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Category: Southern Utah

Hiking in Southern Utah will change you forever. Even the most fervent desert haters have a soft spot for red rocks. This region has one of the most magical and otherworldly landscapes in the world.

It should come as no surprise that all of Utah’s “Mighty Five” national parks are in the southern part of the state. However, for as special as they are, there are even more extraordinary places in between the parks.

If you are looking to hike less-visited trails with arches, petroglyphs, ancient ruins, and non-technical slot canyons, these guides are for you!

Hiking Guide: Little Wild Horse Canyon Loop

Overview

If you’re looking for a quintessential Utah slot canyon experience but you don’t want to involve ropes, harnesses, and sketchy rappels, then Little Wild Horse Canyon is the hike for you.

It still offers plenty of adventure in the form of fun rock scrambles and imposing narrows, with knee to waist-deep pools to wade through.

This is a great hike for the whole family, including kids and Fido, as long as there isn’t rain in the forecast. The canyon is prone to flash floods and you DO NOT want to be anywhere near these drainages when that happens.

Kim and Arrow in Little Wild Horse Canyon
Kim and Arrow in Little Wild Horse Canyon

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 8-mile loop
  • Hike Time: 4-5 hours
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 700 feet
  • Fee: Free
  • Dogs: Yes
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Hiking the Bell Canyon to Little Wildhorse Canyon Loop

In September 2014, Kim, Mike, Teala, and our dogs Arrow and Sadie hiked the 8-mile loop up Bell Canyon, around the Behind the Reef dirt road, and down Little Wild Horse Canyon.

Mike and Teala wade through a muddy pool in Little Wild Horse Canyon
Mike and Teala wade through a muddy pool in Little Wild Horse Canyon

From the trailhead, the approach is 0.6 miles to the entrances of both Bell Canyon and Little Wild Horse Canyon.

If don’t have enough time, bear right to complete a 3-mile out-and-back up then down Little Wild Horse. For the full loop, bear left to continue 1.8 miles up Bell Canyon.

Max (the author) carries a tired 4-month-old Arrow
Max (the author) carries a tired 4-month-old Arrow

Once you exit the top of the canyon, bear right onto Behind the Reef Trail, a jeep trail managed by the BLM. Continue for 1.5 miles, then bear right to enter the top of Little Wild Horse Canyon. From here, you are 3.6 miles from the trailhead where you started.

An old, lonely cabin once owned by a mining prospector, next to Behind the Reef Trail
An old, lonely cabin once owned by a mining prospector, next to Behind the Reef Trail

Map

Location

From Utah State Route 24, take Temple Mountain Road and follow signs for Goblin Valley State Park. Turn left onto Goblin Valley Road then instead of continuing to Goblin Valley, turn right onto Wild Horse Road. Follow it for 5.4 miles then park in the lot on the right.

Get Directions

Resources

Links

Photos

Hiking Guide: Golden Cathedral

Overview

Grand-Staircase Escalante has no shortage of exceptional hikes, but the Golden Cathedral has to be in my top five.

At the lower end of Neon Canyon, near its confluence with the Escalante River, your journey’s end brings you to three arches formed by potholes that had their bottoms erode away. This has resulted in a magnificent natural attraction, where beams of afternoon light shine down through the arches onto a shallow pool of water.

The 9-mile out-and-back hike is challenging. You will need good navigation skills and be prepared to wade across the Escalante River.

The Escalante River
The Escalante River, upstream from Neon Canyon

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 9 miles
  • Hike Time: 5-7 hours
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,100 feet
  • Fee: Free
  • Dogs: Yes
  • Difficulty: Hard

Hiking to Golden Cathedral

In May 2014, Kim and I day hiked Golden Cathedral. Our friends Jason, Sable, and David arrived later than us and hiked in with backpacking gear to spend the night.

Below Golden Cathedral Trailhead
Below Golden Cathedral Trailhead

At the time, I didn’t use Gaia GPS on hikes. Instead, I relied on a map and compass. In those days, I got lost more often and had a harder time finding my way around the backcountry. This was one of those hikes.

