The desert of Utah: Red Cliffs hike

It was 6:45am. The van was freezing cold but light was coming in through our makeshift curtains and waking me up.

I peeked out of the window. Before me I could see sweeping views of Utah’s unique landscape formations and the pink glow of the morning sun reflecting off the rocky landscape.

Cactus in the Utah desert  Double-Barrelled Travel

A cactus in the Utah desert

Camping in Utah

It was our second night in the small Utah campsite and what had first turned out to be a setback to our travel plans had taken an unexpected positive twist.

The previous day we’d been turned away from Snow Canyon State Park near St George as it was full and, after a quick wifi break in Starbucks, had headed down the road to the neighbouring town of Harrisburg where we’d camped in a KOA Campground on a hill.

Upon arrival we’d befriended fellow campers, Brett and Seth, who were road tripping around the USA between chef work.

It was yet another favourable outcome when travelling spontaneously.

That morning, after a hearty breakfast cooked for us by our new found chef friends, we headed off to explore the Red Cliffs hiking trail that lay in the valley opposite our campsite.

They came to Cordura DVD  Double-Barrelled Travel

The DVD cover of They Came to Cordura

They Came to Cordura

Thanks to flooding in the 1800s, Harrisburg is now considered a ghost town. But the lack of people only made our hike more appealing.

The Red Cliffs hiking trail begins at the flat part of the valley where there is an old movie set from the Western film They Came to Cordura.

There is only one main building left from the set and a pile of rubble adjacent to it. You can walk around the dilapidated building and see the remains of a water fountain. It’s quite an interesting start to the hike!

They came to Cordura movie set hike in Utah  Double-Barrelled Travel

The abandoned movie set from the Western film They Came to Cordura

Orson Adams House

Hiking further up the hill towards the canyon and the campsite, we came across the Orson Adams House which was built in 1864. A Morman family lived in this remote area during this time and the Bureau of Land Management bought the house in 2001 and have restored.

It wasn’t open when we were there though, so we carried along our hike.

giant tree stump in the Utah desert Double-Barrelled Travel

A giant tree stump we found along the Red Cliffs hike

Red Cliffs hike

Because of the government shutdown, the campsite further down the road was closed as it’s normally operated by the Bureau of Land Management which is federally run.

We ignored signs not to trespass though (how much harm was that doing?!) and walked through the campsite, climbing boulders to find…

Dinosaur footprints!

Dinosaur footprint in Utah  Double-Barrelled Travel

A fossilised dinosaur footprint we found along the Red Cliffs hike

Yep, there are some fossilised dinosaur footprints on the rocks above the campsite and we spent awhile admiring them – I’d never seen a fossil like that in the wilderness before.

By this point we had sweeping views of the valley below so we stopped to take a few photos before continuing.

Views of the Harrisburg valley in Utah  Double-Barrelled Travel

The view of the valley from the rocks we climbed up along the Red Cliffs hike in Utah

Inside the Red Cliffs canyon

We followed a trickling stream up the mountain and into the canyon.

It was peaceful and quiet and every so often during the walk we would come across fallen tree stumps that were so big you could walk into them, or caves in the side of the rocky canyon that you could peer up through and look at the bright blue sky.

We came to a beautiful pool of water that was surrounded by trees that had long branches sweeping the ground in the gentle wind.

A pool found on the Red Cliffs hike  Double-Barrelled Travel

The pool of water we found along the hike

The pool was a bright blue colour and it reminded me of a little oasis in the desert.

We clambered up the rocky cliffs encasing the pool and followed the canyon deeper into the mountains, climbing over branches and jumping over rocks.

gnarly tree on the Red Cliffs hike in Utah  Double-Barrelled Travel

A gnarly tree we saw along the hike

Eventually we came to another pool but this one was much deeper and despite our best efforts we struggled to get to the other side.

After a couple of hours of this adventuring we decided to turn back.

Oasis in the middle of the Utah desert  Double-Barrelled Travel

A little oasis in the Utah desert

On the route home to the campsite, we came across… a tarantula!

Tarantula in the desert

Luckily Seth was walking along the trail first and using a large stick to push the scrub aside. As he did this, he disturbed the tarantula who came crawling out from under a bush.

At first I screamed and made to run away. But then I realised how slowly the tarantula was walking and so I managed to pluck up enough courage to follow it a little and take this snap.

Tarantula in the Utah desert  Double-Barrelled Travel


Relaxation after our hike

By the time we’d done the Red Cliffs hike and got back to our campground we were exhausted and starving. We cooked up a large BBQ feast and enjoyed it along with a few drinks as the sky coloured a deep purple again and the sun went down.

What a day!

Red cliffs hike inside the canyon Double-Barrelled Travel

The beautiful Red Cliffs Canyon

Have you been hiking in Utah? Or the desert? What was it like?

Here’s a little clip from They Came to Cordura so you can see the type of landscape we were hiking in on film!



About the author

Carmen has been nomadic since May 2013 and the co-founder of Double-Barrelled Travel. She loves experiencing new cultures and learning new languages. She is having the most fun when skiing down a mountain, scuba diving in the Caribbean or curled up with a good book.

2 comments on “The desert of Utah: Red Cliffs hike”

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