Southern Utah State Parks near the Mighty 5

Utah’s natural beauty extends well beyond the borders of the Mighty 5 national parks. Visit some of the best state parks in Southern Utah offering a range of outdoor activities and breathtaking scenery.

There are many ways to explore Southern Utah. Stunning images and the promise of big adventure lure travelers from around the world to The Mighty 5 National Parks. Once here, visitors soon realize Utah’s natural beauty extends well beyond their borders. Some of Utah’s best state parks dot the landscape of Mighty Five country swaddled by adventurous national forest or the rugged Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Here are eight enticing state parks along the The Mighty 5 road trip which means each day you’ll have the option to stop at the national parks if it’s your first time in Utah or leave them for the other travelers if you’re looking to see Utah from another angle. Best of all, most of these parks offer a wider array of recreation opportunities including mountain biking, ATV riding, kayaking, SUPing, boating and fishing (with a Utah fishing license of course).

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Sights and bikes at Dead Horse Point

Get up early to start your trip on the right note: Sunrises are spectacular in Canyon Country. Many visitors find Dead Horse Point State Park to be even more captivating than the views at the Grand Canyon. Grab your camera. You’ll want to be sure to take lots of pictures to try and share the experience with your friends.

For mountain bike enthusiasts, Dead Horse has a splendid network of rolling singletrack trails over gentle slick rock domes and through the knee-high sage. The trails offer several opportunities to stop and savor the views before tackling the next leg of trails. Though technically mild by Moab standards, the trails are a hit for riders of all abilities.

In the neighborhood: Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park

Entrance fee: $20 per vehicle up to eight passengers; $15 for Utah seniors 65 and older; $10 per motorcycle; $4 pedestrian or cyclist

Camping: Reserve a Yurt for a unique overnight experience or overnight in one of two campgrounds (most sites offer RV electrical hookups)

2. Hoodoos, yurts, and slots of Goblin Valley

Sandstone goblins and fascinating formations cover Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park which Hollywood frequently turns for its unusual landscapes like alien worlds. Explore the geology and camp among the nooks and gnomes. Bring the family and experience this amazing place by hiking, camping, mountain biking, and exploring the surrounding canyons.

Three established trails through the Valley of the Goblins suit almost everyone. If you brought mountain bikes be sure to check out the nontechnical Wild Horse Mesa Mountain Bike Trail. If not, introduce yourself to the family-friendly canyoneering of Little Wild Horse Canyon (may not be suitable for smaller children).

In the neighborhood: Capitol Reef National Park

Entrance fee: $20 per vehicle; $10 for Utah seniors 62 and older; $10 per motorcycle, bicycle or pedestrian

Camping: Goblin Valley also offers a couple of yurts in addition to standard back-in and tent sites (no hookups).

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Cool waters and kaleidoscopes at Escalante Petrified Forest

Explore the kaleidoscopic colors of wood reclaimed from the Earth and find yourself in awe at the ancient remnants at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. Pause to take in the expansive vistas of the reservoir and surrounding mountains from the top of the hiking loop. Then, cool off in the refreshing waters of the reservoir, popular for boating, canoeing, and fishing.

The Sleeping Rainbows Trail is a .75-mile loop that is much steeper than the other trails but has the densest concentration of petrified wood in the park.

In the neighborhood: Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument and Bryce Canyon National Park

Entrance fee: $10 day-use pass; $5 for Utah seniors 62 and older

Camping: Escalante Petrified Forest State Park has 19 standard RV sites (some with electric hookups) and 1 group site.

4. Pillars and pictures at Kodachrome Basin State Park

If ever a state park was made to be photographed, it is Utah’s Kodachrome Basin State Park. Many of the gorgeous rock columns in the park can be seen while driving but it’s worth your time to get out and explore. Some of the popular sites include Chimney Rock, Shakespeare Arch, and Ballerina Geyser.

Kodachrome Basin covers 2,24 0 acres and is surrounded by Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument on three sides. With its close proximity to other popular destinations down Cottonwood Road, it makes for a spectacular base camp or a stop on an event-filled day in the desert. The park was certified as an International Dark Sky Park making it a great place for stargazing too.

