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The Best Hike in Southern Utah the Whole Family Can Enjoy: Red Reef Trail at Red Cliffs

Updated: May 8, 2020

If you are looking for a hike you can do with kids from ages 1 to 92 than look no further than the Red Reef Trail in Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. Affectionately refereed to simply as "Red Cliffs" by the locals, this hike packs a powerful scenic punch in a short and {relatively} easy 1.44 mile out and back trail. You'll be amazed by the towering red rocks all around you, and if you time it right, you'll get to witness picture perfect waterfalls and cacti blooms.

Location: Leeds, Utah. This trail is a part of the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area

Duration: 1.44 miles out and back to "the rope", but you can make it a bit longer if you dare to climb up the rope and explore more. Hike time is roughly one hour, give or take on how much you choose to explore and play

Difficulty: Easy, moderately flat with one notable hill incline/decline and some uneven ground due to rocks. Hike does become more difficult and require scrambling if you choose to go further

Cost: Free with a National Parks Pass, or $5 per car. Campsites are $15 a night

When to Visit: It is open year round, but spring is best; or after a large rainfall {be mindful of flooding during this time}

Good to Know: This hike is VERY popular with locals {read: it gets crowded}. Avoid during peak times and days, as the area with the rope can get very backed up, and parking is pretty limited. On very busy days be prepared to park in a satellite lot that will require a much longer hike. I'll tell you my favorite time to go and beat the crowds a little later

How to Get There

Traveling South on I-15: You will take exit 23. At the end of the ramp hang a left onto Silver Reef rd. You'll be on this road for all of 30 seconds, after you pass under the interstate you will take a right at the stop sign and continue on Main Street {this will eventually turn into old hwy 91}.

Traveling North on I-15: Take exit 22. At the stop sign turn right onto S Main Street/Old Hwy 91.

Right after you pass the junction with exit 22, you will see a road to the left called Red Cliffs rd. Do not turn on it! This is a trap, and a really unfortunate placement for a road with that name. Seriously, who was in charge of that? To be fair, it probably is a part of the park, it covers much of this area.

Anywho, those of you coming from the North, you will travel for 5.2 miles along Main st. to the turn off, those of you who came up from the South, you will be on here for 1.8 miles. There is excellent signage at both exits directing you where to go, as well as signage at the right hand turn you must make that will allow you to enter the park {the turn is directly across the street from two historic pioneer era stone homes, you can't miss it}.

You will drive through two tunnels that will take you under I-15, after which you will come to a T intersection. Turning right will take you to overflow parking and other trail heads. You want to turn left and go over a bridge.

As you can see, these tunnels are not the biggest, and those of you with large RVs or trailers may not fit. What you can't see in this picture is that to the left there is a large dirt lot that these over sized vehicles can be parked in.

Try to not let your jaw hit your lap as you drive in. The redness of the rocks will astound you. Anywhere else this area would be national park worthy, but this is Utah and we have stunning views to spare. A ranger station will greet you midway in. On busy days it is manned, the rest of the time paying the park fee is on the honor system and you can find a pay station when you first enter the parking area. Please only park in designated parking spots, not along the side of the road. On high traffic days this could very well mean resorting to the overflow lot. The road does a loop around the the campsites and parking spots, the majority of which can be found on the far side of said loop, so don't get too discouraged when at first it seems like there is nowhere to park.

Getting Started

Below is a picture of the trail head marker. There's not exactly a neon sign calling your attention to it, it's pretty easy to miss. A lot of people do a bit of wandering around looking for it. I know I didn't know where I was going the first time I hiked it. The easiest way to find the trail head is to remember it is just off of the road and before the bridge.

This is the most popular trail at Red Cliffs, so if you are ever in doubt as to where the trail head is, simply inconspicuously follow some other hikers; odds are high you are headed to the same trail. Just you know, don't look too creepy.

Hike On

This hike will have you seeing everything from barefoot toddlers dragging along a naked Barbie to golden yearers powering along with hiking poles. This really is a hike the whole family can enjoy together, and it is not uncommon to see large families with multiple generations on the trail.

There are so many little spots on this trail that are just my favorite. I can't do this hike without stopping by the elephant tree.

Or admiring the view this tree gets to enjoy day in and day out. Seriously, could you ask for a better location to spend your entire life? Nope.

But my favorite little stop along this trail veers just ever so slightly off course. Just before you take a slight left to ascend up the steep hill, following the marker that is directing you to do so, keep close to trail that parallels the creek and follow it to this little oasis.

The waterfall further along the path is the main event of this hike and garners most of the attention, so it is still possible to steal a private moment at this less popular fall, though that depends greatly on the day. The waters under the fall are deep enough to jump or slide into, but as always proceed with caution. It freaks me out, I can't do it. But go on with your dare devil lives.

After admiring this fall, continue on the path up the hill. This hill is what keeps me from giving this hike a flat out "easy" ranking. There are a few different paths worn into the hillside, and some are more steep than others. While the hill is rather steep, it is not very long. Maybe like... 20 yards? I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I am a terrible judge of distance, but it really isn't for very long at all and even with this hill being on the steeper side, most people should be able to navigate it, no issues.