A little over a mile in, we followed footsteps in the sand and veered off to the right of Fence Canyon. Once we realized we were headed in the wrong direction, we turned around and found a trail that took us down to the canyon bottom.

After braving chest deep water crossings in the Escalante River’s cold springtime waters, we made it to Neon Canyon and scooted our way to the Golden Cathedral without any problems.

Max (the author) crosses the Escalante River
Max (the author) crosses the Escalante River

Map

Location

From Highway 12, follow the unpaved Hole in the Rock Road for 16.5 miles, then turn left onto BLM 240 aka “Egypt Road”. Follow it for about 9 miles then turn right and drive down to the Golden Cathedral Trailhead parking lot.

Get Directions

Resources

Links

Grand Canyon Trust – Golden Cathedral Trail

Photos

Max (the author) poses in front of Golden Cathedral
A hodgepodge of Native American and cowboy petroglyphs near Golden Cathedral
A hodgepodge of Native American and cowboy petroglyphs near Golden Cathedral
Kim crosses the Escalante River
Kim crosses the Escalante River
Desert wildflowers in early May
Desert wildflowers in early May
A desert spiny lizard
A desert spiny lizard

 

Watch for rattlesnakes!
Watch for rattlesnakes!
A prickly pear blossom
A prickly pear blossom
Phacelia
Phacelia

More Great Hikes On Hole in the Rock Road

Hiking Guide: Peek-A-Boo Slot and Spooky Gulch

Overview

Peek-A-Boo Slot Canyon and Spooky Gulch are among Utah’s finest non-technical slot canyons. The canyons are adjacent from each other and are usually done together, often as a loop hike.

Dry Fork Trail provides access to both Peek-A-Boo and Spooky, which are found off of Hole in the Rock Road in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Kim squeezes her way through Spooky Gluch
Kim squeezes her way through Spooky Gluch

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 4-6 miles
  • Hike Time: 3-4 hours
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 600 feet
  • Fee: Free
  • Dogs: Dogs are allowed but slots aren’t suitable
  • Difficulty: Easy approach, slots are moderate

Hiking to Peek-A-Boo and Spooky

In May 2012, Kim and I hiked Peek-A-Boo Slot and Spooky Gulch.

Max (the author) in Peek-A-Boo
Max (the author) in Peek-A-Boo

In my opinion, the best way to do it is to enter Peek-A-Boo from the south, then bear right at the junction found at the end of the slot. From there, bear right and continue south down Spooky, then exit and bear left to continue down the sandy wash back to Peek-A-Boo’s entrance.

From there, continue back to Lower Dry Fork Trailhead where you started.

On the approach to the lower trailhead, before you turn left off of Hole In The Rock Road, make sure to air down your tires. Most vehicles will have no problem descending the sandy road but its notorious for getting people stuck on the way out.

You can avoid it altogether by parking in the dirt lot on the right side of BLM Road 252. This only adds about 1 mile to the hike total.

Kim scrambles in Peek-A-Boo
Kim scrambles in Peek-A-Boo

Map

Location

From Highway 12, follow the unpaved Hole in the Rock Road for 25.9 miles and turn left onto BLM Road 252. 0.8 miles in, there is a dirt parking lot on the right side. Unless you have 4WD and are prepared to air down your tires, park here. If you’re confident you can back up the sandy road, turn left and continue to the lower trailhead (Dry Fork Trailhead).

Get Directions

Resources

Links

Photos

Spooky Gulch
Spooky Gulch
Kim gives an incredulous smile in Spooky Gulch
Kim gives an incredulous smile in Spooky Gulch

More Great Hikes On Hole in the Rock Road

Hiking Guide: Zebra Slot Canyon

Overview

Zebra is one of Utah’s most picturesque non-technical slot canyons. It is a short and easy hike to the canyon’s entrance but those who venture into the slot may encounter knee to chest deep water, depending on how much rain the area has seen.

It gets its name from the iconic stripes on its sandstone walls.

