Ever wished you could just take your friend’s travel itinerary that looked amazing and just paste your family into that trip? Now, you can! Presenting my “Cut & Paste” travel series where I give you all the details about where we stayed, what we did, where we dined and how we kept the kids occupied and you can use that info to quickly and easily plan a trip of your own. I literally LOVE planning trips for my family – as stressful as the initial moments can be, once I find my groove and plans come together, it brings me genuine joy!
In my first installation, everything you need to know about planning a trip to Southern Utah, including tips for the drive if you’re coming from the San Francisco Bay Area.
When we went: August 2020
Ages of kids at time of travel: 7, 5 and 2
The Road Trip
We tend to fly everywhere so the idea of a 10 hour drive was a bit daunting. While we knew we could have driven straight through, we added a night on each end so that we could be rested while driving, have ample time for leg stretching breaks and take the time to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
We decided to leave the Bay Area at lunchtime with the hope we could get to Bakersfield, California by dinnertime. We did stop at the rest stop in Coalinga for a brief bathroom break and then got into Bakersfield just before 5pm as planned. With a quick dinner (eaten on the grass on an empty business park because of COVID dine-in restrictions), we continued to Barstow, California for fuel and then onto Las Vegas for a 10pm arrival.
We decided to take our time in the morning since we knew we couldn’t get into our rental house until after 4pm and the drive was only about 2-3 hours. If you lingered in Las Vegas a bit, definitely check out the Spring Preserve, the Neon Museum (check out this write-up from The Awkward Traveller) or even a detour to nearby Hoover Dam.
If you want to venture out, consider grabbing lunch in Vegas (we got sandwiches from Jimmy John’s) and then find a stop along the way. Caution, it may be triple-digit hot! We tried to stop a few times but things seemed to be closed but, under normal circumstances, there was a Camel Safari that looked intriguing and the Warm Spring Natural Area in Moapa.
Planning Your Time in Utah
As the rocks begin to turn red, you know you’re heading in the right direction! We got into town about 2pm (note: there is a time change) and decided to forgo our “outside activities only” rule in favor of the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site (it was 115 degrees out and this place wasn’t too busy). The kids loved it, it was educational and they all got something from the gift shop – happy kids, happy parents!
For our remaining days in Utah, we were much more organized. Below is a list of suggested things to do along with some tips we picked up along the way that are within about an hour of the St George/Hurricane area:
- Zion National Park – the crown jewel of this area. It is simply breathtaking! For those with children, the park is still very accessible and worth a visit. Read my Zion post for all the details on the shuttle, parking, what to pack and what hikes to do with kids.
- Sand Hollow State Park – a local reservoir and recreation area good for ATVing, jet skiing and boating. We didn’t do any of those activities and had a great time! The kids had a blast at the red-sand beach and splashing in the shallow, not frigid water while my husband rented a kayak to explore. Read more in my blog post about this park. Also, golden hour here is gorgeous for any photo buffs.
- Pioneer Park & Red Hills Desert Garden – Situated right next to St. George, this park has beautiful red rocks to climb and explore. A few spots have rough terrain but, generally, great for families. The adjacent Red Hills Desert Garden is another great spot for everyone to learn more about the plant life in the region.
- Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park – A truly amazing 3,000 acre park full of coral pink sand dunes! While ATVing is very popular here, too, we took advantage of a smaller dune with our rented sled (available at the ranger’s station for a fee) to have some fun. It is quite windy so be prepared for sand everywhere.
- Quail Creek State Park – we didn’t make it here (ended up going to Sand Hollow a second time) but another water option fairly close to town.
- St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site – when we got into town early and couldn’t get into our rental house yet, we discovered this place and it ended up being really cool! This is the actual site where a prehistoric lake sat and the museum was built around the dinosaur tracks. There is also an outdoor space that looked nice if not for the extreme heat we had.
- St. George Children’s Museum – we didn’t go but something to bookmark for post-COVID times. Currently, open by reservation only.
- St. George Town Square Splash Pad – on hot days, nothing is better than a splash pad! Next to it, there is an additional river-like water feature.
- Hurricane Community Center & Splash Pad – another option for water play in Hurricane located on the main drag.
- Thunder Junction All Abilities Playground – we didn’t get here either as we have been trying to avoid playgrounds but it looks pretty dang cool!!
If you want to cover some more mileage in a day or take the longer route home, here are some other ideas and their distances from the St. George area:
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Antelope Canyon National Park
- Horseshoe Bend
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Arches National Park
- Grand Escalante Staircase National Monument
Where To Stay
To explore this region, I would recommend finding a home base in one of these three places:
- St. George: if you’re looking to be close to shopping, dining and the freeway, St. George is a great spot to call home. There are a number of chain hotels in the area as well as some vacation rentals. Nearby Washington offers the same experience.
- Hurricane: if you prioritize space over location, Hurricane is the spot for you. We got a fairly new 4-bedroom house through VRBO for under $200/night and there is quite a bit of similar inventory. The downside, you are in a very residential area where you will need to drive 10 minutes to get to Wal-mart, 20 minutes to get multiple food options and 30 minutes to get to St. George. Upside is that Hurricane and Sand Hollow State Park are very close.
- Springdale: If you want to spend a lot of time at Zion National Park, consider staying in Springdale. It is a cute, small town with hotels, dining and small retail shops and you can use the in-town shuttle to get to the Zion main entrance (and leave your car parked at your hotel).
For those with an RV (or who like to tent camp), there are so many options in this region. Most all of the parks I cited above will take camping reservations. Personally, Sand Hollow looked pretty nice for camping but looks like it would be busy. If you want something a little more remote, check out the Coral Pink Sand Dunes park as that gets a lot less traffic.
For most of my trips, I would have a laundry list of places to recommend but, due to COVID, we did a big grocery shop at Wal-mart and prepared almost all our meals in our rental house.
I did find a cute, little coffee shop in La Verkin (on the route to Zion) called River Rock Roasting Company. Definitely worth a stop for coffee, a house-made pastry or one of their many food items.
We also did get takeout one evening when no one wanted to cook from Lonny Boy’s Barbecue in Hurricane and it was quite tasty! Both the meats and the side dishes were delicious.
Planning Your Trip
Are you ready to plan your trip? Download my checklist below and then start planning! I like to begin with finding my accommodations first and then plugging in activities and a high-level plan for meals. I usually use a Google Sheet (or Excel) to make a weekly planner or, sometimes, I got analog with good old pencil and paper. For this trip, definitely pre-book Zion National Park and consider buying the day passes to the state parks ahead of time if you’re targeting a weekend or a busy time.
Looking for more road trip ideas in the US? Check out Jet Lagged Mama's post with more ideas!