Red Canyon is located on Utah Scenic Byway 12 next to Bryce Canyon National Park. Photos of Red Canyon adorn many Utah travel brochures, but this destination is often overlooked by mainstream tourists that only focus on the nearby National Parks. Oddly enough, the highest percentage of Red Canyon visitors only discover this majestic place while on the way to Bryce Canyon. For this reason, the most people only take a few pictures while passing through. For this same reason, the hiking trails are rarely overcrowded!
The Red Canyon campgrounds serve as an alternative overflow option for Bryce Canyon visitors, so the campsites do fill up quick. Reservations must be made way ahead of time during the summer season if camping inside Red Canyon is a priority. The Dixie National Forest offers plenty of rustic campgrounds in the woods along Johns Valley Road a few miles away. The reason the camping situation is mentioned is because Red Canyon has an extensive trail system. After doing a strenuous hike in this high elevation area, bedding down as soon as possible will likely be a high priority at the end of the day.
Red Canyon is well over a mile high, so for visitors coming up from sea level some measures must be taken to prevent altitude sickness. Taking about an hour to adjust before doing strenuous activity is a good idea. Staying extra hydrated, snacking often and taking frequent breaks to let the lungs catch up is the best way to prevent altitude sickness. After a while the body will overcome the thin air and everything will go easy on the high elevation trails. For those who physically cannot adjust, do not fret because Red Canyon certainly is a great place to laze the day away!
The Red Canyon Visitor Center is where trail maps can be found, so this is the best place to start. One of the longest hiking trails in Red Canyon is the Cassidy Trail and the trailhead is just a short distance east of the visitor center. This trail heads north to several unique scenic areas in the Dixie National Forest away from the highway. The Cassidy Trail intersects with a few other main trails and there are several alternative routes on the way to the end point. To do the entire Cassidy Trail, it will be best to plan an overnight back country venture. Because there are a few intersecting trails, a hiker can do a five mile semi circle trek through Red Canyon back to the highway a few miles west or simply do an out and back loop to one of the Red Canyon ridge lines. These shorter treks are perfect for a half day hiking venture and the scenery is guaranteed to be as majestic as can be.
I was working nearby in Hatch and the job was done early in the afternoon, so going for a hike on a beautiful day seemed like a fun thing to do. Hiking the Cassidy Trail to the high ridge line that overlooks Red Canyon was the goal. This out and back hike is about a four mile round trip, which is perfect for a casual afternoon venture.
For somebody that is fit, all that is really needed for this hike is a light backpack with a quart of water and a small bag of peanuts. The uphill grade actually is steady, yet not too steep, so it will not take the wind out lungs too often. Light hiking shoes or sneakers are a plus for this trail, because the footing is good all the way up. Of course, carrying a camera will bring the memories home to share.
The Cassidy Trail got its name from the old west local outlaw hero Butch Cassidy, who used these hills as a hideout. All it takes is hiking a few hundred yards up this trail to see that this terrain actually is the ultimate place to escape from an old west sheriff posse! The eroded red rock landscape is so bizarre, that it is disorienting. The landmarks lead to confusion too, because everything starts looking the same as one odd geological feature blends in with the next. The pine trees and dry wash ravines act as obstacle courses. There a zillions of hidden nooks and crannies in this place, so it is no wonder Butch Cassidy escaped from the long arm of the law so many times.
When trekking up the Cassidy Trail it is easy to feel the old west history of this place, as well as native beliefs of natural harmony. There are few other pine forests as peaceful as this. The bright orangish red terrain is so unusual to see and the silence is deafening, while an occasional wind whispers through the tall pines. The air is so clean that it is invigorating, which makes the rest of the hike easy to do.
The Cassidy Trail first intersects the Rich Trail, which runs west over a low ridge line in Red Canyon. The Rich Trail ends at a short scenic overlook loop near the towering hoodoo area in the Canyon. As can be imagined, this is quite a picturesque loop trail to do! By continuing uphill on the Cassidy Trail, a higher elevation ridge line will be found and this section of the long trail offers some great overlooks too.
Picturing the Cassidy Trail to the Rich Trail is a good primer course. Doing the Rich Trail Loop only takes a couple hours, so this is a nice option for a short trek. The second half of the Cassidy Trail to the higher elevation ridge line will be featured in the next article. As can be seen in the photos, not one solitary other hiker was on the Cassidy Trail that day, so plenty of peaceful elbow room can be found in this place. Following a trail named after a famous old west outlaw is a captivating thing to do, so be sure to chalk the Red Canyon Cassidy Trail high on the list!
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