Matt S in Zebra Slot Canyon
Matt S in Zebra Slot Canyon

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 5 miles
  • Hike Time: 3-4 hours
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 300 feet
  • Fee: Free
  • Dogs: Yes, but most dogs can’t do the slot
  • Difficulty: Easy approach, slot is moderate

Hiking the Zebra Slot Trail

In April 2016, Kim, Troy, Matt S, and I hiked to the Zebra Slot. We set out without knowing exactly where the slot was and took a wrong turn at Halfway Hollow, a sandy junction between dry washes.

Kim wanders through Zebra
Kim wanders through Zebra

After heading east through Harris Wash and checking out Tunnel Slot Canyon, we returned to Halfway Hollow and continued north to Zebra.

Looking at a map now, I can see that we could have continued counter-clockwise and made our erroneous turn into a nice loop hike. I’ll probably do it that way next time.

Hanging out in Zebra
Hanging out in Zebra

Map

Location

From Highway 12, follow the unpaved Hole in the Rock Road for 8 miles and park in the dirt parking lot on the right side of the road. AWD and 4WD vehicles are preferred because of washboarding.

Get Directions

Resources

Links

Photos

Troy Boman in Zebra Slot Canyon

More Great Hikes On Hole in the Rock Road

Hiking Guide: The Subway From the Bottom

Overview

There is no doubt that The Subway is one of Utah’s finest slot canyons and indeed word has gotten around. To help protect the canyon’s fragile riparian environment, Zion National Park only allows 60 people in per day.

Jump to: How to Get a Subway Permit

In my opinion, the best way to experience The Subway is from the top down. This route begins at Wildcat Trailhead, ends at Left Fork Trailhead and includes two rappels.

Max (the author) rappels into The Subway back in 2002
Max (the author) rappels into The Subway back in 2002

However, if you don’t have the gear and/or technical expertise to go top down, then bottom up suffices. You will miss the Upper Subway but the Lower Subway is arguably more photogenic.

In this guide, I will share best practices for securing a permit and show you how to hike to The Subway from Left Fork Trailhead, out and back.

The Subway in Zion National Park

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 8.8 miles
  • Hike Time: 4-8 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 1500 feet
  • Fee: $35 for a 7-day pass to Zion National Park
  • Dogs: No
  • Difficulty: Hard

How to Get a Subway Permit

During High Season: April – October

Zion National Park runs an “advance lottery” for The Subway for most of the year. Applications are submitted online, three months in advance of the day of your trip. There is a non-refundable $3 fee to apply.

During the Offseason: November – March

From November through March, you can snag a reservation online without having to participate in a lottery. Available slots are shown on a calendar and you can create a Zion Wilderness Reservations Account to grab a permit.

Demand during the offseason is much lower, which is why the park service pauses the lottery approach. The air and water temperatures are much colder during this time of year, so plan accordingly and proceed at your own risk.

Apply for a Subway Permit

Hiking to The Subway From Left Fork Trailhead

In November 2020, Jason, Justin, and myself hiked to The Subway from the bottom up.

While Jason and Justin finished their breakfast in Springdale, I drove into the park to convert our reservation to an actual permit at the Visitor Center.

It was a beautiful sunny day with highs in the 60s and the parking lot was full.

The ranger at the permit office mentioned that search and rescue operations don’t take place at night and asked if our group was prepared to stay the night in the canyon.

It took about 30 minutes to drive from the Zion Canyon entrance to Left Fork Trailhead, off Kolob Terrace Road.

As we assembled our gear at the trailhead, a truck full of rangers showed up and asked to see our permits.

“You guys probably know this but you’re getting a late start,” one of them said. “We had to rescue a group like yours yesterday. Make sure you remember where the turnoff is to exit the canyon.”

We joked about throwing in the towel and going home.

Instead, we took the warnings in stride and started our hike at 12:15 p.m. Of course, we made sure to boogie so we would make it back to the trailhead before dark.

Much of the “trail” through the canyon is interrupted by stream crossings, boulders, low tree branches, and difficult to navigate twists and turns.

The first mile is a steep descent of about 400 feet to the canyon floor. Remember, you have to climb back up this portion at the end! It’s a gut buster.

For the rest of the hike, you meander up Left Fork North Creek’s rugged banks and gain 800 feet.

