I’ve wanted to visit Snow Canyon State Park since we moved to Salt Lake, but we didn’t actively start exploring the southwestern corner of Utah until this spring. Since dogs aren’t allowed on most of the park’s trails, it made it difficult to visit if we were camping. Staying at Lisa’s mom’s house removed that obstacle.
Saturday morning was beautiful; a clear cerulean sky contrasted brilliantly with the red cliffs in the distance. The morning was cool so we dressed slightly warmer than was necessary, eventually rolling up our pants and shedding our jackets. The drive to the park’s entrance was brief and enjoyably peppered with stories of Lisa’s adolescence. Even though I had looked at photos of the park and researched trails, the beauty of the park took me by surprise. I suppose part of its brilliance was due to our timing at the dawn of spring (after a particularly wet winter) rather than late summer. The stunning composition of vibrant, bold colors was an arresting sight.
The 7,400 acre park was created in 1959 and rests within the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, 62,000 acres of desert tortoise habitat. Originally named Dixie State Park, the canyon was ultimately named after early Mormon leaders, Erastus and Lorenso Snow. There is evidence of human life in the canyon as far back as 500 BC. Anasazi and Piute Indians both used the canyon, as well as early Mormon pioneers. Several films have also used the canyon as their backdrop – most famously Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Jeremiah Johnson.
We planned to combine two hikes to get a taste of the park’s rich geologic history. We arrived around 10am, just early enough to beat the crowds and find a spot in the small lot for the trailhead of Petrified Dunes. There is a signed trail to a viewpoint at the end, but you can also explore the dunes on your own. We did a little bit of both and skipped the viewpoint. The petrified dunes were mounds of various heights and sizes of orange-red brain rock. A bluebird sky and towering sandstone cliffs in the distance gave the entire hike a dramatic backdrop. It was gorgeous.
We doubled back to the trailhead and used the Butterfly Trail to connect to the Lava Flow trail. The Butterfly Trail, though brief, provided beautiful views of the dunes and cliffs behind us and the sage-covered hills of basalt ahead.
Upon reaching the Lava Flow Trail, we went toward the first two of the lava tubes. We bypassed the second tube for the first which was crowded with people waiting to climb inside. The tube was deep enough that a sign at the entrance urged caution and headlamps or flashlights. Uninterested in being down there with so many people (and my dislike for caves in general), we turned back to the first – now deserted – tube.
A side trail near the second lava tube led to a nice vista of the canyon walls set against the sage-covered fields and an outcrop of red and white striped sandstone melting into the white cliffs in the distance. It was one of my favorite views from the day.
We turned back toward the trailhead as the crowds began to intensify. The park certainly has a decent amount of hiking, and if we lived nearby – a la Antelope Island SP – I would have made it a goal to hike more of them. But for this day, we were happy to get a taste of Snow Canyon’s beauty.