Access: Cottonwood Trailhead—Take I-15 Exit 16 to Hurricane City (SR 9). Take the exit ramp south toward Hurricane and continue to the first traffic light in 0.8 miles. Turn left at the light onto 6300 West and continue for 2.0 miles as 6300 West turns into Old Highway 91. Just past Winkle Distributing, turn left onto a gravel road between Winkle Distributing and the Rocky Mountain Power maintenance building. Continue through two freeway tunnels (height and width restricted to 12’ x 12’) to reach the trailhead.
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 just past the sign for the Red Cliffs Recreation Area. Proceed under the two freeway tunnels (height and width restricted to 12’ x 12’) and follow the paved road into the campground. Pay a 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 just past the sign for the Red Cliffs Recreation Area. Proceed under the two freeway tunnels, and follow the paved road into the campground. Pay a day use fee and park in one of the day use parking spaces.
Description: This is a tale of two trails: the upper Red Reef Trail accessed through the Red Cliffs
Recreation Area and lower Red Reef Trail accessed from Cottonwood Trailhead.
Tale 1: The upper section of the trail is wildly popular. Springtime can bring 100s of visitors to the narrow canyon seeking pools of water from Quail Creek trapped in deep slickrock bowls. The trail also sports a section requiring the use of “moki steps” and a hand rope. This unique combination of features, set within the beautiful sandstone cliffs of Cottonwood Canyon Wilderness, is irresistible, albeit crowded. If you’re looking for water though, come the heat of summer, Quail Creek dries to a trickle, leaving just enough to sustain the rich riparian habitat. The end of the trail starts on the west side of the campground just before the road crosses Quail Creek. It is signed to the wilderness boundary only, but the trail is heavily used and easy to follow to the first pool.
To get beyond the first pool, hikers must negotiate the moki steps carved into the steep sandstone side cliff on the right. Most visitors stop here or just beyond to lollygag and dip in the water or just sit in the shade of the canyon. Following Quail Creek further leads into the Dixie National Forest Cottonwood Forest Wilderness. To return to BLM managed lands and continue on the Red Reef Trail, the route diverges from Quail Creek into another drainage, a small tributary (as noted in Tale 2 below) heading south. The trail is not signed and is rugged: filled with boulders, brushy, sandy, and traverses large sections of slickrock. It should be considered off-trail travel with the requisite precautions taken (see note below).
Tale 2: The lower section of Red Reef Trail is in an unnamed wash that is dry most of the year. To reach the beginning of the trail, take the Cottonwood Canyon Trail
from Cottonwood Trailhead. From the trailhead follow the Cottonwood Canyon Trail north for 0.5 miles until it intersects Prospector Trail. Turn right unto Prospector Trail heading north. In 0.1 miles, continue straight at the intersection (as Prospector veers to the right) and back onto the Cottonwood Canyon Trail. The Red Reef Trail starts on the right in another 0.2 miles, but may be difficult to see. Look for a sign and a trail that leaves the wash heading west (equestrians must find this cross-country trail to avoid obstacles on the lower section of the Red Reef Trail). If hikers can’t find this short-cut, backtrack south in Cottonwood Creek until it intersects another large wash on the left heading north. This wash is the Red Reef Trail, but starting here is not suitable for equestrians. Follow the wash for 3.25 miles until it peters out. The route is difficult to find from this point on and is backcountry travel; take the requisite precautions (see note below). From here the route goes across open country for about ½ mile in a northeasterly direction until dropping into a tributary wash of Quail Creek. The route continues as noted in Tale 1 when the tributary meets up with Quail Creek, but in reverse.
Note: If you plan on any off-trail, or backcountry travel (only allowed once inside wilderness), navigational aids are strongly recommended. Search and rescue operations are not uncommon for hikers lost in this wilderness as distances are deceiving and many people go unprepared for the rugged conditions. Also keep in mind that all creeks and washes are subject to flash flooding. Please read Know Before You Go
before venturing off-trail. There is generally no cell phone coverage in the upper canyon and throughout the wilderness area. Through hikers should plan on a vehicle shuttle.