Snow Canyon State Park

Among Utah's most scenic state parks, Snow Canyon offers an abundance of opportunities for photography and hiking. The park is surrounded by rock cliffs and walls of Navajo sandstone in shades of red, layered with white and black from ancient lava flows. Hike the trails and discover shifting sand dunes, mysterious lava caves, colorful desert plants, and a variety of rock formations. You can also hike to an attractive cactus garden and several ancient petroglyphs (ask park rangers for directions).

Because the summers here are hot -- well over 100°F (38°C) -- the best time to visit is any other time. Winters are mild, but nights can be chilly. Spring and fall are usually perfect weather-wise, and therefore the busiest. By the way, don't come looking for snow -- Snow Canyon was named for pioneers Lorenzo and Erastus Snow, who discovered the canyon.

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Essentials

Getting There -- The park is 11 miles northwest of St. George, off Utah 18.

Information, Fees & Regulations -- For a copy of the park's brochure, contact Snow Canyon State Park, 1002 Snow Canyon Dr., Ivins, UT 84738 (tel. 435/628-2255; www.stateparks.utah.gov). Day-use fee is $5. As in most state parks, dogs are welcome, even on trails, but must be leashed. The park is open from 6am to 10pm.

Outdoor Pursuits

Hiking -- The best way to see Snow Canyon is on foot. Several short trails make for easy full- or half-day hikes. The Hidden Piñon Trail is a 1.5-mile round-trip self-guided nature trail that wanders among lava rocks, through several canyons, and onto rocky flatlands, offering panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. The trail begins across the highway from the park's campground; you can pick up a brochure at the park office/entrance station. The walk is fairly easy, but allow at least an hour, especially if you're planning to keep an eye out for local vegetation such as Mormon tea, cliffrose, prickly pear cactus, and banana yucca.

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An easy 2-mile round-trip is Johnson Canyon Trail. It begins just south of the campground, passes the popular rock-climbing wall and some low sand dunes, and then leads into Johnson Canyon and a view of Johnson Arch (both named after pioneer wife Maude Johnson) spanning 200 feet high above.

The Lava Flow Overlook Trail, a 1.5-mile round-trip, starts just north of the campground. Caves can be found for about a half-mile along the trail, but watch carefully -- it's easy to miss them. The caves were formed from liquid lava, and Native American tribes have at times occupied the large rooms. Another quarter-mile past the caves is the West Canyon Overlook, with a breathtaking view into West Canyon.

Several longer and steeper trails lead to spectacular views of the canyons and distant vistas; check with park rangers for details.

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Mountain Biking -- Although bicycling is not allowed on park trails, West Canyon Road is open to mountain biking. The 7-mile round-trip road lies just west of the park; ask park rangers for directions. You can rent bikes at Bicycles Unlimited.

Rock Climbing -- Climbers love the tall wall of rock on the east side of the road just south of the campground. Check with the park office for information.

Wildlife-Watching -- You're likely to see cottontail rabbits, ground squirrels, and songbirds; luckier visitors may also spot desert mule deer, bobcats, coyote, kit foxes, eagles, and owls. Although it's unlikely, you may see a desert tortoise (a federally listed threatened species) or a Gila monster. Snow Canyon is also home to some rattlesnakes.

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Camping

The 36-site campground is one of the best in the state. One section has rather closely spaced sites with electric hookups; those not needing electricity can set up camp in delightful little side canyons, surrounded by colorful red rocks and Utah juniper. The views are spectacular no matter where you choose to set up. Facilities include hot showers, modern restrooms, and an RV dump station. Campsites with water and electricity cost $20, while those without are $16. Reservations are recommended from February through May and September through November; call tel. 800/322-3770 or visit www.stateparks.utah.gov.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.