Pets allowed
Allowed with Restrictions
Elevation Gain
-682.00 ft (-207.87 m)
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
13.40 mi (21.57 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

The Gila Trail is perfect for those who want to enjoy the wonders of St. George’s Snow Canyon State Park, without the density and traffic that usually accompanies the trails in the main park. For those who want the full value experience, hike the entire Gila Trail 6.6 miles one way down the eastern side of the park into Snow Canyon proper. From there, you have the option to link into any one of a number of shorter trails or simply double back the way you’ve come if you had enough red desertscape for the day (as if that were even possible).

The Gila Trail begins outside Snow Canyon State Park, 6.2 miles up Highway 18 after the main intersection of Sunset Blvd. and Bluff St. (0.4 miles past mile marker 9).  The parking lot lies at the beginning of a small housing community called Winchester Hills.  It’s nothing more than a gravel lot beneath a billboard, but there is plenty of parking space.

Because it enters Snow Canyon from the ungated north side, the rules are a little different for this trail. While considered a “no fee area” of the park (meaning you don’t need to purchase an annual parks pass to hike this trail), hikers must still abide by the rest of the rules of the park, including staying on trails, no campfires, and keeping dogs on a 6-foot max length leash.

The trail begins on the other side of the highway (cross with caution) and just north down the paved bike trail that runs adjacent to Highway 18. After 100 feet, look for the gap in the fence and a sign directing you to the Gila Trail.

The hike first traverses a gentle, flat plateau alternating between loose sand and large slickrock slabs. This part of your hike is also the least private, as you’ll find yourself hiking along a new housing development known as The Ledges built right on the edge of the state park. You might feel slightly uncomfortable here hiking quite literally by people’s windows and fences at points, but rest assured that you are 100% on public land and allowed to be there.

Once you’ve gotten out of view of the houses, the real hiking begins as Gila Trail starts to descend down into the red rock maze stretching out before you. Gila Trail is often referred to as a difficult and “technical” trail, however, there are no sections of 5th (or even 4th) class terrain on this hike. What gives the route its difficulty is the lack of a defined route throughout much of it.  

Once past The Ledges, the trail switches from single-track sand to almost entirely slickrock, meaning you can no longer follow footprints. While there are a number of cairns constructed along the route to help you find your way, they aren’t always in the places you need them. Don’t panic if you find yourself off route every now and then. While a map and compass are not needed, be sure to take your time and remember your surroundings, dropping the occasional pin or waypoint in your GPS app/device so you can at least find your way back if you do get hopelessly turned around.  To be successful on this hike you really just need to tap into a bit of your directional sense.

After these massive sections of slickrock slabs and broken ravines, you’ll eventually drop into (still at a low angle of only 26% maximum grade) the bottom of the canyon system. Here, the route is mostly washed through canyons and sand, making it a bit easier to find your way.

Once in the lower canyon system, you have the option to take several detours, like the Petroglyph Loop (all well signed) which will take you into the narrowest short slot canyon in the area with petroglyphs carved throughout.  Please be respectful  of these incredible historical areas and always be sure to practice Leave No Trace.

Continuing along the main Gila Trail through the canyon bottom will eventually (after 6.6 miles total) connect you to the Chuckwalla and Paradise Rim trail systems mid park. To continue, know that you are now entering a fee area, so make sure you have a park’s pass in case you run into a ranger.  f you planned on making the hike a point-to-point with a car shuttle in lower Snow Canyon, continue along the Turtle Wall Trail and onto the Chuckwalla Trail. It’s right around 9 miles to do it this way.  

Alternatively, you can turn around at the end of Gila Trail proper and hike out the way in which you came for a total of 13.4 miles out-and-back.

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Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Fall
Winter

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Stunning vistas. Interesting and varied geology and terrain. Petroglyphs. Slot canyons.

Cons

Difficult route finding. Flash flood potential. Hiking along private houses at points.

Trailhead Elevation

3,976.00 ft (1,211.88 m)

Highest point

3,976.00 ft (1,211.88 m)

Features

Geologically significant
Big vistas
Native artifacts
Wildflowers

Typically multi-day

No

Permit required

No

Location

Nearby Lodging + Camping

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