Hiking Southern Utah: Snow Canyon State Park
Trail names: Jenny’s Canyon, Sand Dunes, Pioneer Names, and Petrified Sand Dunes
Location: Snow Canyon State Park
Length: All are relatively short with the longest (Petrified Dunes Trail) being one mile round-trip.
Elevation Gain: Minimal
Average time: Each hike can be done in under an hour
Family-friendly: Ideal for young hikers
Dog-friendly: Dogs are not allowed on any of these trails
Snow Canyon State Park is a wonderful place for young hikers. Trails are relatively short and have minimal elevation gain. Coupled with outstanding scenery, many of the hikes in the park are perfectly suited for young hikers with short legs and even shorter attention spans. Some of these hikes are short enough that they can be combined for a grand day of adventure.
Access: Snow Canyon State Park can be accessed by two different routes, but in the interest of simplicity, only the approach from the south will be described. From the junction of Bluff St. and St. George Blvd., head north on Bluff St. for 1.7 miles, then turn left on Snow Canyon Parkway. Drive west for 3.2 miles to the second traffic circle. Take the first right onto Snow Canyon Drive. Continue north for one mile to the south entrance station. Pay the $6 fee, and continue into the park.
Hike No. 1: Jenny’s Canyon
Jenny’s Canyon is closed annually from March 15 to June 1. The trail for Jenny’s Canyon is found about half a mile past the entrance station, on the right side of the road. Head east across the sandy, flat trail, being sure to stay on the official path as it winds past sagebrush, outcroppings of black basalt, and a shallow wash. The towering southern end of Island in the Sky looms above the trail, and equally massive walls fill the eastern horizon. Walk for a little less than a quarter mile, scrambling up some very minor rock steps to reach Jenny’s Canyon. The delightful little slot canyon is a wonderful spot for children to explore and let their imaginations run. The canyon is named for Jennifer Denise Patchett, a young woman who passed away at a tragically young age and who found inspiration in this magical spot. To return to the parking area, hike back out on the same trail.
Hike No. 2: Sand Dunes
Just down the road from Jenny’s Canyon (0.2 miles), on the west side of the road, is the Sand Dunes area of Snow Canyon. This is no official “trail” here, but the dunes are fun to roam and wander around in. Digging holes is also a popular pastime with children here, but please be careful. Deep holes are prone to collapse and can be dangerous. Keep an eye on those young hikers.
Hike No. 3: Pioneer Names Trail
Another 0.6 miles down the road from the sand dunes brings
travelers to the Pioneer Names trailhead. The west face of Island in the Sky completely dominates the surroundings here, and it is common to see climbers ascending some of the many challenging routes that line the face. The trail heads southeast initially, wandering through sandy terrain until it reaches the rock face where a beautiful cave invites vertical exploration. It is a steep scramble and is only appropriate for experienced scramblers. This could be an easy place to get stuck. The path then heads northeast as it contours along the base of Island in the Sky. After passing by some trees, the trail moves away from the face and soon reaches the base of two large alcove arches. The leftmost of these alcoves contains the Pioneer names: ancient graffiti signed in wagon axle grease, all dated from the 1800s. It is possible to scramble up to the alcove to view them more closely, but the ascent is very steep and is not recommended for anyone uncomfortable with exposure. Please don’t touch the names. Again, return on the trail to the parking area.
Hike No. 4: Petrified Sand Dunes trail
This is the longest of the four trails listed but arguably has the most spectacular scenery. Drive for just under 2 miles to the Petrified Sand Dunes trailhead (on the left.) The path heads west across a sage flat but when it reaches the slickrock heads south (there is no “official” trail to follow, so hikers must pick the best route across the sandstone according to each group’s ability.) Contour along the ancient sand dunes, making for a saddle between two domes. This area is ideal for roaming and exploration, and there is no right or wrong way to go, although hikers must be mindful of occasional steep cliffs. The views of the candy-striped cliffs and deep valleys are particularly striking here. Hiking back towards the easternmost dome will bring explorers to “piano rock,” a black rock protrusion that vaguely resembles a miniature piano. Moqui Marbles—concretions of iron oxide—are scattered all over the surface of the petrified sand dunes. These interesting features were also discovered on Mars and are fun to look at, but please don’t collect them here. Have fun exploring this gorgeous spot, and head north back across the expanse of sandstone to return to the parking area.
For more information, check out the park brochure.