Visiting St. George for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t spent much time in Utah, but I knew the stereotypes – Mormons and incredible nature. Actually, that’s really all I knew about Southern Utah.

What I found was a land of stark contrasts, from the Mojave Desert 2,000 feet above sea level to the 10,000-foot Alpine wilderness of the sweeping Pine Valley Mountains, watery gorges and dry desert air, incredible adventures at every turn, relaxation aplenty, a surprising amount of culture, art galleries and food worth writing home about.

Here are 7 common myths about the area – debunked:

1. St. George is a Small Town – Named the second fastest growing U.S. city just a few years ago, St. George is the largest town in the Mojave Desert region with a population of 75,000+. It encompasses five highway exits and has a designated historical downtown with a vibrant arts and cultural scene. If you like nature photography, you’ll be in heaven with all the galleries, but if you’d rather spend your time outside taking in the landscapes for yourself, meander through nearby Pioneer Park and Snow Canyon State Park, both easily accesible within city limits.

2. You Have to Be a Super Intense Hiker to Enjoy Zion – Very false, you’ll see plenty of unfit tourists who come solely for the free shuttle tour, endurance athletes and everything in between. Some trails are even wheelchair accessible. Whatever your physical ability, there will be something to suit you with hikes ranging from short half-milers taking two hours or less to multi-day expeditions that require special permits.

3. The Whole Park Shuts Down for a Flash Flood – Quite the opposite actually. With any incident, just the specific area affected is closed and for the rest of the park, it’s business as usual. Flash floods are fairly common, unfortunately, but the park is open year-round. Simply check with the visitor center for any warnings and never try to “test” the weather.

4. You Can’t Get Good Photos if You Don’t Hike – I got awesome photos right out the windows of the Zion shuttle. If you don’t want to leave your car at all, Snow Canyon and the Kalob Canyons scenic drives are also great for capturing the red cliffs closer to St. George. It’s hard to take a bad picture in Utah as every bend offers a better view than the next so no matter how outdoorsy you are, you will leave with epic pictures to document the experience.

5. There’s No Water in the Desert – The Virgin River cuts through the center of the park and is actually the lifeline of Zion. In fact, water created most of the incredible landscape, eroding the delicate canyon walls over time. By no means is it the biggest river in the country, but it does its duty and sustains all life in the region, creating emerald oases among the stark desert conditions. If you try canyoneering, a signature Southwest activity, you’ll likely get at least a little wet, but if you want to get really wet, hike through the river in the Narrows.

6. You Have to Poop in a Bag – While the park does encourage “leaving no trace” to protect the delicate environment, there are bathrooms strategically placed throughout the park near the shuttle stops. If you bring any garbage or waste into the park, make sure you dispose of it properly or carry it out with you, but if you plan accordingly, you should have no problem finding a modern toilet.

7. You Can Hike Anywhere – With mile upon mile of trails, you’ll never run out of places to explore, but it’s very important to stay on designated paths and only step on slick rock or sand. Due to the sensitive ecosystem, touching any vegetation is highly discouraged and sometimes even finable, as it can take hundreds of years to restore. The phrase to know is “kill only time” in order to do your part to preserve this beautiful sanctuary for everyone. 

Sponsored by St. George Tourism