Photo: Hiker in canyon

A hiker stands atop a red rock overlook at sunrise in Snow Canyon State Park near St. George.

Photograph by Adam Barker, Aurora Photos

Pop. 72,718

St. George, a mellow desert oasis with Zion National Park right out the back door, is a mix of red rocks devotees and East Coast transplants who come for the Southwest-meets-alpine setting, perpetual sun, and progressive mindset. A wholesome spirit pervades—there's just one liquor store in town—but the litany of white-knuckle activities nearby livens things up.

PLAY

Zion National Park, 30 miles (48 kilometers) east, is the glamour destination, but an even closer asset is Snow Canyon State Park's vermilion bluffs and blackened lava flows, packed with some 170 technical climbing routes and hiking trails. Trek the classic four-mile (six-kilometer) White Rocks Trail to Lava Flow Overlook, a white-sandstone amphitheater, and hike the Petrified Dunes Trail along massive sandstone outcrops. Don’t forget to scout endangered desert tortoises at the 62,000-acre (25,091-hectare) Red Cliffs Desert Preserve just in town, or go to Gooseberry Mesa’s singletrack just 50 miles (80 kilometers) outside of St. George, which rivals the variety and beauty of Moab’s—without all those hill climbs. And if you're staying for a spell, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is just 100 miles (161 kilometers) away. To wind down, take in a show under the stars at the Tuacahn Center for the Arts.

EAT

Chow down on fiery tacos at local hot spot Irmita’s, or try the cumin-seared scallops with tenderloin at the Painted Pony (www.painted-pony.com).

SLEEP

The Green Valley Spa & Resort offers everything from guided hikes to yoga to wild mustang rides (doubles from $224; www.greenvalleyspa.com), but travelers on a budget will find many of the standard hotel chains represented here, too.

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