Nestled inside the 62,000 acre Red Cliffs Desert Reserve of Utah, Snow Canyon State Park is a 7400 acre scenic park featuring colorful sandstone cliffs, petrified sand dunes, volcanic cinder cones and rugged lava flows. This unique environment at the junction of the Mojave Desert, Great Basin Desert and Colorado Plateau is home to a variety of plants and animals that don’t exist anywhere else in the state – 13 indigenous species are protected by state or federal law, including the peregrine falcon, desert tortoise and gila monster.
Humans also have frequented the canyon for hundreds of years; Anasazi and Paiute Indians used the canyon for hunting and gathering between A.D. 200 and the mid-1800s, then Mormon pioneers stumbled upon the canyon in the 1850s while searching for lost cattle. More recently, this stunning landscape has been used as a location for Hollywood films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Electric Horseman, and Jeremiah Johnson. Today Snow Canyon is popular with outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and abilities who are drawn to the majestic canyon for activities like hiking, camping, bicycling, rock climbing, and bird and wildlife watching.
The entrance to Snow Canyon State Park is located at 1002 N. Snow Canyon Road, just north of the town of St. George in southwestern Utah (about 2 hours northeast of Las Vegas and 4 hours south of Salt Lake City via Interstate 15). St. George Municipal Airport (SGU) is serviced by United and Delta airlines and several rental car agencies. Directions from I-15 northbound: Take exit 6 for Bluff St. (SR18) and go north. Turn left on Snow Canyon Pkwy., proceed 3.5 miles and turn right onto Snow Canyon Drive. Directions from I-15 southbound: Take exit 10 (Washington). Turn right off the ramp and then immediately left at the light onto W. Red Hills Pkwy. Follow it about 5 miles to the intersection with Bluff St.(SR18), then go straight through the light onto Snow Canyon Pkwy. Proceed 3.5 miles and turn right onto Snow Canyon Dr.
Planning a Visit
Snow Canyon State Park is open all year from 6:00am to 10:00pm daily. A small day-use fee is charged at the entrance (Per vehicle, up to 8 people, seniors 62+ half-price). You can take a scenic drive through the canyon in an hour, or spend an entire day picnicking and exploring trails. When I visited, I spent half a day at Snow Canyon and combined it with a visit to Dinosaur Discovery Site in St. George.
There are plenty of interesting attractions in this area to round out an itinerary – the spectacular Zion National Park is only 1 hour away. Spring and fall are the best times to visit when the weather is mild. Summer is extremely hot with high temperatures exceeding 105 degrees. Winter temperatures are cool with a typical range from highs around 60 degrees to lows in the mid-20s, although it seldom snows. (The canyon is named for prominent local pioneers Lorenzo and Erastus Snow, not the precipitation.) When there has been enough rain, spring and fall bring a dazzling display of wildflowers. The park elevation varies from 3100 to 4100′. There is minimal shade cover, so prepare for sun exposure with sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses. Humidity is low in the desert climate so drink plenty of water.
What to Explore
Snow Canyon Drive is a 4.3 mile scenic drive that passes south-north through the park between Snow Canyon Parkway and State Route 18. It is a well-paved and maintained two-lane road suitable for all vehicles and can be driven in either direction. There are several pull-outs and parking areas (with designated accessible spaces) at points of interest, trail heads and picnic areas. Accessible restrooms are available at the Sand Dunes Picnic Area, the Visitor Center (8:00-5:00) and Campground, and at the Upper Galoot and Lower Galoot Picnic Areas.
Snow Canyon Overlook is located on the west side of State Route 18, .9 mile south of the north entrance to the park (Snow Canyon Drive and SR18). Turn onto a gravel and dirt road and drive .3 mile to the east rim of the canyon for breath-taking views.
The park offers more than 38 miles of hiking trails, however most of these are not suitable for wheelchairs due to rugged terrain with soft sand, steep slopes and uneven surfaces. The exception is the three-mile-long Whiptail Trail which winds along the canyon bottom parallel to Snow Canyon Drive between the parking lot at the south entrance and the Upper Galoot Picnic Area. This trail is paved with asphalt and is wide and mostly level side-to-side. Portions of the trail have a grade, so manual chair users may welcome some assistance. Views from the trail are captivating, and it passes interesting features like sand dunes, rocky red cliffs, and lava flow. Furthermore, the West Canyon Road Trail is also accessible for some. It’s a wide dirt and rock trail that is firmly packed and travels a little under two miles.
Where to Sleep and Eat
There are no food services in the park, but Snow Canyon is only a few minutes from St. George so there are numerous choices for restaurants and overnight accommodations, including many of the national chains. I stayed at Hampton Inn (53 S. River Rd., St. George) which is 10.8 miles from the park and has satisfactory accessibility. The park offers a 33-unit campground with water and electric. Additional commercial campgrounds and RV parks are available in St. George, but I recommend the Virgin River Canyon Recreation Area at Littlefield, AZ (about 20 miles southwest on I-15, exit 18) for the sheer beauty of the landscape. Two sites are wheelchair-accessible, and Access Pass holders receive a 50% discount off the camping fee at this BLM site.