Explore: Mtn bike Chuckwalla Trail; a backyard playground

ST. GEORGE – Situated just minutes from downtown St. George, the Chuckwalla Trail – named after a famous, resident lizard – is a veritable playground for local desert enthusiasts wishing to hike, climb, horseback ride or bike along its red rock path.

A gap in the fence indicates the trail start at Chuckwalla Trail, St. George, Utah, July 19, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News
A gap in the fence indicates the trail start at Chuckwalla Trail, St. George, Utah, July 19, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

Easy access, unique geological, botanical and biological features along with well-marked trails combine to create an urban escape that feels worlds away from civilization yet is only a short drive to the local doughnut shop.

Chuckwalla is a multi-use trail located within the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and is frequented by climbers, trail runners and guests of local hiking groups. It is an ideal trail for mountain bikers looking for a quick ride that will improve their balance and speed and provide some extraordinary scenery.

The loop: Trailhead to Beck Hill to Turtle Wall and back

There are several ways to ride Chuckwalla Trail, one of the best is by making a counter-clockwise loop that is a little more than three miles long.

To begin, drop in from the Chuckwalla trailhead, accessed from the parking lot – located on the west side of state Route 18 (Bluff Street) just north of the Snow Canyon Parkway intersection. Once on the trail, descend past the chalk-marked walls – a popular local climbing spot – flanking the east side of the trail.

Continue riding on the wide but rocky double-track trail as it drops down and heads north. Follow signs leading to Beck Hill.

There are several stretches of deep sand on this part of the trail and riders may have to hike-a-bike through some of the tougher spots. Take this moment to breathe and look for desert tortoise and other desert animal friends.

Deep sandy stretches challenge the rider on Chuckwalla Trail, St. George, Utah, July 19, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News
Deep sandy stretches challenge the rider on Chuckwalla Trail, St. George, Utah, July 19, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

Follow the Beck Hill Trail as it narrows and begins to ascend up the rocks. The ascent is the most aerobically, and one of the most technically challenging parts of the loop; it is also one of the prettiest parts of the trail as it offers clean views with very little urban interference.

After summitting Beck Hill, the trail descends down a deep sandy patch, remember to keep up speed to avoid falls.

Follow the trail as it heads south (left) along the western edge of the ridge, or, as a longer alternative, take a right toward the Gila offshoot.

As the trail heads south it turns to slick rock and becomes more difficult to navigate. Riders who are less confident in their skills can walk their bike. Look west to see sweeping views of Santa Clara and Ivins below.

To close the loop, follow the trail as it turns east to Turtle Wall and descend the mostly single-track trail as it winds and snakes around natural arches and sandstone giants.

The Turtle Wall section of the trail is a quick and curvy descent and it can be tempting to pick up a lot of speed. Bikers should exercise caution to avoid collisions with other trail guests.

Take a moment to visit the giant red rock turtle, which gives that portion of the trail its name, before heading home.

Finally, take North Crossing east to meet with the original trail, then take a hard right and return to the trailhead and parking lot.

Know before you go

This trail is recommended for intermediate mountain bikers in good physical condition who are comfortable with their balance on and off the bike.

Stunning views of the desertscape can be seen from the Chuckwalla Trail, St. George, Utah, July 19, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News
Stunning views of the desertscape can be seen from the Chuckwalla Trail, St. George, Utah, July 19, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

The trail is open year-round and is best in fall and spring. Those riding in summer should be sure and rise early when eastern cliffs block the sun and keep portions of the trail cooler.

No matter what time of year you ride, always carry plenty of water. The dry arid climate and the physical exertion can cause dehydration, even in cooler temperatures.

The trail is short so there is no need to carry heavy gear. A backpack with water, basic first aid and repair kits are all a rider will need.

Riders should always wear proper safety gear including riding gloves and a well fitting helmet.

It is not recommended to ride this trail alone but, if you do, be sure to tell someone where you are going and how long you think it should take you.

Trail Etiquette

Because Chuckwalla is a multi-use trail – meaning it is open to climbers, hikers, runners, bikers and horseback riders – bikers need to know proper etiquette and protocol when passing others on the trail. Mountain bikers yield to passing hikers, and both hikers and bikers yield to horses. More trail etiquette can be found on the Intermountain Mountain Bikers Association rules of the trail page.

Dogs are also allowed on the trail – leashes required – and bikers should be safe and courteous around these furry pals.

In order to preserve the desert habitat, riders should plan to pack out all of their trash and waste. Bikers should also avoid riding the trail after a rain storm to prevent trail erosion.

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Email: hreina@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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