Southern Utah is known for its incredible sandstone rock formations. Take Zion and Arches for example, known around the world for their iconic viewpoints and hikes. But with that notoriety comes an endless stream of crowds and lines; not to mention park fees and permits. What if I told you there was another place, equally as stunning, that you could have all to yourself. And plus, you’re allowed to bring your dog with you! Well guess what, that place not only exists, but we just spent the weekend there and it was jaw dropping.
The place I’m referring to is Yant Flat (Candy Cliffs) located in Leeds, Utah, just 17 miles from Saint George. We found this place after some digging through Saint George hiking blogs, but didn’t really look into it much. Our ski passes were blacked out for the Presidents Weekend in Park City, so we figured it to be a perfect excuse to go camping down in the desert for the weekend. Saint George was going to be a little warmer than Moab was, so we figured we’d pack up the truck and head down to Southwest Utah for the first time to explore the area.
On Friday night, we pulled into the last available dispersed camping site on Forest Service Road 032 outside Silver Reef. The trip’s excitement started to build as soon as we got out of the truck, but not for the normal reasons. In one of the remaining snow piles around camp, a large cat’s footprint was pressed deep into the snow. No, not a dogs, a cat. And by cat, I mean mountain lion’s (or the world’s biggest bobcat). That did not calm the nerves one bit. So rather than sleep in our new 3-person, 4-season tent that we were eager to test out, we decided to empty the truck bed and sleep in back. To add to the Friday night’s excitement, sleet and snow was in the forecast and we hadn’t tested out my truck’s soft-top waterproof-ability. We were going to be in for one helluva night regardless of how it ended.
Luckily, we weathered through the windy, snow-sleet-hail storm all night and stayed mostly dry! Our dog Gregor didn’t seem to mind the tight snuggle all night in the truck bed. After we got the snow off everything and started our fire to cook breakfast, we packed up for the hike. Remind you, we really didn’t look into anything about this hike other than the cover photo looked kinda cool and we knew where the trailhead parking lot was.
From camp, we drove out and turned onto the FR031. We were already on a dirt road, but it was in great shape so we didn’t pay any mind to how this road would be. Well, the 8 mile, dirt road drive to the trailhead got interesting. The precipitation from the night before turned the hardpacked road into a soft clay, forcing my tires to try and stay above the deep ruts already in the road. The melting snow created a few small water crossings as the road crossed over gulches. Exciting drive to say the least. Eventually, we made it to the pin on my phone’s map. No signs, no information, just an empty pull-off to park the truck. “We’re here!” I said to Court, uncertain where “here” exactly was.
We threw on our daypacks, filled with water, snacks, and some camera gear, and headed down the obvious trail. The blog post mentioned the hike could be anywhere from 2-7 miles depending on how far you go and how much exploring you do. So the three of us headed south, down the trail in search of adventure. At first, there wasn’t much to show for the hike. We felt like we were walking to the beach, through thick sand and over dunes. Junipers, Pinyons, Cottonwoods, and scrub brush lined the trail we were on. Cactus were everywhere, Cholla, Coryphantha, Prickly Pear, you name it; but Gregor made light work of all of them as he gracefully navigated around and over most of them as he ran and explored the desert. Beginning to get bored of seeing the same flora alongside the trail with no end in sight, the trail began to pitch upwards and start to climb towards and outcropping of rock. Gregor ran ahead to investigate, and when we reached him, we saw it. Our jaws quite literally dropped.
It was like we were standing at the top of “The Wave” in Arizona and on the summit of Angels Landing in Zion all at once. The colors in the sandstone twisted and ran down to the canyon floor. Across the canyon were staggering, pointed peaks of deep orange and tan rock. But the most bizarre part of it was the dragon scale-like rock pattern that covered everything we walked on. Octagonal shapes, separated by cracks in the rock, blanketed the sandstone for as far as we could see. To add to the mystique, scrub brush and trees grew from the rock’s surface, inspiring that life will always find a way in these harsh desert environments.
It was one of those moments, as a photographer, where it’s difficult to take pictures. Not because there’s nothing to see, but because there’s too much to see and capture all at once. And to take your eyes away and limit them to only what the viewfinder can see is just insulting to the landscape. The mountains in background, and then snow capped peaks far off in the distance, all of which were stunning themselves. But then take some of the most unique rock patterns in the foreground and swirling color designs interweaving its way throughout it all. Truly breathtaking. Or maybe that was just because we kept running all over the rock face to see the landscape from different angles.
Eventually, we hiked out on to a narrow, exposed ridgeline that protruded upward from the valley similar to Angels Landing. At first, Gregor made light-work of the task, cruising up the rocks. But then as we got further, and the rock pitch got steeper, neither Courtney nor I felt comfortable with him scrambling at his own will. So I clipped his leash onto his Ruff Wear Harness and locked the carabiner that connected us. That way, if he slipped off a rock that he misjudged the steepness off, I’d be able to catch him from falling over the edge. And don’t know if he simultaneously got too scared to go on, but I’ve never seen him not excited to climb on rocks. We had to pick him up over some ledges to get him up to the summit. But once up there, he was happy as can be, and back to our normal adventure pup. The descent from there was significantly easier, finding better lines to come down on. That made everyone more comfortable and soon enough, he was back roaming freely off leash.
We spent the next half hour snacking on top of a rock outcrop with a million-dollar view (probably worth more than that though), and exploring the other ridges. The entire time, we could help but discuss the possibilities that place held. Endless exploring, weekend backpacking trips up the wash through the canyon, mountain peaks that may or may not have ever been summited. It was unlimited potential in this tiny section of the desert. And best yet, we still had it all to ourselves! Not a single soul for miles around!
For your next weekend adventure, think about exploring Candy Canyon! From the moment you crest the ridge and see the canyon below you, it will change your life! Not to mention raise the bar even high for hikes that are possible in the deserts of southern Utah. Just don’t forget, this is not a maintained trail so please pack out everything you bring in with you. Keep these places incredible for everyone who has yet to explore this place!
Info from Hike St George Blog
Trailhead: 37°14’05.2″N 113°28’37.5″W
Candy Cliffs: 37°13’09.2″N 113°28’22.4″W
Type of Land: National Forest
Round Trip Hiking Distance: 3-7 miles (2-5hrs)
Dogs Allowed: YES!
Hike Type: Out & Back
Permit Required: NO!