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.
- 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.
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.
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Red Cliffs Desert Reserve’s website has a detailed description of what you might encounter, although it might be out of date.
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.
More Great Hikes Near St. George
- Elephant Arch
- Kanarraville Falls
- Yant Flat to Candy Cliffs
- Little Black Mountain Petroglyph Site
- Whiterocks Amphitheater
- Enepitsi Trail
Want to hike Utah’s best trails? Check out our other Utah Hiking Guides.