I can only recommend this outing for experienced, able-bodied hikers in good physical condition.

We reached the somewhat iconic travertine waterfall at 1:45 p.m.

Travertine waterfall below The Subway entrance

Then, we entered The Subway at 2:15 p.m. Gadzooks, we moved fast!

Jason enters The Subway
Jason enters The Subway

We were not alone in The Subway but the other hikers were very courteous and gave our group some time alone to take photographs.

On the way out, the mid-November sun was shining directly in our faces and it felt great.

We packed neoprene socks rented from Adventure Plus in St. George but we didn’t end up wearing them.

Had it been a few degrees colder, we would have needed them.

It only took us 4 hours, 15 minutes to hike The Subway out and back from Left Fork Trailhead. As I mentioned, we zoomed! I would plan for 6-8 hours unless you are part gazelle like my friends.

Map

Location

From St. George, get on I-15 northbound and take exit 16 for State Route 9.

Continue for 12.5 miles then turn right in Hurricane to stay on State Route 9.

Continue for 6.3 miles then turn left onto Pocketville Road in Virgin.

Continue for 0.8 miles then turn left onto Kolob Terrace Road.

Continue for 7.4 miles then turn right and park in the dirt lot at Left Fork Trailhead.

Get Directions

Resources

Guidebooks

Topo Maps

Links

Photos

Max (the author) in The Subway. September 2002
Max (the author) in The Subway. September 2002
The Subway in 2002. Forces of erosion have since removed the sedimentary buildup
The Subway in 2002. Forces of erosion have since removed the sedimentary buildup

More Great Hikes Near St. George


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

Hiking Guide: Grosvenor Arch

Overview

Grosvenor Arch is a one-of-a-kind double arch in Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument. The arch’s trailhead is accessed from a side road of Cottonwood Canyon Road called Four Mile Bench Road.

The trail to Grosvenor Arch hardly qualifies as a hike. It’s less than 1/4 mile and the whole thing is paved. This is one of Utah’s best handicapped accessible natural arches.

The dirt parking lot has a pit toilet, a picnic table and room for a few large off-road vehicles.

This unusual arch is close to Kodachrome Basin State Park and is one of several wondrous features found along the scenic Cottonwood Canyon Road.

It’s named after Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor, former president of the National Geographic Society.

The sun casts its last light rays on Grosvenor Arch. May 2020
The sun casts its last light rays on Grosvenor Arch. May 2020

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 0.5 miles out and back
  • Hike Time: 15-20 minutes
  • Elevation Gain: 0 feet
  • Fee: Free
  • Dogs: Yes
  • Difficulty: Easy

Map

Get Directions

Location

From Kanab

There are no gas stations between Kanab and Grosvenor Arch, so make sure to fill up in town.

Take U.S. Route 89 southeast and follow it for 46.2 miles, then turn left onto Cottonwood Canyon Road.

Follow it for 29.2 miles, then turn right onto Four Mile Bench Road.

Follow it for 1 mile and park in the dirt lot.

From Tropic

Take Utah 12 south and follow it for 4.7 miles, then turn right onto Kodachrome Road.

Continue on Kodachrome Road for 2.6 miles, then instead of turning left toward the State Park, continue straight onto Cottonwood Canyon Road.

Follow it for 14.2 miles, then turn left onto Four Mile Bench Road.

Follow it for 1 mile and park in the dirt lot.

Resources

Topographic Maps

Links

Photos

Grosvenor Arch

Jason sports his trusty Fisher Beer cap in front of Grosvenor Arch
Jason sports his trusty Fisher Beer cap in front of Grosvenor Arch
Justin and the arch
Justin and the arch
Justin (left) and Rachel (right). The "friend lighting" was terrific during golden hour
Justin (left) and Rachel (right). The “friend lighting” was terrific during golden hour
Maggie and the arch
Maggie and the arch

More Great Hikes Near Kanab


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

Hiking Guide: Red Hollow Trail

Overview

Directly east of Cedar City, there is a prominent red hill that forms a stark contrast against the forested mountains that surround it.

