Exploring Enchanting Water Canyon—a Multifaceted Gem, Hildale, UT

Length: ~3 Miles roundtrip to the mini waterfall or as long as you’d like to take it, up and over and across the rim.

Difficulty: Moderate+ (To the waterfall is easy, after that, the hike becomes more difficult with elevation gain and a mix of route finding, scrambling, and bouldering. Route finding can be perplexing, if not impossible at the top where it becomes a choose your own adventure experience.)

Elevation gain: 2,208 ft (This only comes into play if you hike beyond the waterfall.)

In the spring, the reward of a short hike (~1.5 miles ea way) is a beguiling, mini waterfall tucked into a slot canyon grotto. Beyond the waterfall, you’ll encounter an interesting, often difficult-to-follow trail that involves some scrambling, bouldering, some exposure, and heights. Not surprisingly, this picturesque canyon is a popular spot for canyoneering. Supposedly you can get to “White Domes” from here, but it’s difficult to ascertain how. I’ll update this post if / when I find a good route to them in the future – cross-country, over the top, or traversing up the rocks from the bottom.

Notes: If you’re in it for the waterfall, early spring is your best bet. The waterfall disappears as the months get hotter and drier. Watch the weather for flash floods. Avoid weekend crowds by going early on a weekday. If you’re going to wander on the rim, I suggest you use GPS or Alltrails, as finding the route back down the canyon can be tricky (understatement). Parking is free.

Getting there: I-15 N to UT-9 E/W State St and UT-59 S to Utah Ave in Hildale. Take Utah Ave to Water Canyon Rd. Follow the dirt road to the parking lot.  

Happy trails!

Enthralling Elephant Arch, Washington, UT

Distance:~3.5 miles

Difficulty: Easy with the following disclaimer: ~ 2 miles of THICK sand walking

Part of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, this short hike delivers the reward of one of the coolest rock / arch formations that I’ve seen. (In my opinion, the Elephant rock in Valley of Fire doesn’t even compare.)  See it for yourself and let me know what you’ve seen that tops it.

Getting there: I-15N from St. George, Exit 10 to Washington. Left onto Green Springs Drive, immediate right onto Buena Vista Blvd. Follow. In about 1 mile, turn left onto the dirt road immediately after the fire station. Follow it for about 1.2 miles to the intersection of another dirt road and turn left onto this dirt road. In about a half mile you’ll see the parking area, gate and trailhead. (Directions are a bit tricky & terrain is variable–high clearance / 4-wheel drive vehicle helpful.) Took me 3x until I finally found it.

Trailhead GPS: 37.161671, -113.512897 Arch GPS: 37.177333, -113.494083

Notes: Full sun exposure, bring your water, hats, and sunscreen. (Spring, Fall & Winter are the best time of year for this one.) Leashed dogs allowed. Parking is free.

Happy trails!

Smith Mesa: UT Gravel Riding at Its Best

Length:~30 miles

Elevation gain: 3k

Difficulty: Hard, 1st 3 miles is ALL climbing (about 2k) of ~11% grades, after that-easy-to-moderate

Terrain: The first couple of miles of the climb are on pavement (you’ll be grateful for that, believe me), and then it’s graded, gravel fire road the rest of the way

I’m discovering that so many places in Utah call for that overused, four-letter word EPIC. Just as Inuits have 50 words for snow, I think Utahans need to have 50 words for epic. These pictures don’t do begin to do it justice. This spectacularly scenic ride is a must do if you a gravel grinder who likes a hill challenge.

At the top of the hill you’ll see no trepassing signs  marking an old US government facility with a long supersonic test track that was used to test jet fighter ejection seats. 

The scenic road / route circles Smith Mesa, taking you through pastoral ranch land as it enchants you with views of Zion in the distance. Of course, you could do the route N to S. May have to give that a try sometime though I prefer to climb super steep sections vs descending them.

A couple miles of the descent are a bit bumpy (not washboard, but cow hooved, which are a bit worse) and you have to watch out for the occasional pothole and loose sand. Road conditions are always variable.

Smith Mesa meets Kolob Terrace Road and takes you back to Highway 9.

Getting there: Look for the Smith Mesa road sign off of Highway 9, north of Virgin, Utah, and west of Zion National Park.

Happy trails!

Zion Narrows, Widely Populated, and Dare I Say, Overhyped

Distance: ~10 miles RT

Difficulty: First and last 1.7 miles is on flat pavement–easy. After that–hard, due to icy water immersion (from ankle deep to hip deep) and treacherous footing over slippery rocks. Water is so murky that you must use your hiking stick / poles every step of the way.

Fortunately, my friend and I were of the first few to step our feet into the icy waters of the Narrows that morning so we were able to soak in its beauty in solitude. Unfortunately, on the way back, the multitudes had arrived—unruly mobs descending on a magnificent citadel destroying all vestiges of a nature’s magnificence and magic.

Yes, the Narrows is cool, but in my opinion, over-hyped. I’m so fortunate to be discovering so many equally or more beautiful, less-populated spots all over Utah. Zion National Park’s inability and/ or unwillingness to minimize crowds is discouraging and certainly offputting.

There is a 17-mile top-down challenging route that requires canyoneering and some swimming, likely it rules out the masses, but there’s no avoiding them for your final 5 miles when you’re most likely to be a bit hangry anyway… I’ll let you know if and when

Soapbox: In my opinion, ZNP needs to permit this hike ASAP to preserve the area from the irreversible impact of the HORDS of HUMANS and enhance visitor experience. They do it for the Subway and it works well. Never felt overwhelmed there, but the Narrows felt like being in a city subway. Perhaps they should flip the names.

Notes: Water is about 40 degrees. In the fall, winter and spring, dry gear is recommended. Rent info: https://www.zionguru.com/narrows-rental-equipment  Hiking sticks/poles are a necessity. Go early to avoid the crowds as much as possible.

Veyo Shoal Creek Road, Surely Scenic Gravel Ride Sampler

Practically in my backyard and I just discovered it today thanks to Deb of PlanetUltra. This is part of the course for the PlanetUltra Volcano Ride (120k). Panoramic views, nice road quality, and some solid climbs take you from the back of Gunlock out to the Enterprise Reservoir. I turned around ~16 miles in due to self-inflicted cleat failure and sore knees from Thursday’s Epic ride up Smith Mesa (post to come). If you go all the way to the reservoir, it’s ~20+ miles each direction and 3-5k elevation.