This 4,700-acre park might be southwestern Utah’s best kept secret. I’ve heard people say if there weren’t so many national parks in Utah already, Snow Canyon would be one. One afternoon in Snow Canyon State Park near St. George in Greater Zion, the southwest corner of Utah, and I could easily see why many would say that. Because its a state park and not a national park, you likely won’t have crowds. The only traffic jam on the park’s main road would be slowing down for an occasional cyclist. Snow Canyon State Park is the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. It’s filled with jaw-dropping scenery with a complex geologic story.
My friend Lisa and I got to Snow Canyon State Park early afternoon. We entered from the north entrance and the drive is – in a word – epic. The road twists and turns revealing around every curve a different element of the iconic desert landscape filled with hues of rust, tan, burnt orange, sage green, onyx and even white. Wind and rain erosion over millions of years has carved the unique geological formations in the park. Nearby now-extinct cinder cones that erupted 1.4 million to 27,000 years ago caused lava to flow into the canyons, filled them with basalt, redirected ancient waterways and carved new canyons to create the park’s intriguing scenery. Originally named Dixie State Park, it was renamed Snow Canyon State Park in 1964 after prominent Utah settlers Lorenzo and Erastus Snow.
Our first stop was at Lava Flow White Rock Trailhead. The Lava Flow Trail is 2.5 miles roundtrip. We hiked through a jumbled lava field created by a long-ago volcanic eruption. We stopped at the first lava tube, which is a giant hole in the volcanic rock. The second lava tube is about 0.6 miles into the trail. We saw a leopard lizard near this tube. I got brave and decided to go into the lava tube, but not far once I started thinking about the critters that could be hiding from the heat. It was hot and knowing we wanted to see as much of Snow Canyon as we could, we turned around after the second lava tube and retraced our steps back to the car.
Our second stop was at the Petrified Dunes, which were once part of a massive sand dune field that covered most of present-day Utah. These bizarre mounds of bright orange Navajo sandstone are the windswept 180-million-year-old dunes in petrified form. They are literally made of sand frozen in time. They look like giant stacks of pancakes with butter and syrup oozing over them. There’s no set trail to follow in the massive Navajo sandstone outcroppings. You simply wander around and on the dunes getting lost in the unusual terrain contrasting with the stunning White Mountains and marbled cliffs.
Third stop for us was at Jenny‘s Canyon. It’s less than .3 miles roundtrip hike making this one a great one for kids. The easy trail leads to a short, sculpted slot canyon. I have no idea who Jenny is, even after doing some research.
For our last stop we hiked to see the Pioneer Names. The trail is a half mile roundtrip. As we hike toward the half moon alcove where the names were written, we watched a couple of rock climbers to the right of the names. The names are written in axel grease. Three of them date back to the 1800s. We could see ones from 1890, 1887 and the oldest one written in 1881.
A friend had told me I had to try Veyo Pies and Bakery. We headed back out the north entrance and did the ten minute drive. We couldn’t decide and we were hungry so we ordered three slices and sat outside at one of the picnic tables in the shade. We got slices of sour cream lemon, volcano and mountain berry. The volcano is their signature pie. My favorite is the mountain berry filled with blackberries, raspberries and blueberries.
We saved some of the volcano pie and took it with us to Red Mountain Resort, where we stayed for two nights. The sunsets, wellness classes, hiking trails and even a spiral labyrinth made this a place I did not want to leave.
Author Jennifer Broome has traveled extensively in Utah. Check out blog How to Spend 3 Days in Greater Zion Utah for more ideas of what to do in the area.