My three-day adventure in Greater Zion starts in one of the lesser visited areas of the national park. Most visitors to Zion National Park only go to Zion Canyon to hike in the Narrows and do Angels Landing. This trip is all about going where the crowds don’t and experiencing The Greater Zion area to the fullest. If you’ve never visited Zion Canyon, take your turn in that part of the national park, but add some of these places to your itinerary too.
Day 1: Kolob Canyons to Sand Hollow Sunset ATVing
My friend Lisa and I headed into Kolob Canyons for a morning hike. After a quick stop at the visitors center, we drove 2.5 miles of the scenic 5-mile drive to hike Taylor Creek Trail. The parking lot is fairly small so get there early. You hike down to the creek then traverse it over 50 times on the 2.5 miles to Double Arch Alcove. This hike is delightful. There’s tons of shade, the easy creek crossings make it fun and there’s two historic cabins dating back to around 1930. I started counting the creek crossings, not knowing we were crossing it over 50 times! The crossings vary from stepping on stones to walking a log to where there’s barely a trickle as you get close to the Double Arch Alcove. You’ll feel small as you look up the sheer cliff walls at the end. It looks like a watercolor in alcove. On the 2.5 miles back, we had just as much fun crossing the creek. With exception of the short and step descent/ascent at beginning/end this is a gently rolling trail with wonderful views and shade. The hike is 5 miles round trip.
We drove the rest of the 5-mile scenic drive to an overlook of what looks like a miniature Zion Canyon. Kolob Canyons has similar erosion dynamics to Zion Canyon with finger canyons that are wide at the mouth and narrow to deep slots.
I had heard rave reviews about River Rock Roasting Co. We stopped in to see what all the buzz is about. As the winds picked up from storms brewing in the distance, we split an Aunt Becky’s cinnamon roll. The rich cream cheese frosting layered on extra think easily has to be the reason why this is a locals’ favorite. My oat milk latte was an instant pick-me-up too.
We were supposed to kayak in the afternoon, but Mother Nature had other plans with scattered storms. Rain was a welcomed sight in the parched, desert landscape but this meteorologist also errs on side of caution when water and lightening are involved. We decided to move our kayaking adventure to the next day and enjoyed a little downtime after checking into Sand Hollow Resort. The lush golf course resort looks like an oasis against the ruggedness of its red rock surroundings in the town of Hurricane. Out room was huge with a full kitchen and living room space. The best part was the golf course view from our balcony.
We got an adrenaline-packed adventure that evening going on a sunset ATV tour. Mad Moose Rentals is on property at Sand Hollow Resort. After doing safety checks and inquiring about what kind of ride we wanted to do, our guide Adam led us out into a red dirt world. In two Polaris RZRs, we followed him. I drove first and was definitely a timid driver to start. It didn’t take long for me to rev it up…until we go into some sketchy terrain including going just inches from a cliff and up and over rocks. We watched the golden hour engulf St. George in a warm yellow hue then watched shades of pink and purple appear from a formation called The Flintstone House. It really does look like the house straight out of Bedrock! From there Lisa took the wheel and I got to enjoy the view while holding on the the “oh-no” when we encountered another section of gnarly terrain. Then we went over to Sand Mountain and each took a turn riding with Adam for fast spins on sand. There were moments were I felt like we were floating. Just as the last light of day was fading, we drove down to water’s edge in Sand Hollow State Park. Lisa giggled as she got me wet driving into the water. We laughed and hollered the whole 20 miles we covered on our tour. It easily goes down as one of my all-time favorite adventures and one I would do again in a heartbeat.
Day 2: Kolob Terrace, a Ghost Town, Water Fun and Sunset Margs
After enjoying coffee while looking out at the golf course from our balcony, we hit the road to explore another lesser visited part of Zion National Park. First stop was at Muddy Bees Bakery for a latte and bagel. We also got some sinfully good peanut butter cookies just in case we needed a sweet treat fix later in the day.
From the town of Virgin, we drove Kolob Terrace Road. It’s an ultra-scenic road without a lot of traffic. There are spots to pull off and enjoy the scenery along with some trails. We stopped at Hop Valley Trailhead and hiked part of it. Both of us were wishing we had more time here because there was hardly anyone on the road and trail. More time in Kolob Terrace is on my list for next trip to Greater Zion.
Part of the fun of visiting Grafton Ghost Town is the drive. You cut through a quaint neighborhood then enter another unique desert landscape. This road is easily doable in an SUV and with some caution in a passenger car when it’s dry. If it’s wet, do it another time as you’ll likely get stuck. There are two parts to Grafton Ghost Town. At the split we went left and started at the cemetery with headstones dating back to 1862-1924. Most of the people died from illness or old age until 1866 when there were theorems deaths in rapid succession from epidemics, accidents and conflicts.
