One of the reasons Zion National Park is one of the most popular parks in the country is that it has something for everyone. Hiking? Definitely. Climbing? Yep. Biking? Absolutely. Jaw-dropping scenery? Check. But if you've already seen all the sights in Zion, or if you want something a little more off-the-beaten-path, there's plenty of striking sandstone beauty to be found nearby, too. For endless adventure, countless photo ops, and one-of-a-kind experiences, head over to St. George to explore the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve.
Set aside to protect rare plant and wildlife (most notably the Mojave Desert Tortoise), the reserve sits at the confluence of the country's most special landscapes: the mysterious and magical Mojave Desert; the sweeping, rugged Great Basin; and the majestic Colorado Plateau. At Red Cliffs, petrified sand dunes give way to massive stone walls dotted with hoodoos. And hidden among the cliffs are all kinds of natural wonders just waiting to be discovered. Here's our guide to some of the most incredible features in the reserve.
Established in 1996 to protect local wildlife and the environment, the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve is committed to not only creating a haven for local animal and plant species, but also to educating its visitors on the importance of conservation and how to help.
The reserve consists of over 62,000 acres of dramatic sandstone landscapes that are home to an incredible diversity of life. On any given visit, you're likely to encounter desert tortoises, rattlesnakes, Gila monsters, eagles, hawks, owls, frogs, and dozens of other creatures. The Red Cliffs Desert Reserve is a treasured spot to not just learn about, but experience the importance of preserving wilderness. The visitor center is a must-visit before setting out to explore; there's so much wildlife, history, and natural beauty to be had here!
One of Utah's most popular and frequently visited parks, Pioneer Park has a little something for everyone. Slickrock trails that wind between red sandstone hoodoos are great for biking and hiking alike, and the park has some legendary climbing as well. The most famous climb is Dixie Rock, which is unmistakable-- since it has the word "DIXIE" painted on it in white. The views of Zion, White Dome, and downtown St. George from the top make it well worth the effort. And, at the end of a long day, the park has grills for barbecuing, along with fire rings and picnic tables.
Turtle Wall is a popular hiking trail nestled in the park's Paradise Canyon. It earned its name thanks to a rock foundation that looks a lot like (you guessed it!) a turtle. Even if you don't see one of the rare desert tortoises while visiting the park, you can at least see Turtle Wall! It's an easy 1-mile hike that also offers a great look at the desert beauty and wildlife protected by the reserve. It's also a quick side trip from a bunch of the reserve's other hikes, like the Paradise Rim Trail. Be sure to snag a photo or two of the "turtle" as you make your way to the end of the trail... it's too cute not to!
Don’t let the size of this state park, located in the reserve, fool you... Snow Canyon State Park is a drop-dead-gorgeous stunner. With petrified sand dunes, lava tunnel caves, cinder cones, petroglyphs, hiking, biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, camping, and more, it's well worth a visit. There are 38 miles of trail to explore here! And, if the twisting Navajo sandstone setting looks kind of familiar, that might be because it's been used as the backdrop for scenes in movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Yet another animal inspired rock formation located in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, Elephant Arch is just as adorable as the Turtle Wall. Located 20 minutes by car from St. George, Elephant Arch is reached via a 3.8-mile loop trail that is suitable for all ages. It's in the Mill Creek area of the reserve, which is marked by mountain views, canyon washes, and sandy trails.
One of the easier hiking trails you'll find in Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, the Anasazi Site is the perfect out-and-back hike for the group, with an option to extend your explorations. The trail itself is a ½ mile long, and connects to the complex system of trails within the park, so you can make your adventure as long or short as you like. The highlight of the hike is the complex of pit houses and other remains from the Anasazi who once called the park home. There are plenty of interpretive signs with lots of information on the ruins and how they were unearthed. Stick to the wooden boardwalks and be respectful, as this is an archaeological preserve that we want to keep around for years to come!
Lace up your hiking boots and set out to explore a mile of trails at the base of Pine Valley Mountain. Yant Flat is home to some of the most spectacular views, thanks to its geological diversity, which provides various shades of bright color. The Candy Cliffs of Yant Flat are one of the region's best-hidden gems. This is an endless swath of rolling sandstone with no real trail-- just stunningly colored rock as far as the eye can see. Photos can't do the place justice. The cliffs are particularly gorgeous right after the sun rises (plus, early morning hikes are the perfect way to beat the midday sun).
Dino Cliffs Trail is a simple and straightforward hiking route that can be done in less than an hour... and offers up-close-and-personal access to what is famously known as the Dino Cliffs. In addition to the incredible red rocks you'll see during your hike, you can also witness real dinosaur footprints left over 200 million years ago. You'll spy them in the first wash about 200 yards from the start of the west end of the trail, so keep your eyes peeled! Be prepared for a bit of climbing and lots of sand.
The Red Cliffs Desert Reserve is an absolute treasure in St. George. It's so much more than a park: it provides adventure with trails and climbs; it protects a unique habitat and the rare wildlife within; it preserves ancient history; and it saves the beauty of the desert for generations to come.
The St. George area offers the perfect combination of excitement, relaxation and adventure.