A resort in the desert proves there’s more to Utah than just skiing


After a solo trip to Las Vegas, I needed some time away from bright lights and late nights. On a friend’s recommendation, I headed into Utah, to the Red Mountain Resort near St. George, about a two-hour drive northeast of Sin City.

And I learned there’s a lot to do in Utah than go skiing.

The resort is made up of low-lying, rust-colored buildings set among the 60,000-acre Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, a mixture of lowlands and craggy sandstone mountains.

There’s a lava field next to the resort, where magma had dried into black rock and contrasted starkly with the red cliffs around. I got a great view of this from the floor-to-ceiling windows at the resort’s Sagestone Spa, where guests can choose from a variety of specialist massages.

Where to stay

Red Mountain Resort is the kind of place you could get lost for a week or more in a routine of healthy food, spa appointments, hikes in the surrounding national parks and stargazing in the evenings.

I only had three nights, so I focused on exploring Snow Canyon State Park — right on the resort’s doorstep — and visiting the arty community nearby. I also took part in lots of fitness classes, which were included in my package.

Red Mountain Resort near St. George, Utah.

Courtesy of Red Mountain Resort

My room, a luxury villa, had a king-sized bed, terrace and a view over an outdoor pool to the mountains beyond. It was too cold to sit out at night when I visited in April, but when the spring sunshine came out in the morning, it was glorious. Villas also have fireplaces and oversized bathtubs.

Some may hear the words “Utah” and “desert” and wonder if there is enough to do. I counted 27 activities, ranging from kettle bell workouts and high-intensity interval training to rappelling and canyoning in the national park (for an extra charge). There are also plenty of less adventurous things to do, such as posture workshops and meditation sessions.

Daily guided hikes meet at 8 a.m., and participants are asked their names, where they’ve traveled from and whether they’ve visited before — and people were often on their second or third visits. Hikes are divided into easy, medium and endurance, and there are excursions to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks for an extra fee.

The author explores Kayenta by bike.

I hiked each morning into a landscape that was far removed from anything I’d seen before, where the red rocks stretched into the distance and yellow evening primroses and prickly pear cacti flowered on the ground. I cycled into neighboring Kayenta, a residential area where million-dollar homes encircle a central artists’ village, with Rhonda, an ex-cop who joined the resort as a guide a decade ago.

The next afternoon, I borrowed a bike from the resort and rode along an off-road trail into Snow Canyon, where I loved the scenery and how the light made the red cliffs change color. The landscape is pretty stark given the average annual rainfall is only 7.5 inches, but there’s plenty of wildlife — such as leopard lizards and canyon tree frogs — if you’re patient enough.

Reasons to go

Red Mountain is also a good place to go solo, as quite a few of its guests do. I met other travelers at the restaurant’s community table who liked the resort for its good value and variety of activities.

It’s still upwards of $400 a night for one person in a standard room on a Red Mountain Essential Retreat, but that includes food, daily hikes, fitness classes, bicycle rentals, use of three pools and evening talks.

Some travelers come to Utah in search of adventure and exercise.

Peter Unger

Manager Tracey Welsh reminds staff that people go to the resort for all kinds of reasons, and I met couples who were there because they liked active vacations, women in pairs enjoying time away from ex-husbands and children, and others who just needed to get out of the city. One woman said she wanted to not remember her own name by the time she left.

I met several people from California, who liked the resort for its relaxed vibe and beautiful surroundings. One woman from Silicon Valley had recently turned 50, got divorced, became an empty nester and needed a break, so she headed to Utah.

“Sometimes you just have to fill your cup,” she said, as we sat in the minibus on the way to a morning hike.

Wellness, rest and relaxation is also big business for Utah resorts.

Courtesy of Red Mountain Resort

Another, who lives in Sacramento, said she was “done” with busy city life, while a fitness franchise owner said she had been on costly Californian retreats that were very diet-restrictive, and she wanted something more easygoing.

Some people go to the resort to lose weight on a package that includes a body composition test, personal fitness plan and workshops, and I met an orthodontist who was using her vacation to kick-start her goal of taking part in a fitness modeling competition.

Health food, talks and walks

The resort’s inventive restaurant provides for any kind of diet, and I tried carrot peanut butter on my toast at breakfast and a cactus salad with jicama (a root vegetable) for lunch. The evening menu is a la carte, with options such as polenta lasagna with spinach and ratatouille or grilled fish with yams. Desserts are plentiful in the evening; I loved the cherry dark chocolate lava cake with berries.

The labyrinth at Red Mountain Resort.

Talks are offered too, ranging from those that promised to help you “discover your intuitive gifts” to a presentation that explored the connection between mind and body health. There’s also a labyrinth — a series of concentric circles marked out by stones — in the lava field that you can mindfully walk around.

I’d have liked to have stayed longer, but three nights were just enough for me to tune in and chill out.

It was a great tonic after Vegas.

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