Communing with the majesty of Utah's canyons and the beauty of its red rock requires solitude and silence. Both those things can be difficult to find in the area's über-popular...
Communing with the majesty of Utah’s canyons and the beauty of its red rock requires solitude and silence. Both those things can be difficult to find in the area’s über-popular national parks, where hikers hear a dozen languages as they pass others on well-worn trails and photographers elbow for space at scenic vistas.
Backpackers can find secluded spots, but day hikers can expect lots of company even in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall.
While Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks are not-to-be-missed highlights in Southwest Utah, tourists who stop at some of the area’s lesser-known state parks will get to spend quality one-on-one time with nature and take photos without worrying someone will dart into the frame.
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During a three-mile afternoon hike at Kodachrome Basin State Park, about 22 miles east of Bryce Canyon National Park, we ran into just one other hiker. On another hike to Kodachrome Basin’s Shakespeare Arch, we didn’t see any other visitors.
After several days of stepping around tourists lined up under Zion’s Weeping Rock and observing Bryce’s packed Sunrise Point during its eponymous time of day, we found Kodachrome delightfully empty. Even with a full campground, the roughly 4,000-acre park has just 27 sites to Zion’s 350.
No crowd problem
Lack of crowds isn’t the only appeal of Kodachrome Basin and another state park, Snow Canyon (near a rapidly expanding suburb of St. George). Southwestern Utah is so unpopulated that both include large tracts of spectacular scenery and great hikes. Both are easily accessed from paved roads, with most well-signed hikes leaving from paved parking lots. For campers, the state parks also feature hot showers, unlike the national park campgrounds.
Kodachrome Basin offers unusual sedimentary pipes, rock spires that geologists believe are spurts of liquefied sand from an earthquake or petrified geysers. The softer sandstone surrounding the formations eroded, leaving some 70 monolithic spires poking as high as 170 feet from the valley floor.
For an overview of the 4,000-acre park’s spires and impressive red rock and striped cliffs, the best hike is the three-mile Panorama Trail, which explores the park’s roadless western side with various loops. Side trails lead to the Secret Passage, a narrow canyon, and to Hatshop, where the pinnacles are topped with caps. The 1.5-mile Grand Parade Trail cuts into the eastern side of the park, including a solitary canyon. The short, isolated Shakespeare Arch Nature Trail, reached by a dirt road passable to passenger cars, offers still a different view of the park from the south (the arch itself is rather small).
Though the park can be visited in a day, it’s worth an overnight stop to watch the color of the rocks as the shadows and light change with the rising or setting of the sun.
Snow Canyon State Park
At Snow Canyon, the park packs a lot of variety into its 6,853 acres, with sand dunes (a huge hit with children), petrified sand dunes, lava tubes, a volcanic cone and red-and-white Navajo sandstone cliffs towering 500 feet high along the five-mile-long canyon. With rapidly encroaching development, this park isn’t as isolated as Kodachrome, but it’s even more beautiful.
An easy half-mile sand trail leads to sloping dunes of fine red sand but more interesting are the curving, ridged petrified sand dunes. There’s a one-mile trail but once hikers are on top of the dunes, it’s mostly a matter of walking around to explore.
Other trails lead to a dramatic canyon overlook; a 200-foot arch; narrow, sculpted canyons; or a rock wall where pioneers wrote their names in axle grease as far back as 1883. There’s also a six-mile paved trail for jogging, biking and inline skating.
The canyon was home to Paiute Indians from A.D. 1200 to the mid-1800s, when Mormon pioneers happened upon it while searching for lost cattle. Despite the park’s frigid name (which actually honors Mormon leaders Lorenzo and Erastus Snow), it can be very hot during the summer and quite warm on spring and fall afternoons. Located where the Mojave Desert, Great Basin Desert and Colorado Plateau intersect, the park averages only 7 inches of rainfall a year.
For hiking information at both state parks, pick up trail maps at the parks’ information centers. Most guidebooks offer only a paragraph or two on each park. That’s too bad for most visitors, but great for those who want a time-out from the national-park crowds.
Stephanie Dunnewind: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-2091.