Zion National Park receives more than 4 million visitors a year. The park has plenty of space to accommodate those numbers. But during the summer, crowds do form on the park’s most popular trails and at overlooks. You shouldn’t let the threat of crowds deter you from planning a summer adventure, you can break up your visit with day trips elsewhere.
Luckily, there are several Utah state parks located an hour’s drive or less from Springdale. At these, you can escape the crowds and even enjoy outdoor activities you won’t find in Zion. Keep reading to learn 5 state parks you should visit on your next visit to the area.
Frontier Homestead State Park
Located about an hour’s drive from Springdale in Cedar City, Utah is Frontier Homestead State Park Museum. As the name suggests, the property boast both a state park and a museum. Both are dedicated to telling the story of cultivating iron ore in the mid-1800s.
In 1851, a shortage of iron ore drove pioneers, sent by Mormon leader Brigham Young, to the Cedar City area. In less than a year, those settlers built a blast furnace and a small community to house the workers needed to run the iron foundry.
Today, visitors can explore historic cabins and the ruins of the Old Iron Town, as well as the museum which houses a collection of horse-drawn farm equipment, pioneer craft demonstrations, and more.
Visitor Tips: While this park may be small, it’s big on interactive exhibits. This makes it a great destination for families young and old looking to add some history and education to their Zion adventure. Take an afternoon off of hiking to visit the museum and state park.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Few of the millions of tourists who visit Zion National Park each year realize that there are sand dunes located just over a half an hour from the park. While it may seem odd to find towering dunes so far from the coast, that’s exactly what visitors to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park can expect to find.
Estimated to be between 10,000 and 15,000 years old, these coral-colored dunes were created by the erosion of Navajo Sandstone that abounds in the area. The park covers more than 3,000-acres, of which 265 acres is a restricted conservation area. In the rest of the park, visitors can enjoy climbing the dunes, riding ATVs and dune buggies, or even sand sledding.
Visitor Tips: While you can bring your own snowboard (an older one, as sand will scratch and scrape it), you can also rent snowboards or sleds in the park. Don’t expect to leave this park as clean as you came; just like at the beach, sand gets everywhere. Bring a change of clothes and dump your shoes before getting in your car to avoid bringing all that grit back with you.
Sand Hollow State Park
Zion has a swimming hole or two where visitors can cool off on a hot summer day. Unfortunately, when temperatures rise to 100-plus degrees, those holes fill up fast.
Beat the crowds and the heat with a day trip to Sand Hollow State Park. Just 45 minutes from Springdale, this 20,000-acre park is home to a massive reservoir. Warm as bathwater in the summer, it’s perfect for swimming, boating, water skiing, and more. If watersports aren’t your thing, you can also rent an ATV or OHV to explore the park’s 6,000-acres of sand dunes.
Visitor Tips: While Zion National Park is perfect for taking a tranquil hike or spotting wildlife, Sand Hollow State Park is an adrenaline-junkies’ paradise. Mix in a day trip to the park to enjoy a faster-paced adventure to mix-up the usual Zion activities.
Quail Creek State Park
Another desert oasis less than an hour from Springdale, Quail Creek State Park features a smaller reservoir than the neighboring Sand Hollow State Park. But that often means small crowds as well. This beautiful park is a great escape from the crowds of Zion and other National Parks.
The reservoir can reach 120 feet in depth. The colder depths can sustain rainbow trout, crappie, and bullhead catfish. The shallower waters are home to abundant numbers of stocked largemouth bass and bluegill.
Visitor Tips: Quail Creek Reservoir holds some of the warmest water in the state, while the park experiences very mild winters compared to other nearby regions. This makes the park a great spot to visit year round, especially in the winter when snow and ice cause trail and road closures in Zion.
Snow Canyon State Park
Want a destination that both the outdoor enthusiasts and the movie-lovers in your group will enjoy? Look no further than Snow Canyon State Park. An hour from Zion, the park is known for its stunning geological formations, including volcanic cones, sandstone cliffs, twisted layers of rock, and even sand dunes. The sweeping views even caught the eye of Hollywood, featured in films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Electric Horseman.
Within the park’s 7,400-acres you can enjoy hiking, rock climbing, biking, horseback riding, and more. Despite what the name suggests, the area rarely sees snow, and instead enjoys a more mild climate than nearby Zion.
Visitor Tips: Snow Canyon, Quail Creek, and Sand Hollow State Parks are located close to one another. If you don’t plan to spend your day on the water, you can check out the sights of two or even three of the parks in a single day trip, if you don’t mind rising early.
Planning Your Zion National Park Adventure
Zion National Park is the perfect destination, no matter the time of year. But if you want to experience some of the other landscapes and outdoor activities that the region has to offer, adding a day trip to a Utah state park is a great choice!