Behind it runs Red Hollow Trail, which is actually a series of mountain bike trails.

The hike can be accessed from Center Street (once it heads up the canyon) or Thunderbird Gardens on 900 North.

While Red Hollow’s scenery is not as stunning as more well-known parks nearby (e.g. Cedar Breaks, Zion, and Bryce), its views provide a glimpse of what Southern Utah has to offer.

Plus, it’s a kid-friendly, dog-friendly hike that’s less than 10 minutes from “Festival City USA”.

Tip: After the hike, continue 3.5 miles up Highway 14 and dine at Milt’s Stage Shop.

Looking down on Thunderbird Gardens from a perch along Red Hollow Trail
Looking down on Thunderbird Gardens from a perch along Red Hollow Trail

Quick Facts

  • Distance:  3 miles out and back
  • Hike Time: 2 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 660 feet
  • Fee: Free
  • Dogs: Yes
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Hiking the Red Hollow Trail

From Red Hollow Trailhead, follow the trail northward as it ascends the canyon.

Red Hollow Trailhead
Red Hollow Trailhead

When we did this hike in May 2020, there were copious wildflowers on display, including firecracker penstemon, Indian paintbrush, and claret cup cactus.

Indian paintbrush
Indian paintbrush

For the first 3/4 miles, the trail has a 10% grade. Once you reach the saddle, there is a junction.

The trail furthest to the right takes you up to Thor’s Hideout. Any of the other trails ultimately lead to the same place, Thunderbird Garden Trailhead.

From the saddle, the trails gradually descend for about a mile before reaching Thunderbird Garden.

Strange sandstone formations
Strange sandstone formations

Map

Location

Red Hollow Trail is located on the north side of Utah State Route 14 at the mouth of Cedar Canyon.

From I-15 exit 59 in Cedar City, follow 200 N for 0.9 miles, then turn right onto Main Street.

Continue on Main Street for 0.2 miles, then turn left onto Center Street.

Continue on Center Street for 1.5 miles and park on the left in the dirt lot.

Get Directions

Resources

Links

Photos

From left to right: Maia, Max (the author), Kim
From left to right: Maia, Max (the author), Kim
Looking south from just above Thunderbird Gardens
Looking south from just above Thunderbird Gardens
Hiking as a family is the best!
Hiking as a family is the best!

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

Trip Report: Upper Paria River Loop

Trip Data

  • Dates: Fri, May 1, 2020 to Sun, May 3, 2020
  • Route: Willis Creek Slot Canyon > Sheep Creek > Upper Paria River > off-trail route over mesa > back to Sheep Creek shuttle car via Between the Creeks Road
  • Weather: Sunny and clear. Highs in the 80s, lows in the 40s
  • Distance Hiked: 20 miles
  • Time: 3 days
  • Campgrounds: Night before – Arch Campground in Kodachrome Basin State Park

Map

Background

In an unprecedented move, the United States locked down during late March 2020 due to COVID-19.

Utah, a state know for its outdoor recreation and natural beauty, shut its doors to tourism for the first time and closed its “Mighty Five” National Parks.

When the shutdown occurred, we were traveling up California’s Central Coast in our RV, our ultimate destination being Yosemite National Park.

Sadly, Yosemite closed before we ever made it there. The various RV resorts and state parks we called home also began to close. We decided to cut our journey short and head to Utah to shelter with family.

While we spent our days in isolation in Utah, we had weekly FaceTime chats with our group of hiking and camping buddies. It helped diminish the anxiety and chaos of the post-COVID world.

One of the subjects that arose in our calls was our longstanding tradition of meeting in Southern Utah in May to camp or backpack. We call it our “May Trip.”

May is the perfect time to visit Southern Utah. The late spring air is just warm enough to thaw the chilled spirit after a long winter. The cactuses are in bloom and the wildflowers are abundant.

And, if there has been rain, the creeks are flowing, meaning there are ample opportunities for backpacking in Southern Utah’s many red rock canyons.

We could tell from our weekly FaceTime calls that our Northern Utah friends desperately needed a break from the cold weather and isolation, especially Justin and Kate, who live in a cabin in the Uinta mountains heated by a wood-burning stove.

