Snow Canyon State Park near St. George, Utah is a gem filled with soaring multi-coloured sandstone cliffs, lava flows, and canyons along with a diverse array of plants and animals including 14 sensitive species. Snow Canyon is not nearly as popular as famous Zion National Park – where everyone seemingly heads for, but a few of the hikes here are mind-blowing. Described are a selection of the best hikes in Snow Canyon – some of which you can knock off in 30 minutes to an hour. Hike at least a couple of them if you’re anywhere near the area.
There are a total of 19 hiking trails in the park covering 38 miles. Although many are short and family-friendly, they still have broad appeal. One of the best hikes in Snow Canyon we did was the Petrified Dunes trail. If you only do one hike, make it this one!
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Best hikes in Snow Canyon State Park summary
- Utah residents pay $10 per vehicle with up to 8 people to visit the park. If you’re a senior (65+) it’s $5 per vehicle. A group of up to four pedestrians or cyclists pay $5.
- If you’re a non-resident it’s $15 per vehicle with up to eight people to enter and $5 for up to four cyclists or pedestrians.
- Dogs are only permitted on leash on West Canyon Road, Whiptail Trail, and on all the Paradise Canyon trails. Don’t bring them on hot days!
- Beware of seasonal closures – cue the Johnson Canyon trail.
- Carry a minimum of one litre of water per person, double that if you’re planning to be out all day.
- Tell someone where you’re going.
- The best hikes in Snow Canyon include the Petrified Dunes Trail, Butterfly Trail, Jenny’s Canyon Trail, Whiterocks Amphitheater Trail, Johnson Canyon Trail, and the Lava Flow Trail.
- Allow a minimum of a day and preferably two days so you can experience the full beauty of Snow Canyon State Park.
Where is Snow Canyon State Park?
Snow Canyon State Park is a 7,400 acre park tucked into the 62,000-acre Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. It’s about a 15-minute drive north of St. George in southwest Utah. This beauty of a park, filled with red and white sandstone cliffs, volcanic cinder cones, burnt orange to creamy white petrified sand dunes, and lava capped ridges will appeal to kids and adults of all ages including cyclists, hikers, nature lovers, horseback riders, and photographers.
Hollywood also loves the park. Remember Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Some of it was filmed here along with The Electric Horseman and Jeremiah Johnson.
Fun fact: The park came into existence in 1959 as Dixie State Park but was later renamed Snow Canyon State Park. The names don’t refer to the fluffy white stuff which the park doesn’t see very often, but to prominent Utah political and religious leaders, Lorenzo Snow and Erastus Snow.
Best hikes in Snow Canyon – Whiterocks Amphitheater hike
Distance: Either 2 miles return with an elevation gain of 125 feet or about 5.5 miles return with 500 feet of elevation gain if you take off from the Lava Flow trail
Level of difficulty: Easy from the parking lot; moderate if you’re doing an out and back from Lava Flow trail
Time needed: About an hour if you hike in from the parking lot described below or 3 – 4 hours to do an out and back from the Lava Flow trail
Trailhead: One half mile north of the Snow Canyon Drive/State Route 18 Junction or at the signed intersection on the Lava Flow Trail
The Whiterocks Amphitheater hike is an excellent choice, no matter how you hike it. It’s short, sweet, and family-friendly (but not stroller-friendly) if you hike in from the parking lot beside the highway.
The trail leads to a gorgeous, very white, sandstone amphitheater surrounded by soaring sandstone peaks. There’s lots of fun walking on the rocks to be had, especially as the sandstone offers lots of traction so you can tackle steeper sections of this area safely (though you should always use common sense.) There’s also a lot of white sand that kids might like to play in at the base of the amphitheater.
You can also reach the Whiterocks Amphitheater via the Lava Flow Trail. We were very tempted to do the out and back hike but with only a day in the park we opted for the shorter version. Look for a trail intersection just past the lava tubes. It heads off north and then northeast. Eventually you’ll have to switchback up a steep slope between a couple of sandstone outcroppings. You meet up with the trail coming from the parking lot and continue west on an unmarked but obvious trail to the amphitheater.
Lava Flow hike
Distance: 2.5 miles round-trip
Level of difficulty: Easy to moderate depending on how often you hike; lots of uneven surfaces
Time needed: 1 – 2 hours depending on if you explore the lava tubes and whether you climb up to the lookout
Trailhead location: The trailhead is the first one you come to as you drive south from the park entrance off State Highway 18.
The Lava Flow trail isn’t as dramatic as some of the other best hikes in Snow Canyon, but it makes up for it by providing some unique experiences including a visit into the heart of a lava tube. Check out my Instagram reel showing what it’s like to hike down into the lava tube.
The hike starts with a superb view into the heart of the park. From there the trail winds through a lava field rife with sharp rocks and continues past three lava tubes – one of which is more cave like that you can enter at your own risk. Along the way there are several interpretive panels that explain about the formation of the lava tubes.
Did you know that about 27,000 years ago lava erupted from a nearby but now extinct volcano? A lava tube formed when the surface of the flowing lava cooled and hardened to a solid crust, but below it, the molten lava continued to flow. As it was on a slope, the lava eventually drained out entirely leaving the lava tubes you see today. Some of the lava tubes are completely collapsed but you can enter the one shown in my reel.