In the neighborhood: Bryce Canyon National Park

Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle (max. 8 people per vehicle); $5 for Utah seniors 62 and older (max. 8 people per vehicle)

Camping: Kodachrome Basin has more than 30 stand sites and 14 sites with full hookups.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5 & 6. Get Out and Play at Sand Hollow and Quail Creek

Sand Hollow and Quail Creek state park are less than 10 miles apart where warm reservoirs play host to an array of water sports and quality fishing and the surrounding landscapes provide sites for camping and extensive off-highway action. Lovers of hiking, nature, and wildlife alike will want to visit one (or both) of these sister reservoirs. 

Quail Creek State Park lures swimmers, boaters, and anglers year-round with its exceptionally warm waters and mild winter climate. Spend a day on the water then retire to a campsite in a spectacular red rock desert setting. 

Sand Hollow State Park is a favorite destination for local off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts and provides 15,000 acres of perfectly sculpted dunes within the vast 20,000-acre park. The red sand is an incredible backdrop for Sand Hollow reservoir. At nearly twice the size of the nearby Quail Creek Reservoir, Sand Hollow offers boating and other water recreation in a spectacular setting.

In the neighborhood: Red Cliffs Desert Preserve and Zion National Park

Entrance fee (Quail Creek): $15 per vehicle (max 8 people per vehicle); $10 for Utah seniors 62 and older (max 8 people per vehicle)

Entrance fee (Sand Hollow): $15 per vehicle; $10 for Utah seniors 65 and older

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Climb the dunes of Coral Pink

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is where weekend warriors can leave footprints in soft sand. Walk among old juniper and pinion and ponderosa pines. Then take your shoes off to leave footprints in the orange-red sand dunes.

These geological oddities were formed by the continual erosion of the nearby Navajo sandstone cliffs. Coral Pink Sand Dunes are open for hiking and kid-friendly playing. About 90-percent of the dunes are open for ATV riders, an attraction for which this state park has become ever popular.

Visitors to Coral Pink Sand Dunes have a world of outdoor adventure just around the corner: Several additional trailheads access Grand Staircase–Escalante along U.S. 89 in the extreme southern part of Utah. Explorers will discover some of the best slot canyons while lovers of the water have Lake Powell’s thousands of miles of shoreline just a little further along the road. 

In the neighborhood: Zion National Park

Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle; $5 for Utah seniors 65 and older

Camping: Coral Pink Sand Dunes has 16 standard campsites and 1 group site (no hookups).

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Mojave majesty at Snow Canyon

Located at the edge of the Mojave Desert, Great Basin, and Colorado Plateau, Snow Canyon State Park explodes with dramatic geology perfect for your outdoor adventure. Snow Canyon State Park is a 20-minute drive from St. George and just an hour from the entrance to Zion National Park.

Snow Canyon is popular with road cyclists touring the park’s scenic drive and hikers exploring the network of trails through the main canyon and numerous side canyons. Numerous bolted routes throughout the canyon lure rock climbers.

In the neighborhood: Zion National Park

Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle (up to eight people); $5 for Utah seniors 65 and older per vehicle (up to eight people); $5 pedestrian/cyclists (up to eight people)

Camping: The Snow Canyon Campground has 27 total available campsites including accommodations for groups, pets and partial hookups.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make it a road trip

With this many marvels of nature in such close proximity why not extend the fun and make it a road trip? Visiting these destinations makes for an unforgettable tour of southern Utah’s state parks. This trip assumes a start in Salt Lake City and heads toward Moab though travelers arriving via Las Vegas should reverse the order and launch their Utah trip from St. George.

Though they aren’t as highly trafficked as the national parks, you can still improve your trip by making reservations where permitted as some state parks near national parks are popular base camps. Please note some state parks close their gates at night.

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Worth Pondering…

A strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptured, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.

—Zane Grey

The Ultimate Guide to Snow Canyon State Park

Snow Canyon State Park is filled with great hiking, beautiful Navajo sandstone formations, ancient lava rock (basalt), and out-of-this-world views, so come along, as we tour this amazing hidden gem.

On the edges of ecosystems, eras or civilizations, you’ll find some of the most remarkable travel destinations. Snow Canyon State Park is one such place. Located at the edge of the Mojave Desert, Great Basin, and Colorado Plateau, Snow Canyon State Park explodes with dramatic geology perfect for your outdoor adventure—and photo opportunities.

Cut by water, sculpted by wind and time, Snow Canyon’s Navajo sandstone cliffs share the same history and geology as Zion National Park to the east. You may find yourself wondering why it isn’t a national park.

