Know Before You Go

Web-16-Padre-Canyon-north-view-from-saddle copyWith so many beautiful places to hike in St. George all year round, there are a few things you should know before you leave for your first adventure. This area, although beautiful can include many dangers if you don’t know what to expect.

Don’t skimp on the water: I can’t say this enough. Bring lots of water. The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of St. George should be the hot and dry weather. This makes summer hiking a little more difficult, and water even more important. In the July and August months especially, planning for the weather can mean up to 110° and very dry. With the hot weather and no water in the air, it becomes even more important to stay hydrated. I would also plan on hiking trails that provide shade. There are plenty of trails that will hike through water of some sort, or provide adequate shade, take your breaks here to rejuvenate some energy and drink some more water.

Take a Snack: Along with bringing lots of water (Have I said that enough yet?), bring some snacks. Usually food that preserves well is best. Between the heat, and carrying it in a backpack, you don’t want to add that mess on your hands. Some ides include a simple Trail Mix (Peanuts, Almonds, Granola, and some kind of a sweet), Fruit Snacks, dried fruit, starbursts, something salty to replace what you lose through sweating, and more. Find your favorite, and bring it along. Besides, having something to snack on during your breaks gives you that much more to look forward to

turtleBring a buddy: It may be tempting to take off alone, and just explore, but this isn’t safe anytime of the year. Traveling in a group provides added resources, help when needed, someone to take your picture, and a friend to share your experiences with. Besides, you need someone to help you carry all that water!  Find someone who will enjoy the nature just as much as you do, and there will be no problems.

Be aware of your surroundings: Know where you are going, and pay attention to what turns you make. Often hiking, especially around St. George, has multiple destinations, which includes many possible trails to choose from. Avoid getting lost by watching for landmarks to guide your way. Looking for identifying landmarks not only insures that you don’t get lost, but also provides a great way to make sure you don’t miss the spectacular view as you hike.

Be aware of the Time: We all know how easy it can be to lose track of time while hiking, which could lead to hiking in the dark. Along with being aware of our surroundings, pay attention to the time, and how long it has taken you to get to get this far. Although the weather cools down at night, and I’m sure the sand will provide a great bed, and I‘m sure it would provide a great story, but speaking from personal experience, it makes for a really long day.

Enjoy your hike! Hiking in St. George doesn’t compare with anywhere else. Its unique beauty and a gorgeous landscape are unlike any other. So get out and experience it.

The Vortex

Location: Between Gunlock and Dammeron Valley
Distance: 2.16 miles
Difficulty: Moderate

Forces of nature have shaped the sandstone of St. George for many, many years. The many canyons were formed by water, and the sandstone cliffs shaped as petrified sand dunes give a great texture to the whole picture. The vortex does not differ in its unique beauty. Located north of Snow Canyon, you can access this beautiful spot by either coming up the long dirt road from Gunlock, or down the shorter dirt road starting just north of Dammeron Valley. This hike came to our attention from an aunt who visits St. George to hike often. Because it is tucked away in a corner, we lived for nearly 14 years in St. George without even hearing about it. Just goes to show how much of a gem this trail truly.
Although we have taken little kids on this trail, the terrain stays mostly uphill all the way there. If you choose to bring the little ones along, be sure to keep a close eye on them as there are lots of cliff edges once you make it to the top. However, the amazing view provides picturesque scenes in all directions.

camel humpsThe easiest way to find the trailhead would be following this Google Map. I would suggest coming from the top as it shortens the dirt road significantly. From the parking lot, although initially not hard to find, the trail drops into a wash shortly after the start where it becomes harder to follow. The best advice I could give you here would be to go straight across the wash, don’t follow it. Although both ways will get you there, staying above the wash keeps the sand out of your shoes, and gives you a higher viewpoint to watch for the camel humps that mark your goal.

Once making it out of the wash, watch for the cairns that will mark the trail. These small piles of rocks will clearly identify the way before you, especially as you come closer to the bottom of the main hill. The cairns will lead you around the back, guiding to the easier way up the hill, for the adventurous spirit, hiking down the front side can lead to a fun challenge.

the vortexThe destination is marked with not one, but two “vortex” holes in the sandstone. These depressions in the rock are formed by the wind and rain as it has beat down on it. One is much deeper than the other, although both give a good setting to talk about the dangers of letting little things in our lives start to slip. The hole starts out wide, but as we continue to let little things get in the way, it becomes harder and harder to get out. We then become sucked into the hole of misery as we let others control our life. Pretty soon we will find ourselves in a position we don’t want to be in, and we will feel unhappy with the choices we have made. This hike provides not only good views, and some great exercise, but can also be applied to much needed life lessons.

Tuacahn Saddle/Padre Canyon

Location: Tuacahn to Snow Canyon
Distance: 2.39 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate

padlecanyon12Tuacahn amphitheater, known for its spectacular setting among the red cliffs of Southern Utah, has become a great place to spend an evening and enjoy the many shows under the bright, starry sky. With a great setting like this, you know there must be something more to explore. Introducing Padre Canyon! Also known as the Tuacahn Saddle Trail, this hike starts in Tuacahn’s parking lot, follows the canyon back through the red rock, continues up and over the saddle, and ends in Snow Canyon State Park.

