A jewel in the crown of an under-appreciated state park system, Snow Canyon is northwest of St. George about a 15 minute drive from the center of town. The park would likely be a national park if it were anywhere else but the state of Utah, and offers stunning red rock vistas, ancient lava flows, a transition from the Mojave to the Great Basin ecosystems and the opportunity for travel into areas of the backcountry where solitude reigns supreme.
The variety of experiences in this park are a reflection of the area in general with motor home driving windshield tourists sharing the park road with road bikers, runners, hikers and climbers accessing their cliffs. The park road offers several trail heads with hikes leading off into a wide range of features that comprise the park terrain, from deep canyons to bare slickrock but with the ever present deep sand layer as challenge to the determined hiker.
At the far southern end of the park, the Johnson canyon parking area is actually before the park entrance station and offers a small parking area for the seasonally open Johnson canyon trail. Crossing over the top of a layer of basalt, the wide trail is a very level mile to the mouth of the canyon. Turning to the north the trail leads into a classic box canyon of verdant vegetation, tall crimson cliffs and a significant arch. A small perennial spring makes this area highly unusual for the region and results in a high density of wildlife habitation. Johnson canyon is closed to visitation from March to September to reduce disturbance to the many endemic species that depend on the reliable water source. The trail ends at a seasonal pool at the foot of a black varnished cliff face. This is the final rappel for a slot canyon called Arch Canyon that begins off of highway 18 and leads down an ever deepening drainage to this dramatic 200 foot rappel.
Local tip: Great winter hike in the late evening light
The Sand Dunes:
Held in the arms of the Enclosure canyon, the sand dunes of Snow Canyon state park have been featured in numerous movies notably Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The small series of dunes draw a wide variety of visitors who mostly roam from one to the next enjoying the novelty of an actual dune field in the midst of red rock cliff faces.
The Sand dunes parking area is just past the dunes in a large gravel parking lot with bathrooms, shaded picnic area and a water fountain. This is also the access point for the West Canyon road.
Local tip: Great place to fly a kite
Accessed via a gravel road that is closed to vehicle traffic. The road runs north for just over 3 miles and offers the city of Santa Clara access to several springs that provide the drinking water to the city. The road is a favorite for casual hiking, dog walking, and probably one of the best entry level mountain biking experiences in the area.
Pioneer Names trail:
This short trail leads to an alcove on the west face of the Island in the sky formation. Several of the first pioneers to the area left their names and dates, written with wagon wheel grease on the back wall of a deep alcove protected from the elements.
Hidden Pinion and Three ponds trail head:
Parking area just below the park headquarters offers access to 2 of the parks most popular trails.
This trail is 1.5 miles and offers canyon bottom, ridges, lava flows and some deep sand. This is the parks interpretative nature trail with a trail guide available at the trail head and keyed to numbered posts along the trail corridor.
Local Tip: This makes for an awesome trail run.
3.5 miles in length this trail climbs out of one drainage, over some ridges and down towards the western border of the park, crossing the West Canyon road in the process. Wash bottom, rocky trail, lava flow and deep sand will eventually lead to several basins eroded into the sandstone which hold seasonal water.
Local Tip: This trail can be combined with Padre Canyon trail to make for a tour of the backcountry areas of the park.
Petrified Dunes trail:
Accessed from a parking area just off of the park road, this area is designated for off trail scrambling over the solid Navajo sandstone dune field.
Local tip: Several seasonal potholes fill with water briefly after significant storms and make for wonderful photo opportunities in early morning.
Lava Flow Trail:
Access from parking area just off park road. The trail winds down through Lava flows and white sandstone. 2 entrances to the Lava tubes offer unique exploring opportunities.
Local tip: Rattlesnakes like the coolness of the lava caves, use caution.
White Rocks Trail:
Access off of highway 18 at small parking area. The trail leads to a natural amphitheater with an impounded seasonal pond and open scrambling opportunities on the exposed white sandstone. The 4 mile trail can be used as a northern access to the Lava Flow Trail and a north to south transit of the upper park.
Cinder Cone Trail:
Access from parking area at junction of park road and highway 18. Trail winds behind the volcanic cinder cone at the north end of the park and features a volcanic crater and great scenic views.
Local tip: The trail that goes straight up the cinder cone is far more difficult than the winding and indirect official trail.
Author: Todd Goss, Paragon Adventures Owner and Guide