Hiking a Utah Volcano – Snow Canyon’s Cinder Cone Trail

One of the great trails in Utah’s Snow Canyon State Park is the Cinder Cone Trail. Hiking this unique trail takes you to the top of an actual volcano! Yes, Utah has volcanos! Snow Canyon State Park is located in the southwest corner of Utah, near the city of St George. It’s one of my two favorite Utah State Parks (Dead Horse Point is the other). Here you’ll find spectacular scenery, petrified sand dunes, lava tubes, and extinct volcanos. Let me show you the great views and interesting geology of the Cinder Cone Trail in Snow Canyon State Park.

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The Santa Clara Volcano

The Santa Clara Volcano is a large inactive volcanic field located north of St George. Its long-ago volcanic activity resulted in a lava flow that is easily appreciated when hiking anywhere in the area, especially through the trails of Snow Canyon. Eruptions from the Santa Clara volcano also resulted in two cinder cones. A cinder cone is basically a hill of lava rock fragments that results from an eruption through a vent in the volcanic field. Snow Canyon’s Cinder Cone Trail takes you to the top of the Santa Clara volcano’s south cinder cone.

Trailhead Basics

The Trailhead to the Cinder Cone Trail is located about 12 miles north of St George. While it lies within the boundaries of Snow Canyon State Park, it sits just outside the northern edge of the Canyon. You’ll find only a small parking area – basically a dirt turnoff on the side of Highway 18 – but signage makes it easy to spot as you drive along. Because this trail is outside of the Park’s main canyon, you do not need to pay the Park’s entrance fee in order to hike it. Just pull off the side of the road, and head up to the top!

The trail is 1.7 miles round trip and you can expect a 450 foot gain. Most of that gain occurs during the middle section of the trail. There, the hiking becomes moderately steep, and could be difficult for some as you’ll see in a bit.

Trailhead and signage for the Cinder Cone Trail in Snow Canyon State Park
Look for this sign along the highway and pull off to the road to park

Around at the Fork…Not Up

Once on the trail, you’ll head south towards the cinder cone, across a lava-strewn pathway.

The south Cinder Cone of the Santa Clara Volcano near St George Utah

As you approach the cone, you’ll come to sign pointing left. Stay left! This sign guides you along the official trail. Here, you’ll also see a smaller trail that heads straight up the hill. I suppose straight up is a shorter route, but it would be much more difficult. I read online about others who took it…followed by lots of regret.

Trail marker directing the correct route on the Cinder Cone Trail in Snow Canyon State Park

From here, the trial wraps around the base of the cinder cone towards its eastern side. Look up for a great view to the top of this imposing pile of lava.

Looking up at the south Cinder Cone of Utah's Santa Clara Volcano

Once on the southeast side, you’ll start a more pronounced ascent as the trail continues to wrap around the cone.

Hiking the Cinder Cone Trail near St George Utah

Before the steepest part of the hike begins on the cone’s south side, you’ll see a spot for some great views over into the red and white sandstone peaks of Snow Canyon.

One of the views into Snow Canyon from the Cinder Cone Trail

Steeper and Slippery

From here, the trail steepens significantly, and the final section of hiking up to the actual top of the cinder cone becomes more of a challenge. Challenging because the trail is strewn with loose lava gravel. A steep and slippery trail. Hiking poles would undoubtedly be quite useful here. And as we ascended through this section, I already started to dread the descent back through.

Steep ascent on the Cinder Cone Trail
Nearing the top of one of Utah's volcanos

But despite the need to focus on your footing through this section, don’t forget to look behind you and take in the splendor of Snow Canyon.

Looking out across Snow Canyon from a top the Cinder Cone Trail

There’s a Crater on Top

Once on top, you can easily appreciate the cinder cone’s crater. In fact, the trail takes you all the way around its edge. You can even follow an accessory trail into the bottom. It appeared to be quite steep, so we elected not to.

Looking into the crater of the south Santa Clara cinder cone out and out across Diamond Valley
The center of the crater is to the left in this photo

We did follow the trail all the way around, appreciating the evolving view into the crater all along the way.

The Crater at the top of the Cinder Cone Trail

And the great views over into Snow Canyon…..

Hiking along the edge of a volcanic crater in Southern Utah

Yep, Going Down was a Challenge

As I envisioned on the way up, getting down the south side from the top was every bit as difficult as expected. A steep decline, loose dirt, loose lava rock, jagged surfaces, and irregular footing, all made for a challenge. Tiny careful steps were required along with a couple of butt slides, but we managed to avoid any falls.

A steep and slippery descent along the Cinder Cone Trail
Loose lava gravel covers a hiking trail near St George Utah
I actually walked along the side of the trail in the section – much less slippery off to the side

The North Cone

Once you are down to more level ground on the trail’s north side, it’s easy to spot the north cinder cone of the Santa Clara volcano. There isn’t a formal trail on the north cone.

The North Santa Clara Cinder Cone
It’s not the lava pile in the foreground. It’s the isolated hill in the upper right

Final Thought and Tips

We had a great time hiking the Cinder Cone Trail in Snow Canyon State Park. I would consider it a can’t-miss hike if you are in the area and feel that you can handle the steep and slippery parts. The views are great and the geology is very interesting. And really….how often do you get the chance to look into a volcanic crater.

We hiked this trail in December. St George has mild winters and scorching summers. I would imagine the heat and the slope could make this hike somewhat unbearable on a summer day.

On a Sunday morning we had the trail all to ourselves. There are certainly more crowded trails in Snow Canyon State Park.

You can click here to read about some of those other trails in Snow Canyon State Park, including my personal favorite – The Petrified Dunes Trail.

Earlier, I mentioned my other favorite Utah State Park – Dead Horse Point. Click the link to read more about its wonders and its world-famous view.

Zion National Park is located 45 minutes from St George. It’s Utah’s most visited National Park. AllTrails.com rates it as the best National Park in the US. You can click the link to read all about its 4 great Scenic Drives.

If you are looking for other great activities in the St George area, then you can find plenty on Viator:

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