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Hiking GuidesSouthern UtahUtah

Red Reef Trail Hiking Guide

Overview

Red Reef Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, a swath of desert lands set aside to protect desert tortoises (among other things).

The trailhead is found at Red Cliffs Campground, which is less than two miles from Harrisburg, Utah.

Red Reef Trail follows Quail Creek up a delightful red rock canyon that has flowing water and swimming holes during snowmelt and after significant rainfall.

To get there, you’ll drive through a culvert underneath I-15, then up a paved road. The day use parking lot is undersized and often full.

Often times, the rangers open the parking lot at White Reef Trailhead for overflow use. If you’re up for it, this adds a 3.4-mile walk to the route in total.

A small waterfall and shallow pool along Red Reef Trail
A small waterfall and shallow pool along Red Reef Trail

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 1.5 miles out and back
  • Hike Time: 1-2 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 135 feet
  • Fee: Free
  • Dogs: Yes
  • Difficulty: Easy

Hiking the Red Reef Trail

Most people turn around at the main attraction, which is a swimmable pool and 6-foot waterfall next to Moki steps and a fixed rope.

Every time I’ve visited, the rope has looked pretty tattered. Please use it at your own risk! Luckily, someone does seem to replace it every few years.

Moki steps are hand and toe holds that are carved into the soft sandstone to aid with climbing. It’s unclear whether these ones were left by the Ancestral Puebloans or put here more recently.

Kim uses the rope and Moki steps to climb up and around
Kim uses the rope and Moki steps to climb up and around

There is a great example of these in Red Canyon Slot, another great hike in the region.

If you’re feeling adventurous, continue up the canyon by following the windy Quail Creek.

Desert four o’clock wildflower blooms along the trail
Desert four o’clock wildflower blooms along the trail

There are multiple rockfalls and pourovers that have limited my exploration of this drainage, but if you’re experienced in canyoneering I’m sure there is a lot to see.

Red Cliffs Desert Reserve’s website has a detailed description of what you might encounter, although it might be out of date.

Arrow trots through a calm and serene pool in the Quail Creek drainage
Arrow trots through a calm and serene pool in the Quail Creek drainage

Map

Location

Red Reef Trailhead is located at the northwestern side of Red Cliffs Campground.

From St. George, get on I-15 northbound and follow it 9 miles. Take exit 16 to merge onto Utah State Route 9.

Continue for 2.8 miles, then turn left onto Utah State Route 318.

Continue for 3 miles, then turn right onto Old Highway 91.

Continue for 0.3 miles, then turn left.

Drive through the culvert underneath I-15, then turn left.

Follow the paved road 1.3 miles to Red Reef Campground and park in the day use lot.

Get Directions

Resources

Links

Photos

Southern Utahns play in the water on a warm spring evening
Southern Utahns play in the water on a warm spring evening
A gnarled cottonwood near the start of Red Reef Trail
A gnarled cottonwood near the start of Red Reef Trail
Kim poses in front of the gnarled cottonwood
Kim poses in front of the gnarled cottonwood
Indigo bush wildflower blooms
Indigo bush wildflower blooms
Palmer's penstemon wildflower blooms
Palmer’s penstemon wildflower blooms
Red rock formations at the canyon's entrance
Red rock formations at the canyon’s entrance
This alcove is a pleasant place to eat a snack
This alcove is a pleasant place to eat a snack
Ancient pictographs in an alcove above the canyon floor
Ancient pictographs in an alcove above the canyon floor
Max (the author) poses in a cottonwood stump
Max (the author) poses in a cottonwood stump

More Great Hikes Near St. George


Want to hike Utah’s best trails? Check out our other Utah Hiking Guides.

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