As recently as 27,000 years ago lava flows exerted their powerful force reshaping the canyons and creating the park’s distinctive landscapes. The blend of Navajo sandstone cliffs, petrified sand dunes, and broad lava fields make this terrain a fantastic playground for both adventurous travelers and families looking to give kids an outlet to expend some of their boundless energy.

Snow Canyon State Park is one of those state parks often overlooked by people touring Utah. While Utah is obviously known for The Mighty Five and as a prime destination for winter recreation as well, there are also 43 state parks. Many of these parks are just as majestic as the national parks but without the crowds. Also, state parks are generally dog friendly.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where is Snow Canyon State Park?

Snow Canyon State Park is located in southwestern Utah near the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. If you are planning to stay close to the park, the best city to stay in is St. George because it is just an 11-mile drive.

When to visit Snow Canyon State Park

Spring and fall have average high temperatures of 80 degrees and 73 degrees respectively creating a sweet spot for active adventures at Snow Canyon. Summer can get pretty warm with very little shade available but getting out early in the day is ideal. Winter packs mild temps and all activities remain available. 

Despite its name, the park rarely sees snow. (The park is named for Lorenzo and Erastus Snow, Utah pioneers, not the white precipitation.)

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of Snow Canyon State Park

Snow Canyon State Park is about 7,400 acres located within the 62,000 acre Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. The reserve was established to protect the desert tortoise! I wish I would have been able to see one on our visit here. It was created in 1959 and opened to the public in 1962.

It is likely that humans have been using this park for more than 10,000 years based on the artifacts found in the park. The users of the park ranged from Paleoindian mammoth hunters to 19th century settlers.

Why is it called Snow Canyon?

When people hear the word snow they often think of frozen white stuff falling from the sky. While it is possible for Snow Canyon to receive snow, it’s not common.

Snow Canyon was originally called Dixie State Park but was later renamed. The snow in Snow Canyon is in reference to two early Utah leaders, Lorenzo and Erastus Snow.

The park is also known as movie sets for a few Hollywood films such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to do at Snow Canyon State Park

There are more than 38 miles of hiking trails, excellent biking trails, opportunities for technical climbing, and more than 15 miles of equestrian trails.

Hiking

Hiking is the prime activity in the canyon. As soon as you drive in, you can quickly see why. Gorgeous red and white sandstone streaks together with black lava flows spilling along the canyon floor- create a perfect playground for exploring on foot. Along with slot canyons to enter and lava tubes to explore, the sweeping vistas and overlooks might have you grabbing for your camera. You’ll need more than one day to do a thorough job of exploring the park’s 18 hiking trails

Check out my list of the most popular below. Distances are roundtrip.

Note: Most of these trails do not have shade. Come prepared with water (1 liter per person) and plenty of sun protection (UV clothing, sunscreen, wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses).

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lava Flow Trail

Distance: 2.5 miles

Difficulty: Moderate, some uneven surfaces

Hike through a jumbled lava field, the vivid remains of a long ago volcanic eruption.

The Lava Flow Trail, also known as the Lava Tubes is a 2.5 mile, family-friendly trail that takes you back in time. The trail takes you past three lava cave entrances. Entering the caves can be a little dangerous as it can get dark and slippery at times. There is a dedicated parking for the trail head.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jenny’s Canyon Trail

Distance: 0.5 miles

Difficulty: Easy, level with a few slopes and steps

This is a very short trail with easy access from the road; a great children’s trail that leads to a short, sculpted slot canyon. According to the park brochure, kids enjoy this trail the most due to the geological features and because it’s a slot canyon.

It will take you half an hour to complete the hike but it might take you longer if you decide to take time to admire the Snow Canyon Sand Dunes on your way.

Petrified Dunes Trail

Distance: 1.2 miles

Difficulty: Moderate, some uneven surfaces and steep slopes

This route crosses massive Navajo sandstone outcrops and sand dunes frozen in time.

A favorite of many, this hike takes you to one of the best viewpoints of the park. The trail is relatively well marked but you’ll definitely want to wander around and explore the unique formations in the area. It’s located in the heart of Snow Canyon State Park and one of the most photographed hikes in the canyon due to its unique beauty.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pioneer Names Trail

Distance: 0.5 miles

Difficulty: Easy, fairly level with some steps and slopes

This crescent-shaped trail passes pioneer names written in axle grease dating back to 1881.