Then we drove over to Grafton Ghost Town where there’s a schoolhouse/church and several homes. The town is in a picturesque setting close to the Virgin River. The last school class met in 1919. We wandered in and around the homes. I went into the 2-story house built around 1862 by Alonzo H. Russell by myself with Lisa joining me a few minutes later. That’s when thing got, well, ghostly. Both of us felt noticeable cold spots as we walked up the stairs and my camera caught a weird light. I left to check out Louisa Russell’s smaller cabin under a tree and Lisa came bolting out of the other house with her face as white as…well, a ghost after a door slammed while she was in the house alone. It’s a ghost town. You have to expect some strange occurance. We made a quick stop to look at the John Russell house then continued on our merry way laughing about what happened.
We spent the rest of the day around water. We rented kayaks with Dig Paddlesports at Quail Creek State Park and spent some time paddling around. You rent waterside and out on the water in just minutes. We crossed the reservoir to check out interesting geology and a beautiful light blue hue to the water. We paddled and relaxed the paddled back across the reservoir for a fun two hours.
Late afternoon we drove to Water Canyon, just outside of Hildale. It took us about 45 minutes to get there from Quail Creek State Park. This was another area I quickly learned I wanted more time to explore. We drove the dirt road and started hiking along the stream in the canyon. It was lovely and we only saw a handful of people. The sandy trail is fairly easy, until it isn’t. I scrambled up for a stellar view of Water Canyon before we hiked back to our car.
We got back to Sand Hollow Resort just in time to catch a beautiful sunset as we noshed on chips and guacamole while sipping margaritas. My Santa Fe salad topped with salmon really hit the spot after a great adventurous day.
Day 3: Sand Hollow to Snow Canyon to Red Mountain
In the morning we said goodbye to Sand Hollow Resort with a stop in Sand Hollow State Park. As we went in the ranger asked if we rock jumping. Lisa immediately said yes while I was more intrigued with the 32 acres of beach. Yes, there’s a beach in Utah! It was only 9am already really hot as we hiking across the red rocks. With highs in the low 90s it was our hottest day of road trip. It took a little effort and asking some twenty-somethings to find the spot where Lisa could safely rock jump. As she stood at the edge, I was sweaty buckets while taking in the beautiful scenery of the blue water against the red sand and interesting rock features. Lisa jumped and loved it and off we went to the beach where I enjoyed small waves breadline along the shoreline.
We spent the afternoon at Snow Canyon State Park. We went in the north entrance and stopped first at the Lava Flow and White Rock Trailhead. As we hiked across the lava flow field, we marveled at the landscape where 27,000 years ago lava flowed from a now extinct volcano to the northeast. We saw two lava tubes. The first one is a big deep hole. I crawled part way into the second one before thoughts of critters made me quickly climb out. We turned around there doing about half of the 2.5-mile Lava Flow hike.
Our second and favorite stop in Snow Canyon was at the petrified dunes. They look like giant pancakes drowning in butter and syrup. They’re so cool and we enjoyed some time hiking around them.
We did the short 0.3-mile hike into Jenny’s Canyon, where we wondered who Jenny was. Last stop was to see pioneer names. The three oldest one we could make out dated back to 1890, 1887 and 1881. At that stop we also got to watch some rock climbers.
We had someone recommend stopping at Veyo Pies and Bakery. We headed back out the north entrance of Snow Canyon and did the less than ten minute drive to this legendary pie shop. We decided on slices of sour cream lemon and mountain berry. The guy behind the counter said we had to try a slice of the volcano since it’s their signature pie. All three were delicious. The lemon has what I would call an easy tart taste. The volcano was sinfully rich and the mountain berry was my favorite, probably because it reminded me of pies my grandmother would make.
We checked into Red Mountain Resort and took advantage of their wellness program by taking a MELT class done with soft foam rollers. After several super active days, it felt good to relax and literally melt into the floor and foam roller.
For dinner we ordered from Canyon Breeze Restaurant on resort property. My salmon tacos were over the top delicious and paired beautifully with a dusty desert sunset.
The next morning we took a short walk the the resort’s labyrinth made from river stones. As I walked the circle inward I reflected on our three days filled with adventure and no crowds. As I was the circle back out, I put out into the universe my strong desire to return to explore more of Greater Zion.
Author Jennifer Broome loves a great road trip, exploring national parks and discovering lesser known gems across the American Southwest. Check out her TikTok and Instagram for videos and posts from this trip in Greater Zion.