The day started with things going quite swimmingly. I rocked a scenic run in Snow Canyon’s neighboring towns of Santa Clara and Ivins. Enthusiasm was high, everyone consumed carbs mingled with a little protein, the weather was delightful and kind words were spoken oft to each other.
Things started getting a bit dicey on the 10-minute drive to the park's entrance. Cries of “How much longer” from the littlest. Lots of “He supposedly hit her,” and “She supposedly hit him,” followed by a definite “I hit the brakes” to temporarily halt the insanity. An action packed 10 minutes to say the least.
At last we arrived at the park entrance and were greeted by a super duper nice lady who gave us a map, some tips, and a lovely smile. We told her we’d like to start the day hiking the Johnson Canyon trail to Johnson Arch. She quickly pointed out that the trailhead was just outside the park entrance and no fee was required. I blame the chaos caused by the three bickering crazy people in the backseat for my failure to notice that. She helped us revise our agenda and we pressed on full of renewed confidence and enthusiasm. I can’t remember her name. Again, I blame the aforementioned crazy people.
Round-trip distance: One-half mileDifficulty: EasyKnowledge: Trail is closed annually from March 15 to June 1
This hike had everything, including the first utterance of “My tummy hurts”. But seriously, it was perfect for our brood. The trailhead is just off the road, complete with a convenient parking area. After loading up more water, Clif Kid ZBars, and Hi-Chews in our CamelBaks than anyone in the history of half-mile hikes, we set off. The trail was short, level, and sandy. The payoff for our quarter-mile journey? A super awesome slot canyon. The kids could’ve stayed there for hours. No whining, no fighting. “Maybe we should live in a slot canyon,” I contemplated. When we finally peeled them away, we walked up a short trail to a pretty sweet overlook that the kids didn’t appreciate nearly as much as the slot canyon. A bonus on the way back: A rad dried-up river bed that the girlies explored.
Round-trip distance: 1.2 milesDifficulty: Moderate for kids, easy for adultsKnowledge: More of a confession…we didn’t hike the whole thing. The kids ditched the trail to play on the dunes. So, it’s cool to veer off this hike’s beaten path.
A half-mile hike can leave you hungry, thirsty, and ready for a trip to the restroom. After those festivities, we drove a short distance up the road, conveniently parked, and began our next excursion. I admit, I was a little "petrified" about the littlest’s stamina. After a short stroll on another level, sandy trail, we arrived at the dunes. I’ve never seen the kids have so much fun on a hike. They just started running. And running. And arguing about who got to the top of the hill first. The adventure wasn’t without some pouting and finger pointing, but we quickly dispelled the animosity with a bunch of fake geology knowledge. I kept saying “wind, water, and erosion” over and over again, and my wife kept showing the kids a bunch of rocks and making stuff up about how they were formed.
Round-trip distance: One-half mileDifficulty: EasyKnowledge: Don’t enter via the north trailhead to see the Pioneer names. It’s cheating. Legal, but lame.
Little legs were somewhat weary after pumping across the dunes, so we were ready for another shorty, but goody. Pioneer Names trailhead is right off the road (okay, every trail we hiked was right off the road). Near the beginning there is a really cool rock formation that the kids loved climbing on. We then followed a narrow trial butted right up against a sheer redrock wall covered in black. We didn’t know what the black was from, so we made something up to keep the kids moving. We eventually made it to a rock formation where a bunch of names were written in axle grease. Pioneer names, duh. The coolest part is that you have to climb up some sandstone to get up to the names. Of course the oldest asked if the pioneers were guilty of defacing. Ummmm….”Have some more Hi-Chews, buddy. And don’t ever write YOUR name on nature of any kind.” Solved. After we checked out the names, we started back the way we came when the middle little one pointed at the road, and our car, just 50 yards away. It reminded me of when Ignacio had wandered deep into the wilderness, only to be discovered by the folks who could clearly see him from the village. Full disclosure: I base my life upon the teachings from Nacho Libre.
Round-trip distance: 2 milesDifficulty: EasyKnowledge: Trail is closed annually from March 15 to September 14
This was the hike that we were most excited about coming into the day. We were a little nervous about saving the longest hike of the day for the end, especially when little tummies were due for some chicken nuggets. We’re so glad we didn’t bail. The trail was so diverse. Rocky, sandy, lava-y, a small creek we crossed, and some gorgeous willows and cottonwoods. It even featured a great view of a rock that looked like an Apatosaurus head. Maybe it really was? We made it to the arch without incident, and it turns out that my fear of the arch reminding the young crew of a certain restaurant famous for the previously mentioned chicken nuggets, was misplaced. The arch is spectacular (spans more than 200 feet) and we all enjoyed the view…until the first “I gotta go and I can’t hold it” moment of the day struck. And it wasn’t from the gender that normally has an easier time relieving himself in the wild. So, the race was on. We made it back, took care of business, and called it a day.
Location: Red Hills Parkway in St. George (See Map)
On the way out of town, we stopped in at Pioneer Park. Highly, highly recommended. Two hours of exploring, climbing, and even a slot canyon that I admittedly couldn’t shimmy my way through. Give me a break, I’d just tried Even Stevens for the first time (try the Mihami Vice…and the party tots…and the kettle chips). Pioneer Park was good, dirty, free fun for the whole clan.
• Grab a hotel. Kids love pools and St. George has plenty of hotels with pools.
• Stop at Larsen's Frostop on St. George Blvd. Burgers, fries and shakes in a classic drive-in atmosphere.
• Ask the experts. Stop by and see the folks at the St. George visitor center. Located inside the Dixie Center. Maps, recommendations, you name it.
*Chad Taylor is the General Manager of Utah.com. He's spending much of 2016 exploring his home state of Utah with his family (wife, boy/13, girl/8, and girl/5).