Like all trails near St. George, there are many options available for all levels of hikers. Personally, instead of dropping into Snow Canyon, we hike to the top of the saddle, and then turn around and end back at Tuacahn. This allows us to view Snow Canyon without having to worry about two cars, buying a permit to park in Snow Canyon, and the length of the hike.

Decorated with the beautiful red rocks and scattered greenery, the Tuacahn side offers one beautiful landscape, while the Snow Canyon side offers another as it drops into white and red stripped sandstone, and follows a sandy, white riverbed.

The hike from Tuacahn winds its way about 1½ miles, climbing around 600 feet to the saddle. The trail’s base, mixed between hard packed trail and more of a scramble/boulder hop as you get closer to the saddle, can make the hike more of a challenge, but this section only extends a shortTuacahn view from saddle distance. Once you make it to the top, there are plenty of areas to sit down and rest. Well worth the hike, the view looking both into St. George and surrounding cities on one side and the beautiful Snow Canyon State Park on the other is spectacular.

From the top of the saddle, the decision to hike out and back or point-to-point comes into play. For out and back hikers, the saddle provides a great place to enjoy the view, have a break, and turn around. While those who decided to hike point-to-point, will drop off the back, having parked their other car in Snow Canyon at the Three Ponds trailhead.

If you choose to continue through Snow Canyon, you will follow the trail as it drops off the backside of the saddle. Although it starts out steep, with easy switchbacks for a short distance, it doesn’t take long before it becomes a hard packed trail again. Shortly after arriving at the bottom of the canyon, the trail continues to skirt the red cliffs on your right.

Tuacahn ViewIt will eventually lead to a dry riverbed, which presents a challenge to hike in. If you plan on going point-to-point, I would suggest shoes that won’t hold the sand. Otherwise you will end up with enough sand in your shoes to build a castle, no matter what you do. This stretch also explains why we usually turn around at the top. However, for those of you who like to do crazy tricks, and have a soft landing, there are plenty of places to practice here.

Along the way, some fun things to keep your eye out for include all sorts of lizards, birds and sagebrush. Dropping into Snow Canyon, you will find a place commonly known as the Three Ponds. Depending on the season, these small pools in the red rock add frogs and tadpoles to that list.

Kanarraville Falls

Location: Kanarraville, Ut
Distance: 3.5 miles round trip
Difficulty: Moderate

kanaraville FallsLocated about 40 miles North of St. George, one of my all time favorite water hikes, Kanarraville Falls, hides outside the small town of Kanarraville, Utah. I heard about the hike after seeing it featured in my local newspaper’s outdoors section. Following that article, Kanarraville Falls quickly became popular among St. George area natives and visitors alike. The fresh stream mixed with the shade of a slot canyon contributes to this hike’s appeal for the hot summer months.

From the parking lot, put in to accommodate for the increase of hikers in the area, you start by walking down the dirt road until it reaches a small creek, usually about a foot deep. At this point the trail appears, following the creek up the canyon towards the slot. This turn from road to trail marks the start of the adventure. Part of the fun comes from following the trail as it weaves back and forth, over and through the cool, refreshing water. However, if you prefer, the option of walking in the creek provides a great way to cool off. This creek also features some mini water slides that are super fun. We have spent a good amount of time taking turns playing here.

boulder fallsInserting a little warning here, as hot as St. George may seem, this river, fed by snow melt, remains cool all year round. I suggest bringing water shoes, or at least shoes that can get wet. Also, for those with little kids, an extra pair of clothes to change into when you get back to the car can save a lot of hassle.

The trail continues to weave its way through the creek for about a half-mile before it transforms into the slot canyon. This spot, before you enter the slot, remains a great place to rest if needed, providing lots of fallen logs and dry land to sit on, something you won’t get again for a while.

Once you get your rest, the trail enters the creek and starts up the slot. Remember, although the water doesn’t get very deep, it stays cool all year round.

One of the many nice things about this hike, there are two waterfalls that provide good stopping points. This way, you get to choose how far you want to go without feeling bad about not making it to the end.

The first 15-foot rock-jam waterfall, Kanarraville Falls, comes shortly after entering the slot. With a nice pool at the bottom, and plenty of areas to explore, this beautiful place provides fun for everyone.  For those who want to continue, a ladder of some sort and a rope on the side allows for relatively easy climbing. However, because this ladder stays in the water, be careful to check its condition for saftey before climbing.

For those who decide to keep going after Kanarraville falls, the next obstacle lies in a small boulder waterfall, which has left room to scramble around it up the right side of the canyon. Here the water starts to get deeper, and will become waist deep in some areas before reaching the second waterfall. This set of falls also has a climbing aid of some sort. Once more, be sure to check it for safety, you never know how long those ropes have been out there.

2nd waterfallOnce above the second waterfall, the canyon opens up again to include some green scenery and  a wider canyon. Although not quite as extreme as the slot, there are still many beautiful sections of the canyon that are worth the time. Explore until you get your fill, then return the way you came.

Access: In 2010, an official parking lot, with a $10 parking fee was created to provide access to this great hike. Because Kanarraville receives their water from the creek, they ask that you be considerate and follow the posted rules so they can keep the hike open.