Trail Review: A secret Snow Canyon gem, get the views without the fee

View from the high point of of this hike, through Snow Canyon State Park all the way to Ivins, Utah, Gila Trail, St. George, Utah, Dec. 29, 2013 | Photo by Drew Allred, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Start the year off right with an easygoing, all ages adventure with a happy ending — a rarely seen dramatic panorama of the entire breadth of Snow Canyon State Park from a prominent high point along the Gila trail. Follow this 3-mile up-and-back hike along a lesser known section of the state park that’s in fact closer to St. George than the bulk of the hikes in the Park.

To access this trail, just a stone’s throw from civilization, you don’t even need to enter the main section of the state park. This will help you  save a few of the dollars left in your dwindling bank account after the holidays .

This hike is short and sweet. It offers you more dramatic views with every step as you navigate the eastern rim of the park.

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View from the eastern rim of Snow Canyon State Park. Gila Trail, St. George, Utah, Dec. 29, 2013 | Photo by Drew Allred, St. George News
View from the eastern rim of Snow Canyon State Park. Gila Trail, St. George, Utah, Dec. 29, 2013 | Photo by Drew Allred, St. George News

The hike

A few steps into the wilderness and the road disappears behind you as you begin to feel distant from civilization. After dropping down a calm hill scattered with lava rocks, the trail crosses a vast sandstone slab resembling a windblown golden ocean petrified on an ancient windy day.

View from the eastern rim of Snow Canyon State Park. Gila Trail, St. George, Utah, Dec. 29, 2013 | Photo by Drew Allred, St. George News
View from the eastern rim of Snow Canyon State Park. Gila Trail, St. George, Utah, Dec. 29, 2013 | Photo by Drew Allred, St. George Newsg

After the sandstone slab, stomp up a mellow hill away from a few adobe style homes on the fringe of The Ledges of St. George neighborhood. Even a nature hater can’t help but feel inspired from the top of the next hill. Look down into glimpses of Snow Canyon’s orange and white striped towering sandstone walls to the north. From here on out the views never disappoint.

Continue up another small hill and before the trail starts a steep decline down a deep crumbling gorge, stop and take in the grandest view of the hike .

For purposes of this guide, this is your turnaround point — at 1.5 miles. Snap some awe inspiring panoramas and enjoy the mostly downhill hike back from whence you came.

Getting to the trailhead

Take Highway 18 6.2 miles from the Sunset Boulevard, Bluff Street intersection.

The trailhead of the Gila Trail, St. George, Utah, Dec. 29, 2013 | Photo by Drew Allred, St. George News
The trailhead of the Gila Trail, St. George, Utah, Dec. 29, 2013 | Photo by Drew Allred, St. George News

The parking lot for this hike is .4 miles past mile marker 9 on Highway 18 at the entrance to the Winchester Hills community.

Park in the gravel parking lot underneath the worn out, bright orange “Winchester Hills” billboard on Highway 18 — the billboard has a worn out image of a cowboy riding a horse on it.

There is ample parking here but no bathroom facilities or water sources.

After you’re parked, cross Highway 18 with caution, vehicles scream down this road at over 55 mph.

Follow the paved bike trail north — towards the town of Enterprise — for 100 feet before stepping over a wilderness gate. The trail starts here at a “Gila trail” sign, adjacent to the paved bike trail. The trail immediately heads southwest from the start.

Resources

  • Highlight: Impressive views of the entire breadth of Snow Canyon State Park

  • Distance: 3 miles

  • Time: 1.5 hours roundtrip depending on hiking speed

  • Difficulty: Easy family friendly, all-ages hike – the only main obstacles are a few uneven patches of sandstone; all inclines and declines are gradual
  • Hiking terrain: Well-worn, well-marked trail with patches of uneven sandstone scattering the trail (not suitable for unsteady walkers); the last half-mile — before the turnaround spot — the trail is consistently sandy

  • Remoteness: Literally on the edge of  the neighborhood known as The Ledges of St. George, some homes can be seen along the hike towards the east. Highway 18, although hidden from view, is never more than a football field’s length away. Good cell service most of the way (Verizon Wireless)

  • Caution: There are NO water sources on this trail. Despite any inclination to do otherwise, even on a short tromp, always bring water on desert hikes

  • Cost: Even though the trail is technically in Snow Canyon State Park, you never actually enter the main canyon and therefore don’t have to pay the entrance fee

  • More adventure: For more of a calf-burning, rock crawling adventure, instead of turning around at the highpoint, as proposed  in this review, continue on the Gila trail as long as you want – it goes for 12 miles and then connects to the Chuckwalla trail system. The trail gets more difficult and more remote as you cross three vast, fragmented ravines

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Email: dallred@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

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

View from the high point of of this hike, through Snow Canyon State Park all the way to Ivins, Utah, Gila Trail, St. George, Utah, Dec. 29, 2013 | Photo by Drew Allred, St. George News
View from the high point of of this hike, through Snow Canyon State Park all the way to Ivins, Utah, Gila Trail, St. George, Utah, Dec. 29, 2013 | Photo by Drew Allred, St. George News

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5 Comments

  • L Scott Larsen January 1, 2014 at 8:42 am

    Great, now they will figure out a way to start charging for all trail heads leading into parks.

  • Drew Allred Drew Allred January 1, 2014 at 10:26 am

    L Scott, Thanks for the comment; I’m apprehensive about the same thing to be honest. Luckily, Snow Canyon State Park has designated this section as a “no-fee area” for some time now. This means that visitors are not required to have a park permit or season pass to do this particular hike.

    Drew Allred, Reporter

  • L Scott Larsen January 1, 2014 at 11:23 am

    Gunlock State Park had designated Gunlock Reservoir a “no -fee area for some time also, now you cannot go on the reservoir at all during the winter, which many families used to do. Not even to fish, from a boat.

  • Karen January 2, 2014 at 8:53 am

    Gila Trail would have been even better if our County Commission hadn’t forced Snow Canyon Park into a land trade with the Ledges so the million dollar homes could have a great view. The edge of the canyon was owned by Snow Canyon Park until a commissioner found a way to “help” the Ledges out by a convenient “trade”. The current trail would have been more family friendly and much longer if hikers didn’t have to dip down into the steep canyon below the Ledges.

    I, for one, will be watching the Commission in the future as I am sure others will do the same. The good ole boy system between local government and developers is now under scrutiny like never before.

  • Alison January 3, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    So beautiful… thanks for the article! We’re lucky to live in such an amazing area.

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