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The area surrounding Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks offers a smorgasbord of scenic wonders and recreational opportunities. The gateway communities to the parks provide a variety of activities along with a welcome change of pace for kids who might be getting a bit tired of the beautiful but seemingly endless rock formations. Adjacent to Bryce Canyon National Park is Grand Staircase-Escalante -- a vast, stark, but stunningly beautiful national monument -- as well as Dixie National Forest, a popular spot for mountain bikers, anglers, campers, and hikers. Within 90 minutes of the south entrance to Zion National Park, you can wander through the mysterious lava caves of Snow Canyon, or strike out off-road in a dune buggy at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park -- and that's just for starters. Two other state parks, Kodachrome Basin and Escalante, are within an hour of the entrance to Bryce Canyon and provide lovely vistas and quirky pleasures all on their own.

Gateway Towns

Just outside the parks are communities offering additional outdoor recreation opportunities.

The small community of Springdale, with a population of about 600 and an elevation of 3,900 feet, was settled in 1862 and today is the south gateway to Zion National Park. Springdale is a good spot to pick up those forgotten supplies.

The community of Virgin (pop. 550) lies about 13 miles west of Springdale along Utah 9. First named Pocketville because of the red sandstone cliffs that closely surround it, the town was renamed for the Virgin River that runs through it. The Kolob Terrace Road heads north out of Virgin into Zion National Park, accessing several backcountry trails.

For additional information about the area, contact the Zion Canyon Visitors Bureau in Springdale (tel. 888/518-7070; www.zionpark.com).

Hiking, rock climbing, and mountain biking are popular activities around Springdale, and several local companies can provide advice, equipment rentals, and guided tours.

The Tanner Twilight Concert Series presents a varied performing arts program in the stunning, 2,000-seat outdoor Tanner Amphitheater, just off Zion Park Boulevard. Performances range from symphony orchestra concerts and dance performances to rock, jazz, and gospel concerts. Shows begin at 8pm many Saturdays throughout the summer, and cost $10 for adults and $5 for youths (18 and younger). For information, contact Dixie College, in St. George (tel. 435/652-7994; www.dixie.edu/tanner/index.html).

The Zion Canyon Theatre, 145 Zion Park Blvd. (tel. 888/256-3456 or 435/772-2400; www.zioncanyontheatre.com), boasts a huge screen -- some 60 feet high by 82 feet across. Here you can see the dramatic film Zion Canyon: Treasure of the Gods, with thrilling scenes of the Zion National Park area, including a hair-raising flash flood through Zion Canyon's Narrows and some dizzying bird's-eye views. The theater also shows a variety of other Hollywood and large-format films. Admission is $8 adults and $6 children under 12. The theater is open daily from 11am in summer; call for winter hours. The theater complex also contains a tourist information center, an ATM, a picnic area, gift and souvenir shops, restaurants, and a grocery store.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.