Once you are at the top of this hill and you can see the arch in the rock wall, you'll know it's just a short walk to what most consider the end of the hike. If the water is running you will have to do a little bit of fancy dodging and walking across rocks to keep those footsies dry. If the water isn't running you'll have zero problems navigating around the rocks.

Here it is. The grand finale. This is the point where most choose to stop, admire the views, eat a sandwich, and maybe have a little swim. The water at the bottom of the fall is plenty deep enough for those who are adventurous enough to jump in. This is also the point at which this hike stops being classified as "easy". From here on out you need a little fire in your veins.

Confession time. I can sit on the edge of Angels Landing with my feet dangling all day, but ask me to climb up these moki {moqui is also a correct spelling. knowledge is power, people} steps and I am absolutely shaking in my chacos. Seriously, it's sad. Especially when you see people showboating and not even using the rope, or they use the rope to really lean back and not even use the steps. It freaks me out, man! I am glad you are so brave, but I am not, and I will cling to the side of the rock as though my life depends on it, thank you very much.

This waterfall is definitely the highlight of the hike, but if you are willing to brave to moki steps there is much more to been seen up top.

You can choose to walk along the creek for a little ways, though depending on the amount of water it could be a very short walk. It quickly gets to a spot that is hard to navigate unless you are willing to get a little {a lot} wet. Keep in mind too, the little crevice pools that form all along the creek can be deceptively deep. You might put a foot in expecting one, maybe two feet of water and next thing you know you are chest deep. Most are shallow, but there are a couple of doozies to be aware of, particularly if you have small children in tow.

My favorite thing to do in this upper area is to climb up even higher. This is going to sound confusing, unless you've been here, so stay with me for a second and I'll tell you the easiest way to get up on the cliff far above the creek. When you reach the top of the waterfall, you will see that the rock wall to the right of the canyon starts to slope down and give way into some trees and bushes. Follow this wall. Once it has turned into brush, look for a trail. It will look more like a wash than anythingl, and to be fair it probably is a wash, but this is the easiest way to get to the top. There is some scrambling involved, and it won't look or feel like much of a trail until you reach the top and the path becomes more defined.

This little spot is prickly pear cacti heaven, and in the spring when they are blooming.... oh, mylanta! Heart eyes for dayzzzz son! They are totally worth braving the moki steps; cacti in bloom as far as the eyes can see!

Besides the prickly pears, this area is just fun to spend some time in before making the return hike to the car. The layers of rock look like something from another planet, and it's fun to look around and explore this unique geological structure. I've heard that you can continue on further up the canyon from here, but I've never tried.

When to Go

Spring is hands down the best time to go, though this hike is accessible year long. To experience it with water running, you will need to time your visit with either snow run off or just after a rain shower. It's pretty impressive how quickly this creek dries up. It could be gushing one day and bone dry not two days later. I'm not exaggerating. The deep crevices are perpetually filled with water regardless, but the waterfalls and creek are at the mercy of mother nature.

There is a plethora of fauna to be seen on this hike, and they will be on full display mid to late spring. This will vary by year, but your best bet to see the buds would be mid April to mid June.

Now, time of day. I mentioned before this hike is popular, and on holidays or weekends it can get rather packed. The usual suggestions of going first thing in the morning and on weekdays is always solid advice, but my personal favorite time to go is just an hour or two before sunset. I have always had good luck with going at this time; less people and the sun set hits the rocks just right and lights everything up just beautifully. 10 out of 10 would recommend. I would also recommend taking a headlamp so you don't get stuck in the dark.

Picnics and Camping

Located just off of the road are several camping and picnic spots. Campsites are first come, first serve and are $15 a night. Given it's beauty, this is a popular place to camp, so have a back up location in mind if you wish to camp out here. I've never been able to snag a spot. There are also several picnic tables and fire pits that are set aside for day use only and are also first come, first served. The picnic areas have plenty of trees and shade to protect you from the scorching desert sun.

There are restrooms in the campsite area, but no showers. There are water spigots available throughout this area for the use of guests.

My personal favorite thing about this hike? Winky can join me! This is a pet friendly hike and area, just be sure to keep them on leash and that your dogs are socialized with both humans and other pups, as you will likely run into a lot of both.

While You Are in The Area

There are several other hikes in this part of the reserve, but I am lame and have yet to explore them. It's just so hard when this hike is so gorgeous! Word is one of the trails even has dinosaur tracks! Even outside of the park, there is a countless abundance of trails and things to do in this southwest nook of Utah, it would take me a year to write them all down. Good thing the folks at Greater Zion are on top of it and have it ALL laid out for you.

Hungry? Heading south the St. George will give you the most options. Some of my favorite spots to dine at when I'm in town include Benja Thai & Sushi, George's Corner, and The Corndog Company {listen to me: i HATE corndogs. but these will change your life}. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a stop at The Sugar Cookie, Crumbl Cookies, or The Sweet Tooth Fairy {i LIVE for their cookie dough cupcakes}.

{as always: practice LEAVE NO TRACE. stay hydrated. tell someone where you are going. wear appropriate clothing. be mindful of the weather. be nice to fellow hikers. have fun, make good choices, & hike smart}

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