Justin and Kate in front of Grosvenor Arch, a nearby attraction
Justin and Kate in front of Grosvenor Arch, a nearby attraction

By late April, Utah State Parks were already beginning to reopen. Lucky for us, much of Southern Utah’s public lands never closed to begin with, including a large swath of Grand Staircase–Escalante.

In fact, Kim and I went on several day hikes during COVID-19:

So, despite the uncertainty surrounding the virus, I decided to carry on with our May Trip tradition.

For anyone that felt brave enough to join, I planned a 20-mile backpacking loop in the Paria-Hackberry Wilderness Study Area of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Given the situation, I was tickled when 10 of our friends agreed to hike the Upper Paria River Loop I planned. I could tell we all really needed to get out of the house.

From left to right: Kate, Justin, Matt, Rachel, Jason, Dustin, Kim, Max (the author), Maggie, Val
From left to right: Kate, Justin, Matt, Rachel, Jason, Dustin, Kim, Max (the author), Maggie, Val

Summary

Before every trip, I like to consult an informed up-to-date resource about current conditions. In the desert, my biggest question is “where can we find water?” Local BLM offices and visitor centers are often a great place to gather information.

Tip: Call 435-826-5640 if you’re planning to hike the Upper Paria River

A week before we departed, I called the Cannonville Visitor Center to get details on the area. They told me that there was plenty of water in the region, and that permits are not required for this hike.

Note: Backpackers and day hikers must sign in at a register at the Willis Creek Trailhead

Bo Beck, manager at The Desert Rat in St. George, was also helpful in volunteering information about the hike when Kim visited the store for supplies.

His book, Favorite Hikes in and Around Zion National Parkhas a brief but helpful section about Willis and Sheep Creek, as well as many other great hikes in the area.

In light of all the information I compiled, I decided that Willis Creek would be the best place to start. We left a shuttle vehicle at our exit point at Sheep Creek and parked the rest of the vehicles at the Willis Creek Trailhead.

Our route took us from the trailhead at Willis Creek to its confluence with Sheep Creek.

After a short foray into Sheep Creek Canyon to see some of its attractions, we followed Sheep Creek southeast until its confluence with the Paria River.

We then followed the Paria north for several miles, took an off-trail route over a mesa to reach Between the Creeks road, and walked along the road back to our our shuttle car at Sheep Creek.

Tip: Willis Creek makes for a great day hike with a lot of reward for very little effort

Kim (left) and Rachel (right) in Willis Creek
Kim (left) and Rachel (right) in Willis Creek

Day 1

  • Distance: 8.9 miles
  • Ascent: 191 feet
  • Descent: 802 feet

We rolled out of our camping spot at Kodachrome Basin around noon. We had slept in after a festive night of drinking craft beer from RoHa Brewing Project and Station II – Zion Brewery, and a dinner of dutch oven barbecue pork.

It took about twenty minutes of driving to reach Sheep Creek. I’d seen the turnoff for Skutumpah Road when we drove in the day before, so it was easy to spot.

The dirt road was pretty well-groomed, albeit with a few stretches of washboarding.

We left “Bert”, our trusty 2009 Ford F-150 at Sheep Creek. This would be our shuttle vehicle.

After that, we met up with the rest of our group at Willis Creek Slot Canyon Trailhead and started hiking at approximately 2:00 p.m.

Arrow, locked and loaded for the adventure ahead
Arrow, locked and loaded for the adventure ahead

Within five minutes of hiking, the canyon narrowed abruptly and became extremely picturesque.

Hiking in Willis Creek
Hiking in Willis Creek

15 minutes later, there was an 8-foot waterfall. Some of us got around it by going to the left and others to the right. We were then able to go down and look at it from underneath.

A small waterfall in Willis Creek
A small waterfall in Willis Creek

At different times, we saw two huge bull snakes on the creek banks.

It took us a little over an hour to reach the confluence of Willis and Sheep Creek.

Kim in Willis Creek
Kim in Willis Creek

We hiked up the Sheep Creek drainage a bit, found the “blue snake” pictograph, then sat down and ate lunch.

