Great hiking, incredible views, and (sorry) no snow characterize this little-known state preserve, which is located near some very famous national parks.
By Gerald Burke, F158790
I stood near the side of the road, mesmerized by the beauty of the striped red sandstone walls at Snow Canyon State Park near St. George, Utah. The day was hot, probably 90 degrees; a breeze blew gently through the chaparral; and 1,000 feet away, high up on one of those sandstone cliffs, a coyote watched me watch him. The scene may have been a rerun of those witnessed by the Anasazi and later the Shivwit tribes, who lived and hunted in this canyon from A.D. 200 to A.D. 1250, as well as pioneers and cowboys who rode through the canyon searching for lost cattle.
And it could be that even the two pioneers for whom the canyon is named, Lorenzo and Erastus Snow, stood in this same spot.
Snow Canyon State Park is approximately 10 miles north of St. George, Utah, off State Route 18 in the southwestern corner of the state. It may not be as well-known as some of its neighbors “” Zion National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, and Bryce Canyon National Park “” but here the eye feasts on proof of volcanic drama from long ago: black lava rock, red and cream-colored sandstone, lava flows, cinder cones, and caves and tubes that were formed when lava flows cooled.
The park is 5 miles long with elevations ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 feet. It is open year-round, and although southern Utah’s moderate winter climate makes a visit possible then, the best times to explore this area are in the early fall and late spring. Temperatures regularly reach the 90s and 100s in summer, so be forewarned if you do not like such heat.
A perfect way to explore Snow Canyon is by hiking some of its trails. In all, more than 25 miles of trails lead to points of interest. The West Canyon Road trail is the longest of them all. It’s a 7-mile round trip that can be taken on foot, via bicycle, or on horseback. Motorized vehicles are prohibited, however. The trail has a gravel and sand surface and leads to the mouth of Snow Canyon. Three Ponds is a moderate to strenuous hiking trail that is 3.5 miles long and leads through a narrow canyon with 400-foot cliffs. The “ponds” in the trail’s name are actually old potholes eroded in the sandstone, which capture water enjoyed by the native wildlife.
Hidden Pinyon, a self-guided nature trail, is 1.5 miles long. Jenny’s Canyon (closed March 31 to June 1) is an easy, level, 1/2-mile trail that leads to a narrow canyon. The Sand Dunes trail, also 1/2-mile long, is especially appealing to children, who like to stop and play in the soft, red, sand. Several more trails highlight solidified lava tubes and sand dunes, a natural amphitheater, and other sites. Check with the park ranger for more details.
Humans have visited Snow Canyon for years, and pictographs are still visible on some canyon walls, left there by the Anasazi and Shivwit Indians. As cattle became a part of the West, cowboys and settlers traveled through the area, sometimes leaving their carvings on sandstone walls just as the Indians did. The Pioneer Names trail is a short route that leads to a site where settlers wrote their names in axle grease; some of these markings date back to 1883.
The park harbors a great diversity of wildlife, including blue jays, hawks, owls, quail, roadrunners, and eagles. Bobcats, coyotes, and kit foxes also make their homes here, as do endangered species such as the desert tortoise. Desert vegetation “” cacti, sage, scrub oak, willow, yucca, and creosote bush “” dots the ground. In the spring, wildflowers make great swaths of color throughout the canyon.
The campground at Snow Canyon State Park makes a good base from which to enjoy the area. Snow Canyon’s nearest and most renowned neighbor, Zion National Park, is approximately 50 miles away, and Cedar Breaks National Monument is 68 miles away. Attractions and supplies in the small town of St. George also make a visit there worthwhile.
The campground at Snow Canyon has 14 sites with water and electric hookups. Motorhomes with a maximum length of 35 feet are permitted at the hookup sites, although a park naturalist told me that two of these sites can handle a 40-foot-long motorhome, as long as it does not have a towed vehicle. The hookup sites are equipped with paved pads, and covers, but they are narrow, so you may not be able to open your slideout if you are parked at one. Phone the campground office for more details (see below).
When we visited Snow Canyon, we opted for one of the campground’s non-hookup sites because it looked more inviting to us, and we had six good-sized sites from which to choose. These sites can accommodate up to a 40-foot coach with slideouts.
Water is available near all sites, and all have tables and fire rings with grills. Clean rest rooms with flush toilets and solar-heated showers are available, as is a dump station. The views from the non-hookup sites afford an exciting panorama of the canyon and some of its distinctive features.
If you are simply traveling through the area, you may want to stop at one of the park’s two grassy, shady picnic areas, named Lower Galoot and Upper Galoot. They can be reserved, and each can accommodate more than 20 people.
Stop at the ranger station when you arrive at Snow Canyon State Park and chat with the personable staff. Pick up a map showing the area and the trails. Look around, and see if that coyote is still up on that sandstone bluff, watching out over the canyon.
If You Go
Snow Canyon State Park
1002 Snow Canyon Drive
Ivins, UT 84738
(435) 628-2255 “” park
(800) 322-3770 “” campground reservations
www.stateparks.utah.gov (Click on “Visiting State Parks” and find Snow Canyon on the list)
E-mail: [email protected]
The park is open daily year-round, from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. in summer and from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in winter. A $5 day-use fee is charged per vehicle.
St. George is at the southwestern corner of Utah and accessible via Interstate 15. From I-15, exit north on State Route 18 and travel 10 miles to the road that leads into Snow Canyon. Travel 2.5 miles farther to the campground and ranger station.
Reservations are taken at the park’s campground from three to 120 days in advance. Cost is $17 per night for a site with water and electrical hookups and $14 per night for a non-hookup site. A five-night stay limit is imposed, and generator use is limited.
Camping is also available at Gunlock State Park, 20 miles north of Snow Canyon.
Several commercial campgrounds are located in St. George; they are listed at www.utahsdixie.com, which also covers other area attractions and details about visiting Zion National Park. For area information via phone, contact the St. George Chamber of Commerce at (435) 628-1658; the chamber provides a visitors guide as well.