This trail is accessible from two different parking lots. From the North lot, it is less than a quarter-mile to the end and the southern lot is a little more than a mile long. The hike takes you to a canyon wall that was written on by early pioneers. The axle grease writing has been preserved by an arch that hangs over it and provides a reminder of the early settlers in the area. It’s a sandy trail, so make sure to bring a good pair of shoes.

Butterfly Trail

Distance: 2 miles

Difficulty: Moderate, some steep slopes, steps, and uneven surfaces

Winding along the west side of Petrified Dunes this trail leads to West Canyon Overlook and lava tubes.

You can access this trail from its own parking lot or continue from Petrified Dunes Trail (see above) since they intersect. It is best known for winding along the petrified dunes and leads to several overlooks and lava tubes.

The best time to do it is in spring and fall. Start in the morning to better appreciate the great views. It’s not a family hike since it has plenty of uneven surfaces.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Johnson Canyon Trail

Distance: 2 miles

Difficulty: Easy, level with some rocky slopes and steps

Leads to a sheltered canyon of willow and cottonwood winding through lava flows and red rocks to an arch spanning 200 feet.

Passing through stream beds, lava flows, and a beautiful canyon this trail is a grand experience. The canyon is more shaded than many of the other hikes making it one of the best hikes for the summer and fall months. It’s a great place to take a rest and enjoy quality time with your family and friends, and it will only take 1 hour to hike it. This trail also has seasonal closures, so check the availability before you plan your trip.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Biking

Besides simply biking the main road through the park, two other bike-friendly trails exist. The first is Whiptail Trail, an out-and-back, paved path that runs from the south entrance and through about two-thirds of the canyon. Delightful for bikers of all experience levels but the last quarter mile is steep. There’s always the option to turnaround before this steep climb.

The second bike path is West Canyon Road. Once a road, as its name suggests, it is a dirt and gravel path. Beefier tires than those of a road bike are needed but you won’t need a high-end mountain bike to enjoy this trail. The road runs four miles up the canyon and takes the west fork at the end of the canyon that will lead you past the Whiterocks Amphitheater at the northern end. This path traverses parts of the park that no other trail will show or lead to.

Access the West Canyon Road at Sand Dunes picnic and parking area for an eight-mile round-trip excursion.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rock Climbing

Well-known for its incredible rock cliffs, you’ll find from short sports clip-ups to mixed multi-pitch routes in Snow Canyon. With more than 7,100 acres available, rock climbing is one of the top outdoor activities to do here. Take a look at these areas and pick your next rock climbing route.

For a full list, visit mountainproject.com.

Johnson Canyon

Ideal for trad climbing, this trail allows you to descend at the dead end of Johnson Canyon. If you go during the week, it is almost always empty so you will have the wall for yourself. These are the coordinations: 37.17970°N / 113.6347°W. You can climb all year long.

Hackberry Wash

At this trail, you can do trad and sport climbing. If, if you are coming from St George this will be the first crag in the park. It is close to Jenny Trail (see above). The best time to climb is spring, fall, and winter. 

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Island of the Sky

This sandstone is located in the middle of Snow Canyon. To reach the top you have ledges, dihedrals, and ramps that will be a huge help. The level of difficulty is moderate and it has an elevation of 3,780 feet. There is no easy pathway in this sandstone, be prepared. You can visit any time of the year. 

Balkan Dome

One of the shortest routes in Snow Canyon but is fun to try. You can reach this part via the Pioneer Names Trail (see above). Everything is covered with sandstone that sometimes makes it harder to climb, so be patient. Is located across the Islands of the Sky and is an ideal route for sport climbing. The best time to go is summer, fall, and spring. 

West Canyon

Probably the most complete trail since you can not only do trad and sport climbing but also hike. This canyon features five routes that range from 5.8 to 5.11c. You can access it via the Three Ponds trail. The coordination is 37.19330°N / 113.6425°W.

Horseback riding

There are several trails open to horseback riding in Snow Canyon: Beck Hill Trail, Chuckwalla Trail, Gila Trail, Lava Flow (only between West Canyon Road and turn-off to White Rocks Trail), Rusty Cliffs, Scout Cave Trail, Red Sands (from West Canyon Road Trail to the west), Toe Trail, West Canyon Road, and the equestrian trail (starting at Johnson’s canyon lot and running parallel to whiptail until the sand dunes lot, from here the trail parallels West Canyon Road).

