Why You Have To Visit Utah’s Underrated Snow Canyon State Park
The area around St. George, Utah, has a true embarrassment of riches when it comes to stunning natural beauty. And that honestly feels like the main logical explanation for why Snow Canyon State Park isn’t a *national* park.
I guess the state already has five…one more might be ridiculous. But it sure seems to have the goods.
The park sits at the intersection of the Mojave Desert, Great Basin Desert and Colorado Plateau. In many ways you can get a little bit of everything here…the soaring sandstone cliffs of Zion, the crazy colorful rock formations of Valley of Fire State Park, and a mini version of Arizona’s famous “The Wave”.
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Should I visit Snow Canyon State Park?
ABSOLUTELY YES! Located within the much larger 62,000 acre Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, Snow Canyon State Park is by no means unknown. But it does tend to fly under the radar with all the insane natural beauty and heavy-hitter national parks in the area. That means it costs less and doesn’t have quite the crowds of a Zion or Bryce.
There’s a lot to do here, from a scenic drive to hiking, camping, photography, ranger walks, lava flow “tubes”, and more. The park offers over 38 miles of hiking trails (many of them quite easy), and including a three-mile paved walking/biking trail. In an area where there are tons of amazing hikes but many require either 4WD vehicles or intense day-long hiking, this is perfect for the more casual outdoors-person.
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Planning your visit
Snow Canyon has a desert climate and landscape (averaging only 7.5 inches of rain a year), which means it’s hot and dry. Bring plenty of water, maybe even some snacks, and make sure to wear sunscreen. I’d recommend avoiding the worst heat of the day too.
Just due to poor planning plus scheduling outside our control, we were there from about 2pm until about 5:30pm—literally the hottest part of the day in early fall while they were going through a 95+ degree heat wave. I’d recommend earlier morning or sunset. The park is GORGEOUS at sunset!
It’s up to you how much time you want to spend here…a few hours, a full day, or even overnight if you’re into the camping thing. The drive is amazing itself, but there are many easy Snow Canyon hikes that are worth trying out…some as short as a few minutes, and others quite long. It’s only about a 15-20 minute drive from St. George (depending on what part of town you’re coming from), and we entered from the south end.
Make sure to snag a trail map when you enter the park (here’s a super rudimentary one). There are a few signs here and there, but the trail map definitely helps to give you signposts and turn-offs once you’re on the trails.
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Snow Canyon hikes to think about
Our first stop (and the first trailhead we came to in the park) was Jenny’s Canyon. It’s a SUPER easy couple-minute hike to a “slot canyon”.
The hike is only a half-mile roundtrip, and can be tackled even by people with very small children and old people with very limited physical fitness (it is NOT wheelchair accessible, though, will require walking through heavy sand and climbing up stairs).
Why the air quotes on “slot canyon”? Well, honestly I think that’s overstating things. You can see in the first pic below how far the “canyon” goes…it’s really a crevice more than anything, but it is still a cool stop regardless.
In particular this is a great option for families with small children or older people who are less fit and would have trouble with the hiking that most big slot canyons in the area require.
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Gotta love Casey always looking for even a sliver of shade…that girl is transparent! This is a little lookout that’s to the right of where the Jenny’s Canyon trail splits, so make sure to go up that way too.
From there we met up with a couple more friends and headed up to the next main trailhead (which I *think* was Hidden Pinyon). Aaron decided that we could connect three different trails together to see the coolest parts of the park and loop back on ourselves to where our car was parked, so we decided to give that a try.
I believe it was some combination of Hidden Pinyon, part of Three Ponds Trail, part of West Canyon Road, and maybe a bit of other stuff. There is a small amount of signage but you’re mostly piecing things together from the trail map.
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It was only supposed to be like 3 miles or something like that…well, 3 hours later we finally made it back to our cars! Apparently we massively missed a turn-off and so went WAAAYYYY too far in the wrong direction. More on that at the end of the post.
This part of the park (I think within Hidden Pinyon Trail, but am not positive) looked more like Zion National Park, with the towering layered sandstone jutting up out of the sand.
And I do mean SAND!
We were not prepared for hiking in the super thick, powdery sand that some parts of this hike had…it definitely wasn’t the entire trail, but it both slowed us down and made this part of the hike feel like we were trudging in quicksand. Blech. This view, however, may have been worth it.
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One of the things I enjoyed about the different Snow Canyon hikes was seeing all the desert vegetation up close and personal, since it’s so different from what I’m used to. This may be desert, but it’s definitely not barren.
You can see so many different plants here, from the spicy-scented sage to scrub oak, desert willow, and creosote bushes to some smaller evergreen trees in some spots. In spring and fall you may get lucky (WE DID!) and see bright wildflowers blooming all over, the yellows livening up the dusky greens and browns.
We kept walking, walking, walking…we thought we were watching closely for the turn-off on the right, which would curve us around toward the lava flow tubes. But Aaron and I must have been chatting up a storm and all four of us missed it. It wasn’t long after the pic below when we realized we’d been going the wrong direction for…at least a half hour??
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Soooooo we turned back.
I am bummed we didn’t get to stay and watch the sunset. We had dinner plans at a friend’s house, but you could see some groups coming into the park specifically to find a great viewpoint and watch the sun go down.
And yep, HERE is the turn-off path we should have taken…to be fair, that’s not super in-your face! But if we’d been paying attention we would have seen it.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that Snow Canyon is a must. Whether you only have a few hours, or want to spend the entire day exploring, you’ll kick yourself later if you skip it.
Tips for planning your Snow Canyon State Park visit
- The park is usually open 6a to 10p daily. But make sure you check the official website for hours and any other announcements (particularly during COVID).
- Entry costs $15 per vehicle unless you’re a Utah resident (then $10/day), and you can buy it online if you prefer.
- There are a ton of great rentals in St. George, which makes an awesome base for exploring the area. We stayed in this lovely Airbnb.
- Snow Canyon is HOT HOT HOT in the summer (and even spring and fall)! Make sure you have sunscreen and plenty of water.
- Wear proper hiking shoes with a good grip—good tennis shoes or hiking sandals are fine, just something that can deal with both thick sand and gripping the rock.
- Due to our missed turn, we were not able to do the Lava Flow Trail (or Lava Tubes), which are supposed to be super cool—don’t make our mistake! It’s the most popular hike in the park.
Other state park adventures you’ll love:
- Hiking Point Buchon Trail on the California Coast
- Hiking Oregon’s Stunning Trail of Ten Falls
- Exploring Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park
- Hiking In Starved Rock State Park, A Perfect Chicago Day Trip
- A Road Trip To South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore & Custer State Park
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