Photos by Travis Higley
Hiking Southern Utah: Tuacahn Saddle
Trail: Tuacahn Saddle (AKA, Padre’s Canyon trail)
Distance: 6.9 miles
Average Time: 4 1/2 hours
Tuacahn Saddle, also known as Padre’s Canyon trail, is a gorgeous but moderately strenuous scenic trail that takes hikers up behind Tuacahn amphitheater and down into Snow Canyon State Park with spectacular views all along the way. If done in a loop, the entire trail is about 6.9 miles, but can be shortened if you make shuttle arrangements. Since the trail travels into Snow Canyon State Park hikers will be required to pay the park fee upon exiting the park, or will need to turn around before entering into Snow Canyon. For walk-in hikers, the fee for Snow Canyon is $4 for up to eight people.
Parking can be found either at the Johnson Canyon trailhead or in the Tuacahn amphitheater parking lot. If parking at the Johnson Canyon trailhead, hikers will find a trail that leads out of the parking lot toward Tuacahn. This one-mile extension trail to Padre Canyon is made of hard, packed dirt and is easy to follow. It eventually connects with the trail, inside the Tuacahn gate, that follows along an empty wash until finally entering Padre Canyon.
This is where the hike really starts. The trail becomes filled with wildflowers, twists and turns, and towering rocks to either side. If you look ahead, you should be able to see what is known as the Saddle. Hiking becomes more difficult at this point as one climbs about 600 feet upward, often over loose dirt and boulders. Once at the top, hikers are rewarded with a beautiful view of the red rocks of Tuacahn on one side of the Saddle and the equally beautiful view of Snow Canyon State Park on the other. This is a great place to stop, rest, and enjoy the free “air-conditioning” available in the canyon.
The way down the other side is full of unique rock formations and pools of water filled with tadpoles and the occasional frog. This time of year, the wildflowers are blooming everywhere along the trail in a variety of colors. There are lots of areas to climb around, have fun, and take great photos. The trail is not always clearly marked, so it may be better to have a guide the first time or two on this hike.
As hikers reach the bottom of the Saddle, the trail will eventually connect to the Red Sands Trail in Snow Canyon (formerly known as the Three Ponds Trail). This is mostly made up of deep, loose sand and can be difficult to hike through. If shuttling, hikers can cut the hike short by continuing on this trail and ending at the Red Sands trailhead parking lot. If not, hikers will need to connect onto the West Trail Road. This one-mile trail of white gravel will connect to the 1.25-mile paved Whiptail trail that will take one back to the Johnson Canyon parking lot.
As with almost every hike in St. George, this hike is done best in the morning and preferably not during the summer. While inside the canyon may be shady, it will be extremely hot by the afternoon. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen. My first time up the Saddle through Padre’s Canyon took me about 4 1/2 hours. If you’re looking for a fun, short hike that allows you to explore Tuacahn and its unique rocks, this is the hike for you.