The Best Winter Hiking Trails in Utah's Dixie
Winter brings perfect hiking weather in Utah’s Dixie, a fantastic landscape of mountains, cliffs and canyons in the state’s southwestern corner. With sunny skies, little rain and snow, and daily temperatures in the 60s, the area around St. George offers ideal winter conditions to explore trails that follow twisting canyons, scramble over sandstone domes and climb to breathtaking overlooks. During winter hikes, you’ll not only benefit from excellent weather, but you’ll also find plenty of parking at trailheads. Plus, you’ll find that the trails aren’t crowded, there are plenty of hotel accommodations from throughout the region and the days end with spectacular sunsets.
While Dixie offers a few hundred trails, we’ve highlighted seven of the best hikes that cover a wide range of territory from deep canyons to high peaks.
Petrified Dunes Trail
The iconic Petrified Dunes Trail runs through Snow Canyon State Park, a wonderland of cliffs and canyons. Lying on the doorstep of St. George, Snow Canyon offers 38 miles of hiking on 13 trails that explore picture-postcard scenery. The easy, 1.4-mile Petrified Dunes Trail traverses sagebrush flats to reach a spectacular field where sand dunes were deposited over 180 million years ago during the Jurassic Period. Over time, the heaps of sand petrified to form striated mounds of stone that roll like waves. As you scramble over wavy ridges and slabs, you’ll get breathtaking views of distant mountains and giant water-filled potholes that reflect clouds and sky.
Other notable Snow Canyon hikes include Jenny’s Canyon Trail, which leads to a short slot canyon, and the Butterfly Trail, which rises to a dramatic overlook. For a fascinating slice of history, follow the Pioneer Names Trail to a cliff covered with settler names written in axle grease.
Johnson Canyon Trail
With its gorgeous scenery, the 0.8-mile Johnson Canyon Trail makes a perfect winter outing. The easy path begins just south of the entrance to Snow Canyon State Park. You’ll first cross a rough lava field before ascending Arch Canyon to reach 102-foot Johnson Arch, one of southwestern Utah’s longest spans. The thick arch is named for pioneer settler Maude Johnson, who lived in the canyon with her husband. After catching your breath, head back to the trailhead for a 1.6-mile round-trip hike or meander further up the canyon until it ends below towering red-rock cliffs. The trail is closed for raptor nesting from March 15th to October 31st.
Red Reef Trail
The 2-mile Red Reef Trail travels through a mini-Zion Canyon with soaring sandstone cliffs, Native-American rock art panels, narrow slot canyons, and a tumbling waterfall at trail’s end. This easy path, tucked away in the Red Cliffs Recreation Area northeast of St. George, is an ideal mid-winter excursion. Your hike begins at the Red Cliffs Campground and proceeds up a sandy trail in Water Canyon. As the passageway narrows, you’ll may encounter water-filled potholes and reach a set of chopped steps that wind around a small waterfall. (They may be dry during the winter, depending on the weather.) Beyond the waterfall, there are more pools and the grand finale, a delightful waterfall pouring over smooth slabs. From this point, you can retrace your steps for a 4-mile round-trip hike. If you want to ensure a view of the falls, come back in the spring or early summer when water is more abundant. But even without the water, this is a fun trail to explore.
Once you’ve returned, you can follow more trails that surround the campground, including trailheads that lead to Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites (Anasazi Trail) and dinosaur tracks.
Gently descending from Danish Ranch Road, the easy, 1.3-mile Anna’s Viewpoint Trail crosses Yant Flat to visit swirling sandstone slabs, checkerboard domes and scenic overlooks. The area is home to rolling mounds of bare bedrock tinted red and orange. As you walk the trail, watch for a herd of wild horses grazing on Yant Flat. When you reach high ground, you’ll encounter unfenced overlooks that offer excellent views of the multi-colored Candy Cliff. From your lofty perch, you’ll be able to gaze across Cottonwood Canyon for distant views of St. George, Sand Hollow Reservoir and Zion’s gleaming white cliffs.
Hellhole Canyon Trail
Despite its ominous name, Hellhole Canyon is a hidden gem northwest of St. George. From the trailhead on Taviawk Drive, the 2-mile Hellhole Canyon Trail heads north up sandy Dry Wash to Hellhole Canyon, a deep break in a towering cliff escarpment. When the canyon divides, take the right branch to enjoy intermittent pools of water, the lilting song of canyon wrens and, after rainstorms, a ribbon waterfall dropping down a vertical sandstone wall. After you explore the cul-de-sac canyon, retrace your steps for a 4-mile hike.
Be aware that this moderately difficult trail requires boulder-hopping, rock scrambling and challenges in identifying the route.
Lower Sand Cove Trail
The 2.3-mile Lower Sand Cove Trail crosses shallow valleys, red-rock benches, and domes of sandstone to reach The Vortex, or The Bowl, a 25-foot-deep pothole or hollow. While the Lower Sand Cove Trail is only a 30-minute drive from St. George, it lies within the Red Mountain Wilderness Area and feels far removed from civilization. From the trail parking lot, the path dips across a dry wash and then scrambles across slickrock, which was once ancient sand dunes. As you traverse the slickrock, look for cairns or stacks of rocks, which mark the route. You’ll find The Vortex hidden beneath two white rock formations that resemble camel humps. After shooting Instagram-worthy photos of the hollow, retrace your route to return to the parking area.
Red Mountain Trail to Snow Canyon Overlook
The Red Mountain Trail leads to one of the most dramatic viewpoints in Utah’s Dixie. From the trailhead on State Route 18 north of St. George, the path gradually climbs for two miles through a piñon pine and juniper forest. It then turns south and continues for a quarter-mile to reach Snow Canyon Overlook, which offers a 360-degree view. From this high vantage point, you’ll see salmon-colored cliffs falling away to the deep canyon which runs south to distant St. George. You’ll also get glimpses of the sandstone mountains at Zion National Park and the snow-capped Pine Valley Mountains. Bring a headlamp, something warm for the cooler night air and stay until sunset to watch beautiful colors wash over Snow Canyon. When you’re ready to leave, retrace your footsteps for a 4.8-mile round-trip hike.
If you’ve seen the desert glow at sunset, you know how special this place can be. During the winter, it’s just as stunning. The snow-covered peaks and plateaus gleam in the light as blue shadows creep across the burnt-orange land. It’s an unforgettable sight and only one of the reasons to visit Utah’s Dixie in winter. Once you’ve experienced the peace and quiet and favorable weather, you might come to find that the offseason is the best season in Southwestern Utah.
Written by Stewart Green for Matcha in partnership with Utah Office of Tourism.