12 Unforgettable Spots to Explore on a Southwest Utah Ride
Discover a land of towering red rocks, mysterious canyons & endless surprises.
Out of all the states in the American Southwest, Utah may be the one with the largest stockpile of natural wonders. Many of these awe-inspiring destinations can be found in and around Southwest Utah. This land of towering red-rock cliffs, dramatic canyons and mysterious pinnacles ignites the imagination like few places on earth. The region is also home to two of Utah’s most iconic national parks, yet it’s still a land of endless surprises. From cascading waterfalls to pink sand dunes, ancient rock art and dinosaur trackways, there’s always something new to discover in Southwest Utah.
It’s also a perfect playground for Adventure Riders, with a diversity of terrain to take you far off the beaten path. Choose from river-carved canyons and technical OHV trails for a thrilling ride, or perfectly-maintained scenic dirt roads that offer a more leisurely journey.
With such an abundance of places to visit in Southwest Utah, it seems like there is never enough time to see it all. So we’ve compiled a list of 12 unforgettable places you can explore during a 3- to 4-day Adventure Ride. We also provide all the information you need to plan your own trip, including Maps and GPS tracks. So buckle up those boots and get ready for a taste of what’s waiting to be discovered on this virtual tour of Southwest Utah!.
1. Little Black Mountain Petroglyphs
Our first stop on this ride through Southwest Utah takes us a few miles across the border into Arizona. Just a 30 minute drive from St. George, Little Black Mountain Petroglyph Site features over 500 individual ancient carvings covering many of the large sandstone boulders in the area. These outstanding examples of rock art were carved by the Western Anasazi, Great Basin and Lower Colorado River Native American Tribes.
Native Americans used the site over a 6,000 year period for several purposes, including religious, ceremonial and seasonal observations. A wide range of designs can be found at the site and an easy 1/2-mile walking trail takes you on a tour of the best petroglyphs in the area. For anyone riding through Southwest Utah, the Little Black Mountain Petroglyphs site is well worth a stop..
2. Ruins of Fort Pearce
In the late 1860s, tensions between Native Americans and Mormon settlers boiled over in Utah. The encroachment of white settlers altered crucial ecosystems of the indigenous people of the Southwest, and their ancient way of life was forever disrupted. Disputes over land and livestock led to small skirmishes and eventually a period of conflict known as the Black Hawk Indian Wars began in 1865.
In an effort to secure livestock and provide security to settlers, a number of forts were constructed by the territory of Utah (Utah wasn’t a state until 1896). The site at Fort Pearce was selected for its strategic location next to a natural spring. Navajo, Ute and Paiute warriors joined under Chief Antoga Black Hawk, wreaked havoc on settlers in the area. And without support from federal troops, a long drawn-out war ensued. Eventually, when federal troops did arrive in 1872, the war came to an abrupt halt and the remaining Native Americans were forced on to a reservation.
Today the ruins of Fort Pearce stand 30 feet long, featuring two rooms with gun ports on the walls that provided a clear line of fire against attackers. Visitors can walk among the ruins to get a feel for what it must have been like living during those tumultuous times. And for those interested in more history, you can take a short walk down the hill to Pearce Wash where ancient petroglyphs and some graffiti from early settlers can be found..
3. Warner Valley Dinosaur Track Site
We take a trip further back in time, way back to the dinosaur age when visiting the Warner Valley Dinosaur Track site. A walking path from the parking lot leads to a spot where an estimated 400 different tracks and 23 trackways of various-sized dinosaurs can be viewed. The foot impressions are incredibly well-preserved considering they were made by creatures that roamed the earth about 200 million of years ago.
Some of the smaller tracks around 7 inches in length are thought to be from an Emu-sized carnivorous dinosaur called a Megapnosaurus (meaning “Big Dead Lizard”). A set of larger tracks about 13 inches in length are believed to be from a Dilophosaurus (meaning “Double-Crested Lizard”), a bipedal meat-eating dinosaur weighing in at 1,000 pounds. Dilophosaurs were roughly 20 feet long, 7 feet tall at the hip and were some of the largest carnivores of their time..
4. Zion National Park
It’s hard to describe a place as majestic and grand as Zion National Park, but it’s a bit like Yosemite painted in colorful red rock. Steep sandstone cliffs rise 2,000 feet off the canyon floor, cut by the powerful flows of the Virgin River over the last 150 million years. It’s an orchestra of color with rocks ranging from pink to red and cream colored, accented with green foliage.
Zion became Utah’s first National Park in 1919 (originally called Mukuntuweap National Monument) and at the time, it was virtually inaccessible to tourists. A 25-mile stretch of road (Highway 9) had to be carved through the mountains for visitors to gain access. One section of tunnel is 1.1 miles in length and includes windows with stunning views of Zion Canyon. If you visit during the off-season (mid-November to mid-March) don’t miss the opportunity to ride Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, a 6-mile road up the canyon that is usually only accessible by shuttle..
5. Coral Pink Sand Dunes
Just 30 minutes southeast of Zion National Park is a unique geologic feature that should not be missed. Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park sits at around 6,000 feet elevation and features red-hued dunes positioned beside red rock cliffs and pine trees. Acres of sweeping dunes are constantly shifting and can move as much as 50 feet per year. The sand comes from eroded red rock sandstone carried on the wind, which also gives it its pink color.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes can be explored on foot or with Off-Highway Vehicles. Roughly 2,000 acres of sand are open to OHVs but if you are just interested in hiking up a dune, vehicle traffic is typically minimal. For those that want to take their motorcycles out in the fine sand, you’ll need to air those tires way down and install a safety flag first.