Red Reef Trail
Recommended Users: Hikers
Length: 5.9 miles
Zone: Lowland and Upland
Managing Agency: BLM and Dixie National Forest
Access: Red Cliffs Recreation Area—From I-15 Exit 22* (northbound only), turn right onto the frontage road at the end of the freeway off-ramp. Travel south approximately 2 miles. Turn right into the Red Cliffs Recreation Area (a fee area). Proceed under the two freeway underpasses, and follow the paved road into the campground and day use area. Pay the day use fee and park in one of the day use parking spaces.
*From I-15 Exit 23 (southbound only), turn left on Silver Reef Road at the end of the freeway off-ramp. Turn right onto Main Street and travel south for 3.5 miles. Turn right into the Red Cliffs Recreation Area (a fee area). Proceed under the two freeway tunnels*, and follow the paved road into the campground and day use area. Pay the day use fee and park in one of the day use parking spaces.
Cottonwood Trailhead—From St. George, travel north on I-15 to Exit 16 and head east on State Route 9. From State Route 9 take a left onto 6300 West at the first traffic light. Follow this road back into the industrial park for approximately 2 miles. Just past the Winkel Distributing Company on the left, look for a small sign for the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve/Cottonwood Trailhead. Turn left and take this road through two freeway underpasses* to the trailhead
*Note: All underpasses limit vehicles to 12 feet in height and 12 feet in width.
Description: This trail can be started from the Cottonwood Trailhead or from the far west end of Red Cliffs Campground, just before the Red Cliffs Road crosses Quail Creek. This trail description refers to the latter.
From the parking lot in Red Cliffs Campground, the trail heads northwest at first, running parallel to the Quail Creek drainage. Less than 0.1-mile from the parking lot, you will encounter the boundary of Cottonwood Canyon Wilderness managed by the BLM.
Soon you’ll come upon a series of scenic plunge pools offering good spots to rest, picnic, or play near the creek. One pool area features carved steps in the rock wall on your right (north side of Quail Creek). Locally-known as “Moki steps,” these indentations will aid the adventurous in scaling the steep sandstone to bypass the waterfall and continue up canyon.
This portion of the trail is popular year-round, but especially during the spring months when the weather becomes favorable and snowmelt from the Pine Valley Mountains creates the most opportunity for water play. Expect large crowds and limited parking during this time of year and plan accordingly. Even though you may not find solitude along this section of the trail on busy days, please remember that you are still in designated wilderness and “Leave No Trace” outdoor ethics apply here.
After continuing upstream through a curve enclosed by steep canyon walls, you’ll soon enter the Cottonwood Forest Wilderness (managed by the Dixie National Forest). After heading northwest through a straight portion of the canyon for about 0.3-mile, the trail departs from Quail Creek on your left and heads west, following a sandy drainage uphill. At this point, it’s a good idea to make sure you are prepared with enough water, food, and sun protection for the rest of your hike if you are planning to continue all the way to Cottonwood Trailhead*.
Half a mile after leaving the Quail Creek drainage, you will exit the Cottonwood Forest Wilderness (National Forest) and re-enter the Cottonwood Canyon Wilderness (BLM). The trail continues southwest from here, offering little respite from the sun as it follows a sandy wash flanked by beautiful red sandstone cliffs. Continue your hike for nearly 4 miles until the trail ends at its junction with the Cottonwood Canyon trail
*Note: Several search and rescue operations have occurred as a result of unprepared visitors attempting to through-hike this trail. The trail inside wilderness in not signed, nor maintained. You must be proficient with GPS, map reading, and “know before you go