22 Mar Winter Hiking Adventures in St. George, Utah
Utah has quickly become one of our favorite states in the U.S. We’ve visited four times in the last couple of years, and each visit leaves us wanting more. The landscapes are diverse and the opportunities for outdoor adventures are outstanding. Our most recent visit to Utah was to the St. George region for the Instameet St. George hosted by Travel Mindset, and we set out to explore some of the great winter adventures the area has to offer. This trip was completely different from our past winter adventures in Utah, which included skiing, snowmobiling, snow tubing, and the like. This time around, we had a weekend full of beautiful hikes and gorgeous weather.
Johnson Canyon Trail
Johnson Canyon Trail is a short hike (approximately 1.8 miles roundtrip), but it definitely packs a punch. It is located at the entrance to Snow Canyon State Park and is a relatively easy hike with only minor elevation changes. Along the trail we found beautiful red rock walls and formations, black lava flows, and plenty of greenery and shrubs.
Once you reach the last section of the trail, you turn a corner and the view opens up to towering red rock walls that surround you on three sides. This is where you will find the Johnson Canyon Arch high up near the top of the rock walls. You can continue your hike until you reach the back of the canyon and looking out from this point will give you a wonderful view, especially if the sun is starting to set.
One thing to note about this trail is that it is only open during the winter months, so it’s just one of the many advantages of visiting Utah in the winter. The trail typically opens the end of October and closes mid-March.
Trail Distance: 1.8 miles roundtrip | Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 37°14’15.9″N 113°38’11.3″W
Petrified Dunes Trail
We were incredibly surprised by Snow Canyon State Park. Snow Canyon seems to get overshadowed by the “Mighty 5” National Parks nearby, but it’s definitely a spot that you shouldn’t miss. The Petrified Dunes is another fantastic (and short!) trail at Snow Canyon State Park. The trail is only 1.2-miles roundtrip, but I honestly don’t’ even know if we followed the trail. When you are on the dunes, you can pretty much walk anywhere choose, which is exactly what we did.
We arrived just before sunset, and we were fascinated by the formations that unfolded in front of our eyes. The terrain here is essentially made up of what used to be mountains of sand. Now you find hardened rock formations with intricate patterns that swirl their way off into the distance. It was mesmerizing.
We didn’t stay at the Petrified Dunes long since it was getting dark and we weren’t prepared with the proper gear and flashlights, but even a short visit to the dunes is well worth your time. Just like Johnson Canyon, there is a lot to see in a relatively small area. Micah and I didn’t want to leave the Petrified Dunes, but thankfully a nearby campfire with s’mores was calling our names. The main campground at Snow Canyon State Park is not too far from the Petrified Dunes and camping in this park would be a blast sometime in the future. We weren’t camping on this trip though, so instead our group had a bonfire at one of the day use sites—definitely a wonderful way to end a day out on the trails.
Trail Distance: 1.2 miles roundtrip | Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 37°12’56.2″N 113°38’38.2″W
The Narrows Trail
We have been wanting to hike The Narrows at Zion National Park for years. So, we were extremely excited that we finally had a chance to get back to Utah and give it a go. The Narrows is located in the narrowest part of Zion Canyon. Since it was winter during our hike, we rented dry suites from Zion Adventure Co. to keep us nice and toasty throughout our hike. You might be wondering why we needed dry suits for a hike, and that would be understandable. To hike The Narrows, you actually need to wade through the river, as the Virgin River is the trail! The water can be ankle deep or even higher than your waist depending on the time of year, the water level of the river and where you decide to walk. And talking about the level of the water, be sure to keep an eye on the weather conditions and alerts before setting off on this hike as flash floods in the canyon can be extremely dangerous.
There are a couple of ways to experience this trail—you can hike from the bottom up or top down. Hiking the trail top down requires a permit and will take you sixteen miles downstream all the way through the canyon. This means you start on one side and end on the other; it can take one to two days to finish the hike. The other option, to hike bottom up, means that you will enter and exit the canyon from the same point at the bottom of the river. You can hike as far back as Big Spring without a permit. If you want to complete the entire hike, it is strenuous and 10-miles roundtrip, but you can also just hike in as far as you feel up to and turn around whenever you’d like.
We went the bottom up route and hiked several miles into the canyon. Micah and I made partway into the Wall Street section of the canyon before turning around. We would have loved to keep going, but we spent too much time taking photos and we started getting hungry. Which reminds me, if you do this hike and plan to be out there all day, don’t forget to bring plenty of snacks! Hiking through the river water is exhausting!
The views throughout the canyon are absolutely spectacular—towering rock walls and a rushing river create some pretty fantastic views. And, since we hiked the trail in the winter, we encountered very few other hikers. The trail can get quite busy in the summer, so even though the water and air are colder in the winter, we feel it’s definitely a better time to hike it.
Trail Distance: 2-10 miles roundtrip (without a permit) | Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 37°17’06.8″N 112°56’51.6″W
Elephant Arch Trail
One of the last hikes during our trip was to Elephant Arch at Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. After all of the other amazing trails we experienced throughout the weekend, we certainly weren’t expecting much here. Thankfully though, we were pleasantly surprised once again. To reach the trailhead, you have to drive down a bumpy dirt road—at first, we thought we had the wrong directions, but once we saw several parked cars, we knew we were in the right place.
The trail to Elephant Arch is 3.8 miles roundtrip, and the first part of the trail consists of walking along a dirt road and flat sandy path. Once again, we were treated with views of pretty red rock formations along the trail.
About halfway into the hike, the trail turned from flat into some small ups and downs over rocky outcrops. We scrambled our way along the path and eventually wound up standing at the base of Elephant Arch. Looking up at the arch, you can see how it really does resemble an elephant! At this point, you can choose to admire the formation from afar, or you can climb up and around to get right up next to, and even on top of the arch! We couldn’t resist climbing all the way to the arch, and the views from the top were even better than they were from below. If you decide to go all the way up to the arch, too, just be careful because the rocks aren’t always sturdy and the sand can make them slippery!
Trail Distance: 3.8 miles roundtrip | Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 37°09’42.0″N 113°30’46.4″W
Angels Landing Trail
We actually hiked the Angels Landing trail in the summer, but it is another fantastic hike in Zion National Park so we couldn’t resist mentioning it again. Angels Landing is an intense (and terrifying!) hike that consists of switchbacks, steep drop offs, and 1,500 feet of elevation gain in just 2.6 miles.
The first 2.1 miles of the hike consists of several sections of dizzying switchbacks, but the real challenge is the last 0.5 mile of the trail. The last half mile is definitely not for the faint of heart—you will be walking along narrow trails with hair-raising drop-offs (on both sides!) to the canyon floor around 2,000 feet below. The only thing you have to hold onto is fixed chain railings that sporadically line the path. It’s intense to say the least, but well worth the effort if you can manage any fear of heights that you may have. The views from the top are incredible and the rush you get from the trail make it one of our favorite hikes of all time!
While Angels Landing is open year-round, and we know several people who have hiked it in the winter, do be aware that there is a chance that there could be snow and ice on the trail. So be sure to use extra caution and learn the conditions of the trail before you set out. Other than that, it is a fantastic trail any time of year, especially in the winter when the temperatures are more moderate!
Trail Distance: 5.2 miles roundtrip | Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 37°15’33.5″N 112°57’04.9″W
Have you ever been to Utah in the winter? What are your favorite winter hikes?