A family friendly adventure located near St. George, Utah, hiking the Petrified Dunes Trail in Snow Canyon State Park is a great way to explore a lesser-known area of the Beehive State. The Petrified Dunes are a unique geological formation made of solidified Navajo Sandstone, with swirling stripes of deep orange that look frozen in time. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the Petrified Dunes Trail in Snow Canyon State Park, including a few possible modifications to extend your hike.
- Scout Canyon State Park
- Overview | Petrified Dunes Trail
- Hike stats
- Highlights and lowlights
- How difficult is the Petrified Dunes Trail?
- Modifications to the hike
- Hike Details |Petrified Dunes Trail
Hi there! We’re Sarah and Matt, two nomads road tripping across the United States with our cat, Fitzgerald, making a new place our home month to month while working full time and adventuring as much as possible. We spend any free time we can get hiking, camping, backpacking, and exploring new places! We hope that our experiences will help you plan for your next adventure and inspire you to be an outlier!
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Snow Canyon State Park
Located in southern Utah, just outside of St. George, Snow Canyon State Park features a variety of unique landscapes, from basalt lava tubes to rocky slot canyons, caves and swirly petrified sand dunes. Snow Canyon State Park spans 7,400 acres in the Red Cliffs Preservation Area. Snow Canyon not only offers a selection of awesome hiking trails, but is has a 3 mile paved bike path and 15 miles of trails for horseback-riding.
Located about an hour from Zion National Park, Snow Canyon State Park is a lesser known spot that makes for a great detour on any southern Utah road trip! In fact, Snow Canyon is reminiscent of Zion Canyon in some ways, including the white and coral stripes of the canyon walls and dreamlike swirls of the petrified dunes.
Petrified Dunes in Snow Canyon
The Petrified Sand Dunes in Snow Canyon State Park are made up of petrified Navajo Sandstone in vibrant shades of orange, coral, and white with layerd swirls carved into the rock. Nearly 200 million years ago, the area that is now Snow Canyon State Park was covered in sand. Slowly the massive sand dunes solidified into sandstone, and over time water shaped the rock into the features that we see today!
The Petrified Dunes in Snow Canyon can be accessed via an easy 1.2 mile roundtrip hike that is great for kids and hikers of all skill levels!
Petrified Dunes Trail in Snow Canyon
- Hiking distance | 1.2 miles
- Elevation gain | 200 feet
- Total time | 1 hour
- Epic-ness rating | 5
- Difficulty | Easy
- Fees | $15 fee out of state, $10 Utah residents
Find this hike on AllTrails: Petrified Dunes Trail
How difficult is Petrified Dunes Trail?
The Petrified Dunes Trail is an easy 1.2 mile out and back hike, although you’ll likely end up putting more mileage under your feet as you explore the dunes. Climbing up to the top of the dunes can be steep in spots, but the distance is short making this a very manageable hike for kids and hikers of all experience levels.
- Unique landscape that is fun to explore!
- Great views looking over Snow Canyon.
- Easy, short hike.
- Parking can fill up quickly
- The $10-$15 state park entrance fee for one day is a bit pricey.
You can extend the Petrified Dunes Trail hike by continuing to the Lava Tubes or completing the full Snow Canyon Loop for a taste of everything that park has to offer:
- Continue to the Lava Tubes | 2.4 miles, 300 feet of elevation gain
- Full Snow Canyon Loop (including Petrified Dunes) | 3.5 miles, 500 feet of elevation gain
When is the best time to hike?
The best time to hike in Snow Canyon State Park is during the winter, spring and fall. We’ve hiked the Petrified Dunes Trail twice in February, and it was lovely! Mid-50’s and sunny – the perfect weather for hiking. However, weather during the winter can be a bit unpredictable and snow is possible, so the most reliable time to visit is spring and fall.
Summer in Snow Canyon gets very hot, with average temperatures in the area reaching 100 degrees or higher! The Petrified Dunes Trail offers no shade, so we wouldn’t recommend hiking from June through August.
Petrified Dunes Trail packing list
In addition to your standard hiking gear, below are a few items to make sure you pack for hiking the Petrified Dunes Trail.
- Sun protection (sunscreen, chapstick and sunglasses) | There is no shade on this trail and the desert sun is intense!
- Hiking boots | It’s good to have some traction on your shoes for climbing up the petrified dunes.
- Snacks, lunch and plenty of water | I always hike with my Camelbak Helena – it’s the perfect size for storing the essentials for a day hike and comes with a 2 liter bladder.
- Utah state parks pass (if you have one)
- Hiking pants (Hers: Athleta Headlands pants, His: PrAna Stretch Zion Pants) | These Athleta pants are Sarah’s absolute favorite! They’re comfortable and durable for hiking, and all the pockets make them more stylish, so they can double as normal pants.
