to exploring the area with a backcountry safari to riding ATVs. Whether you’re looking for an extreme adventure or quiet appreciation of the natural beauty, you can find it in this unforgettable corner of Utah.
Here are seven of the most unique and exhilarating ways to explore the red rock desert around Zion.
1. Touring on ATVs
While Zion National Park doesn’t allow ATVs, the rugged country around Springdale offers some of Utah’s best off-road terrain with narrow trails, slickrock, sand dunes, and plenty of excitement. Several outfitters rent ATVs and can guide you to the area’s best rides, including Gooseberry and Little Creek Mesas, the backcountry near Zion, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, and Sand Hollow State Park with its 20,000-acre sand playground.
2. Scenic Flights over Zion
Sheer canyons, inaccessible mountains, and vast dimensions define Zion National Park, one of the world’s most spectacular landscapes. Zion is a place that takes a lifetime to explore unless you get an eagle’s-eye view from a helicopter tour that lets you see the park’s shapes and unspoiled splendor. Take off from a nearby heliport, and in minutes you’re hovering above Utah’s raw natural beauty.
Book an aerial trip with Zion Helicopters Tours & Flights to get airborne. The Zion 360 Tour, one of their most popular outings, combines an off-road adventure up a 4×4 trail to a scenic helicopter ride over Zion’s magical landscape.
3. Backcountry Driving with Zion Outback Safaris
Zion Outback Safaris, the premier 4×4 tour operator near Zion, gets you into the scenic backcountry in comfort and style. They run daily trips beyond the pavement’s edge in safari trucks that hold up a dozen riders in addition to four- and six-passenger jeeps. The guides are not only safe drivers, but they are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the wonders of Zion and its unique geology and wildlife.
The popular Zion Sunset Safari Tour climbs high onto the Kolob Terrace for fantastic views across the national park as the sun sinks behind the western horizon. Trips leave from the Majestic View Lodge in Springdale.
4. Take a Slingshot for a Spin
Experience Zion’s natural wonders from its twisty roads in a Polaris Slingshot, a modernistic three-wheel vehicle that looks like a Formula 1 race car but drives with the freedom of a motorcycle. Rent the open-top vehicles from Zion Slingshot at the Springdale Visitor Center by the hour or for a day and head out on the highway for an exhilarating ride with unobstructed views of Zion’s towering cliffs and the sweep of blue sky above.
For maximum fun, drive the sleek roadster out the park road to Kanab and back or take a spin up the winding Kolob Terrace Road to Lava Point.
5. Utah’s Best Mountain Biking
The mesas and canyons west of Zion form Utah’s premier mountain bike mecca, offering iconic trails with rolling slickrock, techy cliffs and ledges, screamer downhills, and fast-flowing terrain. Mention Gooseberry, Little Creek, and Guacamole mesas or the legendary Grafton Trail, one of Utah’s oldest free-ride trails, and every experienced biker gets a dreamy look. With all the extreme terrain, it’s no wonder that the Springdale area hosts the Red Bull Rampage, the Super Bowl of mountain biking, for the world’s best riders.
Bring your two-wheeler or rent one in Springdale and start pedaling. Guacamole and Gooseberry Mesas boast perfect singletrack terrain, with short ups and downs, quick turns, fun slickrock, and breathtaking views of Zion’s sandstone peaks and canyons. Stop by Zion Adventure Company or Bike Zion in Springdale for local information, bike rentals, and guided rides.
6. Explore Sand Hollow State Park
West of Springdale and Zion National Park spreads Sand Hollow State Park, southwestern Utah’s adventure playground. Sand Hollow Reservoir, a shimmering 1,322-acre lake, offers wet fun for everyone, especially in the summer heat. Motorboats spin around the lake towing water skiers; sailboats tack across the turquoise water; kayakers and stand-up paddlers explore rocky coves; and daredevil cliff divers plunge into deep water. A swimming beach with red sand, perfect for building sand castles, lies on the lake’s western shore.
The state park, one of Utah’s busiest parklands, also boasts a 6,000-acre expanse of dunes and trails for off-highway vehicles (OHVs). After sunset, pitch a tent in one of the park’s two campgrounds and watch the moon rise over Zion’s Mount Kinesava.
7. Canyon Country Golf Adventures
After checking out Zion’s magnificent scenery, drive west for 30 minutes from Springdale to a couple of the best desert golf courses anywhere. Sand Hollow and Sky Mountain offer challenging holes and stunning scenery. Sand Hollow is Utah’s No. 1 rated course, and it offers gorgeous scenery with green fairways wrapped around salmon-colored bluffs. The course, north of Sand Hollow State Park, has two courses—an 18-hole, par 72 Championship Course and a 9-hole links-style course. Four memorable holes on the 18-hole layout perch on the edge of a 100-foot-high cliff above the twisting Virgin River.
Sky Mountain Golf Course, a 6,450-yard, 18-hole public course in Hurricane, boasts equally spectacular scenery and offers excellent golfing value. Framed by mountains and red-rock castles, Sky Mountain’s grassy fairways and fast greens make it possible to post good scores. The back nine holes are particularly memorable, with forever views of the canyons and mountains.
Written by Stewart Green for RootsRated Media in partnership with ZionNationalPark.com.
Featured image provided by Roberto Nickson (@g)