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(Tom Wharton | The Salt Lake Tribune) Horseback riders enjoy Snow Canyon State Park near St. George, one of the more popular spring break outdoor areas.
Snow Canyon State Park offers escape from the winter

First Published Jan 15 2014 11:23 am • Last Updated Jan 21 2014 02:04 pm

Ivins • Not many campers and hikers brave the winter months to enjoy Utah’s state parks.

But Snow Canyon often proves to be the exception, even in January. The temperatures can dip to around 30 at night, but that did not keep Nevada residents Rich Sloan and Angelo Stoebe and their families from enjoying warm sun-drenched hikes during the day and quiet camping in their motorhomes in the evening.

At a glance

Snow Canyon State Park

The 7,400-acre park, created in 1959, is located in Ivins, Utah, which is about 15 minutes outside St. George. It is part of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve.

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"This is our little piece of heaven," said Sloan, a Las Vegas resident, who just began exploring Utah’s state parks. "It was unbelievable. Our 13-year-old watched shooting stars. We had a bonfire and s’mores. It was incredible."

Stoebe, who was camping with his young daughters, said his wife learned about Snow Canyon on the Internet.

"It’s a good-kept secret," he said. "You can hike all day long and then just hang out. It is like one of the best I have ever seen."

Both campers commented on friendly hosts and good facilities. Sloan could not believe that the dirt around the fire pit had been raked or how helpful the host had been. Stoebe said the park host helped him park his rig then told him he could wait until the morning to pay when he didn’t have cash with him.

The 33-unit campground offers some full hookups, some secluded tent sites tucked next to red rock cliffs, showers and two group sites.

Frank Pippy, a retired cowboy who recently moved from Duchesne to Washington to escape the cold weather, came in to talk to park naturalist Jenny Dawn Stucki about the availability of horse trails inside the park. He learned there were 15 miles.

"I’m enjoying looking around," he said. "I like the rock formations, geology and Indian writings."

The park’s unusual geology features sandstone cliffs of different hues of red and tan, petrified sand dunes and black lava rock from nearby cinder cones that erupted as recently as 270,000 years ago.

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Stucki said January typically is quiet at the 7,400-acre state park, which was created in 1959 and is part of the larger 62,000-acre Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, established to protected the desert tortoise and its habitat.

Yet, on a Thursday in January, nearly every trail head was filled with cars. A family played in the sand dune. Other walkers and cyclists enjoyed the 3-mile paved trail that runs much of the length of the canyon.

The park features 38 miles of hiking trails with 22 named, ranging in length from one-half mile to 8 miles. One leads to an arch. Others take hikers into lava tubes or to ponds and a small slot canyon. Kids of all ages enjoy rock scrambling at Galoot, Petrified Dunes and the White-rock areas.

In addition, climbers enjoy 170 designated routes, with rangers offering them a map of climbing areas, route information and a list of seasonal closures.

"Winter is a fun time of year," Stucki said. "It’s not a peak time. There is a lot of availability for campers, with the exception of the holiday weekends."

She said wildlife viewing in the winter months is somewhat limited, though there are many roadrunners in the area and campers often hear the park’s resident owls hooting at night.

"We start getting busy from late February to the middle of March," Stucki said.

The park’s name is somewhat of a misnomer, implying a place with plenty of snow. The reality is it seldom snows in the area, and when it does, the white stuff doesn’t stay long. The park, originally called Dixie State Park, later was renamed in honor of Utah pioneers Lorenzo and Erastus Snow.

Snow Canyon also might look somewhat familiar to movie buffs, with parts of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Electric Horseman and Jeremiah Johnson filmed at the park.

While most parks are busy in the summer months, Snow Canyon can be on the warm side. That makes January through mid-May and October and November ideal months to explore its trails and enjoy its campground.


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