Things to know before you hike
Below are a few important details to be aware of before you hike:
- Snow Canyon State Park charges a $10 fee for Utah residents and $15 fee for out-of-staters. You can pay with cash at the park entrance or online here.
- Utah also offers an annual state park pass for $100 for Utah residents or $150 for out of state residents – a bit pricey and likely not worth it unless you live in Utah or plan to visit many Utah state parks.
- The main parking lot for the Petrified Dunes Trail is fairly small and may fill up. If you aren’t able to secure a spot, you can also reach the dunes from the Lava Tubes trailhead (3.2 mile hike) or the Hidden Pinyon trailhead (1.8 mile hike).
- Dogs are not permitted on the trail.
- Keep an eye out for round trail markers to keep you on track. However, once you reach the top of the dunes, you can branch out and explore as you please.
Petrified Dunes Trail | Snow Canyon
In the section below, we will detail each section of the Petrified Dunes Trail so you know what to expect from the hike.
I hiked the Petrified Dunes Trail solo on a President’s Day holiday, while Matt had to work. I loved this hike so much that I brought Matt back with me the next weekend!
On my first hike, I just did the 1.2-mile trail out and back to the Petrified Dunes. The weather was looking questionable and I didn’t want to be caught on top of a mound of rock in a thunderstorm! As such, I was a bit rushed but quickly fell in love with the area! I knew I had to come back to complete the full Snow Canyon Loop.
Parking and getting to the trailhead
The most direct hike to the Petrified Sand Dunes leaves from the Petrified Dunes Trailhead for a 1.2 mile out and back hike. The trailhead is located just 5 minutes past the entrance to Snow Canyon State Park, 10 minutes from Ivins, and 20 minutes from St. George. The road to the trailhead and parking lot are paved and well maintained, so you should have no trouble accessing the hike with any vehicle.
If you aren’t able to get a parking spot at the Petrified Dunes Trailhead, or you’re interested in a longer hike, you can also start from the following trailheads:
- Hidden Pinyon & Red Sands Trailhead: 1.8 miles out and back to the Petrified Dunes, 300 feet of elevation gain
- Lava Flow Trailhead: 3.2 miles out and back to the dunes, 400 feet of elevation gain
Starting the hike
From the parking lot, you can see other hikers climbing on the dunes in the distance. The trail starts out through sand and eventually leads onto the rocky dunes. There are round trail markers to designate the trail, which are helpful if you plan to continue along the Snow Canyon loop trail.
Exploring the Petrified Dunes
Once you arrive at the dunes, you can choose your own adventure and explore as you please! Out and back to the dunes is just about one mile, but you can easily rack up some additional mileage exploring.
From the top of the dunes, you have an incredible view looking down Snow Canyon, with it’s orange and white striped canyon walls and jagged pinnacles.
Snow Canyon Lava Tubes
To extend your hike and check out one of Snow Canyon’s most unique landscapes, continue to the Lava Tubes. The Lava Tubes are massive underground caves of solidified basalt, the black, jagged rock you see in the photos below. Millions of years ago, the tubes were filled with flowing lava, which slowly hardened and left behind the caves you can see today!
Adding on the detour to the Lava Caves adds about 1.2 miles, for a 2.4 mile round trip hike.
Snow Canyon Loop: Lava Tubes & Petrified Dunes
- Hiking distance | 3.5 miles
- Elevation gain | 500 feet
- Total time | 2 hours
- Epic-ness rating | 6
- Difficulty | Moderate
Find this hike on AllTrails: Snow Canyon
For a more complete tour of Snow Canyon that includes the Lava Tubes, more petrified dunes, and stunning canyon views in addition to the Petrified Dunes Trail, we highly recommend completing the full Snow Canyon Loop.
The full loop is just 3.5 miles and showcases the variety of unique landscapes that Snow Canyon State Park has to offer!
Other hikes nearby
Planning a trip to southern Utah? Be sure to check out these other great hikes nearby:
- Scout Cave Trail | 5 minutes from the Petrified Dunes Trailhead
- Red Reef Trail | 35 minutes from the Petrified Dunes Trailhead
- Kanarra Falls | 50 minutes the trailhead
- Zion West Rim Trail | 1 hour from Petrified Dunes Trailhead
- Figure Eight Loop in Bryce Canyon | 2 hours 30 minutes from the trailhead
- Fairyland Loop in Bryce Canyon| 2 hours 30 minutes from the trailhead
For all things Utah: Utah Travel Guide
Have you hiked the Petrified Dunes Trailhead? What was your favorite hike in Snow Canyon State Park? Let us know in the comments section below!