ADVENTURE AWAITS IN ST. GEORGE

Oh no — Mother Nature played favorites! Throughout Washington County, in Southwestern Utah, she created three separate ecosystems that collide within two different major physiographic provinces. You’ll find valleys, mesas, plateaus, mountains, faults and ridges — all in an area where mountain bikers can ride slick rock, single track, desert trails and endless roads within minutes of a vibrant metropolitan area.

Just outside of St. George — the commercial center of southwest Utah — sits the Santa Clara River Reserve, home to an impressive array of trails. It’s a great area for families who want to take rides that are neither physically demanding nor require a high level of bicycle handling.

The reserve’s Barrel Roll Trail is the highlight for more experienced mountain bikers. Completely single track, the trail loops around the mesas, climbing and dropping. It climaxes in the middle, providing an amazing view of the spectacular desert scenery surrounding the area.

Looking for slick rock? Head for the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, which is only open to non-motorized travel. If you’re up for an all-day excursion that takes full advantage of the scenery, a loop known as the Turkey Farm will take you along the Prospector and Church Rocks trails before climbing to the base of Pine Valley Mountain. It provides rarely seen views of slot canyons mixed with hillsides covered in juniper. At 45 miles, and with some killer climbs, this loop is not for the meek, but is a must for the advanced rider.

If you want to get off the bike for a day, visit nearby Zion National Park — considered one of the “Crown Jewels” of the National Park System. Zion sees heavy visitation spring through fall, and with good reason. It is truly a spectacular outdoor playground, with hiking trails available for any level of exploration and vistas that stir the soul.

Not far from Zion is the Gooseberry Mesa trail network, situated at an elevation of 5,200 feet on a slick rock mesa just southwest of the park. It’s like a giant urban bike park where you will meet riders from all over the world in the shadow of the majestic Smithsonian Butte. The network can be mazelike but is ultimately easy to follow as the trails undulate up and down house-size sandstone mounds and twist through tight, rocky canyons. It’s the perfect technical mountain bike trail. There are numerous ways to connect the individual trails to make your route longer or shorter, harder or easier, and they’re all a mountain biker’s delight.

West of Gooseberry Mesa you’ll find the Hurricane Cliffs Trail System, which includes the popular JEM Trail. Like the Gooseberry network, this 6.9-mile route connects with other trails like Gould’s Rim or Hurricane Rim to create larger loops of 20 miles or longer. Yet the JEM Trail itself is enticing with its easy climbs and fast-flowing downhills.

St. George is conveniently located along Interstate 15, four hours south of Salt Lake City and only an hour-and-a-half north of Las Vegas. St. George Regional Airport offers daily jet service through American, Delta and United airlines.

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