Snow Canyon Overlook, The Vortex And Veyo Volcano
Having driven through St. George, Utah on many occasions--usually en route to other destinations such as Zion National Park or Las Vegas--I felt that it was time to stop and explore some of the hiking opportunities in the area on 2 January 2020.  After spending the previous night at a truck stop in St. George, Zosia Zgolak and I started the day with a hike to Snow Canyon Overlook.  The overlook is accessed via Red Mountain Trail as described in 100 Hikes in Utah by Steve Mann & Rhett Olson, and the trailhead (vault toilet and equestrian corrals) is on the west side of Highway 18 about 25 kilometres north of the junction with I-15.  The trail climbs very gradually along some sort of easement with fencing for the first 1.4 kilometres to a wilderness gate.  Beyond the gate, the trail continues in much the same manner for another 1.5 kilometres to a signed junction.  We turned left here and walked for another 750 metres to reach the scenic overlook with its million-dollar view of Snow Canyon.  Not satisfied with reaching the overlook, we scrambled up a couple of nearby high points just for fun before returning the way we came.
A mountain without a summit? Zosia begins hiking along Red Mountain Trail.  Although the general area is collectively known as "Red Mountains", there is no actual peak named "Red Mountain".
Watch your step! There are some cacti here too! Much of the trail is wide and rocky like this.

Almost as nice as the Grand Canyon!

Here is the view of Snow Canyon from the overlook.


Not a summit but it kinda feels like one! Zosia and Sonny enjoy the warm sunshine at Snow Canyon Overlook (1519 metres).
You can ski and surf at the same time! Heading for some nearby high points, Zosia hikes up a slope with a strange mix of snow and sand.

I've had worse views from higher named peaks!

Zosia stands on an unnamed high point (1556 metres) near the overlook.  Behind her are the Pine Valley Mountains.


I'm not sure if the views justify the long walk, but it's an easy trip suitable for kids and grannies. Total Distance:  8.1 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  2 hours 52 minutes
Total Elevation Gain:  222 metres

GPX Data

Our next destination of the day was a big hole in the ground known as The Vortex.  This is apparently a popular hike in the region, and there are some good route descriptions available online.  From the first trailhead, Zosia and I drove north along Highway 18 for about 4.6 kilometres before turning left onto Lower Sand Cove Road.  Unless conditions are wet or muddy, this graded dirt road is suitable for 2WD vehicles.  About 2 kilometres from the highway, we passed an unsigned junction with a rougher road heading north toward a cinder cone known as Veyo Volcano.  Ignoring the cinder cone for the time being, we kept driving for another 6.6 kilometres passing a reservoir and some sort of maintenance building before reaching the turnoff for Lower Sand Cove trailhead.  The actual trailhead is about 120 metres further, but because a big mud hole was blocking access, we elected to park right at the turnoff.  Two other cars were already parked here as well.

Zosia and I had a quick bite to eat in our car before starting our hike past the mud hole.  Numerous trails descending into Sand Cove Wash caused us a lot of confusion, and we actually went the wrong way for a bit before correcting our course.  Even then, the route is not well-marked, and all throughout the hike, we were often left to guess where to go next.  Mostly by following old footprints, we worked our way across the wash and climbed up a valley of slickrock that had interesting groove patterns and occasional small potholes filled with water or ice.  Farther up the valley, we ran into a family who had started ahead of us, but they were still wandering about searching for the whereabouts of The Vortex.  By default, they were about to explore a nearby sandstone ridge with some rock outcrops known unofficially as the "Camelback", and although I was certain that The Vortex was there, Zosia and I continued well past it to climb up another ridge overlooking the whole basin.  Backtracking to the Camelback, we ran into the family again, and they confirmed that The Vortex was indeed there.  There are actually four separate potholes of varying sizes on the sandstone ridge with The Vortex being the deepest and most dramatic-looking.  Sadly, the walls of The Vortex are full of carved graffiti left by previous inconsiderate hikers; it is a shame that an ammo box with a register was never placed here.  When we were done circling The Vortex, we retreated to the slickrock valley and easily hiked back to Lower Sand Cove trailhead.
The start is a bit confusing. Please use my GPS track! The route to The Vortex drops into Sand Cove Wash and eventually turns to the left just beyond the grey rocks.
There was still a lot of uncertainty at this point about where to go. Zosia climbs out of Sand Cove Wash.

They look like dragon scales...perhaps Smaug?

Above Zosia is the sandstone ridge unofficially known as the "Camelback".  The Vortex is actually somewhere on the ridge at upper left.


This is one hike that should have more cairns! Zosia passes a small cairn which means that she is still on the right track.  Visible in the distance at right is the dark form of Veyo Volcano.
We'll be back in a bit... Still unsure about which way to go at this point, Zosia looks up to where The Vortex is actually located.

Beautiful landscape which isn't even inside any park!

Zosia stands on a ridge overlooking the basin.  The Vortex is somewhere among the red rocks left of centre.  Veyo Volcano is visible at distant right.


She was unsuccessful and almost knocked the whole thing over! For some strange reason, a number of elaborate cairns have been built in a corner of the plateau south of The Vortex.  Here, Zosia tries to add another rock to this cairn.
Maybe worth a plunge on a very hot day. This large basin of water is very close to The Vortex.
Very cool but too bad about the difficult light conditions! Zosia stands on the brink of The Vortex (1332 metres).
It's sorta like a black hole! Sonny tries to drop down as close to The Vortex as possible.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Too bad we didn't bring ice skates!

Just beyond The Vortex, this basin of water is almost completely frozen.  On the horizon at right are Square Top Mountain and Jackson Peak.


No diving! Zosia stands atop one of the "humps" on the Camelback.  There is another small basin of water at bottom right.
A very unique and interesting hike. Total Distance:  5.4 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  2 hours 46 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  85 metres

GPX Data

Upon returning to our car, Zosia and I drove back to the aforementioned junction with the rough road leading to Veyo Volcano.  With about two hours of daylight left, we decided to try and squeeze in a quick ascent of this small mountain with a cool-sounding name.  Although I probably could have driven right to the foot of the cinder cone, we elected to park on the main road and just walk the approach on the rough road.  The ascent of the south slope was steep but uncomplicated.  From the top of the south slope, we hiked along the broad and somewhat bushy summit ridge to a cairn at the northeast end.  After a very short break at the top, we essentially retraced our steps along the summit ridge and down the south slope.  The loose volcanic soil worked well for a quick descent, and we were back at our car with about half an hour of daylight to spare.

Overall, this was a great introduction to hiking opportunities near St. George.  The landscape here is as scenic as anything found in the national parks, and yet, there are no crowds and very few restrictions.  Several mountains in the vicinity caught my attention, and I hope to return in the future to climb a few of them.

If I was really lazy, I could have driven up this road!

Zosia approaches Veyo Volcano from the south along a rough dirt road.


Short but steep. Zosia grinds her way up the south slope.
There's even a view of a lake. Eva B. would love this hike! The approach road and Upper Sand Cove Reservoir are visible in the distance in this view from near the top of the south slope.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

We finally tagged a real summit today! Sonny and Zosia stand near the summit of Veyo Volcano (1592 metres).

I thought about hiking Signal Peak, but I think the summit is forested.

Signal Peak is the rightmost bump and is the highest in the Pine Valley Mountains.


Surfin' U.S.A. Zosia takes advantage of the loose volcanic soil to surf down the south slope.
Maybe the easiest volcano you'll ever climb! Total Distance:  2.9 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  1 hour 33 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  221 metres

GPX Data