Discovering the Trails of St. George, Utah

By David Ward –

Thanks to Karma’s (my wife) and my travel bug, our mobile children, and mostly our globe-trotting, Foreign Service employed daughter, I have had the opportunity and joy of riding a bike at various destinations nationally and internationally. From urban mountain biking in Kathmandu to exploring the Balkan countries of Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, and from riding the famous cols of the Tour de France to pedaling my way around Acadia National Park, I have been fortunate to experience these exotic locales on the seat of a bicycle.

David Ward on the Barrel Roll Trail in St. George, Utah. Photo by Karma Ward

So it was not without some degree of amazement that I have realized that some of the most exotic and beautiful bicycling to be had is only a few hours away in sunny St. George, Utah. It is only in the last month or so that this realization dawned on me, largely the result of my daughter, Marinda, and her family having recently moved there.

I had, of course, already ridden in St. George on a few occasions. Years ago, when I was a competitive road racer, I journeyed to St. George a few times to race. When racing, of course, you are mostly focused on the wheel just in front of you rather than the surrounding countryside. But even then, I remember being impressed by the colorful green foliage and contrasting red sandstone from Veyo down past the Gunlock Reservoir. It still remains one of my favorite sections of road for an enjoyable ride on my road bike.

But a month ago, when Karma and I went to St. George to help Marinda and her family move in, Karma suggested taking our mountain bikes for a little off-road riding. Taking a cue from some friends, we drove out past Hurricane to log a few miles on the JEM trail. From where we parked, we rode along the rim of the Virgin River for a short distance, enjoying some lovely river overlooks, before following the trail out onto the broad plateau where we bumped and rolled along for a couple of hours.

I had the good fortune during this ride of running into an old friend and teammate from our VMG/Utah Premier days, Ellen Guthrie. It was a delight to introduce her to Karma, reminisce about our racing days and exchange news of our children. Later on this same ride, I ran into another old Utah Premier teammate, Todd Taft, along with Shane Dunleavy, my physical therapist from when I had my left hip replaced. All these people were there pre-riding the course for the next day’s 6 Hours of Frog Hollow mountain bike race.

Later during that same trip, when Karma and I had only a couple of hours, we did a shorter ride on the Barrel Roll Trail, only a few miles from my daughter’s new home. It was in locating and doing these two rides that I came to understand how much mountain biking is available in the St. George area, terrain that will satisfy everyone from the novice to the hardcore.

Then just this last week, we were again in St. George. I had been told that St. George had a good network of separated, paved bike paths. Since Karma is not a big fan of riding in traffic, especially when there is not a marked bike path, we decided to take our road bikes and try this out. I planned specifically to take my fixed gear bike which I had just broken out of the cellar for the first time in a year and log some miles on it. I love riding this bike, but living up a canyon where the road is always either uphill or downhill is not conducive to this.

[For those who may not know, a fixed gear bike is a single speed bike with the single rear cog firmly “fixed” to the rear axle. As a result, if the wheel is turning, so are the pedals. You can’t coast, nor shift gears for changes in terrain, which is what makes riding a fixed gear bike somewhat challenging and uniquely fun.]

Before riding, I found my way to St. George’s Red Rock Bicycle Company to ask about local paved bike paths. A friendly, helpful sales associate took time to show me on a bike path and trail map a paved all-purpose trail along the Virgin River as it flows through the middle of St. George. This map, the “Trail Map & Guide for: St. George, Hurricane & Zion NP, Utah” put out by Adventure Maps, Inc., is a great map for road cyclists, mountain bikers and hikers. With no hesitation, I pulled out my credit card to pay the $12.99 it cost.

The recommended trail, the Virgin River Trail, virtually all flat with no traffic, appeared to be perfect for what Karma and I were looking for. We were able to pick up the trail just off I-15 on Dixie Drive, about a 4 mile ride from my daughter’s home.

The ride turned out even better than we had hoped. After hopping on the trail, it ducked underneath I-15 then took us northeast along the Virgin River. On our left we had urban development, and on our right was the beautiful Virgin River landscape cradling the river itself. We pedaled north till we reached Fossil Falls Park where the local high schoolers were out in the river enjoying their skimboards.

After that we doubled back a couple of miles and then crossed to the south side of the river by way of a dedicated bike/pedestrian bridge. From there we wound our way back, passing several nice parks along the way, before crossing another bridge back across the river to return to where we had first picked up the trail. Instead of tracing our route from here back to our daughter’s home, however, we continued on the pathway as it headed west along the Santa Clara River till the trail finally ended at Cove Park. From there, it was just a short ride of less than two miles to our daughter’s home.

So this last month has been a time of awakening for me to the much more varied possibilities for enjoying the thrill of riding a bike in St. George. I already knew of the scenic rides in Snow Canyon and along the Veyo/Gunlock stretch of road. Now I know of the many mountain biking options of which I have only experienced a couple so far. And I have found a fun, relaxing path for enjoying the unique sensation of riding my fixed gear bike, with even more separated bike paths to explore and ride.

What can I say? St. George, which is now home to my daughter, her husband and an 18 month old grandson I adore, beckons to me with a plethora of cycling options. And I have a great map with which to explore.

Karma on the Virgin River Trail recreational bike path. Photo by David Ward
Karma on the JEM Trail. Photo by David Ward
David Ward on the JEM Trail in St. George, Utah. Photo by Karma Ward
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