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Hiking in Southern Utah: Dino Cliffs Trail – The Independent

Hiking in Southern Utah: Dino Cliffs Trail

By Lacey McIntyre

Distance: Approximately 3.6 miles round trip

Friendly and family: Yes

Dogs allowed: Yes, on a leash

Hiking in Southern Utah: Dino Cliffs TrailItinerary from Saint-Georges

Take Interstate 15 North to the Green Springs exit. Turn left on Green Springs Drive, then right on Buena Vista Boulevard. In about a mile you will come to a stop sign at Main Street in Washington. Turn left on Main Street and go down the paved road until it turns into dirt. Continue on the dirt road for approximately 0.1 mile until you come to the second unpaved exit on your right. This road will take you to the water reservoirs, which are near the Dino Cliffs trailhead. The road can be rough at times, so a high-clearance vehicle is recommended. It will take about 0.7 miles by car on the combined dirt roads to the trailhead. Give yourself 2-2.5 hours to hike there and back so you have time to see dinosaur tracks, spot wildlife, and take a snack break. If your vehicle cannot take the dirt road, you can park where the sidewalk ends and walk the area.

Hiking in Southern Utah: Dino Cliffs TrailI started this hike around 8:30 on a beautiful day in March. Due to increased construction and other uses near the area, it can be a bit confusing trying to maneuver all the dirt roads. The trailhead is near the Washington City water reservoirs, one of which you can see to the right in the distance, so I knew the general location of where I was heading. After taking the second right at 0.1 mile, I followed the dirt road for 0.6 mile and found the trailhead sign on the right side of the roadway.

There is an exit to park opposite the Dino Cliffs sign. Walk on the marked path, staying straight at the intersection with another dirt road, to arrive at the Dino Cliffs stage.

Hiking in Southern Utah: Dino Cliffs TrailStepping over the trail transported me to a scenic and peaceful place. Although I went through construction along the way, I quickly felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. Many birds nest in the rock crevices visible all around. I was lucky enough to spot red-tailed hawks, a peregrine falcon and canyon wrens. While I saw no one else on my hike, nearby birds eagerly filled this void with their continuous chatter of courting and warding off unwanted companions. In the next few weeks, the area will come alive with creatures. Lizards, turtles and snakes will awaken from their winter slumber and can be spotted along the trail.

About 200 yards into the hike there are dinosaur footprints. They are not described by an interpretive sign, but there is a “site label” sign that will indicate their presence on the ground below. The smaller tracks I found were most likely grallator tracks. Grallator tracks were among the first discovered and were made by some of the oldest theropod dinosaurs, a common ancestor of today’s birds. Theropods were meat-eaters that walked on three sharp-toed claws. Some examples of these dinosaurs would be Coelophysis and Megapnosaurus. The largest tracks found on the Dino Cliffs Trail are most likely eubronte tracks. These tracks were made by rather large carnivorous dinosaurs, such as the Dilophosaurus.

Hiking in Southern Utah: Dino Cliffs TrailJust thinking about how the dinosaurs had traveled the path I was walking was exciting. I could imagine the prehistoric activity along what was then Dixie Lake. Being an Indiana city girl, there were no nearby opportunities to get out into the wild and see dinosaur tracks. These tracks feel so wild and real compared to the clinical, distant feel I can get from viewing museum exhibits with specimens from faraway places. The trail is a well-marked moderate route, but there is a small slickrock climb that may prove difficult for some. It’s easy to lose the trail a bit in the slickrock sections, but there were cairns placed around that helped me find my way. After about 1.8 miles of hiking along the beautiful red sandstone formations, the Dino Cliffs Trail ends at the junction of a two-lane service road known as the Grapevine Trail. There were some nice rock ledges which made for a great snack break. It is also possible at this junction to make a longer loop back to your vehicle via the Grapevine Trail; however, I chose to turn around and go back. I was glad I did, as I spotted two beautiful red-tailed hawks enjoying a little thermal boost as the temperatures climbed.

Hiking in Southern Utah: Dino Cliffs TrailAfter the hike was over, I decided to take a trip to St. George’s Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm to learn a bit more about the dinosaur tracks I encountered. The museum building was actually built around the tracks, so you can see them naturally on the ground inside, making the visit a unique experience. They were discovered by accident, and many more are still submerged, likely 100 feet below nearby areas such as the Red Cliffs Mall. Dinosaurs are everywhere! The prehistory of the area is fascinating and the museum has top notch, dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers. The cost is $6 for adults and $3 for children ages 4-11 (children 3 and under are free). I highly recommend it!

Lacey McIntyre is the Outreach Coordinator for the Red cliffs Desert Reserve.

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