The "blue snake" in Sheep Creek Canyon
The “blue snake” in Sheep Creek Canyon

Afterward, we spotted a petroglyph at the bottom of a cliff wall next to the confluence.

There are some unique glyphs here that resemble flowing water. Could it be a map of the canyons?
There are some unique glyphs here that resemble flowing water. Could it be a map of the canyons?

We continued down the canyon in search of water. There were small muddy pools here and there, but nothing consistent.

Near the confluence with Bull Valley Gorge, we started to see cottonwoods. These trees tend to grow in riparian areas. Where there are cottonwoods, there are good water sources.

A lone cottonwood tree in front of a colorful mesa
A lone cottonwood tree in front of a colorful mesa
Just after the confluence with Bull Valley GorgLooking back at the confluence with Bull Valley Gorgee
Looking back at the confluence with Bull Valley Gorge

We took a 10-minute detour into Bull Valley Gorge and got wowed by the narrows and mud cracks.

Jason demonstrates an appropriate gesture of bewilderment in Bull Valley Gorge
Jason demonstrates an appropriate gesture of bewilderment in Bull Valley Gorge
Val (left) and Maggie (right) thoroughly enjoyed the mud cracks
Val (left) and Maggie (right) thoroughly enjoyed the mud cracks

At 7:15 p.m., we found a great campsite next to running water that was good enough to get us through the night.

Later on, we witnessed a dozen or more abnormally bright satellites cross the sky in a straight line. We had read that SpaceX’s Starlink satellites would do this a couple days later, so we assumed it happened early.

The purpose of these low-orbit satellites is to bring high speed internet to the entire globe!

Evening views from our campsite
Evening views from our campsite

Day 2

  • Distance: 5.3 miles
  • Ascent: 471 feet
  • Descent: 283 feet

We broke camp at 12:15 p.m. and reached Sheep Creek’s confluence with the Paria River in 15-20 minutes.

There are layers of white Navajo sandstone stacked on top of red at the confluence
There are layers of white Navajo sandstone stacked on top of red at the confluence

When we stopped for lunch, a few of the ladies became enchanted by the mud and started playing in it. There were spots of quicksand that were 1-2 feet deep that were great fun for playing in.

From left to right: Maggie, Kim, and Val playing in the mud
From left to right: Maggie, Kim, and Val playing in the mud

A few miles up the Paria River drainage, we found some cowboy inscriptions dating back to 1888.

On the way from Payson to Arizona, the Hancocks wrote their names on this wall in 1888
On the way from Payson to Arizona, the Hancocks wrote their names on this wall in 1888

Directly below this, there was an inviting pool that was about 4 feet deep. The sun was beating down on us, so we got in.

Maggie (front and center) wins the most creative outfit award
Maggie (front and center) wins the most creative outfit award
It took a little convincing, but every member of the group had themselves a relaxing soak
It took a little convincing, but every member of the group had themselves a relaxing soak

While we were soaking, a wild mustang came trotting down the canyon. He seemed surprised to see us in his favorite watering hole, but continued on his way.

A wild mustang in the Upper Paria River drainage
A wild mustang in the Upper Paria River drainage

A wild mustang in the Upper Paria River drainage

He glanced back at us as if to say, "Really guys?"
He glanced back at us as if to say, “Really guys?”

I’d seen wild horses in the Great Basin and Navajo Nation, but I’d never seen one in a desert canyon. It was a real treat!

On a sandy bench next to our swimming hole, there was a great campsite so we settled in for the night.

Our final backcountry campsite of the trip
Our final backcountry campsite of the trip

Day 3

  • Distance: 5.7 miles
  • Ascent: 814 feet
  • Descent: 386 feet

We started hiking a little earlier (11:15 a.m.) because we knew it would be hot for the dogs on top of the mesa.

45 minutes in, we stopped marching to enjoy some superb honeycomb weathering along the eastern canyon wall.