If you don’t have your own horses, a guided experience is offered by local companies. Take a leisurely stroll with an equestrian friend and soak in the views, floral, and fauna and everything Snow Canyon has to offer the senses.

Petroglyphs

If you hike the Gila Trail to about the halfway mark, trail markers designate petroglyph sites. These illustrations, carved into stone by Native Americans, are delicate historical landmarks and are fun to examine.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyoneering

Canyoneering combines hiking with rappelling allowing exploration into slot canyons and down-climbing through the canyon. It’s a unique outdoor adventure that doesn’t exist in most places but the area has lots of options. Snow Canyon has two canyoneering routes, both of which require an access permit. If you want to explore Island in the Sky or Arch Canyon, secure a permit through the state park’s website or contact a guide company to take you.

Wildlife

Snow Canyon isn’t just famous for its hiking trails, rock climbing walls, and sandstone cliffs but also for its unique wildlife. You can find coyotes, kit foxes, quail and roadrunner, and sometimes tortoises and peregrine falcons in this State Park.

Millions of people come from across the country to watch leopard lizards, gopher snakes, canyon tree frogs, and sometimes tortoises and peregrine falcons. 

There are thirteen sensitive species protected by law within the park including the Gila Monster which is the only venomous lizard in the United States. The best time to watch the wildlife is at dawn and dusk. You will have plenty of time to go hiking and observe the wildlife since the park opens at 6:00 am and closes at 10:00 pm. 

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping

A night or two under the stars is the perfect escape from a fast-paced lifestyle. Snow Canyon State Park is the ideal place to find those stars and quiet nights. The campsites will have you feeling like you’re camping in the Flintstones’ backyard with views of a cinder cone towering above and petroglyphs etched into rocks. 

There are 29 camping sites at the Snow Canyon State Park; 13 are standard sites with no hookups and 16 are sites with partial hookups that come with water and electricity. Most sites are not big-rig friendly. Group camping is also available. All sites are reservable online through reserveamerica.com.

Final thoughts

Snow Canyon State Park is truly one of the most beautiful places in all of Utah! Southern Utah is a well-known location for outdoor activities and Snow Canyon should be on any outdoor lover’s list whether you visit with friends or family.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Snow Canyon State Park FAQ

Is Snow Canyon State Park worth visiting?

Absolutely! It’s one of the most popular parks in Southern Utah and has so many hidden gems like the Petrified Dunes or Lava Tubes that will blow your mind. It’s a great place to try new outdoor activities like hiking, biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, and camping. Also, it’s less crowded than Zion National Park or any other National Park located in Utah.

Are dogs and other pets allowed in the park?

If you’re planning a trip with your furry friend, this is going to make you really happy because you’re allowed to bring them with you! However, they must be on a leash around the campground and they can only accompany you to the Whiptail Trail and the West Canyon Rim Trail. Take into consideration that the leash must be a maximum of six-feet long.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details

Address: 1002 N. Snow Canyon Road, Ivins, UT 84738

Phone: 435-628-2255

Hours of operation: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

Directions

From I-15 northbound: Take exit 6 (Bluff Street). Go north on Bluff Street to the intersection with Snow Canyon Parkway. Turn left onto Snow Canyon Parkway and proceed approximately 3.5 miles and turn right onto Snow Canyon Drive. Follow this road to the south entrance of the park.

From I-15 southbound: Take exit 10 (Washington). Turn right off the ramp then an immediate left at the light. Follow this road for approximately 5 miles to the intersection with Bluff Street/ SR-18. Proceed through the light and continue on Snow Canyon Parkway for approximately 3.5 miles and turn right onto Snow Canyon Drive. Follow this road to the south entrance of the park.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day-use fees:

Utah resident: $10 per vehicle (up to eight people); $5 per vehicle (up to eight people); seniors 65 and older (with UT driver’s license); $5 pedestrian/cyclists (up to four people)

Non-resident:  $15 per vehicle (up to eight people); $5 pedestrian/cyclist (up to four people)

Camping fees:

Non-hookup sites: Standard sites $40 per night; hookup sites (water/electric) $45 per night; extra vehicle fees (one extra vehicle per site permitted) $20 per night

Worth Pondering…

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike.

—John Muir