Hiking Southern Utah: Tuacahn Split
Photos by Travis Higley
Trail name: Tuacahn Split
Location: Ivins, near Tuacahn Center for the Arts
Length: About three miles
Elevation Gain: 1,200 ft
Family-friendly: Children and dogs are not recommended
Tuacahn Split is a fun but strenuous hike located near Tuacahn Center for the Arts in Ivins, Utah. It takes you through a maze of sandstone that leads up above Snow Canyon State Park. Throughout the hike you will see the breathtaking views of red sandstone and black lava rock that are so familiar to everyone in the St. George surrounding area. The trail is about three miles long with an elevation gain of about 1,200 feet. Most of the trail is unmarked, and many areas will require a bit of scrambling and climbing. Any hikers will need to make sure they have the strength to pull themselves up over ledges as well as lower themselves down. This is not a hike for children or dogs, and should only be taken on by experienced hikers, preferably with a guide.
The trail begins just outside of the Tuacahn parking lot. As you ascend the red sandstone mountain there will be one spot where you must swing your body up and over a boulder. It can be scary, but if you can make this first hurdle you can handle any of the other heights on the trail. Looking back you’ll see a beautiful view of Tuacahn and the surrounding area and will be able to hear the comings and goings of Tuacahn High School. The hike continues in a series of “staircases” as you make your way further and further upward. One staircase in particular is extremely steep and will look near impossible when you are at the bottom. Make sure you look back after completing each staircase because the views are spectacular. After the staircases are the splits. You will need to lower yourself into narrow crevices in the rock. There are two of these, but the second is definitely narrower than the first. Hiking guides often say the hike gets its name because girls will split their pants as they stem down the crevices. Shortly after these drop-downs is a narrow gap between the rocks that you must turn sideways to get through. If you’re not sure you’ll fit there is an alternative route up and to the right, but it isn’t as easy. Outside the gap you’ll need to make your way through some bushes and sandstone until you reach the viewing point that looks over Snow Canyon State Park. Next you’ll make your way down the mountain, coming out behind the Tuacahn amphitheater. There is only one way down, but the trail can be difficult to find so make sure to keep an eye out for cairns. There are a few more spots that can be difficult for those afraid of heights, but they have some metal stakes in the rock to help. You will also have a chance to descend the “elephant’s trunk,” a steep and narrow trail of rock that resembles the trunk of an elephant once you look at it from the bottom. Once at the bottom of the mountain you will connect to the Padre Canyon trail and make your way out of Tuacahn and back to your car.
Tuacahn Split is one of the most enjoyable hikes I’ve done, and also one of the most difficult. I would not attempt it without someone who was already familiar with the trail. The best time to hike is in the morning before it gets too hot, and make sure you bring sunblock and plenty of water. You’ll also want to make sure you have good shoes that grip sandstone well. The hike took my companions and me about 4 1/2 hours.
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