If you venture into the lava tube, take a flashlight and assuming you’re going in for a quick look, leave your backpack on the surface as it gets cramped getting into the tube. If you’ve got good clothes on that tear easily, you might want to give it a pass. I went down into the lava tube cave just a short distance – and wasn’t interested in crawling into smaller spaces. I wouldn’t recommend this for kids.
If you continue on the Lava Flow trail, you’ll pass the intersection to the Whiterocks Amphitheatre and then the Butterfly Trail. There is an overlook if you keep going that is worth the climb.
Petrified Dunes Trail
Distance: 1.2 miles round trip
Level of difficulty: Easy
Time needed: Up to an hour as this is a fun area to explore
Trailhead location: Either access it from the Butterfly Trail or via short walk from the parking lot
The Petrified Dunes trail is mind blowing. From the parking lot or the Butterfly Trail, hike a sandy path that leads to unbelievable rolling mounds of petrified Navajo sandstone. Some of the dunes here, formed more than 183 million years ago, are 2,500 feet thick! For the next 30 – 60 minutes, explore the sandstone formations and climb to the top of one of them for superb views into the heart of Snow Canyon State Park. Views are breathtaking.
This trail is one that is made for exploring. When you’re finished, either retrace your steps to the parking lot or head down as we did to the West Canyon Road and back to the Lava Flow trail. If you can, time your visit for sunset. What a place to sit back and watch the sun set over the multi-coloured canyons.
Distance: 2 miles round-trip
Level of difficulty: Easy
Time needed: 45 minutes to an hour
Trailhead location: Park at the same parking lot used for the Petrified Dunes trail or pick up the Butterfly Trail from the Lava Flow Trail
I suspect most visitors to the park consider the Butterfly Trail only as a connector trail, but it’s a stand-alone beauty and one of the best hikes in Snow Canyon in my opinion. We came at the trail from the Lava Flow trail – and had it to ourselves. As we hiked along the length of a huge, petrified dune, John and I couldn’t help but marvel at all the sand layers frozen in time. At the end of the trail close to the intersection with the Petrified Dunes trail, we climbed another dune for a fantastic view back to the Lava Flow trail and beyond. It was the type of hiking that makes you grin from ear to ear.
Johnson Canyon hike, Snow Canyon State Park
Distance: 2 miles return
Level of difficulty: Easy
Time needed: One hour or less
Trailhead location: The trailhead is a short distance before the southern park entrance on the main road through Snow Canyon State Park.
Important: The canyon is closed annually from March 15 – September 14 to preserve endangered habitat.
Hike description: The Johnson Canyon is another winner of a hike for the whole family. Head across the street from the parking area to start the hike. From the trail you’ll look down at remnants of a lava flow and a dry stream bed. Continue walking as it takes you left and into the canyon. Note the spring barely flowing down to the right.
One of the highlights is the red sandstone arch spanning 200 feet. It took a few tries before my husband spotted it, as it blends so well into the landscape. Continue to the end of the canyon where there are some beautiful big trees. With all the shade, it’s the perfect place to stop, sit, and admire the soaring canyon walls. After a break or a picnic retrace your steps.
Jenny’s Canyon hike
Distance: 0.5 miles round-trip
Level of difficulty: Easy and family-friendly but not stroller-friendly
Time needed: 30 minutes
Hike description: It’s a family-friendly hike up and into Jenny’s Canyon – a short but sculpted slot canyon. There’s an option to do a quick add-on to an overlook where you can view the Snow Canyon Sand Dunes.
The trail follows an obvious path through a dry wash. Continue left around a rock that looks like a head with a big eye and into the canyon. Walk to the end of the slot canyon, looking up to marvel at the height of the canyon walls.
More things to do in Snow Canyon State Park if you have time
When you drive through Snow Canyon State Park, you will likely see a lot of mountain bikers. We were passed by several as we hiked West Canyon Road, but they are also allowed on the Paradise Canyon Trails, and the Whiptail Trail. You can easily rent mountain bikes and ebikes if you’re visiting from out of town.
There are over 170 designated sport climbing routes in Snow Canyon State Park. Have the right gear and know-how before you go rock climbing.
There is horseback riding in the state park too. A ranger can give you a map showing all the trails. Some of the trails take you to gorgeous overlooks into the canyon where you’ll be mesmerized by the contrast of black lava flows and red and white Navajo sandstone.
Where to stay near Snow Canyon State Park
We stayed at the Inn on the Cliff in St. George. It’s only a 20-minute drive away from the park. Both John and I loved the place with the views out over the city from our bedroom – and the hot tub. Breakfast comes with the room too. On warmer days you’d be able to sit outside and enjoy it on your balcony.
There is also the option to camp on a year-round basis in Snow Canyon State Park. There are 32 campsites, some with hook-ups and water. Prices start at $40 per night. Make a reservation online through the Utah State Parks link.
You can also check out the Free Campsites website for ideas on where to stay.
Snow Canyon State Park should be on the radar of anyone visiting southern Utah. It surpassed all expectations. Thank you to Visit Utah for hosting me, but trust me, these opinions are mine alone. I’m a huge fan of the hikes I described and I can say that John and I were in our element and so happy to be here!
Further reading on things to do in Utah
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