With Zion’s summer season still in full-swing, thousands of visitors are making their way to the park every week. There are still plenty of ways to enjoy the nation’s third most popular national park during the summer months and beat the crowds, like arriving early and staying in Springdale so that you can catch the free shuttle rather than fighting lines of traffic and parking shortages. But the region is also home to some stunning state parks and recreation areas where visitors can take a break from the crowds while still experiencing the unique and stunning landscapes of southern Utah.
Gooseberry Mesa National Recreation Trail
Get away from the crowds without actually going too far with a visit to Gooseberry Mesa National Recreation Trail. Despite the name, this national recreation area is actually home to a network of trails that criss-cross the mesa. The trails are rarely crowded, despite offering stunning views of Zion’s sandstone landmarks rising in the not-so-far distance. You’ll also enjoy some colorful desert backdrops and canyons along the way.
Gooseberry Mesa is home to several world-class mountain biking trails. With only one paved trail in Zion (Pa’rus Trail) open to bikes, this is the perfect add-on for biking enthusiasts visiting the area. With an network of trails ranging from short, easy options to more difficult and lengthy treks, visitors can choose the perfect one for their experience level.
Valley of Fire State Park
Utah’s Mighty 5 national parks draw millions of visitors to the state every year. But they are far from the only popular and breathtaking natural areas that you can visit. In southern Utah, one park that rivals the beauty of nearby Zion is Valley of Fire State Park.
Just over a two hour drive from Zion, Valley of Fire is known for it’s colorful, sweeping red Aztec sandstone formations, layers of vibrant limestone, and variety of desert flora and fauna. Nevada’s oldest state park, the land preserves dozens of ancient petroglyphs, petrified trees, and other historic features.
Sand Hollow State Park
An oasis in the desert, Sand Hollow State Park is an outdoor-enthusiasts paradise. With fewer crowds than Lake Powell and located just an hour from Zion, the lake at Sand Hollow is ideal for motorboating, fishing, and other water sports. The park also allows off-roading, and you can rent UTV and ATVs in the park or bring your own along. There’s even a golf course in the park.
When most people think of southern Utah’s landscape, they think of sprawling deserts, red rock canyons, and perhaps a few turquoise-colored lakes. But few people realize that the region is also home to some expansive sand dunes. You’ll find some right here in Sand Hollow State Park.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Another popular destination to experience southern Utah’s sand dunes is Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Just a half-an-hour from Springdale, these massive dunes are almost entirely open to ATVs and UTVs. You can hike, ride, or even go sand-boarding on the orange and pink-hued dunes.
Around the edges of the expansive dunes, you’ll be treated to views of stunning red rock mountains. While popular for off-roading, the park sees far fewer visitors than the nearby national parks, making it a great getaway.
Perhaps even less well known than Coral Pink Sand Dunes or Sand Hollow, Kodachrome Basin is equally as stunning and never crowded. This state park is home to more than 60 monolithic stone spires rising from the desert landscape. When you’re not snapping stunning photos, you can enjoy hiking, mountain biking, camping, horseback riding, and more.
While the park itself isn’t widely known, it’s an ideal side trip for those headed to this next destination. Just 10 miles away is Grosvenor Arch, one of Utah’s most recognized arches.
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
For a different kind of day trip, head just 70 miles away to Kanab, Utah. Besides being home to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the town is also where you’ll find Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. This no-kill animal rescue is unique in that they welcome far more than just dogs and cats. The sanctuary houses pot-bellied pigs, goats, rabbits, parrots, and more. There’s also a wildlife rehabilitation center on-site, where staff treat and rehabilitate local creatures, like tortoises, bobcats, and other wildlife.
You can visit the sanctuary and the more than 1,600 animals that live there during your visit to Kanab. Sign up in advance to spend a day or several volunteering at the property during your vacation.
Planning Your Next Vacation
From mountain biking and motorboating to volunteering with rescued pigs and parrots, there’s plenty to do outside of Zion during your visit to Springdale! If you still want to visit Zion during your stay, check out these tips next to learn how to beat the crowds.