IVINS – The towering red cliffs that provide the dramatic backdrop for Tuacahn Center for the Arts are most famously found ringing with the sound of music rising from the “Broadway in the Desert” stage, but a short, steep trip beyond the outdoor amphitheater provides an explore-worthy trail full of adventure and beauty.
The Padre Canyon Trail, also known as the Tuacahn Saddle or “the saddle” is an approximately 2.4-mile through-hike that takes visitors from Tuacahn, through and up Padre Canyon to the saddle, down the north side into Snow Canyon State Park, terminating at the Three Ponds trailhead.
The point-to-point trail crosses through private land, the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and portions of Snow Canyon State Park, and can be accessed by parking at a small turnout on Tuacahn Drive at the fence before entering Tuacahn property – hikers must follow the fence line eastward to a gate – or by parking at the Tuacahn parking lot and following a small connector trail at the northeast corner of the lot.
Labeled as strenuous, the relatively short trail gains about 600 feet of elevation on the south side leading up to the saddle and sees hikers testing their scrambling skills on the single-track trail that is a mixture of soft, loose sand and slickrock. While it is fairly difficult to get lost, there are sections of trail that have been washed out by a landslide and some navigating over boulders is required to return to the path.
Additionally, descending the north side of the saddle can be steep and slippery and hikers must watch for rock cairns to guide them through the hike as they head toward the Three Ponds trailhead.
In 2014, Washington County Search and Rescue performed a rescue of a woman who had become stuck on a ledge after going off-trail near the saddle.
Difficulty and danger aside, the Padre Canyon Trail offers plenty of beautiful scenery and visitors who make the steep trek will be rewarded with stunning views of Santa Clara and Ivins to the south and portions of Snow Canyon State Park looking north.
Hikers will also be treated to unique geologic formations including natural water holes, arches and giant sandstone mountains that have been petrified by time and the elements.
The hike can also be done as an out-and-back, resting at the saddle and returning to Tuacahn or as a long loop by beginning at the Johnson Canyon parking area, following a one-mile connecting trail west to the gate in the fence, continuing along the Padre Canyon Trail, exiting the Three Ponds wash on West Canyon Road in Snow Canyon State Park, connecting with the paved Whiptail trail and returning to the Johnson Canyon parking area.
There is year-round access to the trail but there are times when the gates are closed to the Tuacahn parking lot requiring hikers to enter the trail through the gate in the fence. The connecting trail from the Johnson Canyon parking lot is closed from March 15 to Sept. 14 to protect the desert tortoise.
Hikers are advised to be courteous on private property and to obey all the rules and regulations of reserve and state park lands including paying all entry fees in the fee areas.
Remember to carry plenty of water and at least basic safety gear when hiking. This is a dry desert environment.
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- The Red Cliffs Desert Reserve offers detailed information and photos on the Padre Canyon Trail here
- Learn more about Snow Canyon State Park here
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