When Kim was little, her dad told her there were “Moki monkeys” living in these types of formations
When Kim was little, her dad told her there were “Moki monkeys” living in these types of formations

At 1:00 p.m., we began ascending out of the Paria River drainage. We climbed about 400 feet, then slid under a barbed wire fence and dropped down into a wash. There was a water tank for cattle and a 4WD road.

A water tank for cattle

We followed it and bore right onto the Between the Creeks Road, then followed that back to our truck.

After the hike, we all sat around on the dam at Sheep Creek and rested for awhile
After the hike, we all sat around on the dam at Sheep Creek and rested for awhile

A few members of the group volunteered to roll into Tropic and grab supplies. Meanwhile, the rest of us scouted a car camping spot near Grosvenor Arch.

Matt (left) and Rachel (right) in front of Grosvenor Arch
Matt (left) and Rachel (right) in front of Grosvenor Arch

Our final night was a hoot, filled with a whole lotta music and dancing.

More Photos

Our post-hike group shot
Our post-hike group shot
Matt in Willis Creek
Matt in Willis Creek
Kim (left) and Rachel (right) in Willis Creek
Kim (left) and Rachel (right) in Willis Creek

Backpacking in Willis Creek

Backpacking in Willis Creek

Jason next to a giant Ponderosa in Willis Creek
Jason next to a giant ponderosa pine in Willis Creek
Desert varnish streaks on the sandstone
Desert varnish streaks on the sandstone

Upper Paria River

Kate and Justin responsibly close a cattle gate on the mesa
Kate and Justin responsibly close a cattle gate on the mesa
Arrow in a pool left by the Paria
Arrow enjoying the cool water of the Paria
A portrait of our dog Arrow
A portrait of our dog Arrow

Resources

Guidebooks

Topo Maps

Links

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.

Hellhole Canyon Hiking Guide

Overview

Hellhole Canyon is an unbelievably gorgeous hike in Southern Utah. The trailhead signage refers to it as “Kayenta Canyon”, but I’ve never heard anyone call it that.

The area receives infrequent rain, but when it does, glorious waterfalls have been known to appear in here. Kayenta Wash also floods, so proceed with caution.

The trailhead is accessed from Kayenta, a charming desert community found just outside of St. George, Utah.

Indian paintbrush in Hellhole. April 2020
Indian paintbrush in Hellhole. April 2020

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 3.4 miles out and back
  • Hike Time: 2 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 200 feet
  • Fee: Free
  • Dogs: Yes
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Hiking to Hellhole Canyon

There is limited parking at the trailhead, so I recommend hiking on a weekday. You can parallel park on the side of Taviawk Drive or under the big “Kayenta” sign on the southwest side of the road.

There are two approaches to Hellhole Canyon:

  1. Hike down into Kayenta Wash and follow it about a mile, then bear left onto a spur trail that exits the wash and continues straight into the canyon. This route is harder, because there is deep sand, rocks, and brush to avoid.
  2. Avoid the wash entirely, and find a faint trail that runs along the edge of the wash on its western side. This route is easier and faster.

I like to mix things up by hiking in the wash on the way there, then returning on the alternate route.

Once you become encircled in giant red cliffs, you have reached the end of where most people hike. At this point, it’s fun to explore side canyons, follow footpaths, and take photographs before turning around.

Kim pauses to take in the view.
Kim pauses to take in the view with her Knack Pack

Map

Location

The trailhead for Hellhole Canyon (aka Kayenta Canyon) is found on Taviawk Drive in Kayenta.

From St. George, follow St. George Boulevard, then turn right onto Bluff Street. After 1 mile, turn left onto Snow Canyon Parkway. Follow it 4.2 miles (through 2 roundabouts), then turn right onto Center Street. Once you enter Kayenta, Center Street becomes Taviawk Drive. Continue 2.6 miles to the trailhead from the turnoff.

Get Directions

Resources

Links

Photos

Kayenta Wash and Hellhole Canyon in the distance. Dec 2013
Kayenta Wash with red cliffs in the distance. Dec 2013
Looking up at the canyon's walls. March 2015
Looking up at the canyon’s walls. March 2015

Hellhole Canyon Utah

Hellhole Canyon Utah

More Great Hikes Near St. George


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