Snow Canyon Loop Bicycle Trip

October 11th 2010

This could be done as a two-day trip, but one day is sufficient, if one can keep moving along. It is very scenic, and you get a taste of very isolated rural Utah towns, as well as the ever-expanding development in the Saint George area, filling up the desert with strip malls. It has a climb of around 2,000 feet, so it isn't for the faint-of-heart.

The loop was 38.2 miles long (according to the bicycle odometer), which we did with an average speed of 8.1 miles per hour. It took us about 8 hours to do it, and the bicycles were moving for 4 hours, 40 minutes of that time.

The climb from Ivins, to the top near Veyo, was 8.4 miles, and we had an average speed (from our starting point to the top) of 4.8 miles per hour.

Here is a map of the route:

Map of our Route

We started at the service station in Ivins (called Lightfoot's).

Starting Out In Ivins

We had intended to camp in Snow Canyon State Park, starting from there, but when we arrived at about 6:30 PM, the campground was already full. So we got a motel in St. George, and drove to the starting point the next morning.

Since it was a one-day trip, we are lightly loaded, leaving the camping gear in the truck. We used some custom panniers, designed & built by Malcolm for the trip, testing them out. You can make a set of panniers like this for about $12.00. They worked well for carrying billfolds, maps, first aid kit, bike locks, sunscreen, etc.

We each carried a 2-liter extra-water container, in addition to the smaller water bottles. Given the cooler weather season, we only needed one of them, and we were able to re-fill our water bottles along the way, up until we passed Veyo.

It was easy pedaling going through Ivins to the park entrance. The area seems to be very bicycle-friendly, with an abundance of paved bicycle paths.

Entering Snow Canyon State Park

After we paid the $2.00 per bicycle entry fee, another cyclist entered the park, and continued on his way. We noted that he kept to the road rather than using the paved bicycle path, and wondered why. As we cycled into the park on the bicycle path, we noticed that the bicycle path tended to have a more up-and-down, steeper grade than the road, and we too, decided to use the road instead.

Glowing sandstone cliffs, viewed from a shady rest-stop

At the visitor center

The campground is also near the visitor center. Apparently it had filled up at 5:00 PM the day before when we had arrived. It tends to be well-used in the cooler times of the year, so you might want to reserve a campsite before going.

In hotter times of the year, with 105+ degree temperatures, not many people visit the park. Also, during the Huntsman Senior Games (in September), the road can be closed for the event, so be aware of that potential conflict with your bicycling plans.

Though throughout the park there were short, steep grades, after leaving the visitor center, our climb began in earnest. It isn't a climb with switch-backs, but just a long, steep climb that eventually takes you out of Snow Canyon. As with mountain routes, it is steepest at the headwall (near the top).

Starting the Climb out of Snow Canyon

Still Climbing

Near the end of the climb, very steep near the canyon rim

Though I was able to cycle most of it (with occasional rest stops), it was so steep near the rim that every trick I knew – even pulling against the toe-clips (on a lightly-loaded bicycle, no less), was insufficient. I had to get off and push. Fortunately, the steep part was only about a quarter mile. Near where it joins highway 18, I could cycle again.

Though it continues climbing for a mile or two after leaving Snow Canyon, it (thankfully) isn't nearly as steep. Soon we made our way to the top.

At the summit, beyond Snow Canyon

On reaching the top, we were concerned because we had used up a lot of time, only traveling 8.4 miles, and we knew we had about 31 more miles to go, and we had to finish it before dark.

There is a large cinder-cone of an extinct (or dormant) volcano here.

A geologically-recent volcanic cinder-cone, at the summit

From there, the road goes through Diamond Valley – mostly level, with a few easy climbs. Then it makes its way down into Dameron Valley in a gentle descent. There is a café there, but it was closed on the Monday mid-day when we passed it.

As the road continues, you can see the Veyo Volcano.

The Veyo Volcano

There's a bit of a climb, followed by a moderate descent to Veyo. You cross the Santa Clara River bridge, then do a short, fairly steep climb into the town of Veyo. There are cafés and stores here.

Entering Veyo

It was a pleasant rest stop, and a good place to chow down on the food you will need to make it back to Ivins, since there are no restaurants or stores from here on.

From here it's a gentle, mostly downhill rural ride, until the road makes a sharp turn and drops steeply down into the Santa Clara River gorge. Then the road follows the river (which has little or no water in in at this time of year – probably mostly used up in crop irrigation). There are shady cottonwood groves in the river flood-plain.

Shady cottonwood groves in the river flood-plain

Farm in the Santa Clara River valley

The road is mostly downhill, with occasional (sometimes steep, but short) climbs. Along the way, we passed what appeared to be a local-favorite swimming-hole, and stopped for a shady break.

Shady rest-stop at a local swimming-hole, fed by a spring

In the picture above, you may notice an ominous rock face, staring back at you.

Taking it easy...

We continued on, arriving at the small town of Gunlock at the same time as the school bus, which we stopped behind, patiently waiting for all the kids to get off. I did not see any stores or restaurants here.

A few miles beyond Gunlock, we came to Gunlock Reservoir.

Gunlock Reservoir

A side-canyon beckons

A few miles beyond, we entered the Paiute Shivwits Indian reservation. This seemed a wild area, with beautiful, though more ordinary, scenery. Take note that the road-sides had a lot of puncture-vines, so don't get too close to the roadsides if you can help it.

In the Paiute Shivwits Indian Reservation

As we continued on, the road turned more easterly, and we crossed a few drainages (with significant climbs out of them). The sun angle was getting lower, and we were getting tired from the long day.

We passed the town of Shivwits (no stores or restaurants visible), and soon left the reservation, heading east toward Ivins.

Shadow-textured cliffs, late in the day, approaching Ivins

We passed the desert community development of Kayenta, and finally came to the road leading into Ivins – passing it briefly because the sign faces the other direction.

Soon we made our way to the gas station where we left the truck, and paused for cool drinks, purchased from the store.

It was a long, strenuous, but very scenic and enjoyable bicycle trip.

Perhaps you will give it a try sometime.

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